When I was growing up and thinking I’d like to someday try to become a rodeo champion, I remember reading about people like the Camarillos and H.P. Evetts. There wasn’t nearly as much media attention as there is now, so I couldn’t get enough of it. All I could think about was maybe someday wanting to be like them. I never had a clue that any of that would ever come to pass. Then I got my PRCA card, and started competing against the icons of the industry. It was all new to me, so I was scrambling to learn all I could about entering rodeos and all the travel and business that goes into it. I made my first NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) as a rookie in 1980, and won my first championship in 1985. So it took me a few years to get there. I just remember that I was so interested in those legends. I didn’t get to know the big stars as people because there wasn’t the press then that there is today, and because I didn’t see them around all the time. I finally got to go to a roping in El Paso and got to actually see those guys. H.P., the bomber, reached a mile on every steer. I’ll never forget one steer-H.P. threw his whole rope at him and had nothing left in his hand. When I got home, I went to reaching and throwing as far as I could, horseback and on the dummy, imitating those guys I looked up to. I looked up to them because they were the stars. They were role models to me because they were champions.
If you play basketball as a kid, you pretend you’re Michael Jordan. As a kid who wanted to rope, I pretended to be H.P. Evetts, and to be roping with Leo Camarillo. That was 30 years ago. For the last 15-20 years, I’ve been in the limelight and one of the guys all the kids look up to. I went from being the one looking up to those guys to the guy the kids’ eyes are looking up to. I have kids, too, so I take that responsibility very seriously. It amazes me that parents have named their kids Jake and Clay.
Being put in the position of being a role model is something I take very seriously. When I was a kid, I would have given anything to get to read about the thoughts of the champions and all the things they thought would give me a good foundation for my career. To hear from them about the things it takes to be a champion, and learn from them about what I could expect to go through in this line of work would have meant the world to me.
Roping for a living is extremely hard work. It’s not like every December you fire up your truck and head to the glory of Vegas. This is a 365-day-a-year job, and you have to always be striving to get better. You have to work hard at it or you get washed up by the guys who do work hard. If you don’t put out the effort, you’ll see the train leaving and you won’t be on it.
I want kids to look at Jake Barnes now and when I’m dead and gone, know I made my mistakes and learn from them, so they don’t have to learn everything the hard way. Whether you become a champion or not, you have to work at it to be successful. You need to be a good horseman and a good businessman to have a chance to make it work. You need to be a travel agent and take good care of your horses. Your health papers have to be updated every 30 days. You can’t miss the books at a rodeo or forget to book that next flight to get to the short round at Reno. You have to keep your mind in the game.
You need to understand that roping for a living isn’t all fun and games, like your parents entering you at a junior rodeo and having your horse saddled. If you drive all night to get to a PRCA rodeo and oversleep, tough luck. If you miss your flight, or misread the map, too bad. Excuses don’t fly in this game. That’s just reality.
The way I see it, when you’re a champion being a good role model is part of your responsibility. People are watching. It’s just part of the job. Some little kid’s watching every move I make, and if I make the wrong move that’s the wrong impression. I want kids to see that I don’t drink, do drugs or smoke, and that I do take care of business and my horses. This is a tough lifestyle, and if you don’t take care of business you’ll never survive in this jungle. I have kids, too. I want to be a person I’d want my kids to look up to.