The Gap Between Good and Great with Jake Barnes

Spin To Win Rodeo stock photos, NFR shots courtesy PRCA

No matter what level roper you are, the better horse you have the better roper you’ll be. There’s a pretty wide range when it comes to rope horses, and a lot of them are average at best. Then there are the good ones, and finally those rare great horses. Having a good horse as opposed to an average one makes all the difference. When you don’t have a good one you’re always trying to figure out ways to get by, and how to work around your horses faults and flaws. If you can get one of the good or even great ones, winning is so much easier because you don’t have to worry about your horse. A good horse allows you to just concentrate on roping and winning.

[Read more: Bull Market: The Rise of Rope Horse Prices]

Riding a great horse, or even a good one, is such a luxury. It really takes the pressure off of you. You don’t really realize how lucky you are at the time. But when you lose a special one it hurts in a hurry. Then the search is on again.

A lot of times when you’re roping and rodeoing for a living, you jump the gun and go for the first decent horse that comes along. You settle, and think you can fix all the little problems. In all the years I’ve done this on a full-time basis, it’s been my observation that that very seldom works. You usually end up needing to find another horse. What you have to realize is that the search sometimes takes time.

The great horses only have so many runs in them, so you need to manage them. You don’t ride them at the little ropings and rodeos, or run a lot of steers on them in the practice pen. You use your backup horse in those situations. You need to save your best one for when the big money’s up.

[Read more: The Importance of Riding a Broke Horse You Can Control]

The great ones, which are few and far between, score good no matter what the score is (a long score like Salinas or a short score like the George Strait, for example). Those horses are dominant no matter what the conditions are. They run flat and hard across the line, and rate if you have a slow steer. They’re strong enough to pull a big steer, but don’t try to overpower a small steer. They also face extremely well, and they do all of that consistently

The great ones know what their job is. They’re on the same page as you, so you don’t have to second-guess them or fight with them. They’re on the team with you, and they know what they’re doing. A few horses that come to mind when I think of the all-time great head horses list would be Brian Burrows’ mare Myrtle, Roman Figueroa then Mark Arnold’s Rebel, Charles Pogue’s Scooter, Bobby Hurley’s Spiff, Steve Purcella’s Butterbean and Travis Tryan’s Walt (right). Walt’s been so tough and has lasted so long. Speed Williams’ Viper was the best ever at the NFR. He was such a specialist in that venue. My horse Barney wasn’t a great, great horse, because there was a flaw with his scoring. Same with a horse I rode when we won several of our championships by the name of Bullwinkle. Without that flaw they’d have been great, and I got along on them really well and won a lot on them. But I can’t put them on the all-time greats list because they did have their quirks.

The great ones are so few and far between that some guys haven’t ever had one of them. A lot of people get to ride the next best thing, which is a horse that’s really good, but not great. They’re almost as hard to find as the great ones. The odds of getting a great one are about as good as coming up with a Kentucky Derby winner. They’re pretty rare. Most of us are trying to get by on a good one, and you just have to try to get around their quirks. If you’re lucky enough to get a great one, enjoy it. While the average horses are trying to cheat you, those exceptional good ones are always trying to help you. Horses that love their job know what they’re doing and are winners. Charmayne James’ horse Scamper (right) is a good example. He loved his job so much that she won a go-round on him at the National Finals even after he lost his bridle. Then there was the time Brent Lewis roped a calf at the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo on his horse Grumpy with no bridle. That’s having true trust and confidence in your horse

[Listen: The Score Season 2, Episode 5: The Story of Charles Pogues’ Legendary Scooter]

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