Jake Barnes shares how tough roping for a living can be.

Roping for a living is a grind. It’s expensive, and it’s exhausting. As the rodeo world gets set for the annual migration to Vegas, it’s easy to assume that the life of a rodeo cowboy is glamorous. While I love to rope more than anybody, I’d be lying if I said this lifestyle hasn’t taken a toll on me physically, and tried to drain me dry emotionally at times over the years.

It’s not easy to come back from losing a great horse, cutting your thumb off at the NFR, a major head injury, or a knee replacement. But if you want something bad enough—and you’re willing to work hard all day every day—anything’s possible. Tough things happen to all of us. That’s just life.

A lot of people would say that I’ve had more hard times than most. But I will never say, “Why me?” Why not me? I guess God gave me a strong back, a big heart, and a hard head for a reason. Hardships happen, and I just hope that I inspire people who find themselves going through tough times of their own to strap their boots on and keep pressing forward.

It might all look so fun and easy when the Finals rolls around, but roping for a living has also gotten to where there’s a lot to navigate and keep straight. Keeping track of the qualifications rules and the entering is a chore in itself.

Rich (Skelton) and I started roping in May, and just like everybody else had the goal of making the NFR. That’s the pinnacle, and the opportunity to win big money. But when Plan A doesn’t work, you have to go to Plan B, which was to get enough money won to go to the winter rodeos next year. I’ve pulled a rabbit out of my hat a few times, basically starting at Reno, and made the Finals. That didn’t happen this year. Bottom line, we didn’t draw good enough, and we didn’t rope good enough.

Rich and I made some really good runs this summer, but we never could get over the hump. We didn’t really have any great showings. We did decent at Spanish Fork, Utah, where we won third in the average and about $5,700 a man. We also went to some rodeos where we made really good runs—like when we were 5.4 at Cody (Wyoming)—and didn’t win anything. We were 5 flat at Oakley (Utah), and didn’t win anything there, either. Those were good runs on strong steers, so those were hard pills to swallow.

A lot of guys go home after Cheyenne in July, if they’re not in the mix with a legitimate shot at making the Finals. As this issue hits your hands the first of October, the regular season has just ended. Rich and I didn’t have a great Fourth, and Cowboy Christmas is a huge factor in everybody’s year. Reno in June through about Casper in July is a really important time. We reined it in a little after Cheyenne, but we decided to stay out there somewhat to try and get into San Antonio.

It’s all about profit and loss to me, so there’s really no point in rodeoing if I’m not making the NFR. To just be out there trading money isn’t good enough. If I’m not a contender, I’m better off teaching schools, and riding and selling horses. We’re warriors, and we’re always battling for another chance. The Top 40 get into the biggest rodeos, so after Cheyenne we went back to Texas, and went to work trying to set the table for next year.

Rich and I decided not to go to the Northwest this year. Instead, we stayed in Texas, went to a few rodeos, and worked on our roping and our run. I don’t hang my hat on excuses. Never have. It’s on me for not making it this year. What you draw is a factor. But there’s never an excuse. I just didn’t get the job done. 

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