The Magic of Mental Strength

Its amazing just how huge a role the mind plays in any game. Last year was kind of a strange one for me. I got the monkey on my back, and the pressure mounts fast when that happens. After all these years, Id never have thought it would happen to me and Id be the guy struggling just to make the (Wrangler National) Finals (Rodeo). When things arent going your way, its like spider-web entanglement. When youre rolling along, you have an awesome horse and youre winning, its easy and you dont think about losing, drawing bad or getting up bad at the rodeos. You get on a roll and everything comes naturally. But when the cookie starts to crumble, it seems like no matter what you do its the wrong move. Youre getting up bad at the rodeos, you have the runner every time you pull up, you break the barrier on the good one, etc… That was me in 2008. Every time I turned around, I was making a mistake. That mounts up, and before long youre thinking about it all the time, and wondering whats going to happen next. As I look forward to 2009, and put the pieces back together, Im relying heavily on mental strength.

Sometimes that feeling where you can’t do anything right is created by burnout. I’d relate it to boxing. Every round you try something different, and when you get knocked on your can a few times it’s like, “Knock me out and put me out of my misery.” Even when nothing’s going right and you’re homesick, you still have to hold it together and finish strong to make it work.

In the rodeo business, 99 percent of success is attitude. You have to be a positive thinker to have any kind of consistent success. If you go to 70 rodeos, you’re lucky if you win 10 of them. You lose a lot more than you win. So you have to be a good loser to keep going. I’m not saying you have to like losing, but you do have to be able to accept it and keep your composure.

I did a terrible job of keeping it together last year. I’ve always been able to rally and turn things around. In 2008, every time I was right on the verge of breaking the ice and turning things around, it seemed like it didn’t happen. The thing I think hurt me the most last year was when I tried to bring Barney (Jake’s great gray horse) back. I had high hopes, and I had expert help. I thought I’d zoom into the summer on him. But it backfired and blew up in my face. He just didn’t have it anymore.

Meanwhile, I’d sold Peppy Doc (the horse Jake’s riding in these shots) to my friend Ross Gosney. Lucky for me, when I realized Barney wasn’t going to cut it, Ross let me finish the year on Peppy Doc. If he hadn’t, I’d have been completely afoot. I’d have had to go home. If you just have a mediocre horse, you’re barely going to get by. If you look at the history of team roping, the guys at the top of the heap every year have the best horses. That’s not a coincidence.

You have to be lucky and draw good in order to have a chance. If you’re drawing good, it makes it so much easier to do well. You aren’t forced into errors, and on the mental side you aren’t having to fight it. It gets so old when you’re backing in there the majority of the time and facing off against eliminators. That’s not fun. But there again, a good horse can take up some of that slack and make it to where you don’t have to have the very best steer to have a shot.

This is a rebuilding year for me. I’m staying home a little more, looking high and low for that awesome horse, spending more time watching my boys play basketball and getting refreshed. Like everyone else, I’m hoping for that big win, so I can go to 10 rodeos and make the NFR. In the mental picture of my year in my mind, that’s what I’m hoping for. I want to draw good and rope good and-bingo-it’s going to be a fairytale year. You have to dream big. My dreams and aspirations are the same as 50 other teams. Realistically, it’s going to happen to one team and everybody else is going to chase them. It’s like running a marathon. Some frontrunners will take off, and everyone else is going to spend the rest of the year trying to run them down.

Related Articles
Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper roping at the National Finals Rodeo
the age of wisdom
The Best of Times for Team Ropers
A young Allen Bach and Jake Barnes standing with brothers George and Buddy Strait
Money Maker
Cashing in on the Team Roping Boom
better and better
Today’s Rope Horse Talent Pool Runs Deep
Jake Barnes riding a grey horse in an outdoor arena, following a roping steer.
going the extra mile
Work to Make 2024 Your Year
You've Got a Friend in Me
My Last NFR Was Junior Nogueira’s First