The Battle of the Bubble Boys
Jake Barnes' talks about the bubble and what ProRodeo ropers can do in Vegas even if they don't make it to the NFR.

The bubble. It’s not the place anyone wants to be right now, but it’s inevitable that there are teams put in that position every season. September 30 is the last day of the regular season, and after a grueling year it’s everyone’s goal to be on the Vegas side of the Top-15-cut finish line, because coming up short can be really hard emotionally and financially.

In all the years I rodeoed hard, I was only on the bubble one time. But I’ve seen the stress the bubble causes guys who’ve given it their guts all year long. The most important thing on the line, of course, is a chance to rope for big money at the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) after fighting hard since last October 1.

There are two or three teams every year that come up just short. That’s never happened to me, but that first year I roped with Junior (Nogueira in 2014), it came right down to the wire. Thankfully, by the time we went back out to Poway and San Bernardino, California, right there at the end, we were breathing again. I remember clear as a bell stopping to spend the night in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on our way and looking at the results. That’s when we knew we were in and could not get knocked out mathematically. Talk about a relief. It felt just like getting out of prison.

I can only imagine the sickening feeling guys must get when they go to their last rodeo and get bumped out or just barely miss the Finals. Not having that opportunity at the NFR has got to be devastating. Sometimes it comes down to pennies. How do you not reflect on all the dropped balls and missed opportunities—broken barriers and legs—throughout the year?

Guys on the bubble sometimes ask me for advice. I tell them what I told Junior when we were in that spot: Don’t look at what everybody else is winning. More than anything, focus on doing your own job. Stop looking to see exactly how much money you’ve won or being distracted by what other people are doing. That’s just taking your eye off the target. You can’t control anybody but yourself anyway. Dig a little deeper, make your best runs and be the guy who thrives under pressure.

Roping has always been a business to me. So when I come up short, I look in the mirror. There are always lessons to learn from disappointing times. Maybe you need to train harder and take it more seriously. The way I see it, the guy who works the hardest to be the best is going to end up with the biggest piece of the pie. So work hard and take care of business. Don’t miss the books. Don’t show up late. Always be as prepared as possible, and cover your bases on all the factors you can control.

Then remember that we all mess up. It’s easy to get a bad attitude and be bitter when that happens, but you can’t do that without it affecting your next run. So get over it and go on. I’m harder on myself than anyone, but training your attitude is the same as training your horse. Do all you can do to be prepared, and keep looking forward. No matter what happens this run or this year, they will have another rodeo next week and the NFR again next year.

And if you do happen to miss the NFR boat this year, they are having the first-ever Open to the World Finale at this year’s World Series of Team Roping Finale at the South Point. Everybody but the guys roping at the Thomas & Mack will be entered, and it’s a good shot at some big money. Clay (O’Brien Cooper) and I will see you there.

[Read More: BIG GUNS: First-Ever World Series of Team Roping Finale Open to the World Finale]

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