STEPHENVILLE — It was the college rodeo season’s final stop, and Jake Barnes was on the outside looking in.
The Tarleton State University saddle bronc rider needed a stellar outing at the hometown Tarleton Stampede to qualify for his third appearance at the College National Finals Rodeo.
“I was kind of out of it,” said the senior agriculture development major. “The horse wasn’t the best, and the long round didn’t go well. I didn’t know if I’d even make the short round.”
But not only did he squeeze into the finals with a 64 score, he earned an 80 in the short go, good enough for a third-place finish in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southwest Region and a third trip to the CNFR next week in Casper.
“I lucked out and got a great horse,” he said. “I didn’t have anything to lose so I just let it all hang out. I felt like since it was my senior year, I dang sure wanted to qualify one last time and win a championship for Tarleton.”
Jake learned his craft from a well-known professional bronc rider, Derek Clark. A 16-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and a family friend, Clark guided Jake’s early attempts in the event.
“My whole family is involved in rodeo and roping,” Jake said. “He was one of their neighbors. He helped me, and he got me started in saddle broncs.”
Jake was a state champion saddle bronc rider at Springdale (Ark.) High School and signed to ride for Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. After one season he decided college was not for him.
He hired on for ranch work and rodeoed before Tarleton rodeo coach Mark Eakins called.
“I was already living in Stephenville, because it’s a good place to rodeo out of. Mark called and talked me into going back to college. I’ve been here three years now, and I’m graduating in August. It’s been awesome.”
Jake has honed his skills at Tarleton, crediting his coaches and teammates for the improvement.
“I owe a lot to Mark, to (former Tarleton saddle bronc rider) Isaac Diaz, all the guys around Tarleton,” he said. “I ride a lot differently than when I arrived. They’ve done a lot for me.”
Jake is an energetic multi-tasker. He enrolled in summer classes to wind up his degree while competing at the collegiate and professional levels of rodeo. Plus he’s an equine dentist. He has plans for another career, too.
“For sure I want to keep rodeoing, but as soon as I graduate from Tarleton, I want to go to the fire academy. I want to be a firefighter.”
He’s nursing an injury sustained a month ago at a pro outing. After easing onto practice horses at Tarleton, he signed up to ride at the Llano Open last week, and he won.
Healthy now, he looks forward to wearing the purple vest one more time and drawing on his experience at the CNFR.
“You know what to expect and how things run up there,” he said as a three-time qualifier. “You’re prepared for the pressure. That helps, of course.
“All of us going — (bull rider) Cullen (Telfer) and (steer wrestler) Walt (Arnold) — we all rodeo a lot, at big rodeos, so we know how to compete under that pressure. We have to try not to think about it much and just go win.”