ROCKWALL, Texas – As a boy growing up in France, Evan Jayne fell in love with rodeo.
He and his father had stopped at a friend’s house, where they watched a recording of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, ProRodeo’s grand championship.
“I saw my first NFR on TV, and I was completely hooked from there,” he said. “All of my energy after that was leaving France and coming to the United States to be a rodeo cowboy.”
It worked, and Jayne has earned his first qualification to the NFR. He parlayed an incredible 2015 season into a No. 4 finish through the regular season, which ended in September. Now he’ll make the rides of his life during the 10-day finale, which takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Jayne, who lives in Rockwall with his wife, Kristin, and their daughter, Sienna. “It’s everything I’ve been working toward the last 17 years. Ever since I came to the United States, that was my goal and what I’ve trained for.
“When I saw the yellow bucking chutes on TV, this is what I wanted to do. I feel like I’m in an unreal parallel world. When you’ve wanted something so bad for so long, I can imagine my heart is going to be beating outside of my chest in that first round.”
Jayne became interested in the Western world as a youngster when he would follow his father, Jean Pierre Jayne, a trick rider who performed for a rodeo/Wild West show. He even helped his dad. Once he was bitten by the rodeo bug, he found his way across the Atlantic Ocean as an exchange student. He landed in the tiny community of Magnolia, Texas, just outside Houston.
“I moved in with the Rigby family my junior year,” Jayne said. “Within two months of me being there, I had such a good relationship with my American dad that he said, ‘Why don’t we try to get you to come back next year and get you to graduate high school and go to college.’
“It’s all thanks to him that I’m actually still here.”
The cowboy returned to Texas for his senior year. Because he had exhausted the exchange student program, Jayne enrolled in a private school, where he graduated in 2000.
“It was a little school,” he said. “I was eating lunch with 5-year-olds. I had 10 people in my class I was the weird kid, because I wore boots and jeans, and they were all city kids. I won the high school championship that year in bareback riding.”
He then carried over to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where obtained a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. He also chased his gold buckle dreams in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the premier rodeo organization. He’s been a member for 13 years.
Each year, he battled and learned and progressed so that he could eventually make it among the top 15 in the world standings and compete at Las Vegas in December.
“I had to change some things in my riding,” Jayne said. “I wanted to give my rodeo career one more year, but with that, I knew I was going to give myself the tools to succeed. I changed the way I worked out, the way I ate, the way I thought about it.
“I improved the technical aspects of my riding, and it just clicked. It was a little bit rough at first, because I had to adjust some things I was doing. Once I hit San Antonio (in February), it all started being in the right spot.”
As the year progressed, his riding and his self-confidence just continued to improve. By early April, he was among the top five on the bareback riding money list. After a great run over the Fourth of July, he moved to No. 1 and remained atop the world standings for several weeks.
“The big thing this year was consistency,” he said. “It’s always been a problem to utilize your horse. That’s how guys get to the finals, and that’s what worked: Utilizing every horse I had. Even if I wasn’t winning first or second, I was always sneaking in there and catching a check. I didn’t have any huge wins, but I was catching second place a lot. I utilized the horses that I had to the best that I could.”
He also leaned on those closest to him to grow as a professional cowboy. Last December, he and Kristin went to the NFR to cheer on friends Austin Foss and Richmond Champion, and Jayne introduced his bride to the biggest event in the sport.
“When we left, she told me, ‘I know why you want to come here,’ ” he said. “She was pushing me. She said, ‘I’m not holding you back. You quit working three years ago as a school teacher, so just go do it. It’s within your reach. You’re good enough.’
“You don’t have a lot of people that can understand that you have to leave for 200 days a year to be on the road. Rodeo is dangerous on its own, but I think the road is more dangerous. For her to be supportive of me living this lifestyle means the world to me.”
But being on the road means he’s away from Kristin and Sienna, now 3. That makes it tough on anybody, and it’s why he leans on his traveling partner, Clint Cannon, a five-time NFR qualifier from Waller, Texas.
“I’ve had a lot of traveling partners, and they’re just like a wife,” Jayne said. “You’re with them more than you are with your own wife. You’ve got to get a long, and Clint is the guy I will finish my career with. We’re best friends. We tell each other things that nobody else knows.”
It helps, too, that Cannon is a veteran. When Jayne needed a boost, Cannon provided it.
“He’s one of the main reasons I’m at the finals this year,” Jayne said. “He told me that if I stayed healthy and kept going it would come. At one point, he told me, ‘You’re one rodeo away from winning a lot of money.’ The next weekend, I won $22,000.”
He kept adding to it. He finished the regular season with $93,020 in earnings. Now he’ll ride for the biggest purse in the history of rodeo. The NFR will pay out $8.8 million over 10 December nights. Go-round winners will earn more than $26,000.
That will pay a lot of bills, but there’s more to it. In rodeo, dollars also equals championship points. The contestants in each event who finish the year with the most earnings will be crowned world champions.
“I think what drives me is the habit of being competitive and always trying to be the best; that’s just my DNA,” he said. “I’m not going thinking about the gold buckle. If it happens, that’s great. I’m just going to enjoy it every night, have the biggest smile on my face and a warm heart. I’ve always had a fear of being 55 or 60 and thinking that I should’ve kept going.
“That’s one thing I’ll never have to say. That’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.”
He’ll share those emotions with not only his wife and daughter, his American family and a host of family members coming over from France just for this experience. They’ll relish in every moment as Evan Jayne battles for big money in the Nevada desert.
He’s worked awfully hard to be in this position, and he deserves to be there.