Sartain returns to roping with his eyes fixed on another gold buckle
When Nick Sartain was young, he didn’t have a cell phone to occupy his time when the fun waned.
No, as a youth in the 1980s, he had to come up with his own entertainment. Throw in the fact that he traveled with his family to horse show after horse show, he needed an outlet.
“What got me started roping was being at those horse shows, and I’d get bored,” said Sartain, 43, the 2009 heading world champion and Cinch endorsee from Bandera, Texas. “I’d duck off, and there were some kids that roped the dummy, and I’d find them. That’s what got me to take to it.”
Before long, that’s all his mind considered. He was knee deep into roping, and it hasn’t changed much three-plus decades later. He’s a veteran, a six-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and a man people turn to when they need help with their roping skills.
“I was pretty lucky,” he said. “My grandmother, my mom and my dad were always behind me. If I wanted to rope, they were there. There was never any doubt in my mind that they would support me. I just really liked it; I was consumed with it, and I really don’t know why. Once I started doing it, that’s all I could think about doing.”
Sartain was raised around horses, but horse shows and rodeos are two different animals. He’s the only member of his family to have competed in rodeo. He played baseball and football as a kid, but roping pulled him away.
It was the support he got from his family that continued to push him. His grandmother refused to buy him a horse, but she would make sure he went to the roping clubs and had his shot.
“I started out on younger horses,” said Sartain, who won the crown while turning steers for Kollin VonAhn. “They could work a cow, but they had never been roped on. I didn’t just jump on a finished horse. It got frustrating at times, but I was never frustrated enough that I didn’t want to go out and do it again. I just wanted to rope.”
He still does, though burnout after a long career screamed at him a few seasons ago. Well, it was a bit of burnout, but an incident in his roping that secured a bit of time away. He last competed at the NFR in 2015, heading for heeling legend Rich Skelton.
“I cut my (right) thumb off in 2017,” Sartain said. “After that, I wanted to go out and go rodeoing, so I did that in ’18. I wasn’t quite ready, but (heeler) Austin Rogers had the faith and confidence in me to go out there and start after it. He was pretty patient with me.
“It took me a couple of years to get my horsepower back right. Now, I feel like I’ve got enough horsepower and am roping good enough that I can make a run at it.”
That’s why he and Rogers are teamed up and ready to roll toward the 2022 NFR. Sartain began the season roping with Andrew Ward, but before they roped in Austin, Texas, in March, Sartain told his partner that he was tired of being on the road. Then the tandem won Rodeo Austin, pocketing $9,400 apiece.
Ward started roping with Curry Kirchner, and Sartain and Rogers renewed their relationship, and it clicked. They pocketed just shy of $5,000 apiece the first week of May between events in Kansas City, Missouri, and Guymon, Oklahoma, so they made the decision to give themselves a chance to rope together in December at Las Vegas during the richest 10 nights of the season.
“I was inching toward the top 15, and he was in the top 15 at the time, so I said we may as well go for it,” Sartain said. “I sent my outside horses home, so we’ve been entering everything we could enter to see where we land.”
With the support of his family and his fiancé, Morgan, the champion roper is venturing off to parts known and unknown to see how fortune favors the bold. He knows the obstacles that sit before him, and he’s ready to tackle them.
“There’s only one reason to take off and be gone for three months out of the summer, and that’s because you want to be one of the best 15 in the world,” he said. “Once you’ve done it, that’s the goal. Once you’ve been to Vegas and know what it’s like and that you can change your life winning that much money in one spot, it’s hard to have any goals other than that.”
But his goals did change six seasons ago. Like dozens of other competitors, he tried his hand at the Elite Rodeo Association, a cowboy- and cowgirl-invested group that was offering big incentives. After that failed to prosper as hoped, he lost his thumb in the roping mishap.
“I was already burned out on rodeoing, and then I cut my thumb off,” Sartain said. “I questioned whether this was what I was meant to be doing. Jake Barnes was the first one to contact me. That inspired me to go back to rodeoing.”
Barnes, a seven-time world champion header who lost his right thumb at the 2005 NFR, provided the motivation the Oklahoma-raised Sartain needed to jump back in the fray.
“I went to the World Series (of Team Roping) finale in 2018, and I had really good luck out there heeling,” he said. “I won $200,000 heeling at the World Series in Vegas, and that turned the tide. I realized I wasn’t done. I started to get where I was heading good again.”
It wasn’t just Barnes. A good friend named Bob Freeman provided a spiritual outlet for Sartain. That just added to the fire that was already stoking inside Sartain.
“If Jake Barnes thinks I can and Brother Bob thinks I can, the only one to stop me is me,” Sartain said. “That got me rallied back. It relit the fire. I think all that worked its way in and got me inspired again. I pieced me a couple horses together, and now we’re back to running again.”
He is running again, and he’s going at it this year like he did with all those dummy ropings decades ago. He’s got the passion and the ignition to make a run for a second world championship, but he also understands what it means to be blessed doing what he does for a living. If he’s not on the road roping horns, he’s at home in Bandera training horses and helping people follow his passion for roping.
He gets to share in his love of horses with his 13-year-old daughter, Sydnee, and he’s enjoyed watching her grow with that. He’s experienced the agony of defeat and felt the agony of losing a digit. He’s questioned his passion for roping and continued to fight through it. It may be 13 seasons since he’s claimed the world championship, but he is ready for a second world championship.
But he takes a different approach to life and to competition these days, and that’s OK. He’s earned it.
“I’ve already got a gold buckle, but if I don’t win another dime, that’s OK for me,” Sartain said. “I want to live life as right as I possibly can.”