COMANCHE, Okla. – There’s no “been there done that” approach to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
It’s the sport’s premier championship, and the Thomas & Mack Center is a cherished place for 10 December nights. From NFR rookies to its veterans, there is great anticipation for the race to the world titles Dec. 1-10.
“Roping in that arena is something I’ve thought about for a long time,” said Ryan Jarrett, a nine-time NFR qualifier from Comanche. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time or the 10th time, it’s always exciting to go there and rope.”
Jarrett has been there, and he’s done that. He’s had great NFRs, and he’s had ones he’d like to forget. That’s the nature of rodeo in general; win a championship one day and miss the loop the next. In 2005 during his first appearance, he won the most coveted title in the sport, the all-around world championship, after a terrific finale in both tie-down roping and steer wrestling, his first two qualifications.
He returns to the NFR for the eighth time in his career. It’s a special moment.
“I would just like for it to go a little better than the 2015 finals did,” he said. “We had the biggest increase in the payout, and I won less at the NFR than I ever have. I was a little disappointed.”
He was more than a little frustrated. It lit a fire in him, and that’s what boosted him to earn $73,400 to finish this regular season 10th in the world standings. Jarrett found his way to the pay window often, from south Texas to north of the Canadian border.
He started off the season on a hot streak and actually had one of the best winter runs of his career. That put him in the lead in both the all-around and tie-down roping world standings the first of May and served as the lighting rod to a strong season – he finished the season with nearly $12,000 earned in other events, but the bulk of his income came in tie-down roping.
“I had the right success at the right places,” said Jarrett, who lives in Comanche with his wife, Shy-Anne, a professional barrel racer. “Probably the biggest one came in Austin, Texas. It was good, and it put me in a good spot at the right time.”
Jarrett finished the tournament-style rodeo second but pocketed more than $12,000 along the way in the Lone Star State’s capital city. That money is vital in rodeo. Not only do they help pay the bills, but dollars equal points. That means the contestants in each event who earn the most money by season’s end will be crowned world champions.
A key to his ingredient toward Vegas came in the Wrangler Champions Challenges, a series of lucrative events that feature only the top contestants in the game. Jarrett won the tie-down roping titles at Champions Challenges in Kissimmee, Fla., and Rapid City, S.D., but he also caught some big payouts at other events.
“I would say drawing the right calves and having lots of confidence are important when you get on those rolls,” he said. “If you have the confidence then draw the right calf, I know I can tie him easy to win firs tor second, and you feel good about it. You don’t go in there thinking your back’s against the wall.”
He’s hoping that roll continues in Las Vegas. The NFR boasts of an $8.8 million purse, and go-round winners will earn $26,000 per night for 10 nights. Because he’s had such great success in the Champions Challenge events, he’s taking a similar approach to each performance inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
“Those Champions Challenges are all just one-headers,” he said, pointing out that contestants make one run or one ride, and the fastest time or best score wins the lion’s share of the money. “That’s why I’m excited about the NFR. It’s just 10 one-headers.”
While there is plenty of incentive maintain consistency – the best 10-run cumulative time will win the coveted NFR average championship and more than $67,000 for doing so – Jarrett looks at those round payouts as a way to earn his way to the top. He trails world standings leader Marcos Costa by $52,123, but he pass Costa with two round wins.
“I don’t really put a goal out there as far as dollars or number of go-rounds that I want to win,” Jarrett said. “I just want to hopefully draw good and stay healthy. If you can do that and make good runs, they’ll pay you.
“We’re the top 15 in the world, so you have to get close to the barrier, get them tied up fast, and a guy’s going to win his fair share. A guy’s just got to do it 10 nights in a row.”
There are a number of factors that come into play, even with the greatest tie-down ropers in the game. It takes skilled ropers and talented horses to help make fast runs, which are necessary in the small arena in Las Vegas.
“I’d say having the horsepower is key to having success out there,” he said. “When you have the right horsepower, things feel good, I feel confident and it makes the winning a lot easier. It’s going to be a fast-paced roping.”
While at the NFR, he will have his solid sorrel gelding, Barney, the horse Jarrett rode while earning a big bucket of money this season, including for the Austin title. He also will enlist the services of T.J., a gray horse owned by Logan Bird of Nanton, Alberta. Shane Hanchey placed in four go-rounds on T.J. last December, and Jarrett placed in the 10th round on the 13-year-old gelding. Just two weeks ago, Bird won the average championship on T.J. at the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
“I rode him at the CFR last year and at several Canadian rodeos in 2015,” Jarrett said. “I rode him this year to win Tucson (Ariz.) and the Champions Challenge in Rapid City.”
That winning formula is another reason why the Georgia-born cowboy is excited for this year’s NFR. He’s traveled tens of thousands of miles across North America in order to make a run for the biggest payday of 2016.
Now he’s ready for it to pay off.