Going into the final week of the PRCA’s regular season, in late September, there’s nothing more stomach-churning than being on the bubble. One round of riding or roping, out of as many as 100 or more all year long, could be the difference between punching your ticket to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo or getting an early start on next season.
Ryan Jarrett is quite familiar with that situation. The tie-down roper from Summerville, Georgia., qualified for the Wrangler NFR 11 times in 13 years, from 2005 to 2017. But this year, he was very much on the brink.
“I’d been doing the math. I knew at the beginning of September that it would come down to the end,” Jarrett said. “I was playing catch-up the whole time. I had opportunities to close the door, but couldn’t make it happen. I told my wife, ‘You just watch. It’s gonna come down to the last one.’”
Jarrett proved prophetic on that prediction.
“It did come down to the last weekend, in fact the last day,” Jarrett said of his battle with Shane Cox for the final slot. “On Saturday, I roped at the San Bernardino and Poway rodeos in California. Shane and I were at different rodeos Sunday, me at Kingman (Arizona), and him at Stephenville (Texas). When I left the San Bernardino to drive across the desert to Kingman, I was doing the math the whole time. I thought second place would be good enough.
“Shane placed at the rodeo he was at, but my first place at Kingman won out.”
Just barely. Jarrett finished 15th with regular-season earnings of $77,552. Cox was less than $500 behind, at $77,059, a whisker-thin margin in the world of rodeo.
So the 2005 all-around world champion nabbed his 12th trip to Vegas to compete in tie-down roping. It’s the closest shave Jarrett’s had in all his years qualifying to compete at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I think this is the first time ever that I got in at 15th,” he said. “It’s something I don’t want to experience again. It’s sure enough nerve-wracking, a year banking on one run, to actually go make a little profit out in Vegas.
“It was a big sigh of relief to do it. Like ‘Good Lord, thank God I got that over with!’ I could think about something else besides adding and subtracting.”
Although every cowboy would certainly like to qualifier higher — much higher, to be honest — there has been a good part about qualifying 15th. Jarrett entered the 10-day rodeo far behind the leaders, allowing him to take a much more aggressive approach. There’s not as much need to safety up with cautious runs to protect a higher ranking.
“I don’t have anything to lose. I can rope for first every night, and hopefully climb the ladder in the standings,” Jarrett said.
The strategy didn’t work out the first three nights, but Jarrett has come on strong since then, successfully roping four straight calves and cashing in the fifth, sixth and seventh go-rounds. In Monday’s fifth go, Jarrett clocked 7.5 seconds to finish in a three-way tie for first and collect $20,872. Tuesday night, he split second and third in 7.8 seconds for another $18,192, and he went 7.8 again Wednesday to take fourth and claim $11,000.
Add to that the $10,000 bonus each Wrangler NFR qualifier receives, and it’s actually been a pretty good week for Jarrett. The 34-year-old cowboy has $60,064 in NFR winnings through six go-rounds, moving up to 10th in the season-long world standings at $137,616.
However, because of those bumpy first three nights, Jarrett is out of the running in the NFR average. So tracking down No. 1 Tuf Cooper ($173,749) – who also happens to be the reigning all-around champion – or the other leaders is pretty unlikely.
But at least he’s here, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
“It lets you know that you’re one of the top 15 in the world. You’re one of the best,” Jarrett said. “You’re re-energized that way. Everybody wants to visit with you and talk about it, and every kid is looking up to you. You say to yourself, ‘I must rope pretty decent to be here.’ ”