LAS VEGAS – Anyone who drives a performance car in competition knows the importance of a good start.
The same can be said in rodeo, especially in the sport’s grand championship. Tie-down roper Ryan Jarrett cruised out of first gear Thursday on opening night of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, roping and tying his calf in 8.7 seconds to earn a fifth-place paycheck worth $4,712.
“The first round’s a little tricky as far as we haven’t seen the calves go or as far as the competition goes,” said Jarrett, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Comanche, Okla. “You don’t know what to expect. You’ve got to play everything on the safe side and trust your partner.”
Jarrett’s partner is Country, a 13-year-old chestnut owned by friend Clint Robinson, also an NFR qualifier. Actually Jarrett sold the horse to Robinson a few years ago; this is the fourth time Jarrett has ridden the horse in Vegas.
“He worked good,” Jarrett said of Country. “The calf I had drawn was good. He stepped left pretty good and, yeah, I probably could have taken a high-risk throw and it might’ve worked, but I went ahead and eased over there and took another swing to get it secured.”
It paid off. Reigning world champion Tuf Cooper won the round by stopping the clock in 7.4 seconds. He and Louisianan Shane Hanchey were the only cowboys under the 8-second barrier – oftentimes it takes times in the 7-second range to earn a check in Vegas. The key ingredient to being successful in an atmosphere like the NFR is to take advantage of each situation.
“We had planned to rope this pen of steers four times,” he said, noting that there are three groups of steers at the NFR and 10 rounds, so one pen will need to be used four times. “After tonight played out, I’m going to say they get voted out and we rope another set four times.”
The tie-down ropers have done and will continue to do their homework. Like professional football players, they will watch video of the calves to learn the animals’ tendencies – how they start, how they handle the tie, etc.
“You have got to be on tome of your game and paying attention,” Jarrett said. “When you get to this level, you need every advantage you can get.”