The pace of life around here is a bit slower than most places in the world. It’s definitely much different than the bright lights and hustle of Las Vegas. That’s just the way Ryan Jarrett likes it. Still, his annual trek to the Nevada desert comes with the possibility of great rewards.
“It’s a madhouse,” he said of Vegas, home of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s 10-night championship that features only the top 15 contestants in each event at the conclusion of the regular season. “Sometimes I just like to drive away from there. I like the simpler things.”
Jarrett will return for his 11th qualification to the finale, set for Dec. 7-16 at the Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus. He first qualified in 2005, the same year he left the City of Lights with the most cherished prize in the game: the all-around gold buckle.
That year, he qualified in both steer wrestling and tie-down roping. His nine subsequent trips to Las Vegas have come strictly in tie-down roping. This year, he enters the NFR as the No. 8 man in the standings with $96,056.
“All summer long and the fourth quarter of the season were pretty good,” said Jarrett, who was raised near Summerville, Ga., in the northwestern part of the state. “I can’t complain a bit.”
What’s even more impressive is that he only competed during seven months of the year-round season. He had hand surgery on Dec. 15, 2016, just four days after concluding last year’s NFR. He returned to action prematurely in March, but then took the time off necessary to make sure his hand was in perfect working order.
He returned to action in mid-April, which gave him just five and a half months to make up some serious ground. He accomplished it by being consistently good over that time.
“In April, I went to some pretty good circuit rodeos,” he said of regional rodeos primarily in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. “That pretty much got me lined out.”
After winning the championship at the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo in late June, Jarrett moved into the top 20 in the world standings for the first time. He just kept moving. By mid-August, he was inside the top 15 and didn’t fall out the rest of the season, which concluded Sept. 30.
Remember those circuit rodeos? Jarrett also excelled close to home. He won the year-end championship. It’s another key goal in a rodeo cowboy’s career, because it earns him a chance to compete at the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo next spring.
But his sights are set on Vegas right now. That’s the richest rodeo in the world, with go-round winners earning more than $26,000 each night. It’s not only a chance for him to cash in, but he is eager to earn a tie-down roping world championship – in rodeo, dollars equal points, so the contestants in each event with the most money earned after the NFR will be rewarded with the coveted gold buckles.
“I’m going to take my little horse out there,” he said of Snoopy, a 7-year-old sorrel gelding that guided him to an October victory at the All American Finals in Waco, Texas. “I had my doubts about him, but winning in Waco ensured I could win something on him. I’m looking forward to that.”
Snoopy was a helpful part of his season. A rule change allowed the tie-down ropers to compete at 100 rodeos this year – previously it was 75 – so Jarrett took advantage of it. He competed at as many as he could. He was able to go to some rodeos with his wife, Shy-Anne, who is a barrel racer.
“She went with me the latter part of the season, but I didn’t drive by any rodeos,” he said. “This year I went to 26 rodeos I’ve never been to in my life, and I’ve competed since 2004. I may not go to a bigger rodeo if I could work four other ones in that time.
“I rodeoed a little smarter. It probably cost me some money in the standings, but I made more rodeo.”
An example was focusing on rodeos closer to home instead of making the trek to the West Coast during the spring.
“I used to go to Redding (Calif.), and it’d take three days to work that rodeo. This year I stayed right here and went to four rodeos in two days. You put in that prize money, and it equals as much as you could win in Redding, and the profit margin is much bigger.”
He has to. Rodeo is his primary business, so it makes sense to watch the bottom line. But it’s also a sport, so it takes considerable athleticism to pull it all off. It’s not just him, either; he has to trust in his horse. He has big plans for Snoopy, but he’s ready for anything that comes his way in Las Vegas.
“I have a backup horse lined up out there,” Jarrett said. “It’s Marty Yates’ hors that I rode quite a bit this summer. Hopefully I can avoid paying mount money (to Yates) and ride my own.”
There’s that business mindset coming into play. Since the season concluded, he has kickstarted the 2018 campaign in a good way. He sits second in those standings with more than $14,000 earned since Oct. 1. He has competed sparingly but has plenty of other things to help keep his mind and body sharp.
“I’ve been riding the bicycle a little bit,” Jarrett said. “I’ve done a lot of jogging in the past, but it has made my knee pretty sore. Riding the bicycle helps keep me in shape, so I’m going to continue to be riding. I stay so busy when I’m home with my cattle and other things, there’s no down time for me.”
That’s just the way he likes it, even at the smaller pace of Comanche, Oklahoma.