Bareback rider Jake Brown from Hillsboro, Texas, rides Painted River to a winning score of 85.5 during the 6th go-round of the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Josh Holmberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal
By Patrick Everson
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Jake Brown came to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo ranked third in the world bareback standings, right in the thick of the championship race.
But after five go-rounds at the Thomas & Mack Center, he still hadn't cashed a check. In fact, he'd had only one qualifying ride, getting bucked off of his other four rides.
"I hadn't ridden a frisky stick horse all week," Brown said after Tuesday night's sixth go-round, in which he finally did much more than ride a frisky stick horse. He rode a real tough horse, Painted River, to 85.5 points and a first-place check, halting the cold streak at his first WNFR.
The win was worth $26,232, a long overdue payout for the cowboy from Hillsboro, Texas.
"It's like a weight lifted off my shoulders," Brown said. "Tonight, I was the most relaxed I've been all week. I had nothing to lose. I had fun in the bucking shoot. I was joking around. I knew I was gonna have a good ride."
Indeed, Painted River played to Brown's strengths.
"That's a great little horse," he said. "He jumped high and had a lot of direction change. My kind of horse."
Brown decided to make a change to his rigging — the rawhide and leather gripping riders use to hang on to the horse — and it paid off. But he wasn't altogether certain the rigging had anything to do with his struggles in the first five rounds.
"It was all in my head. It was nothing to do with the rigging," he said. "It's just like changing your boots or your socks. I had to change something, so I switched to a brand new rigging I'd never used before.
"There was nothing wrong with that old rigging. But I'll never ride with that rigging again!"
The victory certainly turned around what was becoming a rough WNFR debut for the 25-year-old.
"It had been a horrible week," he said. "I was down on myself the first couple days. I came in high, and dropped to as low as I could go."
With his setbacks the first few nights, he's out of the running for the WNFR average title, which means he's likely out of the running for the world championship gold buckle. But he's still seventh in the world standings with $132,224 for the season — a pretty good year by any measure — and there are still four rounds left to pad that total. To that end, he expects Tuesday's effort to give him a boost.
"I hope it turns it around," he said. "I'm just glad to show people I can stay on a bucking horse."
He's also glad he fattened his wallet a bit. Brown got married in October, and he noted his wife Nicole has availed herself to the shopping opportunities in Las Vegas.
"My wife loves to shop. We've been everywhere you can go this week," said Brown, joking that now that he's finally won some money, that habit might be amplified. "I'm a little bit nervous about tomorrow. I will put her on a budget.
"But seriously, I credit her. She's hounded me all week to just have fun and ride a horse."
In fact, Brown was all set to spend some money on Nicole as soon as he got out of the arena Tuesday night.
"I'm just gonna take my wife somewhere good to eat, and get some sleep," he said.