JAKE BARNES AND CLAY O’BRIEN COOPER
Inducted in 2018
Although each of them has been separately inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, Jack Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper were a formidable duo for decades. Together they have won seven World Team Roping championships, which until recently was a record. In 1994, they established another record: the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) team-roping aggregate time for ten steers: 59.1 seconds. That sounds like the unimaginable accomplishment of Byron Nelson’s 11 straight Professional Golf Association titles in 1945. Ten consecutive runs in the NFR venue averaging 5.9 seconds is hard to imagine when you consider all that can happen: barrier breaks (plus 10 seconds), catching one back leg (plus 5 seconds), the unpredictable movements and speeds of the steers, and the odds of complete misses.
But Kendra Santos in Team Roping Journalinterviewed Barnes and Cooper about their record, and Cooper said, “That record’s stood for a long time, but it’s really an easy record. It could be broken by 10 seconds. Average 5.9 on 10 runs is nothing. . . I don’t think you can be 3 every time. But you can be 4 every time.” The record has stood for 24 years and counting, but Cooper’s confidence and awareness of what others on the circuit are capable of show just how deeply competitive they are.
Barnes was born April 4, 1959, in Huntsville, Texas. After joining the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) in 1980, he qualified for the NFR his rookie season, heading for Allen Bach. He then partnered with Leo Camarillo, before joining forces with Clay Cooper. Barnes was a Dodge National Circuit Finals champion in 1987, 1989 and 1995. He was also the Turquoise Circuit team roping champion in 1985, 1989, 1992, 1994 and 1995.At the Ellensburg Rodeo, Barnes has won the championship buckle three times: in 1982 with Allen Bach, in 1985 with Cooper, and in 2005 with Kory Koontz. Barnes said, “It has been my dream since I was a little kid to be a world champion. All I ever wanted was to be a champion and wear a world buckle.” At this point, he has enough buckles to outfit every pair of pants in his closet.
A tally of their victories, though, only tells half the rodeo story. Roping is a fundamentally dangerous sport. At the Wrangler National Rodeo in 2005, Barnes had the end of his right thumb torn off, from the knuckle forward. In November of 2015, his horse fell and then stepped on his head. He broke his ankle and suffered a traumatic head injury. He was hospitalized and had to withdraw from the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo that year. In an interview he said, “Cutting my thumb off at the National Finals last December gave me a whole new perspective on roping and life. There’s no telling how many people lose thumbs and fingers in this sport every year. . . I felt bad for those people. But now I have so much sympathy for every single person, because I know all about the pain and suffering they’ve gone through. And the physical part is just the start. You go through a lot of head games when this happens to you. . . . The more people come forward with their stories, the more I realize that I don’t have it half as bad as some of these people I’m meeting.”
After his thumb healed, he said, “I can’t feel my rope as much now because so much of my thumb is numb. . .I can’t really feel it when I’m feeding my rope. My rope hasn’t gotten away from me, and everything’s probably pretty much the same. . . my thumb. . .feels kind of like your face feels on Novocain after you’ve been to the dentist. You know it’s there, but you can’t really feel it or control it as well.”
Clay O’Brien Cooper, though, has been blessed. He’s been injury-free throughout a long and illustrious career. Hewas the Turquoise Circuit All-Around champion in 1985-87, 1991 and 1993 and the circuit’s team roping champion in 1983-84. He was the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo team roping winner in 1987, 1989 and 1995. He was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1997. He has won at Ellensburg three times, with Barnes in 1985, with Chad Masters in 2012, and was the All-Around Champion in 1992. He has been a champion at over 42 rodeos and has earned nearly 4 million dollars.
He said, “Since I was a kid, I always wanted to rope for a living. The best thing is being able to make a living for me and my family doing what I always wanted.” Clay O’Brien Cooper was born in Ray, Arizona in 1961, but grew up in California on a ranch in the San Fernando Valley. His stepfather, Gene O’Brien, worked as a wrangler on western movies and television shows like Gunsmokeand Bonanza. Clay started roping when he was five years old and joined a junior roping team. When he was eleven, he had a role playing Hardy Fimps in a John Wayne movie, fittingly called The Cowboys(1972); he had roles in Gunsmoke,Little House on the Prairie,The Apple Dumpling Gang, Marcus Welby, M.D, Cahill U.S. Marshal,and One Little Indian. But it was to horses, roping steers, the arena, and competing with fellow cowboys that he was most drawn to.
Santos wrote that “Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper teamed up for a pretty grand total of 14 gold buckles, each winning seven world team roping titles during their reign as one of rodeo’s all-time great Dream Teams. Jake and Clay have 56 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo appearances between them at 27 and 29, respectively, along with a long laundry list of records.” Although no longer a team, they are still out there winning rodeos with other partners, making the laundry list longer.