Cowboy with Kansas roots ready for team roping competition at the 2017 WNFR | TheFencePost.com

Cowboy with Kansas roots ready for team roping competition at the 2017 WNFR

As rugged cowboys plant their boots down this week in glitzy Las Vegas for one of the biggest career weeks of their lives at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the cowboys are preparing for several nonstop rounds of nightly competition for a staggering 10 straight nights, at the Thomas and Mack Center.

Among the finalists, is Coffeyville, Kan., hometown cowboy Jake Long, who now lives in Morgan Mill, Texas, near Stephenville's Cowboy Capital. He's qualifying for his seventh time as a team roper (heeler) at the WNFR. The 33-year-old has qualified for the finals from 2010 through 2012, and 2014 through 2016 and now also this year.

This year, he's coming in with a No. 5 ranking.

Long, who's been a card-carrying member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association since 2002, has worked with team roping partner Luke Brown for the past two years, and rodeos much of the year all over the western U.S. The two will give it their all this week from Dec. 7-16 at this week's culmination of a massive, full rodeo schedule. "So, we'll do the finals here, then get a couple of weeks off, do Christmas and then — it all (rodeos) starts back up again in early January in Odessa (Texas) and Denver.

While Long lives in Texas now, his mom and his childhood memories are in Kansas. He's been team roping, as he put it, "Pretty much my whole life. I started team roping in my early teens, but I did breakaway roping when I was younger. I got on a horse before I could even walk," Long said from Las Vegas. Long's PRCA career earnings are currently over $1 million ($1,165,327) since 2003, and he's on a rush to compete in his life's work at the WNFR.

"We're excited to host the biggest, richest rodeo in the world. The payout for the entire rodeo is $10 million," according to a PRCA press release.

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"It's the most exciting 10 nights in the sport of rodeo in the entertainment capital of the world," said Scott Kaniewski, ProRodeo Sports News editor who noted, "As usual, the event is sold out each of the 10 nights of the rodeo." Often called the "Superbowl of Rodeo," the weeklong event features team roping, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, barrel racing and bull riding. There's also an extensive Cowboy Christmas Gift Show in a 300,000-square-foot room showcasing the latest in customized jewelry, western wear, boots and spurs, furniture, art, handmade crafts and pottery, and official WNFR and PRCA items for sale.

HIS BIGGEST FANS

Long's wife Tasha and their two girls — Haven who's 9 years old, and Haizlee, 5 — are rooting him on in Vegas. "They're all with me. They really enjoy it," said Long, who was preparing to head to a ceremony. "It's cool being here … we're fixing to go to the Bag Number ceremony tonight to get all the prizes for being able to enter the WNFR. Then, we start the rodeo Thursday (Dec. 7)."

Long's career highlights include: 2016: (rodeo partner Luke Brown) won rounds 2 and 6, and placed in six rounds to rank sixth at the WNFR in 2016. This year he ranks fifth.

Long's professional 2017 highlights with rodeo partner Luke Brown also include:

• Won Gladewater, Texas, Round-Up Rodeo

• Won Four States Fair & Rodeo, Texarkana, Ark.

• Won Kit Carson County Fair & Rodeo, Burlington, Colo.

• Co-champion Santa Maria, Calif., Elks Rodeo

THE ART OF TEAM ROPING

Long also earned a title at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in 2007. "It's a circuit all across the U.S." Team roping is an art, which is visually confirmed by watching a quality team compete. The goal is to make a clean run, as the header (one member of the two-person team) ropes the two horns of the steer, and the heeler hopes to rope two of the steer's feet, and get the run finished, or stopped, as fast as they can.

"Team roping takes a lot of hard work, like anything," Long said. "It takes good horses and a good partner … just trying to do your job. Yes, it is my full-time job. It's all I do. My wife is a stay-at-home-mom and gets to go on the road with me."

Practice and working out are a big part of reaching the pinnacle of success in team roping, as in any chosen career. "I pretty much practice everyday at home," Long said. "We get in the practice pen everyday; Luke lives a few miles from me. It's my job and we treat it like a job and work at it hard … so we can go places."

As for the anticipation of competition this week, Long said, "You're excited, and like any sporting event you do, your adrenaline gets going, you're anxious for all of it to start, and it's a pretty good rush."

Regarding life after this week in Vegas, Long is steadfast. "Pretty much — just keep at it, as long as I have the love of the game."

It's all about heart…and zest for his life's work. "Just like pretty much anyone who rodeos, who grew up around horses," he said. "It's been a passion of mine ever since I can remember, So, to do it at the NFR, there's still that little kid in me who can't believe I get to do it for a living."❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at: rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com.

The Fence Post regional WNFR roster:

28 Jake Long, Coffeyville, Kan., Team Roping (heeler)

32 J.R. Vezain, Cowley, Wyo., Bareback Riding

36 Brody Cress, Hillsdale, Wyo., Saddle Bronc Riding

60 Ty Wallace, Collbran, Colo., Bull Riding

63 Steven Dent, Mullen, Neb., Bareback Riding

81 Cooper Martin, Alma, Kan., Tie-Down Roping

117 Ivy Conrado, Hudson, Colo., Barrel Racing