When it comes to rising stars in rodeo, there’s a northern light to keep your eyes on. Jake Watson knows what it’s like to travel countless miles from his home base in Hudson’s Hope, B.C., to rodeo, but both his skills and confidence have been building, resulting in his best season start ever.
The 22-year-old ranch-raised cowboy is handy with a rope, but he’s concentrating his efforts these days on saddle bronc riding. Early success on the U.S. winter run had him in the top 10 of the world standings. As he travels the trail with Call Marr, Watson is hoping his early success is just a twinkle heralding what is to come.
The youngest in a family of six is used to long road trips. His mom, whose family is from around Strathmore, and his dad, a team roper, packed the kids to high school rodeos in B.C. until Jake was about 12. Then with the rest of the family graduated, he opted for the rink, playing hockey until he was ‘sick of it’, before returning to rodeo.
“I rode all the time and roped a little bit, but I never continued rodeoing until my junior year of high school. I was team roping, calf roping and bulldogging, and then just started riding broncs that next spring,” said Watson.
He credits his neighbour, Gene Maynard, for getting him on the right track in that event. Maynard, an eight-time IPRA World Champion bronc rider, dominated that circuit from 1967–80.
“I started out in his saddle, and he really got me started right.”
Watson also attended several of eight-time Canadian Champion Rod Hay’s bronc riding schools, as well as one of Skeeter Thurston’s. He earned a college rodeo scholarship, spending just over three years on Oklahoma’s Panhandle State University team. He finished as high as third at the 2013 College National Finals Rodeo in the bronc riding, also competing in team roping and calf roping for his college team. 2013 was the same year he qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo in the novice bronc riding.
He knew he’d have to head south to play in his chosen game. Watson spent most of the next season in the U.S. riding on his permit. In 2015, he made the move to pro, finishing his rookie season inside Canada’s top 20, earning $9,300.
“Things didn’t go really good until June, when I got a new saddle. From then on everything really clicked.”
Highlights include tying for first at the Teepee Creek Stampede in July, as well as making the Finals at both the Wainwright and Strathmore Stampedes and the Montana Circuit Finals.
Watson kicked off his 2016 in style at Billings, MT last fall, winning first and $3,040. A third place finish followed in Odessa, Tex., ($2,371) along with a go-round payout ($1,643) from Denver in January. Then came his huge win at San Antonio worth $25,160.
Experience is already leading to some significant improvements in Watson’s bronc riding. “For a long time, I’d get out of time within the first couple jumps after my mark-out,” he admits. “It feels like now I’m a little more rounded, and I can pick up that timing a lot easier.”
Along with technique, Watson has been working on the mental aspect of the sport. “In rodeo you have to be ready before you nod your head. Once that gate opens, if you’re doing the basics, your reaction time will kick in. I have to keep myself calm and focus on one thing at a time. If you overthink it, you can try too hard, and end up walking back, listening to the whistle.
“The CFR is one of my main goals, because I came pretty close last year. This year, I don’t want to repeat my mistakes, and I want to capitalize on everything I can.”
Read more Pro Rodeo Canada Insider articles in the April/May 2016 issue of Canadian Cowboy Country magazine. To subscribe, click here or call Kendra at 1-800-943-7336.