The past few years, waiting for her rookie season in the WPRA, took “forever,” Paige Jones said. But it seems now that the payoff was worth the wait.
Jones finished the 2020 season with a shiny new title – Rookie of the Year. The honor is the first stepping-stone in a list of lofty goals the barrel racer from Wayne, Oklahoma, hopes to achieve.
“The past few years feel like they’ve taken forever, so that I could get to buy my rookie card!” she said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. To win the Rookie is a huge deal. When someone wins it, you know they’ve won – it’s a big deal. I feel like it’s the start to my professional career.”
In a year that was all kinds of weird, Jones said she was pleased to “keep up pretty good” with NFR-level barrel racers, and knows she picked up a lot of knowledge in her debut season.
“My horses really stuck with the others well, and I feel like this was a good start,” 18-year-old Jones said. “So much to learn. I’ve never been a to a lot of these arenas, so I didn’t personally have a plan because I didn’t know what places were like or where my horses work well or whatever. I learned a lot.”
Like most professional cowgirls, also on the big bucket list of to-dos is making the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. She finished 32nd in the standings this year, and noted that she knows how difficult it is to make the NFR in a rookie season, especially one like 2020 that was full of unexpected challenges.
Another goal of hers this season was to earn enough to make the larger winter rodeos. With that accomplished, she’s excited about next year.
“I have a goal of going to the winter rodeos and doing well, and that’ll help me start strong before summer,” she said. “Like this year – normally there are so many summer rodeos, but there were people this year who had enough money won at the winter ones that there just wasn’t enough money out on the table for me to be able to compete this summer.”
One of the other big lessons Jones said she learned this season was how to look at the big picture, but also individually at rodeos and runs.
“At first, every tough rodeo I would think, ‘That cost me,’” Jones said. “My sister (Ceri Ward) told me to take it one rodeo at a time. I know that’s what everybody says, and toward the beginning of the season I think I was so concerned about the end goal that I wasn’t really focusing on each rodeo and wasn’t riding very well. I was trying a little too hard.
“I would say halfway through the Fourth of July run was a turning point for me. On the way to Cody my partner was driving and I was watching old videos and saw I wasn’t riding like I normally did. I went in at Cody and made a good smooth run and ended up winning – which I didn’t expect at all – so I think that’s where it turned. I just went out to do what I know how to do.”
With all the cancelations and changes in the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, rookies were given the option in August to forfeit this year and have 2021 be their rookie season. Jones said she missed hearing about that option – but wouldn’t have opted out.
“I feel like your Rookie year is really your first one out on the road, so I wouldn’t have taken (that option),” she said. “I knew my horses were working well and were both sound. I was in a rhythm traveling and I didn’t want to quit and go home and have to regroup again next year.”
Jones rides a couple of horses – Cotton (High Cotton Lane) and Bazinga (Famous Hay Day). Bazinga is better when there’s a big pattern and the barrels aren’t on the fence, whereas Cotton is usually the go-to horse for deeper ground or smaller indoor arenas. Hauling them together has its challenges – they’re crazy together, Jones said.
“One will have a fly mask on and the other will take it off and shake it in that horse’s face. They’re always making each other mad,” she said with a laugh. “So ornery!”
Prior to adding the Rookie title to her resume, other top accomplishments for Jones included finishing in the top 10 in the barrels at the 2019 National High School Finals Rodeo and winning the Oklahoma state finals her sophomore, junior and senior years. She was also the 2018 Barrel Futurities of America (BFA) World Champion aboard Cotton.
Now, Jones said she has her sights set on qualifying for the American and gearing up for 2021 winter rodeos, seeing where her rookie successes takes her next.
Courtesy of WPRA