Booco looking for his sunset

Family, injuries force Hayden bull rider to consider retirement

Joel Reichenberger
Hayden bull rider Jake Booco spent the past 25 years riding bulls but said it's becoming more and more difficult to leave his wife and young daughter behind to compete in the sport.
Joel Reichenberger

— Jake Booco can make himself say the word, but he can’t quite bring himself to mean to it.

“I’m not officially retired,” the 32-year-old, Hayden-based professional bull rider said, “but I’m leaning that way.

It’s not an easy decision.

“I still have the desire to get on bulls. I crave that rush,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always done. But I have bigger responsibilities now.”

Booco is a man who’s been riding bulls since before he was a man. He was 7 years old the first time he grabbed hold of a bull, and the sport has taken him from Hayden, to college in Kansas and far beyond.

He can still rattle of his itineraries as if he returned from his last trip yesterday.

“Forty eight of the 50 states, two Canadian providences and Mexico,” he said.

Minnesota and Michigan are the two he missed, but he did plenty of other locations.

He rode in hockey arenas in Canada and across the Rio Grande River in Mexico.

Events in New Jersey proved to be a bit smaller and not as deep in terms of competition than rodeos in the West, while those in Florida were always welcome, as they usually came in the heart of the Routt County winter.

“There’s not another reason in my life I would go some of those places, but those crowds were some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Booco said, considering the East Coast. “It’s all new to them. They don’t see a rodeo every week or the Western way of life like we do out here.

“Bull riding took me there.”

Prime time

He relished that time on the road, getting to see the country from one end to the other. He spent at least 200 days and mounted as many as 400 bulls each year when he was going strong.

He’d ride at least 50 percent of them in a good year and be cashing enough checks he wouldn’t have to worry about returning to Hayden to work on his few days off.

When the winner’s checks weren’t as regular, he’d fly or drive home and spend a few days every week welding in oil fields or helping at the family ranch.

He had always dreamed of more, though, dreamed of making Professional Bull Riding’s top circuit or qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

He knew he was good enough.

“We’re all a little bit cocky. You have to be,” he said. “It takes a special kind of person to get on those bulls day in and day out. You have to be a special kind of crazy and have it in your heart and your mind you can ride any bull out there.”

He had some great seasons.

He caught fire in 2006, racking up wins and cashing checks. He worked his way up the national money-winnings list and by January, 2007, he was riding in a Denver PBR event only $1,200 short of the top 45 in terms of money earned, at which point he would have qualified for the Built Ford Tough circuit, the elite level of the sport.

In Denver, however, he broke his leg.

“The next two weeks, I had three PBR events to go to, and as good as I was riding, I was pretty sure I’d win enough money to make the next cut for the Build Ford Tough series,” he said.

He had other strong seasons, as well, winning state championships in the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association in 2010 and 2012. He finished No. 2 in the Mountain State Circuit in 2013 and made the Ram National Circuit Finals.

So close

That 2006 season is somewhat representative of his career as a whole.

Bull riding takes a massive toll on a cowboy’s body, and every time Booco approached that next level, something wince-inducing, such as his broken leg, set him back.

He had four shoulder surgeries in his career, two on each one. He broke ankles and arms and bruised just about anything that can be bruised, and he feels it all today.

Such injuries scare him.

They don’t scare him for his own sake. Booco is 5-foot-7 and weighs 135 pounds, small but muscular, and he’s confident he’s tough enough to ride again tomorrow.

Booco met his wife, Karleen, on the rodeo circuit, of course. Their first child, a daughter named Hurley, is 16 months old, and those two women have done more to change Booco’s life than being stepped on by an angry 2,000-pound bull ever could.

They live beyond the bluffs north of Hayden in a farmhouse overlooking wide meadows.

“I’ve had a lot of injuries,” he said, “but the biggest thing now is, if I get hurt and can’t work, we’ll struggle to pay our bills, and that’s been affecting how I’ve been riding.”

To log a money-winning score on a bull, a rider must predict the bull’s jumps and gyrations and react accordingly. Hanging on is good, but a cowboy has to appear in charge, even comfortable, to earn the highest scores.

It takes total concentration, and for Booco, that intense, singular focus is suddenly difficult to come by.

“A lot is on my mind that shouldn’t be on my mind when I nod my head,” he said about the start of a ride. “I think that’s a part of the reason I’m not riding as well. I’ve always been one of the better bull riders in the state, but the last couple of years, that’s not how I’m riding.”

The close calls with the next level of the sport linger in Booco’s mind.

“When I was in my prime, I know I was good enough,” he said.

But he has perspective on that.

Millions of country kids grow up dreaming of being cowboys, and thousands of cowboys dream of riding bulls professionally.

Booco did, for 25 years. He gave it all he had, and some sense of peace comes from that.

He’s almost comfortable enough with the idea to retire.

“I was out there trying, no matter what,” he said. “I won’t have to look back 20 years from now and say, ‘Man, I wish I’d gone a little harder.’ I was out there getting on bulls day in and day out trying to make it. I just didn’t make it.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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