‘Laisse-la buck’

French bareback rider Evan Jayne will be competing in his first Pendleton Round-Up and he is on the verge of qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo.

Bareback rider Evan Jayne speaks with a soft French accent and a touch of Texas twang.

Jayne, competing in Pendleton for the first time this week, grew up in southern France and is poised to become the first European ever to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. The cowboy grew up in a trick riding family and caught the rodeo bug as a teenager.

Jayne, who sits second in world bareback standings, talked Tuesday morning about his unorthodox, adrenaline-filled life. The 33-year-old lounged in the Holiday Rambler RV that belongs to the parents of one of his traveling partners, bareback rider Kash Wilson. Wilson cooked eggs and sausage nearby on a three-burner stove.

Jayne sat back and described his first glimpse of rodeo in Italy when he was a teenager. It was more of a “showdeo,” where the same guys performed every month and the cowboys didn’t even draw for horses. Still, the boy was mesmerized as he watched them ride.

“That’s where it started for me,” Jayne said.

The teenager, then called “Yvan,” took to wearing cowboy hats and Wranglers. One day, he saw a sign that said, “Do you want to be an exchange student and spend a year in the U.S.?”

He did. He convinced his single mom to let him go and ended up in Texas. His exchange family dad, Mark Rigby, taught him to rope. Jayne longed to ride rough stock, though, so he learned how. At his first high school rodeo, he competed in team roping, bareback and bull riding.

“There was a lot of pressure,” Jayne said. “Everyone was waiting to see this French kid.”

He stayed on the bull and came in third in bareback riding.

In those days, Jayne endeavored to sound Texan, instead of French.

“Being a teenager, when you have an accent, they look at you funny,” he said. “You work really hard to blend.”

Jayne stayed in the United States to attend Sam Houston State University on a rodeo scholarship. He ended up marrying a Texas girl. He and his wife have a three-year-old daughter.

Until three years ago, Jayne meshed his rodeo life with his career as a high school agriculture and French teacher. After years of cramming rodeo into weekend-warrior status, he decided to quit teaching and focus full-time on riding.

“I didn’t want to be that old guy who had never given rodeo 100 percent,” he said. “I loved the kids. I had great insurance. But it was holding me back.”

The full-time focus has paid off. Jayne has been atop the standings for most of the year, and currently sits in second.

It has been quite a ride getting to this point, he said. He has broken 17 bones, including his back, and currently has a painful sprained ligament in his shoulder.

On Wednesday, Jayne will climb aboard a horse named Rapper Margie.

“I drew a good horse,” he said. “It’s going to test me.”

Though Jayne likes Texas barbecue, he misses the cuisine of his native France. He returns once a year to taste his grandmother’s homemade potato pasta and walk through the produce markets. He revels when surrounded by his family.

But, Jayne, now a dual citizen, always returns to his rodeo life, a life where he is always upping his game. Bareback riding, he said, has evolved.

“When I started, a good bareback rider was someone who never quit and was willing to get punished for eight seconds,” he said. “Now you have to exercise and invest a lot of time in your body. It’s extremely competitive.”

One might think Jayne’s mother might regret allowing her son to come to the U.S., where he fell in love with such an exacting and dangerous sport and now lives on the other side of an ocean. Jayne, however, shook his head.

“She doesn’t regret it,” he said. “She’s so proud of me.”

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.

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