Levi Lord is pretty sure of it: they don't make deals like the kind he got on Little Bay anymore.
Ten years ago, Lord was a freshman in high school with a little money in his pocket. The South Dakota kid had just been to a truck roping in Texas and won some cash, and he was on the hunt for a high school rodeo heel horse.
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So the whole family piled in a truck and headed back to Texas with a list of horses Lord had pieced together, including the number of a man who'd posted a $2,700, 14-year-old gelding on Craigslist.
They went to the East Texas home of Bruce Standefer who'd, at the time, owned the horse about a year.
"There’s a couple little things he would do that irritated us," Standefer remembered. "He'd turn his head in the box to the left, and he just didn't fit my son or me."
But from the first time Lord tried the horse, that didn't really bother him.
"He didn't look like much," Lord remembered of the first time he saw the horse registered as Poco Sparta King. "But even then, you could tell he tried his heart out. I went back and tried him the next morning and I roped good on him. My dad and my brother (Eli) told me that if I was really looking for a heel horse and I didn't buy that one, I wasn't really looking very hard. He worked so good every time, but he wasn’t the flashiest thing. Really the same way he is now."
Two weeks later, Lord won his first truck on LB, and Lord's dad, J.B., called to thank Standefer for the buy.
[SHOP: Levi Lord's Heel Rope]
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"I get a phone call from Levi's dad, and I think, 'Oh no, they don't like the horse,' when I see my phone ringing," Standefer remembered. "But he called instead to just say thank you for selling him the horse, that Levi had just won his first truck on him."
In the decade that followed, Lord and Little Bay won high school rodeos, then the Badlands Circuit title three times, along with Rodeo Houston; Spanish Fork, Utah; and Nampa, Idaho.
After Deadwood, South Dakota, in 2019, Lord and his partner, Nelson Wyatt, were flying pretty high. They were inside the top 15, and they had a day of downtime at the Lord family's house outside Sturgis, South Dakota.
"I turned him out during Deadwood, and I got him in and he had a puncture wound on his hip," Lord said. "Thankfully, I took him in the vet just to get it cleaned up, it wasn't just a puncture wound. He had rolled onto something and it had stuck up in his hip six or eight inches. It got all infected and they had to slice his hip open 10 different spots. We were at four different vets and stayed there for I don’t know how long. It was a mess."
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The horse—who didn't have much weight to lose—dropped 200 pounds, and Lord was practically afoot with two months left to go in the 2019 season.
"I left Deadwood Aug. 1, and. I didn’t have him the rest of the year. I had a decent horse, but didn’t rope as good as I needed to, and it definitely didn’t help our chances," Lord said.
Lord finished 19th in the world that year, just out of making his first Finals.
LB recovered, thankfully, and Wyatt and Lord snuck into the NFR with wins in Mobridge, South Dakota; and North Platte, Nebraska. Lord rode LB at 64 out of the 65 rodeos he entered in rodeo's abbreviated COVID-19 season, and come September, Lord realized he needed to track down LB's papers to put him into the Purina Horse of the Year voting.
"That's when they got a hold of me," Standefer said of the horse he'd not given much thought to in a decade.
Wyatt and Lord got their first NFR berth and—heading into Round 9—are second in the average with a time of 41.70 seconds on seven head. They've won 61,544.87 world standings points apiece, and they've got 112,236.41 and 113,434 on the year, respectively. If the Finals ended before the round ran tonight and average checks were calculated into the year-end earnings, they'd finish the year second in the PRCA world standings.
[Related: 2020 Round 8 NFR Team Roping Results]
"The steers (in Arlington) are pretty strong, and you’ve got to have a horse that can get there," Lord said. "If you’re not there on the first or second jump, you’re going to get in the fence. He’s been spot-on in getting over there and getting me in a spot so we’re not in the fence. I swing pretty fast, and from riding him my whole career, I have to have one that’s really fast-footed. He can run really fast. He might be the fastest horse I’ve ever been on. He can keep right up with all of those. He’s not the flashiest horse and doesn’t have a big stop. He can run and move his feet fast. He never really gets in a bad spot and he’s so cowy."
Since the phone call came from the AQHA trying to get the horse's paperwork straightened out early in the fall, Standefer had an idea he'd see the horse on The Cowboy Channel during the Finals, and he recognized him right away.
"When the horse stands in the box, he doesn’t look down the arena," Standefer said. "But Levi doesn’t fight with him, he doesn’t do anything. He’s looking for his header, looking for the nod. The longer he’s in there, the farther he turns his head to the left. Dummy us, we fought with that horse about that. What I’ve learned out of this is every horse doesn’t fit every rider and it dang sure fits Levi. He was a nice horse. We weren’t the fit. When I'm watching on TV, I try to find him behind the box every night, because he’s just cool. And you know, a lot of them bay horses all look alike. But when that horse is in the box and turns his head to the left—it’s bragging rights for Levi to accept that and just go catch a steer." TRJ