Some 12 years ago, Caleb Anderson used a Rattler GT4 to rope a pretty wild, pretty puny, pretty plain sorrel yearling out of his Aunt Rhonda's pasture in Cleveland, North Carolina.
Now, with just one weekend left in ProRodeo's regular season, that same sorrel—now affectionately called Sugar Bear—is the only horse in 29-year-old Anderson's rig as the North Carolina-native zig-zags the country, trying like heck to get himself and partner Jake Cooper a spot in the Thomas & Mack come December 5.
Anderson is 13th with $72,389.60 won, while Cooper is 15th with $73,190.95.
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Rhonda and Steve Beaver, Anderson's aunt and uncle, owned a stud called King Herk. They were proud of the horse, as he'd picked up AQHA points across the roping disciplines and earned a spot at the AQHA World Show along the way. But Steve passed away, and some of their colts didn't get messed with much. Anderson, still a teenager at the time, had already had good luck with horses Rhonda and Steve had raised before, Rhonda called him about the runt filly they'd kept around.
"She was a yearling and got sick and puny," Anderson remembered of Sugar Bear, who is by King Herk out of a PocosToHotToHandle, by Pocos Perkins 094. "They fed her up and got her feeling better, but she didn't grow much and they couldn’t get her sold. My aunt told me I could have her if I could catch her. So I went over there one day, and I had to rope her out of the pasture. I hemmed her up in a corner in the fence and I roped her, and that was it."
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Anderson messed with her in the round pen his dad built at their place, and he got her gentle. Eventually he started riding her, and her real talents started to shine.
"Whenever I started her I got to where I could pull her around and lope her around decent. I had a couple steers right there in that pasture next to the round pen, so I put a steer in there and went to tracking it and roping it. She’d follow the cow where ever it went. When I went out to the arena, I started her on the sled. I showed her how to go straight and stay on the outside, and when the cow would turn she would turn. I don’t know another horse cowier than her. She eats the cows up."
Sugar Bear quickly became Anderson's number-one, and he rode her at the USTRC's Cinch National Finals of Team Roping as a 5-year-old and at the International Professional Rodeo Association's Finals at 6. He'd win the IPRA world title on her from 2013 to 2015, and he brought her to Texas with him when he moved to the famed Phillip Ranch a few years later.
Right Place, Right Time
Anderson heeled for fellow North Carolina cowboy Cory Kidd at the ProRodeos out West back in 2012, but he (with Sugar Bear's help) didn't go hard again until the 2018 season. He didn't have the luck he wanted last year, so he decided he better find some work in the fall.
"I was at a roping, and I saw Luke Brown," Anderson explained. "I didn't know him that well, just to say hi. I asked him how his new place in Lipan was coming, and he said he needed a lot of help with all the work. I told him I needed something to do down there, and we built pens and his arena and sheds. I got to help him build the NFR arena and heel for him when his guy wasn’t there last year. I fed for him and Paul (Eaves) and Clayton Hass when they were gone at the NFR. I talked Luke into letting me bring my horses down there, and he hasn’t kicked me out yet."
While he was working for Brown, Anderson also found a run for 2019, too.
"After I rodeoed last year, I didn’t have a plan. I was broke. Still am—you never really do get ahead. I knew I couldn’t afford to go. There were jackpots at Austin Robertson's last winter, and I didn’t have a partner and Jake didn’t have a partner. We won two jackpots and won second at the other one right off the bat. They were just weekly deals, but we were roping good. He was spinning steers, and I was heeling them. I asked him what his plan was. He didn’t have one, and I was in the same boat and I decided we were going to go."
Sugar Bear and Anderson are heeling behind two great head horses—Cooper's Ole Son and Boogie, who've both made NFR trips with previous jockeys—a luxury that isn't lost on Anderson.
"His horses make it easy," Anderson said.
The Rodeo Road
Anderson has ridden Sugar Bear nearly everywhere since he started using her at the big stuff a 5-year-old, and it was on her back that he won second at Rodeo Houston, worth $30,000, and picked up third at the Cheyenne Frontier Days for another $8,665.
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"She's fast enough I think," Anderson said. "I've never been out run all year and I've rode her from start to finish. I will say, the older she gets, the more mare-ish she gets. She kicks some in the trailer, but only if she can see the other horse sniffing or touching her. If I get to picking on her, it ain’t nothing but a fight so you might as well let her do what she wants to do. I’ve gone back and forth selling her. My fiancé has talked me out of it several times. I’ll think she’s not good enough, and then I’ll get on her because that’s all I got. She comes out smelling like a rose. I think she’s going to have a life forever with us."
At the time of this writing on Friday, September 26, Anderson had three rodeos left: Poway, California, San Bernardino, California, and Apache, Oklahoma.
"It’s a good feeling knowing what can happen. But the heading is so tight. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in. I have to get my partner in. I have to heel like I’m on the bubble. My friends from back home have been calling me, but I’ve been telling everybody not to talk about it right now. I want to feel like it will be a good deal, but there are three steers left." TRJ