It took Cole Davison 10 years to make his first NFR and now, he’s heeled at back-to-back Finals for the past two years—in 2018 for Kolton Schmidt and behind Tyler Wade in 2019. He says the No. 1 factor that helped him over the Top-15 hump is a horse.

Davison, 30, who lives in Stephenville, Texas, with his wife, Whitney, and daughters, Milli and Letti, bought Apollo, now 10, from Rhen Richard, who headed for him the first half of 2016.

[Read: The DEFINITIVE List of 2019 NFR Qualifying Rope Horses and Their Bloodlines]

“I bought Apollo over the phone,” Davison said. “Rhen trained him and took him to some futurities in Canada and Arizona as a 5-year-old and won a lot on him. I bought him after watching a few videos, and I picked him up at Denver in January 2016. I took him to a few jackpots and small rodeos, but mainly just practiced on him to try and get him figured out. I figured he was on the young side to be a rodeo horse, and I didn’t want to rush him and blow him up as a 6-year-old.”

Richard decided not to make the trip to California for the five-header at Salinas that year. Ditto on Dustin Egusquiza’s heeler, so Davison heeled for Egusquiza.

“Salinas was the first big rodeo where I ever had to count on Apollo,” Davison said. “I woke up every day at 5:30 and started loping him. He jumped the barrier every run, but I figured as long as he was jumping it, I wasn’t breaking it. Dustin and I won third in the average. The short round at Salinas was Sunday afternoon, and I was up Monday morning with Rhen at Ogden (Utah) slack. Rhen and I were 4 flat on our second steer. Apollo worked good in two totally different setups. That’s when I knew he was ready. I rode him at some little amateur and circuit rodeos between August and the first of [2017] trying to get him finished, and really got to where I trusted him.”

Apollo’s pedigree matches that of Richard’s young calf horse, Patron, on the top side. Both sorrel superstars are by CD Olena. Patron’s a year younger than Apollo and 9 now.

“Apollo does everything I need a heel horse to do,” said Davison, who hauls him in Soft Ride Boots. “He can really run. I’m never playing catchup or having to worry about getting to the steer. They cow-horsed on Apollo before Rhen bought him, so he’s really broke and you can put him wherever you want him.

[Listen: The Short Score NFR BONUS: Round 1 Winners Wade and Davison]

“Apollo’s really forgiving, and he never takes anything away from you. You can throw on the first hop 10 steers in a row, then if on the 11 one you want to take four swings, no sweat. That’s very hard to find in a horse.”

Davison, who rode Apollo at the Finals the last two years, had a little pre-NFR scare with his #1 steed two weeks before last month’s 2019 NFR.

[Listen: The Short Score NFR BONUS: Round 3 Winners Wade and Davison]

“He’s been so sound—this is the first time he’s been sore since I’ve owned him,” Davison said 10 days before opening night. “I hadn’t roped on him since October, and gave him a couple weeks off. When I started to leg him back up, I rode him, then tied him up. When I got back on, I could tell something wasn’t right, so I took him in to (Dr.) Charlie (Buchanan at Brazos Valley Equine Hospital in Stephenville).

“The best we could figure, he strained a suspensory playing around in his pen. They blocked his suspensory and he was sound. Then they ultra-sounded him to make sure there weren’t any tears, and luckily there weren’t. So they took Apollo to their rehab facility, laser-treated the area and put him in a salt-water spa and on the AquaTred every day, to keep up his fitness without stress.”

Davison took Apollo home right before Thanksgiving.

[Read: Strong Start and New NFR Strategy for Wade and Davison]

[Read: Bringing It: Wade and Davison Strike Again]

“Charlie says he’s good to go,” said a relieved Davison. “I’ll lope him for a few days before I rope on him right before the Finals. I’m going to Dean Tuftin’s house in Scottsdale on the way to Vegas, and will probably just run four or five steers a day there, and we should be good to go. Charlie’s flying into Arizona on Sunday (five days before opening night) to check on Apollo and a couple other horses.

“I’ve ridden this horse the last three full years now, and hadn’t ever had to go without him. So I’m thankful for a great vet like Charlie being able to handle something like this. As important as these horses are to what we do, having a vet who understands what we do and need, but also keeps our horses’ best interests in mind is big. This isn’t the last year I’m going to need Apollo. And I know I can’t replace him.”

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