Cowboy superstition has long said that changing a barn name is bad luck. But bucking tradition, the yellow gelding Kaleb Driggers is riding at this year's National Finals Rodeo has gotten better every time a new owner called him something different.
Now called Maestro, the 14-year-old gelding registered as WM Genuine Breeze made his first appearance under rodeo's bright lights with eight-time NFR header Kaleb Driggers. But his path to Las Vegas—that wound through a few different names—was far from easy, and along the way took some darn good cowboys to make the strong, hard running, hard facing horse into a high-level mount.
[Related: 2019 NFR Round 2 Team Roping Cheat Sheet]
"That Yellow Gelding"
Five-time NFR tie-down-roper Willard Moody, now 73, raised the horse, by his stud Ima Genuine Big Star and out of his Daylight Breeze/Oklahoma Fuel-bred mare Yellow Breeze Fuel. Now 23, Ima Genuine Big Star was a calf horse by the same stud, Big As I Am, as Cody Ohl's great mare Pearl.
"They've barrel raced, calf roped, steer wrestled, and team roped on his colts," Moody said. "I had five of those colts that same year, and they all were really nice. He was out of an Oklahoma Fuel mare that I got from my friend Charlie Thompson in Oklahoma. From day one, though, he really wanted to buck. I didn’t let him, but he wanted to. So I did a lot of ground work, and he really rode nice and was nice to watch lope around there. He would really slide and stop, but if you weren’t paying attention, he’d look back at you out of his eye, and take off running, run four or five jumps, then start bucking."
Moody needed a knee replacement, so he sent "that yellow gelding" off to a cowboy friend named Cody Walton to ride for a while. Walton rode the horse outside, but he stayed pretty fresh even with his impressive stop and big run.
"When I got him back, he rode outstanding but he'd still think about bucking," Moody said. "So I started completely over with groundwork. You could lay him down, climb on top of him. But he still thought about bucking, and I decided I really didn't need one like that."
Moody called Walton, who really liked the horse and was young enough to put up with a little buck.
"I asked him if he wanted him," Moody remembered. "But he said, 'Sir I do, but I just don't have the money.' I told him I wasn't asking if he had any money, I was asking if he wanted the horse. He said yes, so I gave him to him."
Walton eventually moved to Texas, where World Series header JP Powell first saw the horse.
"I saw that horse run off with Cody, and he ran in between seven or eight horses tied to the fence, and he clothes-lined Cody off," Powell, from Decatur, Texas, remembered. "I knew the background on him, and I was working on the pipeline in Carlsbad, New Mexico. My best friend called me and told me he had found my next great head horse, and he told me about that yellow horse of Cody's. I told him 'That horse is a flipping outlaw!' But he argued with me and told me he just needed a good home, so I bought him."
Powell started by petting and grooming the horse, feeding him treats to catch him. A 5.5 header, Powell wanted a good horse to take to Las Vegas for the Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale, so he just started treating the horse he named "Yellow Dawg" like a good one.
"He was done running off and bucking by the time I got him. He'd hump up if you laid him off, but he hadn't been to town much so that eventually went away, too. I started hauling him to World Series, and he just got better and better."
Powell owned him for five years, and he credits 90-percent of what he won during that time to that horse.
"He was tough," Powell said. "He could take however many you wanted to run on him in one day’s time. You could run 10 or 50 on him, and he didn’t care."
Yellow Dawg still had his quirks, but at this point of the horse's life, they were more funny than dangerous.
"Me and Wesley Moss used to rope together, and Wesley had a sorrel horse he sold Travis Graves," Powell said. "Those two horses would nicker to each other going down the pen. And Yellow Dawg would nicker at you if you missed."
Bubba Buckaloo, who made the Finals in 2018 where he roped with Chase Tryan, was needing a horse in a bad way earlier this summer. That's when his dad, Steve, saw Powell riding the horse at a jackpot in Decatur.
"Bubba’s dad asked what it would take to buy him," Powell, who had owned the horse for five years at that time, said. "I hated to, but I did."
Buckaloo took the horse he renamed DS straight to the rodeo trail. He rode him at the Bob Feist Invitational, plenty of rodeos over the Fourth of July, Cheyenne, Ellensburg and more. He even won second on him at Pendleton.
"But I needed a younger horse," Buckaloo said. "And Driggers wanted him, so I decided I could sell him."
That was this October, at Driggers' The Capitalist.
"I bought him with no intentions of riding him at the NFR," Driggers said. "I was looking for something to jackpot on and take some runs since there is so many jackpots in Texas now. I started riding him and he just kept getting better and better."
Last year, Driggers rode Yahtzee, the grey gelding that had always done so well at the Thomas & Mack no matter who rode him. He planned to ride Yahtzee again, but the yellow horse he'd just bought and named Maestro had something special about him that made him second guess his choice.
"He’s not like anything I’ve ever rode here," Driggers said. "He’s fast across the line. I have to score just a tick better, as everything else has always been real smooth and solid and I could just kind of go with my nod. He gives me a little bit of peace, as I know if I’m not perfect at the start he will make up with his speed across there and not put me into a long reaching position."
So far, so good. On Maestro, Driggers made a solid run with Nogueira to stop the clock in 4.6 seconds, worth $6,769.23 each.
"He has really good foot work, gets on his butt through the turn and strong enough to pull whatever or however fast or slow he needs to. He really keeps the rope tight into the face. Riding him here is kind of a more complex way of heading. Normally you just use your rope since the start is so short and they are right there, but I plan on not throwing when the neck rope comes off to try to set Junior up for a good shot and allow Maestro's speed and foot work to speed our run up."
As for the horse's breeder Moody, he watched the rodeo but was paying attention to Nogueira's horse Timon. He knew his friends had a role in that horse's story, so he never paid attention to the horse Driggers' was riding.
"It’s always good to see somebody riding one that does well," Moody said. "It’s always nice when they go to the big show. It’s been so long since I got to rope there, at least my horses end up there."
For Powell, watching a horse he had a hand in—and one he'd have bought back if Driggers hadn't beaten him to the punch—in the Thomas & Mack is a thrill: "Driggers has got himself a pretty good mount there." TRJ