As we all know, having a great horse can make you or break you. I learned a lot on this subject from guys like Bret Boatright, who always had good horses and was also always asking and looking around in every town for that next superstar.
When I was younger, we had one horse. We practiced on him, jackpotted on him, and rodeoed on him. We didn’t know any better. With all the money out there now—what you can win and also the cost of horses—taking better care of your horses just makes sense.
The first horse I ever saw that made a huge difference in someone’s career was Charles Pogue’s Scooter. He really elevated Charles’ career. Charles and his wife, Londa, took extra good care of that horse, and that had a lot to do with why he lasted so long. Injuries can happen to any horse, but extra-special care can’t hurt.
I’ve had my share of good horses over the years. The best horse I ever had was my gray horse Barney. He had a knot on his knee when I got him, but I knew what I had. He was great. So I kept him in shape, but never practiced on him. I scored some, and would sometimes rope steers and follow them to the back end. I got a few more miles out of Barney with common sense and a maintenance program that was tailored to him. Some great horses need to be practiced on. A lot of the really special ones don’t need those extra runs.
Back in the day, taking care of rope horses was about as simple as floating their teeth, worming them, and giving them a little Bute when they got sore. With all the technology and science today, there are injections, chiropractic care, hauling boots, and ice boots. Every horse has different needs, but if you’ve got a good one, it only makes sense to do your best to meet those needs.
A good feed program that fits each horse is one of the obvious basics. Keeping a horse in shape is also smart, because the better they feel, the better they perform. Good fitness also prevents a lot of soundness problems and injuries. I like putting my horses on a free-style walker, and having them walk and trot for about an hour. I pull a log on my horses a lot, too, to keep them strong.
If you’re fortunate enough to come up with a good horse, don’t overdo it when you go to the practice pen. Don’t just make runs for your enjoyment or to work on your roping. That’s what practice horses are for. Keep your good horse dialed in and tuned up, but don’t just run him into the ground at home.
A horse’s mind is the biggest thing you have to conquer. Scoring and keeping him to where he doesn’t want to get too quick and duck is a challenge, especially today when the times are so quick. Use the practice pen for prevention of bad habits. Roping machines are helpful, because you can slow things down and rope, but don’t have to turn anything off. I also spend a lot of time roping really slow steers to keep my horses’ minds right, and to minimize the pressure.
Today’s horse trailers are a lot easier on horses than the old-school trailers, which is good. The comfort level today is just better, with mangers, so they can eat along the way, and drop-down doors. Some trailers even have automatic waterers in them.
When you get to a roping or rodeo, and you’re tired from driving, it’s easy to get out, tie your horse to the trailer, and go to bed. We always went the extra mile to try and find a pen, so our horses would feel as fresh as possible. And we took advantage of every chance we had to kick our horses out into somebody’s pasture to graze and relax along the way. Even just taking the time to let them roll after you unsaddle them is better than nothing.
Always remember that a good horse is everything. Those great horses can define a roper’s career, so take care of them. Horses of the highest caliber are not on every street corner.