When is the right time to say goodbye to our equine athletes?

Sooner or later, it’s a dreaded decision faced by virtually every horse owner: When is it time to say goodbye to that favorite four-footed family member? The big bag of mixed emotions comes from that fine line between prolonging a loved one’s life—even if it’s at great financial expense medically—and putting a compassionate end to his or her suffering.

Matt Sherwood and Trevor Brazile are just two examples of world champion team ropers who’ve had to deal with this dilemma in recent times. Matt, who won the world in 2006 and ’08 on his sorrel dream ride, Nick, went through it last year. Trevor—whose world team roping title that is one of an unparalleled 24-gold-buckle collection happened in 2010 with Patrick Smith on the heeling side—has been worrying and wondering about his tie-down roping dream ride Texaco in recent times.

Matt bought Nick when he was just 18 months old, in the fall of 1995. He trained the horse himself, and rode him at four of his five NFRs (2006, ’08, ’11 and ’15, but not ’16). Matt and his signature mount made so many headlines, also including the windfall W at the 2014 George Strait Team Roping Classic, which Matt won with Clint Summers.

“The two greatest, most surreal moments in my career—winning that first world championship and winning the Strait—happened on that horse,” Matt remembers well.

To put The Nick Factor into perspective here, Matt didn’t make the Finals cut the first time until he was 36. Not coincidentally, Nick was in his prime at 12. How much credit for finally getting over the NFR hump does he hand that horse?

“A really large portion of it,” Matt said. “The hardest thing I had to overcome to become a world champion was believing it was possible. I was 36 and hadn’t even made the NFR. It was a distant, mystical event that had eluded me. Nick was the easiest horse to score and catch on. I kept telling myself, ‘Do your job and you’re going to win.’ That horse gave me that confidence. Without that confidence, I don’t know that I could have done it. Winning the world was nowhere on my radar. I thought if I could just make the NFR, that would be the greatest thing in the world. Nick made that possible.”

Matt kept Nick on free feed most of his life. Last July, Nick foundered on a bale of extra-rich hay from the first cutting from the family farm.

“I was up at Salt Lake on Saturday night, and while I was driving home on Sunday my kids called and said Nick couldn’t get up,” Sherwood said. “Then they got him up, but he couldn’t walk. When I got home Sunday night, he would stand up. But he wouldn’t even take a step.

“Nick was 24, and was otherwise so healthy. My oldest daughter, Megan, had just carried the flag on him on Friday night at the rodeo here in Pima (Arizona). I could have left him in that pen where he didn’t have to take 10 steps to feed and water, and he probably could have lived a few more years. But I felt like his quality of life would have been so poor, and he would have had to live in constant pain.”

Matt had to lead his trusty, old friend over to his final resting spot just outside their back yard before the vet put Nick down that Monday morning.

“It broke my heart,” Matt said. “But it’s part of life. I was in tears. My heart was breaking. But I made the decision that it was time. I still think about it, and I don’t think I could have stood to see him suffering. It was better to put him down comfortably than to ask him to suffer, so we could keep him around. It was the right decision. It’s hard. But you have to be tough enough to make the right choice. I have faith that families are eternal, and that we meet again in Heaven after we leave here. I hope that goes for horses who are family to us, too.”

Trevor Brazile and Texaco

Trevor and Texaco doing work at the 2005 NFR.

Trevor and Texaco

There was a time when TNT stood for Trevor and Texaco in the rodeo world. Texaco is 24 now, and has been retired at Trevor’s place in Texas for a few years.

“He was too little to try that hard,” Trevor says. “I’d be fudging to say he was 14 hands tall and 1,050 pounds in his prime. But he did more than horses with big bodies, because he had so much heart. He’s just gritty and dirty tough, and he loved his job. Texaco was only 13.3 (hands), but it didn’t matter if we were at Cheyenne or Salinas. The tougher the situation, the better he was. He scored great, hauled butt and was super physical stopping. He didn’t have a weakness. That was his best attribute.”

To put Texaco into Trevor perspective, Real Cool Dual is literally the only horse’s registered name Trevor can remember. “He’s the one I don’t forget—and never will,” Trevor said. “And I haven’t seen his papers in 10 years.”

Sadly, Texaco’s stifle is shot, and he now needs Previcox just to be able to get up and down. Trevor’s has been a more prolonged decision than Matt’s, because he’s been better able to manage his dream horse’s pain. But Texaco is starting to drop some weight. Time is ticking on the dreaded decision, and Trevor knows it.

“Texaco’s a horse that always gives his all,” Trevor said. “That’s just his character. I knew it was time to retire him when he started feeling different, because I knew it wasn’t an effort thing.”

What to do has been weighing heavy on Trevor’s heart for a while now.

“I’ve done everything I can to keep him comfortable,” Brazile said. “It’s a quality-of-life decision for me now. You think—and hope—a miracle drug will come along. It’s tough to see the great ones going downhill.

“When to say when and put a horse like Texaco down is a very tough decision. I’ll finally get good with it, then my wife (Shada) will struggle with it. It wouldn’t be half as hard a decision had he not been so important to my family and me. Texaco was not just transportation. You don’t connect like that with all of them, but Texaco’s family.” 

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