Top headers in the PRCA world standings voted Jewels Smoke Screen, a 12-year-old gelding, the 2019 Purina PRCA Head Horse of the Year.

Jewels Smoke Screen, the 2019 Purina PRCA Head Horse of the Year, was a lucky sale-barn, sight-unseen buy for Weatherford, Texas’ Gerald Hanning.

“He just bought him from a sale in Lufkin from his papers over the phone,” the horse’s jockey, 2019 National Finals Rodeo header Tate Kirchenschlager said. “I was working for Gerald riding horses at the time. We sent a guy over there to get him, and when he showed up he looked terrible. I don’t even think they rode him through the ring. He was pretty watchy and only had about 90 rides I think.”

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

[Listen: The Short Score with Tate Kirchenschlager]

“Smoke”, a son of Smokin Reward out of a Freckles Quixote daughter named Baileys Little Jewel, was 8 at the time and well underweight. Kirchenschlager suggested they send him to NFR heeler Cole Davison’s house for some pasture time and good feed. Davison’s mother Karen happens to be the director of equine technical solutions for Purina, so the family’s program is tops.

“He looked awesome when we got him back from Cole’s. He had a good handle on him already, so I started heading on him,” Kirchenschlager said.

The horse was really feely and spooky, but he’d been ridden outside by previous owners, so heading was pretty natural for him. The horse took a lot of riding—something the breeders at Texas’ Bailey’s Quarter Horses would later tell Kirchenschlager came from his sire.

Pedigree for 2019 Purina PRCA Head Horse of the Year Jewels Smoke Screen ridden by Tate Kirchenschlager and owned by Brad Lands. 

Pedigree for 2019 Purina PRCA Head Horse of the Year Jewels Smoke Screen ridden by Tate Kirchenschlager and owned by Brad Lands. 

Hanning sold the horse to Texas header and owner of Lariat Energy Company Brad Lands, and Lands worked out a partnership with Kirchenschlager on the horse that let Kirchenschlager continue to ride him. He started taking him to the tough jackpots around Weatherford, and in 2018, he cracked him out at the rodeos.

“I probably took him to five or six rodeos before Reno in 2018. He was probably too green. He jumped the barrier at Reno, and I feel dumb for taking him last year thinking I’d win something.”

But that entire year’s seasoning on the rodeo trail paid off in a big way, Kirchenschlager realized in early 2019. He and 2019 Resistol Rookie of the Year Ross Ashford won the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo and skyrocketed to first in the PRCA world standings this February, pocketing $22,750 a man.

He went from the building rodeos, with their short scores and fast left walls, to the big, hard-running cattle and long scores of California without time to practice.

Tate Kirchenschlager Cesar de la Cruz Oakdale Rodeo

Kirchenschlager heading on Smoke at the Oakdale (California) Rodeo with a big reach for nine-time NFR heeler Cesar de la Cruz.

“I thought I really had a good horse after this winter, but I didn’t know how he’d do in the spring. I realized he was even better than I thought when I got home from California. I didn’t get to practice on him much before we left. Cesar and I won some day moneys, we might have placed at a jackpot. He went from the buildings to outside and he worked great everywhere,” Kirchenschlager said.

He rode Smoke most of the summer, splitting time at the end of the season with a roan Kirchenschlager’s dad raised.

“I fed him alfalfa and Purina’s Gastric Care,” Kirchenschlager said. “He stayed sound and pretty good all summer. I probably could have even ridden him more and practiced on him more. He’d have taken it really well.”

Kirchenschlager will take both Smoke and his roan gelding to Las Vegas, and he’s excited the horse he made helped him earn his first trip there. But with all that said, Kirchenschlager was careful to point out why he thinks his horse won the coveted Horse of the Year title: “If Clay Smith could nominate Marty, nobody else would win it. I just wish they’d let him nominate him just one year.”

(Smith’s grey gelding—who carried him to the 2018 gold buckle and aboard whom Smith currently leads the PRCA world standings—is grade.) TRJ

Related