Trying to make a living with a rope is tough stuff in the best of times. At tempting it without a rodeo cowboy’s horse herd in full force is a major disadvantage. At press time, it was yet to be seen which end of the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bubble Trey Yates would finish on. Fact is, when this issue went to print he was just $6 from 15th in the 16th spot. But he was sure happy to have his strip-faced sorrel horse, Duke, back in the trailer.

The Yates family sold Diamonds R King, who’s been called both Duke and Sniper down at the barn in his lifetime, to Duke Dixon as a 3-year-old.

“We sold him and the black mare Billie Jack (Saebens) rides to Duke Dixon at the same time,” said Trey, who qualified for—and won—the 2018 NFR with Aaron Tsinigine. “He was Duke and she was Dixon. Half my buddies know him as Sniper, but my dad calls him Duke around our place in Pueblo (Colorado), so Duke it is at our house.”

Team Roping Journal Extra Volume 11: Trey Yates

Duke Dixon sold Duke to Trey’s god-parents, Joyce and Don Tisdall, who also owned the bay horse Trey won the Finals on, Dude. Trey has since bought both Dude and Duke, who’s 10 now, from the Tisdalls.

“I bought Duke in 2018, right after I rode him at Denver that January,” Trey said. “Duke was doing really good last year, then got hurt in the early spring. So we gave him last summer off. My dad (J.D.) got him back in shape, and rode Duke at the qualifier in Denver earlier this year, then I took him to my house in Arizona from there. I rode him at one roping, and he came up lame in the front. There was never an incident or a wreck or anything. He just started limping.

“We had all kinds of vets look at Duke, and they took X-rays and did MRIs. But nobody could find anything. Then a friend of mine took him from Scottsdale to Dr. Major at Oakridge (Equine Hospital) in Edmond, Oklahoma. He did more tests, and didn’t really find anything definitive, just that Duke had some pressure on his heels and bruising on his coffin joint. We gave him a little time off, then started some different shoeing in March. He hasn’t taken a bad step since.”

Finding Power in Team Roping Heeling Position with Trey Yates

Trey cracked Duke back out at the August rodeos in Dodge City and Phillipsburg, Kansas, and Castle Rock, Colorado, and won checks at all three with Matt Sherwood.

“I don’t do anything without consult-ing with (Trey’s grandpa/J.D.’s dad) Dick first,” said Derek Schicke, who handles Duke’s shoeing when he’s home in Colorado. “This horse naturally grows a lot of toe and not much heel. He’s pretty flat footed. Dick and I talked when Duke got home from Oklahoma, and he wanted him reshod per the vet’s prescription be-fore Trey started rodeoing on him again. So we took him out of the three-degree pads and put two-degree pads on him (with steel shoes).”

Luckily, what Dick and the doctor ordered for Duke did the trick.

“The special shoeing kicked in, and Duke’s been great ever since,” said Trey, who also noted that J.D. won a lot on Duke in multiple events at the American Quarter Horse Association World Show before Trey took the reins. “I feel like I’m really fortunate to have three first-stringers now in Duke, Dude and Tux (his black horse who took Best BFI Heel Horse honors this year). Part of what makes Duke special is how much he resembles my old sorrel horse, YY, that I won the College Finals and Cheyenne on, and rode at the high school finals and junior high finals jackpots.

“Finding a horse that’s accustomed to your style of roping that lets you win day in and day out is a very special asset to a team roper who’s a rodeo cowboy. They’re hard to find.” 

The Score Season 1, Episode 9 with Trey and J.D. Yates 

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