Aptly named for the brand on his hip, the quick-footed sorrel, “Z,” made his first appearance at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as a 6-year-old with Rich Skelton more than a decade ago. Nevada’s Randon Adams had the horse for a stint before Kyle Crick, of Lipan, Texas, bought him as a ProRodeo mount and finished in the top 20 on him. In late 2013, five-time NFR qualifier, Jim Ross Cooper—a Monument, N.M., native who now calls Stephenville, Texas, home—purchased the gelding.
Exceptionally talented, Cooper considers Z next in line behind his legendary mount, Jackyl. But sadly, for a majority of the less than four years he’s spent on the Cooper place, the now 16-year-old gelding has been sidelined with dual suspensory injuries. With a lengthy round of stem cell therapy following the first, and extended time off after the second, Cooper finally feels like he has the standout mount he originally purchased back, and on track. A horse that, “excels at one-headers and quicker set-ups,” Cooper will be turning to Z as the summer rodeo run gets into full swing.
“It feels like it was five years ago, but really it was only about three,” said Cooper, who, too shortly after purchasing Z, decided to send the horse home from the U.S. Finals in Oklahoma City when he first started to feel just a little bit off.
“He wasn’t reaching as far with his right front and wanted to come around the corner and not get all the way to the steer,” said Cooper. “When a horse is that good and something isn’t going quite right, it’s usually not a training error. I just felt like something was going on and wanted to get it checked out.”
The good news: there was no second-guessing the problem. The bad news: it would undoubtedly require extended time off for the seasoned veteran.
Cooper sent Z to Dr. Reese Hand, DVM and owning partner at Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery (ESMS) in Weatherford, Texas. The initial ultrasound revealed a small hole in the suspensory branch of his right front leg.
“They gave us the option to do stem cell therapy or just give him time off,” Cooper said. “We wanted to do what was the best and fastest for him. We decided to proceed with the stem cell therapy.
“They went in and drew from his hip and we took him home and put him in a tiny box-stall for probably a month or so,” Cooper continued. “They did stem cell treatments for about four months; I think it was about six treatments.”
Cooper uses Ace of Spades Aqua Tred in Stephenville, Texas, to keep his winning mounts in shape, and it was no different when it came time to bring Z back up to speed. After bringing him back slowly, Cooper was confident in his recovery and by summer of 2014 was riding him at rodeos in the Northwest when, during a practice pen session, the horse felt off.
After a local vet didn’t have any answers, Cooper sent Z back to Dr. Hand, where they discovered small tears in the suspensory branch of, now, his left front leg.
“They told me, as far as the cause, it’s kind of like a strain,” he said. “It was just kind of a freak deal that it happened twice.”
This time around, Cooper decided to forego stem cell therapy and give his horse an extended layoff.
They say every cloud has a silver lining, and while Z was sidelined it forced Cooper to figure things out with another mount.
“I had bought Jackyl in January (2014), and I was really wanting to baby him and not ride him very much. Honestly, it wasn’t going very well, riding him like that. When Z was out and I quit riding him is when things really started taking off on Jackyl.”
That said, by last December, Z was sound again and Cooper took him to the WNFR as a back up for Jackyl. While he didn’t end up riding him there, he has ridden him at several rodeos since, including San Angelo.
As far as preventative measures, Cooper will be increasingly careful about where he chooses to ride Z and how often. He’s never transported without Soft-Ride Comfort Boots, and even after just a few practice steers he gets both front legs iced down with the Soft-Ride Ice Spa.
“There’s a little bit of scar tissue on each leg,” said Cooper. “But he’s like he was before all of this happened.”