We all got used to seeing Billie Jack Saebens and a little black horse by the name of Domino Lena—aka Kevin—get it done. Kevin’s the Dixon Flowers Rope Horse weapon who got Saebens over the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo hump, and who Billie Jack rode when he heeled behind Coleman Proctor at the 2016-17 NFRs. Kevin’s gone missing for injury timeouts multiple times. So it was a welcome sight for Saebens fans to see Billie Jack and Kevin, who’s 16 now, doing work up in the Northwest this fall. The two of them taking the victory lap together after their big win with Jake Clay at the Ellensburg (Washington) Rodeo took the cake.
“I think Kevin’s had three comebacks,” said Missouri native Billie Jack, who now lives in Nowata, Oklahoma, with his NFR barrel racer wife Ivy. “He’s the horse that just kind of let me see heeling differently than I’d ever seen it before. Kevin being so solid made me more consistent, and he let me focus only on my roping. He’s just so easy.”
Billie Jack, who’s the head trainer at Dixon Flowers Rope Horses, has ridden Kevin the last seven years.
“We bought Kevin when he was 9,” Saebens said. “He’d been shown a bunch by Clay Logan, and his owner, Seth Jordan, had roped on him at World Series ropings. But he hadn’t been rodeoed on.”
Kevin—who took Top Heel Horse of the 2017 BFI honors the year Proctor and Saebens finished second to Luke Brown and Jake Long—was out earlier that year for an injury that actually happened outside of the arena.
“Kevin’s kind of spooky, there was snow on the ground in Rapid City (South Dakota), someone threw the lead rope over his neck to load him in the trailer, it scared him, he spooked and jumped and hurt himself,” Billie Jack said. “He was out with a small hind suspensory tear that time. Kevin had laser therapy and they swam him to get him back from that.”
Kevin came back strong, then got kicked in his front end at the rodeo in San Angelo, Texas, in February of 2018. After resting Kevin for about a month, Saebens rode him in the finals at San Antonio, and won it with Proctor.
“Kevin was a little sore after that, so I took him to the vet and he had a torn suspensory up high in the right front, just below his knee,” Billie Jack said. “I gave him another six or eight months off, and brought him back for the Northwest that fall, when I started roping with Charly (Crawford). In late 2018, Kevin tore that same right front suspensory in the same spot. I didn’t ride him for the better part of a year after that.
“Kevin got pretty sound late in the summer of 2019, but I was too scared to ride him or haul him much. He was still a little bit off, and the soreness seemed to come and go. I took him back to the vet, and started keeping Kevin in a stall, because he runs and bucks and plays, and I didn’t want him to hurt himself again.”
By January 2021, Billie Jack decided to turn Kevin back out. He just couldn’t stand to see such a stellar horse locked up in a stall any longer.
“I’d been home and heading quite a bit, then Jake (Clay) and I decided to go rodeo a little after the Fourth of July this summer,” Saebens said of his late 2021 season. “I started roping a few steers on Kevin, and he was sound. I didn’t want to haul him all over, so I left him at home, then brought him out the week of Dodge City (Kansas) the first part of August. And I’ve been riding him ever since.”
Billie Jack’s black brigade also includes the 2019 Heel Horse of the Year and American Quarter Horse Association World Champion DT Sugar Chex Whiz, a little black mare who goes by Sugar for short. A young sorrel horse he calls Milo, who’s 6, is also in the trailer these days. But for Billie Jack, there’s only one Kevin.
[Read: Saebens Cracks Out AQHA World Champion Mount on Rodeo Road]
“The coolest part about Kevin is that I can ride really close to the steer down the arena and through the corner—right next to the cow—and I can see the feet the whole time, because he’s kind of small,” Saebens said. “Kevin’s only 14 hands, but he’s real heavy made. I’m going to guess he weighs 1,100 pounds—maybe 1,150.
“Kevin’s a funny horse. He’ll untie himself and everybody else at the trailer. You can hardly catch him in a stall he’s so spooky. And as much as he’s been hauled, I still can’t get him to go by banners without having to hold on. But we’ve caught a lot of steers since I’ve been back riding him, and have done pretty good. It’s just crazy how some people have ‘that horse.’ And for me, that horse is Kevin.
“When a horse is that easy to catch on, it just builds your confidence. Ellensburg’s a hard rodeo to win. After all we’ve been through, to win it on Kevin was pretty fun for me. There’s kind of an X factor to the great ones. They just dang near rope the steers for you.”