The future of Jade Corkill’s gray gunner Champ was sketchy at best after a career-threatening injury hit suddenly during their 4.75-second, long-round-winning run at the 2021 American in March. Champ—who’s American Quarter Horse Association registered name is Sixes Posse and is 16—tore the straight sesamoidean ligament in his left front foot during the run. Tanner Equine’s Dr. Marty Tanner, who practices in Brock, Texas, basically told Jade to brace himself for the possibility of an early retirement for the horse Corkill bought from Clay “Champ” Cooper in 2019. Corkill’s been on Cloud 9 since four-legged Champ’s somewhat unexpected return to his little heeling remuda this summer.
“Champ scores, runs but never runs by, and just does whatever you need every time,” said three-time Champ of the World Corkill, who went tic-tac-toe, three in a row, on the gold heeling buckles front from 2012-14. “He’s just as easy as can be to rope and catch on, and one of the best horses I’ve had. I’ve won a ton on him at the rodeos and the jackpots, and he hadn’t taken one lame step since I’d had him until that happened at The American.”
Dr. Tanner injected Champ, and put him on stall rest for three months. Determined to remain optimistic about the horse’s possible return to rodeo arenas far and wide, Jade saddled Champ and left him tied up in that stall two or three days a week, just in case he could come back.
“Champ’s gentle and calm, but he can be a bit of a wild animal at times, if he hasn’t been being ridden,” Corkill said. “He will buck your butt off. Champ’s (Cooper’s) exact words to me were, ‘He feels good until he feels too good.’ I guess I was just saddling him hoping he would get better, and trying to stay ahead of the game.”
With the green light from Dr. Tanner—who by ultrasound determined that the horse had responded remarkably well to the regenerative drug RenoVo—Corkill started lightly exercising Champ in early June.
“Marty was really happy with how Champ was moving, and you could tell he felt good just trotting around,” Jade said. “We took it really slow at first, and I have a handheld cold laser therapy (pain management laser) that I have with me all the time, and used that on him. I just walked Champ every other day at first.
“I ran two slow steers on Champ at the house right before I left for Reno in late June. My mom (Mitzi) brought him to me at the rodeo in St. Paul (Oregon) over the Fourth. That was Champ’s first rodeo back. I rode him at Livingston (Montana), and I’ve been riding him about everywhere since.”
Corkill won Cheyenne with Clay Smith in July with his sorrel Huey’s help.
“Having to run that hard and that far (at Cheyenne), I just didn’t want to do that to Champ yet,” Jade said. “But besides that, I’ve ridden Champ pretty much everywhere, including at Pendleton on the grass (in September).
“I’ve had horses come back from getting hurt, but they never felt the same. Champ’s felt great—100% sound. It’s crazy in a good way. Champ’s tough, but with what was wrong there isn’t a horse tough enough to get better if he hadn’t healed up. I’m so thankful to have him back in the trailer. Like I told Champ (Cooper) the other day, ‘I can’t even imagine my summer if he hadn’t come back.’”
Jade had a second gray in tow this fall. Mia’s a 7-year-old mare he showed the sights and sounds while up in the Northwest. For now, though, Corkill’s truly happy with Champ and Huey’s one-two punch.
“Horses are the difference makers,” Corkill said. “Everybody can win on the good steers. But when you start trying to win something on the steers that aren’t the best ones, that’s where a good horse comes in handy. Horsepower is what separates the contenders from the rest of the pack. Having good horses is pretty much a matter of life or death when you’re trying to rope for a living.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever been as content with two horses as I am with Champ and Huey. I’ve been able to switch back and forth between them without a thought. Anywhere, anytime, I know I’m good riding either one of them. I about had to ride the wheels off of Huey when Champ was hurt. Huey’s back to his best now, too, since he doesn’t have to do it all anymore. The right horses are the difference between being a top-five team and 10th through 15th. When I ride Champ or Huey, I don’t need to worry about them handling their end. So I can just focus on catching the steer. I’m pretty sure I can catch when I’m riding a horse I trust.”