Two-time National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Champ Wesley Thorp has heeled at the last three consecutive Wrangler National Finals Rodeos. He roped with Zac Small—with whom Wesley won the 2016 BFI and is currently in vet school—at his first Finals in 2016, then heeled for Cody Snow at the last two. Snow and Thorp had a strong 2018 showing, which included a $104,910 per man NFR. And they did it despite being without their A-Team for much of the year, when Snow’s Annie and Thorp’s Lex were sidelined by injuries.
Annie suffered a bone chip in her left knee the end of June that required surgical removal and rest. She recovered and returned just in time for the Finals in December, where Cody and Wesley placed in five rounds and finished fourth in the average. Lex—whose registered name is Million Dollar Lexus—has been out since right after Cheyenne toward the end of July last summer. After riding Dustin Searcy’s bay horse Rio at the NFR in December and the Texas Circuit Finals in January, Thorp is hoping his 14-year-old brown horse’s comeback will be complete this month.
“It was muddy when we roped at Cheyenne, but I didn’t know anything was wrong when we left there,” said Wesley, 23, who lives in Stephenville, Texas, with wife, Susanna, and is expecting a baby brother for their little boy, Matthew, next month. “The plan was that I was going to turn him out to let him take a break when we went to the Northwest for the fall. I took him to the vet—basically for a check-up, because my vet, Dr. Jessica Huntington at Stephenville Equine Sports Medicine, was going to surgically remove a bad tooth he’d been dealing with before I turned him out. He was sore on his right hind leg when she flexed him.
“We flexed him again a few days later, and it wasn’t any better. So she did an MRI. The MRI showed he had a torn meniscus and a torn cruciate ligament. He wasn’t sore when I took him in, but the flex test that was part of his check-up showed that something was up.”
Dr. Reese Hand operated on Lex at Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery in Weatherford the middle of August. The surgery was followed by stall rest and four rounds of stem-cell therapy, the last of which was finished the end of January.
“I got to start exercising him for 15 minutes a day in November, then stepped it up to 20 minutes a day in December and January,” Wesley said.
The plan as of press time the end of January was to spend the month of February getting Lex back into fighting shape, with the hopes of roping on him in March.
“I’m not in a huge hurry about it, because I bought a bay horse that’s pretty good for the winter, and I also have a pretty good jackpot horse,” Wesley said. “Lex is good everywhere, but he feels really good in the summer. So having him ready for that is the main thing. I’ve missed him quite a bit, but have been lucky to have a few other horses to get me by while he was out.
“Making the Finals without both of our first-string horses shows one of the main reasons I was excited to rope with Cody when Zac went to vet school. Cody has more than one good horse—his bay horse Burt is phenomenal, too—and he’s so good at making horses. He can also get by on just about anything. Making the Finals without those two horses was pretty cool, really. Lex is by far my favorite horse. We were both bummed to be without our best ones, but we kept going. And we were still able to have a good year.”
Wesley bought Lex from Blaine Vick right before The American in February of 2017.
“It’s going to be really exciting to have him back,” Wesley said of Lex. “He’s super easy and solid. I’ve gotten lucky here lately to have more good horses than I’ve ever had. It’ll be super cool to have him back, and I won’t have to ride him a lot. He’ll get some relief from me riding other horses, too.
“If you aren’t riding good horses, you aren’t going to win on them at this level. I don’t care how good you rope—riding a good one makes a huge difference. I’m shooting for March to have Lex back, but I’m not going to rush him. I’ll give him whatever time he needs to come back strong. He’s really free and super easy to rope on in any setup. He’s really just the same everywhere, and that’s a big plus. There’s nowhere I don’t want to ride him.”