Clint Summers wishes he'd made the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo a lot sooner than 2018, and one reason has nothing to do with money and glory and everything to do with the little Appaloosa pony named Frisky he'd planned his entire life to ride in the famed NFR grand entry.
Summers, 27, of Lake City, Florida, built his career as a young roper on the back of Frisky. The barely 13-hand pony's flaxen mane complemented his flaxen tail and perfectly blanketed butt that slammed into the ground when Summers laid a trap in front of two feet.
Clint got Frisky for his birthday when he and the pony were just a year old. Frisky came from Clint's Uncle Larry and Aunt Denise, who owned both the App stud and the pony mare that produced him. Frisky was just two months younger than Clint, and the two grew up together. When Frisky got big enough to ride, Clint's dad Darren would saddle him for his older son, nephews and friends who'd come to rope.
"They'd get on and ride him when we were all roping," Darren said. "He wasn't big enough to really buck them off, so they just saddled him up and got on him and made him go. So he was broke roping steers. They were 10-, 11-, 12-year old boys who would ride him. One of our nieces took him, never put a barrel pattern on him, and just went to running barrels on him. She took him to some NBHA shows, too. I think she actually took him to the Youth World one time."
Clint was 4 or 5 when he started riding Frisky, and the Summers went straight to roping calves on him. In his youth career, Clint won some 40 saddles, mostly aboard the pony, between junior rodeos in Florida and Georgia and USTRC ropings across the Southeast and in Oklahoma City at the National Finals of Team Roping. Clint goat-tied, calf-roped, headed, heeled and even occasionally ran some barrels on Frisky.
Clint rode him nearly exclusively until he was 12 or 13, but rode him in his rotation of heel horses through most of his high school career.
"When I got off the pony, I was a 7Elite, and they bumped me to an 8 so bought a heel horse," Clint said.
When Clint finally decided to stay off Frisky, other parents started lining up to add him to their kids' junior rodeo strings.
"We had a man one time who laid his checkbook out and said, 'Just make the check out. It don't matter. If you'll price him, I've got him sold and the price don't matter. I have clients who said they'll spend any amount of money for their kids' horse,'" Darren remembered.
But Frisky was Clint's, and Darren and Pam Summers were determined to let their son make the decision on whether or not to sell him. And Clint decided that pony would forever stick around their Florida home.
"My mom said, 'As long as Clint wants that horse, he ain't going nowhere,'" Clint said.
Plus, Darren didn't really think a lot of those other kids could ride him.
"They'd want to buy him, and I'd say, 'Your kid can't ride him!'" Darren laughed. "I said 'I'm telling you, he's not as easy as he looks.'"
Clint would let other kids borrow Frisky, but he never could part with the pony that taught him so much.
"I think he was Clint's foundation," Pam said, through tears.
"He let Clint learn a lot," Darren added, also emotional on the first day of his son's first NFR. "He taught him position, how to win, everything."
Frisky spent his golden years running the pasture at the Summers place in Florida, while Clint was out rodeoing in the Northeast winning the International Professional Rodeo Association team roping title with Manny Egusquiza, and later in Texas and beyond.
"He was the one that taught me everything," Clint said. "I really believe that."
Despite how old the pony got, Clint had always said that his long-time driver, shoer and family-friend Jimmy would drive the pony to Vegas for Clint's first NFR grand entry so he could take his place in front of the world with so many other great ones. But unfortunately, time wouldn't allow it.
Frisky started to get a little older, and was eventually diagnosed with Cushings disease, which according to EQUUS is: a malfunction of the pituitary gland...often causing a long, shaggy hair coat, loss of muscle mass, laminitis and susceptibility to infection.
Frisky went downhill, and Darren and Pam doctored him twice a day for over a year trying to keep him going. They had a vet friend, Dr. John Alford in Live Oak, Florida, who cared for the pony like he was his own, too.
"He got so bad, he couldn't come up to eat or nothing," Darren said. "I'd take feed out to him, but I couldn't help him."
That was March 2017, and the Summers had planned to go to the George Strait Team Roping Classic to watch Clint try to win another title there. Dr. Alford knew they wanted to go, so he promised he'd take care of the pony.
"I knew that was the end," Pam said through tears. "He put him down and buried him for us."
Frisky died at 25 years old.
Pam and Darren didn't tell Clint until after The Strait was over that his pony was gone, and Clint was heartbroken and upset he didn't quite get to say goodbye.
"It was like losing my best friend," Clint said. "I didn't know I'd get attached to a horse like that, but he was my buddy."
But two years later, Clint is in Vegas, and as he rode into his first Grand Entry, the Summers clan shed a few tears for the pony that couldn't quite make it to his first Finals.
"If he was alive, he would be here today," Darren said.
Clint almost made the Finals in 2016, and had he not fallen a few thousand short of a trip to Vegas then, Frisky would have gotten to take that much deserved victory lap.
"If I hadn't screwed around, and not made it, he'd have been here," Clint said.
But safe to say, if "all dogs go to heaven" applies to App ponies too, there was one cheering from behind those pearly gates as his kid set down his very first steer at his very first NFR, just like he taught him.