This year has been a tough one for Luke Brown. Colic took his game-changer Slim Shady at 28 in May. After 13 straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifications from 2008-2020, that streak was broken in 2021. On November 11, Luke had to say a sad and somewhat sudden goodbye to his beloved Cowboy at 17, after a short bout with cancer.
Texas Tallman—whom Luke and his girls, Lacy and Libby, called Cowboy—had a long list of career highlights. Luke won the Daddy of ’em All in Cheyenne heading for Kollin VonAhn on Cowboy in 2015. Luke won the Oakdale Rodeo in California’s original Cowboy Capital of the World on Cowboy twice. Luke won the 2017 BFI on Cowboy roping with Jake Long, and won The American on Cowboy with Joseph Harrison in 2020. Luke rode Cowboy at the last two NFRs, and turned all 20 steers on him.
“Winning the BFI is one of my greatest achievements,” said Rock Hill, South Carolina native Luke, who now lives in Lipan, Texas. “That’s one roping I’d always wanted to win, and I know I couldn’t have won it without Cowboy.
“I bought Cowboy 10 years ago, in 2011, from a guy in Brock, Texas. He was good everywhere, but especially fun to ride at the harder set-ups. I kind of liked saving Cowboy for the unique stuff, from the short barrier at the NFR to the longest score in rodeo at Salinas.”
Luke figures Cowboy was at least half human.
“Cowboy loved people way more than horses,” said three-time NFR team roping titlist Luke. “It seemed a little unusual for him to be that hot and nervous and want to run so hard when you roped on him, and yet have the really cool personality he did. Cowboy loved people, and everybody loved Cowboy.
“Cowboy was one of the fastest horses to ever run a steer and win. He was definitely the fastest horse I’ll ever own. To be that fast, and still good enough minded that I could score him everywhere was pretty special.”
Luke rode Cowboy some this year, but says he didn’t quite feel like his old self. He’s been sound since somewhat miraculously rebounding from not one, but two deep digital flexor tendon tears.
“Dr. Hand (of Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery in Weatherford, Texas) couldn’t believe he came back from two injuries that were supposed to have a zero-percent chance of recovery,” Luke said. “But other than those two things, Cowboy never really had any other issues. All I can say about earlier this year is that it felt like he was getting old. But he really wasn’t old enough for that to make sense.
“One day about a month ago, I rode Cowboy at Wesley Thorp’s futurity in Stephenville. I was helping on him. He kind of slipped coming out of the box. A few days later, I ran a steer on him, and he lost his butt and went down the first stride out of the box. That was really weird. I trotted him around out by the barn, and he just didn’t look normal. I took him to Dr. Hand, who helped get him over those two tears before, the next day.”
Cowboy passed the flex test with flying colors, and didn’t seem sore anywhere else, either.
“Dr. Hand thought maybe it was EPM, so he started treating him for that,” Luke said. “About a week later, I found Cowboy in his stall and he couldn’t get up. I called my dad, my nephew and Lacy, and we helped him up. But he didn’t have the juice in his back end to get up on his own. Every time Cowboy laid down, we had to help him back up.”
So sadly, Cowboy started losing control of his back end.
“They ran other tests, and we finally figured out that Cowboy had a tumor or cancerous cyst on his vertebrae,” Luke said. “It was putting pressure on his spine, and that’s what was causing the loss of control of his rear end. There wasn’t any way of going in and getting it out without making the rest of Cowboy’s life really hard. He was losing function of his kidneys and having a hard time going to the bathroom. So on November 11, I had to make the tough call, do what I knew was best for Cowboy and put him down.”
Cowboy was tired. Luke, Lacy and Libby were heartbroken. But they could not stand to see such a superstar and selfless friend suffer.
“Losing Cowboy is a devastating loss,” Luke said. “I never felt afoot as long as I had Cowboy. That’s why I picked and chose where I rode him. He was one of the best horses ever. He was handy to have in the trailer, and was also part of the family. Cowboy and Slim meant more to me rodeoing for a living than any other horses I’ll ever have. It was a tie between which one I loved the most. To lose them both in the same year is pretty hard.”
When they moved to their place in Lipan, Luke picked out a special spot under the perfect tree. He declared then and there that Slim, Cowboy and Lacy’s dog Wilson would one day be buried there.
“Slim and Cowboy are right there side by side under that tree,” Luke said. “Wilson will be there with them one day, too. Those are the only three that will ever be buried there.”
As for breaking his NFR streak after 13 straight trips to Rodeo’s Super Bowl, Brown is stoic and places all blame on the man in the mirror.
“It’s been a tough year losing Slim and Cowboy, because they’ve been such a big part of my career and our life,” Luke said. “But missing the NFR doesn’t bother me a bit. I should have made it after winning second at The American (Brown and Thorp won $25,000 a man for finishing second behind only Erich Rogers and Paden Bray). That shows you how bad I roped this year.
“A lot of guys deserve to go to the NFR more than me this year. It doesn’t bother me not to rope at the NFR, because I don’t deserve to. There are guys who roped better than me this year who didn’t make the NFR. But we’ve been working at it pretty hard, things will get better and it’ll be a good lesson for me and somebody else down the road.”
Luke headed for Hunter Koch the second half of 2021, and they’re already back at it in the early going of the 2022 season. His main mount is now the gray he bought from Cory Smothers about a year ago. “They say when he was a colt he was so ugly they called him Feo (which means ugly in Spanish),” Luke smiled. “Libby wants to call him Butaletto. We’ll just have to see what sticks, I guess.”