JR Dees will back into the box at the Thomas & Mack Dec. 1 to head for Levi Lord aboard his number-one sorrel mount, 11-year-old Famous Dillon.
While casual team roping fans might overlook the unassuming sorrel, insiders will know Dees is making history: he’ll be aboard the first Appaloosa in modern rodeo history to head at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. And for Dees, the novelty has absolutely nothing to do with it.
“He’s the most reliable horse I have,” Dees, 25, of Aurora, South Dakota, said. “He scores really, really good, and I should be able to get consistent, good goes. He’s the most solid thing I own anyway, and he fits every set up. There’s no reason not to start off him.”
‘Dillon’ is a perfect fit for Dees. The Zancanella/Mulligan family raised both Dillon and Dees, and NFR heeler Matt Zancanella trained them both, too. Dees went to live with ‘Zanc’ when he was 7 thanks to the hell-raising he was doing living with his grandma. And Zancanella and his family owned both the sire, Dash Ta Fame son Lions Share Of Fame, and dam, CMF, by GW War Charger (who had a speed index of 98) and out of a Packin Sixes mare called Sixa Pack, to Dillon.
“My wife started him as a 2-year-old, then he was my stepdad’s pet,” Zancanella laughed. “We kind of forgot about him, and his 4-year-old year we started riding him more. And he was 4 or 5 when we started roping on him.”
Dees ranched on Dillon the next spring, and by the next year he was entering on the horse at the California rodeos. And in 2019, Dees picked up a cool $120,000 for winning the BFI on the horse with Lane Siggins.
Since then, many of the best in the world have tried to buy the horse, App or not. But Zanc is nothing if not loyal, to both the horse and the kid.
“I didn’t want to sell JR afoot,” Zancanella said. “We kept him around, and he’s pretty awesome. A lot of people would have sold him. But I like seeing JR out there on a good horse.”
What’s more, Dillon’s full sibling, Miss Kitty, will also appear in the steer wrestling under Tanner Brunner in the Thomas & Mack, too, marking an unprecedented week for Lions Share Of Fame and solid Appaloosas.
“These colts sure made me look for more race-bred App mares,” Zancanella admitted. “We have a couple young horses out of another App mare. Dillon’s mom got old and died, and we’re on the look for another one. I dang sure don’t shy away from them.”
Dees plans to make good, sharp runs right off the bat without throwing too much rope—something that he’s confident he can do on Dillon. He rode the horse successfully Denver, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Nampa, in addition to the big outdoor rodeos. So he’s proven his versatility in every set up.
“Of course, there’s nowhere like the Thomas & Mack,” Dees, who will enter the Finals ninth in the World with $96,045 won, said. “But I plan to ride him the whole time—for the average and the rounds. I don’t see a reason I’ll get off him.”
“JR shouldn’t have to throw a lot of rope,” Zancanella said. “He’ll dang sure pull them up the wall and finish. He’s got a good finish.”
“He’s a freak of nature, really,” Dees added. “He’s App, he came off our place and his whole life has been in front of us. And now here I am. After not making the Finals the last couple years, I get to go back and I’m on something we raised. That’s really special.”
Editor’s note: Travis Graves rode his Appaloosa gelding, aptly named App, at the 2019 NFR on the heel side.