The 2021 National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity Champion Zak 34—a 2018 son of the year’s leading rope horse sire Woody Be Tuff—made his first showing in the rope horse game on the head side in the Gold Buckle’s 6-&-Under Maturity with ARHFA World Champion Andy Holcomb at the helm Dec. 29, 2023, in Belton, Texas.
The Center Ranch-bred Zak 34 didn’t disappoint, finishing third with a score of 883.77 on four head with the help of two-time World Champion Kollin VonAhn on the feet. That added $4,500 to the horse’s already massive $305,101 QData earnings on his first trip to town in a team roping rig.
“He was calm in the box, and nothing bothered him,” Holcomb said of the maternal grandson of High Brow Cat out of the Cat Digs Lucinda. “I’ve had him out to a few arenas, but never to a jackpot. I’d like to get to season him along a bit, because I haven’t gotten to do any of that, roping-wise. I really hope we get to keep going as much as we can so we can show him for his 6-year-old year.”
The $2 million NRCHA rider Justin Wright, Holcomb’s fellow Californian, put in the work in the cow horse on Zak 34, and he and Holcomb have long passed horses back and forth. But never one that’s won quite this much.
“I’ve seen him forever,” Holcomb said. “Justin has sent horses to me on and off, and Missy Fischer, who owns him, also owns Time Toget Wreckless, that Douglas Rich won the Riata Buckle on. That horse kind of got her into it, and we talked about how big, strong and fast Zak is. I rode him for three weeks last winter to get him started, and then I got him back before Fort Worth this fall. There wasn’t enough time to get him ready for Fort Worth, but we’d figured we’d get him ready for the Gold Buckle.”
The Cow Horse-to-Rope Horse Transition
Holcomb, having ridden behind Wright before, expected Zak 34 to want to speed up to get around the cow when he got to the hip, as is necessary when going down the fence.
“I think Justin had a move in the saddle where he’d lean forward as he’d sit down to get ahead of the cow down the fence,” Holcomb explained. “So I’d head, and as I’d get to the front of my saddle, they’d speed up instead of rate. Zak was the opposite. I’m not sure if Justin changed how he does it, but I’d rope and get to the front of the saddle and he’d want to stop.”
So Holcomb just went to roping and tracking steers to the back end of the arena, after switching him into a mechanical hackamore as opposed to a bridle.
“He wanted to bridle up when I’d get up to the steer, because they teach them to gather up in the snaffle bit,” Holcomb said. “A mechanical hack helped elevate his head and keep things moving with the cow.”
What’s Next for Zak 34 in the Team Roping?
Zak 34 is still eligible to compete in bridle classes in the cow horse, so he’ll go back and forth between Holcomb and Wright for now.
“The cow horse trumps the roping,” Holcomb laughed. “But it would be nice to have him a bit to jackpot. We’d really like to spend a lot of next year showing him, because he’s great. We’ll regroup on a plan when we get home from Texas, and we’ll make a plan.”
Holcomb certainly has plenty of great ones in the rig, having won north of $96,000 in the last two days alone at the Gold Buckle Futurity. He won second in the maturity heading on One Vintage Merada for $6,500, third on Zak 34 for $4,500 and fourth on First Class Vintage for $2,800. He picked up second in the Gold Buckle Stallion Incentive in the same class on One Vintage Merada by One Fine Vintage, banking $18,000 for that alone. He won the Gold Buckle Futurity Incentive on Metallic Hardwood for $28,000 after winning second in the heading futurity average for another $7,000, and he won $18,500 on Myrichcousinvinnie for second in the Gold Buckle Futurity Incentive and another $2,500 for fourth in the main average. He also won $1,000 for the first-round win on Myrichcousinvinnie. TRJ