Every horse has a personality. Anyone who’s spent some time in the saddle knows as much. But a good calf horse? Usually they’re all business. Obviously, a tie-down roping run requires an advanced level training and discipline on the part of the horse:
1. Begin as still as a statue while a calf—the object of your pursuit—is given a head start.
2. Upon release, run as fast as possible, catch up with the calf, follow it wherever it goes and rate it’s speed.
3. When the loop goes on, stop immediately and smoothly, perhaps quartering off slightly to allow the rider to dismount.
4. Pedal backwards as the roper flanks and ties the calf.
5. Keep the rope tight until the tie is made.
6. Allow your rider to remount and ride forward to put slack in the rope for six seconds to make sure the calf is tied.
The successful training of a calf horse results in a machine-like animal. Calf horses operate at such a high level that anything with a distracted or playful attitude does not fit the profile. You don’t become friends with a calf horse. You’re business partners.
Joseph Parsons’ Big Iron is an exception. At the Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo, as fellow tie-down roper Mike Arnold was preparing to run, Big Iron reached out, grabbed his back number and yanked it off. You almost expected him to run away, flinging his head in the air as if to say, ‘Catch me if you can!’
"Outside of the arena, he’s just like a pet," Parsons said. "If you’re standing by him, he’ll put his nose on your shoulder, or he’ll nibble on you or bite your arm. Always playing around, he’ll pick a brush up or tip your roping bale over. He’s kind of a nuisance. He’s always on you and wanting you to pet him or he’ll bite you. He’s just got a lot of personality."
But he’s also got a lot of skill. Bred by Dr. Bob Patterson in Millsap, Texas, Docs Hot Express, as he’s registered with the American Quarter Horse Association, ended up with Seven-Time All-Around and Two-Time World Champion Tie-Down Roper Trevor Brazile. In his program, the horse became finished, but was still young. When he was six years old, Parsons bought him just after the Dodge City rodeo in 2008.
"When I got him he was good and ready to go," Parsons said. "And I had some other ones that I was doing good on."
He roped on him around the house, just allowing him to mature. In fact, he hauled him to rodeos to help him learn the ways of the road and adjust the travel schedule of a rodeo horse before asking him to compete.
As the 2009 ProRodeo season wound down, Parsons competed on Big Iron at an amateur finals in November. He had finished out of the top 20 in the PRCA world standings and wouldn’t be making the trip to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (As an aside, in 2007, he finished 16th. Since joining the PRCA in 2004, Parsons has been a solid circuit cowboy and top-20 caliber roper, but never been able to qualify for the Finals.)
He hung around home in Marana, Ariz., and began to prepare for 2010, which included tuning his horses up. Big Iron was in the rotation, but Parsons still planned to ease him in to competition in 2010.
Then came Houston. Each cowboy competes three times in back-to-back-to-back nights. As part of the opening ceremonies, fireworks light up Reliant Stadium, loud music is blared and smoke fills the air. Then the tie-down ropers are the first event. For the first two rounds Parsons couldn’t get on the same page with his horse.
Like a starting quarterback throwing interceptions, he was benched and Big Iron got the call up.
"This year at Houston I took him along and had no intention of riding him there," Parsons said. "I just took him to take him. But then the main horse that I was riding…it just wasn’t working. So on the third night of the Super Series, I decided to switch up and get on Big Iron. I ended up winning second that night and basically he’s all I’ve ridden since then.
"The horse hadn’t been to any rodeos at all. The last place he’d been before Houston was the amateur finals around the first of November. So he hadn’t been anywhere in five months. He’d just been at the house and I’d been roping on him off and on. To go from the amateur finals five months ago to RodeoHouston was a pretty big deal. The horse stepped up. It was cool the way he took to everything: the noise the fireworks. I knew right then that I’d probably be on him the rest of the year. The way he stepped up without even being tuned up or anything showed me that he was ready to go."
And other than when Parsons has placed horses around the country to make rodeos during the Fourth of July or other busy times, Big Iron has got the call.
"I rode him at all but maybe 8 or 10 rodeos this year," Parsons said. "He’s been to a bunch."
From Salinas to Sheridan, Ellensburg to Puyallup and Salt Lake City to Pendleton, Big Iron has consistently banked money for Parsons—placing along, as they say.
"For me, it’s probably his run," Parsons said of Big Iron’s greatest attribute. "In the box he stands real good, but his run is what is special to me. Not only that, he cows real good—he knows how to get to cattle—it’s not like he just runs, he runs with a purpose. He’s pretty special as far as being an athlete. He’s a pretty big horse, which I like for me, but he doesn’t move like a big horse. He’s real agile and very athletic."
Perhaps it’s the genetics. Big Iron is a half brother to Luke, registered as Express On Heir, that Cody Ohl rode to the 2006 world calf roping title and PRCA/AQHA Horse of the Year. Both Luke and Big Iron were sired by a sorrel Zan Parr Bar stud named The Hot Express.
Regardless of where Big Iron’s talents came from, he has enabled Parsons to qualify for Las Vegas and carry on a family tradition—his father Joe made the NFR five times—the horse will be among the biggest reasons why.
"I’ve been close a couple times," Parsons said. "But I think the horse this year has kind of given me that extra boost. He’s been so good and so honest all year. In Salinas on big, strong running calves or little small calves, it doesn’t matter. As long as the calf will take a tie, on that horse I feel like I’ve got a chance."