Junior Nogueira’s Green Card
Junior Nogueira's heel horse, Green Card, lets him heel steers from almost any position.

A “Green Card” refers to the legal process of becoming a permanent resident of the United States. If you heel steers for a living in America, that’s the last thing you want Junior Nogueira to have.

In just two years on a sports visa, the kid from Brazil has qualified two times for the Wrangler NFR, been the runner-up NFR average champion, and been the runner-up at RFD-TV’s The American. Then, in February 2015, he did get a Green Card—but it has four legs.

In December 2014, Nogueira borrowed Allen Bach’s palomino gelding, Jaguar, for the NFR but otherwise had nothing to ride. So after the Finals, he called Texas trainer Robbie Schroeder, who found him a 10-year-old gelding. The horse was owned by James and Brandi Watson, who produce ropings around Denton and Decatur. Pepper’s Homespun Kid had been started right and was jackpot-seasoned.

“They used to call him another name and I didn’t like it,” said Nogueira. “I was thinking to that horse, ‘You got to help me have my Green Card.’ What a good name!”

Nogueira was just a kid when he met Schroeder during a visit to the States to compete at the USTRC Finals. He was staying with some Brazilian friends in Gainesville and ended up practicing at the Schroeder Ranch. Nogueira would return annually a few times to work for Schroeder, a man who’s earned more than 30 world and reserve world championships in the AQHA.

“Junior has a lot of hand-eye coordination and a lot of feel for a horse,” said Schroeder, who still trains and sells rope horses out of north Texas. “He also has a lot of rope-control, which is why he heels so good—he never has to panic or get in a hurry. He just wanted to learn more about riding.”

How do you teach a kid to learn positioning when he can overcome poor position by the way he ropes? Nogueira has proven for two years now that he can catch two feet well before his horse squares up.

“One thing I told him is that everyone will have different advice, but to only do the things that work for him,” said Schroeder. “He learned how to figure out a way to do what I wanted plus make it work for him.”

Nogueira likens showing rope horses to “making everything beautiful” and says it’s the right way to ride. However, when you need to go fast, it’s all about timing. His partner at the ERA rodeos is Kaleb Driggers, the king of fast, so Nogueira needed a versatile equine. Schroeder, too, knew that Green Card would be a good fit for Nogueira, despite having been trained the opposite of Junior’s crazy-fast style.

“That horse is so forgiving the way he comes in,” said Schroder. “He’ll let him get a throw without ever cheating him. At rodeos, Junior runs a horse up real high, so those horses that turn and stop will take away some of his throws. He needed one that kept moving around the corner. And this one can take it mentally; he never got excited or upset.”

Nogueira soon placed third at the Wildfire for $11,540 and won the second ERA event in Redmond, Ore.

 “Some guys don’t haze much and go easy on the horse; I like to push hard,” he said. “The way I rope, I like to leave the box slow and then take off as hard as I can to haze, and some horses can’t slow down after that. Green Card lets me do whatever I need. If I just need to catch or win—both situations. I think he’s getting better and better. I won a lot of money on him already. He fills up my confidence every time I ride him.”

Nogueira, who’s been hanging his hat in Burleson, Texas, only ropes five steers at a time in the practice pen on Green Card and never dallies. It may not matter—he has some outstanding backup horses. Nogueira also bought the gray mare, Hali, from Kollin VonAhn, and a 13-year-old stallion named Mr. Sunolena Letters from Jarrett Smith.

Roping with Jake Barnes will always be “a dream come true” for Nogueira. Now, with Green Card’s help, Nogueira’s dream is to be able to rope in the States for an extended number of years and, like several PBR riders, be able to go back and forth to Brazil and eventually become a U.S. citizen.

His earnings have helped him afford a legal adviser to walk him through that process. So far, he has a Social Security card and permission to stay five years, maybe longer. Good news if you love to watch great heeling—and not so good if you’re trying to out-heel him on your own turf.

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