JoJo LeMond announced the death of his great horse Freckle Wilson—known as Bull—Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The horse shaped the gunslinging header's career and was 26 when he died.
LeMond hadn't won much when he bought the kind of broncy, slightly navicular gelding back in 2007.
The little horse—only 14.2 hands and 900 pounds with a shaggy, dull coat—was bad in the box, and only liked a ring snaffle in his mouth, LeMond remembered of those early days.
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"One of the first places I took him was Montgomery, Alabama," LeMond said. "He fell over on me in the box into the panels. I took him to the TCRA Finals and had to get led into the box three times. But I was roping with Martin Lucero, and that horse had everything in the field I was looking for. I just had to take him home and get him right in the box."
From there, LeMond and Lucero went to Waco, Texas, where they made a 3-second run, and they never looked back. They made the Finals that year, winning California Rodeo Salinas, the Santa Rosa Round Up (Vernon, Texas), the Buc Days Pro Rodeo (Corpus Christi, Texas), the XIT Rodeo & Reunion (Dalhart, Texas) and the Canby (Ore.) Rodeo, and finished the year seventh in the world with $123,351.
"It was God’s will that he came along when he did," LeMond, now 36 living in Andrews, Texas, said. "I went from not being able to win to having him. Every time I nodded my head I could win. He took a dumb ranch kid and gave me the opportunity to win."
The horse stood out for his ability to win in any set-up, despite his tiny stature.
"He won Salinas and placed at Cheyenne multiple times," LeMond said. "But then I set the world record at 3.5 on him then came back at the Finals (with Randon Adams in 2009) and set the world record at 3.4, which was then beat pretty quick that night, but that was still something. I don't know what made him so fast, but he just tried so hard and was such an athlete."
Even the King of the Cowboys, Trevor Brazile, tapped Bull for the winter rodeos one year.
“He’s just a winner," Brazile said. "Small horse, big heart. He’s a tough sucker, number one. And he’s a winner, number two.”
When LeMond slowed his rodeo career in favor of fatherhood back in 2010, he turned Bull out in a hay pasture in Keenesburg, Colorado, at the home of steer roper Chris Glover. But a few years later, in 2015, LeMond found himself entered in the Denver qualifier for the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo. He rode another horse on his first steer, but when that horse didn't work up to snuff, LeMond was glad Bull was turned out nearby.
“We decided to go catch him [Bull] out of the pasture,” LeMond said. “He had about 4 inches of hair and about 40 pounds of belly on him. He worked like he had never had a day off.”
That was the same year LeMond found himself making a surprise trip to Las Vegas in the number-16 spot, after Jake Barnes went out with injury. LeMond brought Bull to Vegas as a back-up horse.
"I rode him in three rounds and placed in two or three of them," LeMond said. "I felt like he was fast and out of shape, and I was having to reach a long ways. He'd always given me a good throw, but the cow was a good ways away form me. I got off him, and got on the gray. But I think if I'd have stayed on him, I'd have probably won the world."
After that Bull went back out to pasture, and he occasionally made appearances at the junior rodeos for LeMond's son Newt.
"Newt ran the barrels on him, once in Crane, Texas at the AJRA, and he won it," LeMond said. "But he rode him at Big Springs and he run off and caught the electric eye and dragged it out of the arena. But he could head on him. My younger son, Gunnar, he didn't like him. See, I’d bull dogged on him some getting ready for the Timed Event, and I rode him by a lot of steers. That’s how I kept him tuned up. My 7-year-old ran by 3 or 4 steers and he told me 'I don’t know how anybody would want to ride a horse like this.'"
The kids—Newt, 13, Shaylee, 12, and Gunnar, 7—along with LeMond's wife Blair, haven't really known life without Bull, LeMond said. They buried him at the ranch.
"It was pretty obvious when I lost him the winning isn’t what it used to be," LeMond said. "I’ve looked for (a replacement) for a decade now, since 2008. I got a black horse from Brock Hanson that I thought was similar, but he didn’t score good enough. They gray horse I had had a lot of the same qualities but would drop and strong to the horn. I thought I could win on him, but I never found anything as small and fast footed and athletic. I found them that were small and could move their feet but couldn’t run fast enough. He was a freak. I have people telling me they have one like him, but there isn’t going to be another one like him." TRJ