Pac Man: JD Yates’ 1989 Heel Horse of the Year
JD Yates’ Pac Man won the first-ever AQHA/PRCA Heel Horse of the Year title in 1989.

JD Yates has made a career out of great horses, but perhaps none greater than Flits Friend, known as Pac Man, who won the very first PRCA/AQHA Heel Horse of the Year award in 1989. 

Yates and Pac Man at the 1989 NFR. | Allens Rodeo Photo

Not only did the grey gelding bred by JD’s dad Dick (and out of the same mare—Mighty Mindy—as Firewater Fiesta) compete at numerous WNFRs, he won the AQHA World Show with JD’s cousin Jay Wadhams at the helm in the Senior Heeling, racked up futurity earnings for JD’s sister and iconic barrel racer Kelly and tripped steers for Dick at Cheyenne.

“That horse was a little bigger horse who felt like a small horse,” Yates said. “He could stop and take a jerk so hard, and you never got out run. You could ride him at the Finals and never worry. He made himself. My dad got him started, then Kelly ran barrels on him. The first rodeo I took him to was North Platte, Neb., and I won that. He was a heel horse before his time.” 

Yates made the Finals every year from 1975 to 1993, with the last stretch of those appearances coming on Pac Man. 

“I had been making the Finals on him a lot,” Yates said. “A lot of guys borrowed him and won a lot on him. Whoever got on him, they could win… I started my career on other horses, but Pac Man advanced my roping to make me a top roper. That horse was a big part of what helped me have longevity in my career rodeoing.”

While plenty of ropers offered JD top dollar for Pac Man during his career, he never considered selling him. 

“He was given to me by my parents,” Yates said. “If he was anybody’s to sell, he was theirs to sell. I was competing to make a living roping, and if you’ve got what you consider one of the best out there and you can win on him, money can’t replace that. I think anybody in the business today will tell you, if you’ve got one you can win on and you’re competing on a full-time basis, he’s invaluable. You’re not going out there to season a horse. Every dollar you try to season another horse is one you might have won on your good horse. He was never for sale when I was competing. And then when I decided to quit heeling and start doing something different, I owed it to him for him never to be sold. He helped get me where I was at. I had a soft spot in my heart for him.”

Pac Man lived out his final years as a kids’ horse in Ardmore, Okla., and died at the ripe old age of 33.

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