Riley Minor qualified for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2008 as a 20-year-old. A roping prodigy from a young age, he and older brother Brady roped together in Las Vegas, placed fifth in the average and in five of 10 rounds to earn $45,793.
But if there's one thing Riley, the header, realized, it's that one horse can't win you a world title. There might be exceptions in the case of Matt Sherwood's Nic, or Clay Tryan's Thumper, but those horses are incredibly few and far between.
Last year, the Minor brothers had a great winter, winning in Odessa, Texas, and Denver. Then a solid summer in their native Northwest, taking three titles in Oregon: St Paul, Eugene and The Dalles.
Then Riley's horse, Cadillac, went lame the first of August. Borrowing horses for the final two months of the regular season, Riley squeaked out his first trip to Las Vegas, but knew if he wanted to get back, it would take more than the 16-year-old buckskin.
Not that Cadillac-registered as Ike's Cadillac Jack-isn't a great horse. In fact, he's still Riley's top horse. Just over three years ago, Riley bought the horse from Bill and Pat Spratt in Wyoming, who had used the horse in jackpots and senior rodeos.
"I had heard he was a good horse, but I didn't know if he knew what I needed," Riley said. "I tried him and I was a little leery of him. I liked him, but he was a little bigger than I was used to. I bought him and about two weeks later I won the Mike Boothe Memorial Roping on him and I knew I had a good horse.
"He's pretty solid and he can run pretty hard. He's a stronger horse. He's more of a horse where if you ride him right, he'll stay consistent all year long. He can make things happen because he's big and strong. You can run them down there and catch those steers and he'll make stuff happen faster where a smaller horse that doesn't pull or face as good will take longer. Sometimes, he doesn't score as good as I'd like, but he's still pretty good overall."
He proved his mettle after coming back from injury in August to carry Riley through all 10 rounds of the NFR. In fact, the Minors were in the hunt for the average title until the last two rounds when Brady had to use two loops each time.
This year, after struggling early, it was Cadillac who helped Riley turn the corner and fight his way back into the top 15.
It started with a win in Oakdale, Calif., then in Reno the Minors won the second round. Over the Fourth of July, the duo won around $10,000, with $6,500 coming on Cadillac, then in Cheyenne they won $9,000.
"He was good at the Finals, but he's better at the Cheyenne and Salinas kind of rodeos," Riley said. "That's another thing that makes him good, you can win on him at the National Finals or at Cheyenne, it doesn't bother him."
Yet the fact remains that no matter how great your horse is, to stay on top, the best ropers are always looking for the next one.
Speed Williams announced his retirement in the April 2009 issue of Spin To Win Rodeo, but before the general public knew about his pulling up from rodeo, the roping world knew that unless he won Houston, he'd be out of the game and, possibly, selling his horses.
He had three for sale, Duke, Foxy and Dollar.
"I know Speed a little bit, not real well, but I text him a little bit," Minor said. "When I heard he was retiring, I heard all his horses were for sale, so I started talking to him. He kept saying he'd let me know. He never would say for sure until Houston was over.
"He finally texted me and said the horses were for sale. I asked him who was first in line. He said, 'Whoever brings me the money first.'"
Most of the rodeo cowboys, including Riley, were up in Laughlin, Nev., that March day and the only option to try the horses was to fly. Speed Williams' horses would not stay on the market long.
"I always liked Dollar," Minor said. "Speedy's got so many horses, he picks each setup for each horse. The last couple of years he's ridden him at Dallas and the Finals some, I can't figure out why he doesn't ride him everywhere. He's got three to sell, but Dollar was priced reasonable. Then he had that Foxy horse, and that horse is older. From people talking, Dollar was the best horse.
"I asked him which one is better and he says certain things about each one. Then he talks about Dollar, and I'm more interested in Dollar. Finally, I just make my mind up. Speedy's not selling him because he's bad, he selling him because he's retiring."
So Riley knew which one he liked. But he had several obstacles to overcome. First, how to try the horse. Second, how to meet Speed's $50,000 asking price.
"My parents and I kicked it around, and there's no way I'd have enough time to try him," Riley decided. "I just said, 'I'll buy him over the phone.' Speedy said, 'I've never heard of this before.' But we didn't want to miss the boat because we knew he would sell him. That day I told him I'd take him, I wired him the money and bought that horse over the phone."
The next day the other two horses were gone as well. Travis Tryan bought Duke and Luke Brown bought Foxy. Dollar, who is registered as a Paint Horse (a Paint that ain't) under the name Pure Bars, is 13 years old and in the prime of his career.
"Travis and Luke went and rode those horses the same day, but the day before I had already spoken for Dollar," Riley said. "Luke was like me, he knew Speedy's horses were all good and he didn't care which one he had, he just needed another one. It makes you so much more comfortable when you've got two, instead of one."
Buying a horse over the phone did lead to some tense moments in the first few months.
"The first couple months were pretty shaky," Riley said. "He wasn't hard to ride, but in the last couple months I've gotten way more confidence. It was a scary investment over the phone. I just hope I can win it back on him. But I also knew that if I couldn't get along with him, Speed could help me sell him and somebody would want to buy him. He's only 13 years old. Everybody's always looking for a good horse."
Everybody, that is, except for Riley. Now that he's got two very solid horses, he and brother Brady are poised to make a run at their second consecutive Finals together.
"I've kind of been splitting them up here lately," Riley said of his horse usage strategy. "I'm really glad I bought him. He may not be the greatest horse ever,
but now I've got two horses. The buckskin I ride at things like Cheyenne and the BFI, and if I make the Finals, I'd ride Dollar. Now that I have two horses,
I'm picking my spots where I know which one will