Just before the Mike Cervi Jr. Memorial Roping in February, Riley Minor called Matt Sherwood and said he wanted to try the mare Sherwood had for sale. He ran some steers on her that night and she felt pretty good.
“The next day he wins the Cervi on her and $12,000,” said Minor. “I walked up to him with a check and asked if he still wanted to sell her.”
Luckily, Sherwood did. But she’s not just any mare—she’s a near-full sister to Sherwood’s two-time world champion and former Head Horse of the Year, Nickolas. From March through May, Minor figures he earned $25,000 on the mare he renamed “Nickie.” The result is that Riley and his big brother, Brady, enjoyed one of their smoothest early seasons in years.
Riley, 26, has been to four Wrangler NFRs with Brady, including last year, when they nearly became the first brothers to win gold buckles since 1977. The two defy the usual rodeo trends—they’ve never traded Ellensburg, Wash., for Texas and now, in their eighth year together, are the longest-running partners on the road.
Dollar had been Riley’s number-one horse for the past few years and has packed Minor, Speed Williams and others to well over a half-million dollars. But at 17, he’s earned the right to sit out all but the biggest, go-fast one-headers.
Enter Nickie. The 9-year-old sorrel mare resembles her brother but is a little pigeon-toed with a thinner blaze that veers off one side of her delicate nose. Minor had actually borrowed Nickolas at plenty of rodeos over the years.
“I always loved that horse,” he said. “He made steers easy to heel for my partners.”
Nickie is quicker-footed than Nickolas, Minor said, but is a little more high-strung and doesn’t run as flat. Her biggest value? She scores just as well.
“That’s kind of why I bought her,” said Minor. “I think some horses just score and some don’t. This horse is just a freak of nature how well she scores. And I have trust issues with my head horses in the box.”
Nickie doesn’t rate much or have a lot of cow, but that’s fine because Minor thinks if they’re too “cowy” they can get too “cuey.” The cowy one is Ketchup—Minor’s 2013 Head Horse of the BFI. “Ketchup can outrun Nickie in a long race, but from the back of the box for about 70 feet, she feels like a rocket,” he said.
Ironically, she’s out of the same Rocket Bar-bred mare as Nickolas. Back when Nickolas made the big-time, Sherwood had called the dam’s owner and asked if they’d breed her to the stud one more time.
“They said, ‘No, it was a terrible combination,’” laughed Sherwood, who ended up buying the mare. While Nickolas “made” quickly, he said, Nickie “took forever.” Today he has two other Nickolas siblings—a 7-year-old gelding and 3-year-old mare.
As for Minor, he now has a herd of three—a speedy, run-close mare; a short, one-head wonder and a trusty standby for the six-headers.
“I wish I had one that did everything perfect,” he said. “Those kind like Arky Rogers and Clay Tryan have where you can ride them everywhere and win, they don’t come around every day.”
Dollar can really get left, and Minor is accustomed to that. But Nickie was so athletic and tight at first that she was almost a little too quick.
“Matt uses a little bigger loop and reaches out farther, so when he catches a steer he has more slack out than me,” said Minor. “A few times I felt like she might get my rope or was hanging back and cheating.”
The answer wasn’t in changing the horse as much as it was in changing himself.
“Honestly, I had to learn to sit up and ride her better,” said Minor. “I have a tendency to lean worse than a lot of ropers. It’s OK to lean with my throw, but I can’t be leaning coming to the steer. So I’ve tried to focus on really riding across there and it’s been a lot better for me.”
Minor already was taking smart throws, which is how he could spend five years winning on Dollar despite the horse’s former duck-off abilities.
“I don’t bomb,” Minor said. “Bombing out looks cool, and you win first when it works, but half the time it doesn’t work and then your horse doesn’t work.”
The hands-down master of bombing on a horse that keeps working? Kaleb Driggers.
“He’s swinging and sitting back almost on his butt when he reaches, and the horse doesn’t even know he throws,” Minor said. “I’ve always been out over a horse too much. Horses are no dummies. You get weight in that right stirrup, they feel it.”