With back-to-back Wrangler National Finals Rodeo round wins under his belt, there's no reason Travis Graves is thinking about swapping horses.
He's riding his stand-out chestnut gelding, Dual Chip, an 11-year-old he bought from Joseph Harrison two years ago. Aboard Chip, he's stopped the clock in 4.9, 3.8 and 4.2 seconds, and he's won 80,653.85 world standings points and about $50,000 in guaranteed cash. (The NFR payout remains unofficial and unconfirmed.)
But, waiting in the wings for a chance to shine in Arlington, Texas's Globe Life Field, is Travis Graves' Manny—the 20-year-old Breeding Stock Paint gelding registered as BBF Barely Fancy, who shaped TG's career for a decade and helped make him one of team roping's winningest jackpotters of all time.
On Injury Reserve
Manny has been out since Round 10 of the 2017 NFR. That 2017 Round 10 steer secured Graves his NFR average win behind Chad Masters, but in the run, Manny tore his deep flexor tendon, with some additional damage to some of the support structures in the tendon sheath.
[Listen: The Score Episode 15 with Travis Graves]
[More About Manny's Injury: Graves Hoping to Have Dream Horse Ready to Do NFR Battle]
In July 2018, with Manny still healing, Dr. Charlie Buchanan at Brazos Valley Equine Hospital had to operate.
“We went in arthroscopically and cleaned up the deep flexor tendon, tendon sheath, and support structures that were injured, then injected him with stem cells,” Buchanan told TRJ's Kendra Santos later that year. “We have a rehab facility five miles from the clinic, so we then moved him over there, and put him through the rehab process, including therapeutic laser treatment, the Aquatred, treadmill, and exercise in the round pen."
But for all their efforts, Manny wasn't ready to go at the Finals in 2018, nor in 2019, when Graves heeled for Ty Blasingame. Manny stayed home. He's been out all of 2020, too, and Graves had given up bringing him back.
"It's been a couple years since he had his surgery," Graves explained. "He slowly kept getting better and better, and the vet kept saying that I should ride him. I kind of had just given up on him, honestly."
But Graves' wife, Tamika, wasn't ready to give up hope just yet.
"She was like, 'Man, he's sure bucking and running. I think you should get him in shape and give him one more chance,'" Graves said. "And that's what I did. I've been riding him at all the local stuff, and I rode him at Rapid City at the Tour Finale, just getting him ready. I didn't know if Chip would be ready, having abscesses after abscesses, and I didn't know if I'd get to ride him."
The Egusquiza-Graves-Manny Connection
Graves has good reason to be pleased that Manny's ready to roll, if needed. On Manny, Graves won the George Strait Team Roping Classic, the US Open at the USTRC's Cinch National Finals of Team Roping, the Bob Feist Invitational and big rodeos like California Rodeo Salinas.
But he almost missed out on owning the horse altogether. You see, if his current partner, Dustin Egusquiza, had just liked him a little more when he was high school rodeoing, Manny never would have been for sale. Manny—who the Egusquiza family called Tarzan—had been a staple in the Southeast circuit under Dustin's older brother, (also called) Manny.
Manny Egusquiza bought Tarzan/Manny from Quincy Adams, a Florida horse trader who let him make payments on the then $8,500 4-year-old barrel prospect. Egusquiza entered a rodeo the same week he bought the extremely green heel horse.
"I thought it was a big arena—I could make it work," Manny remembered. "They left out the fact that there's a hand-pulled barrier on the heel side. So the very first rodeo steer I run on that horse, he hesitates at the barrier, he pulls the D-s from the front girth, breaks the keeper, we're hauling ass down the arena, no tie-down, I don't realize the cinch keeper is broke and he's flanked himself. I come around the corner, he's hauling butt bucking. I heel the steer by two feet and I don't get a dally. He goes to bucking and I can't reach down—I trip the back girth off his flank, and the stock contractor makes a joke and says 'What do you want for that horse? He bucks harder than anything I got!'"
The human Manny and Tarzan had won the Southeast Circuit four times and won fourth at the George Strait, but the circuit-rodeo-heeler life was wearing on Manny, a new husband and father with bills to pay. He decided to swap ends and try his luck heading.
"Honestly, I had two horses at the time," Dustin said. "I had Manny, and my horse, Dude, I have now, who I rode at the Finals the last couple years. Tarzan and Dude were my two heel horses at the time, and I liked Dude better. He was 4 or 5 at the time and way greener, not near the same kind of horse, but I just liked him better. Not near the same kind of horse."
When Manny came home after rodeoing all year in 2010, he found his brother riding the very green Dude, with Tarzan going to waste in the pasture. So he decided to do sell the horse that had meant so much to him so he didn't go to waste.
"Me and Travis had been friends since he was a little kid," Manny said. "So when he comes into the picture, I bring him the horse to try in Jay. He has some old steers and some muleys, and he doesn't miss one. Then he rode him at Claremore (Oklahoma) and won the first round heeling for Jake Long. He takes him to the Windy Ryon, and he slips a leg to win something good with Tee Woolman. But he sent him back, and he said it wasn't going to work."
Manny heeled on and off until 2012, so it didn't hurt to have Tarzan standing around. But as the horse sat around more and more, Manny decided he really, really wanted Graves to have him.
"We had talked after the NFR," Manny said. "I told him I wasn't going to heel again, and the horse was going to waste because my brother wasn't riding him, and my dad would only heel on him once every three weeks. I told him he could just ride him and see what he thinks. So I brought him to him in his old place in Morgan Mill. We hauled him out here, and then he bought him." TRJ