Ryan Motes and Billie Jack Saebens would usually be heading to California this time of year, gearing up for the spring rodeo run and trying to gain ground in the PRCA world standings.
But with the spring rodeos all canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Motes and Saebens, like so many other top cowboys, are at home spending more time than ever before on their green rope horses, preparing them for the American Rope Horse Futurity Association's World Championship in Fort Worth this October.
"Usually we take a break rodeo-wise in May, and we will normally focus on the younger horses and futurity horses," Motes said. "Now, it’s about trying to figure out where each horse needs to improve the most and where they are in relation to where we need them to show them in October."
Dixon Flowers' Rope Horses Billie Jack Saebens—who won the inaugural ARHFA Heeling World Championship in 2017—said he's had more time than ever to focus on prospects.
"This is really good for my colts," Saebens, a two-time NFR heeler, said. "I rode one horse today for three hours while everyone else was roping, just bringing steers up... I for sure have two 3-year-olds that will be good enough. I’m just trying to get them more broke and track steers around."
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While ropers are already starting to figure out which young horses will make the cut for Fort Worth, ARHFA President Jay Wadhams is busy rescheduling the Oil Can Classic in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and modifying the format of the ARHFA's $18,000-added Summer Event in Lincoln, Nebraska, to include more ropers and horses.
"We had to cancel the Oil Can Classic that was supposed to be on Easter Weekend and I’m pretty sure it will be over the Fourth-of-July Circuit in Tulsa," Wadhams said. "People are really wanting somewhere to take these horses and show. I’m going on with my futurity the 19th and 20th of June in Lincoln, Nebraska. It should be really big. People are wanting to take horses home, and I put it out there that we are unless the government doesn’t let us hold it, we're planning to go ahead with the futurity. It had always been limited, but with what all that has happened, nobody has had any place to take their horses. So this year it will be $5,000 a side, and I will let the limited guys ride any age horse to compete against guys like J.D. (Yates), Steve Orth, Casey Hicks, Brad Lund and Dakota Kirchenschlager. I want new people coming with a good chance to win."
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While Wadhams isn't thrilled with the cancelations sparking the changes, he's encouraged by the prospects for growth in the limited division of the ARHFA as well as the 4-year-old incentive—something that the changes to the format in Lincoln will allow him to test.
"I want new people coming with a good chance to win," Wadhams said. "If a limited guy starts coming and winning some money and placing in the limited deal, he can take a young horse with him. We want to give people a chance to win some money. I’ve got some data with money won, and I’m trying to get a panel of guys together to see if we can change it to keep new people coming... When I was in Arizona, I know of at least 11 horses sold for Fort Worth Futurity prospects, which is huge. At that event this winter, we had 40-some in the heading and 60-some in the heeling. We wound up paying $110,000. We’re going to make that 4-year-old incentive deal pay a lot more in the next few years. The limited is where the growth is. We need to keep the limited guys and the 4-year-old deal growing."
The dates aren't set for the 2020 ARHFA World Championships in Fort Worth just yet, but Wadhams said he expects they'll be in October once again in conjunction with the National Reined Cow Horse Association's Futurity, and that entries will open in August and close in mid-September.
The Motes' Compound
At Motes' place in Weatherford, Texas, spring rains have pushed him and his colts into the indoor cutting arena he shares with brother-in-law R.L. Chartier and step-dad Winston Hasma.
"We spend a lot of time just riding," Motes said. "I’m wanting to teach them a whole lot of the fundamental stuff and for myself understand what I need to work on with them.
As his outdoor arena dries up, Motes will trade off turning steers with his wife Courtney and fellow NFR heeler Chase Tryan, who also calls the Motes' place home.
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"As far as for right now, I want my futurity colts to be solid but easy to catch on," Motes said. "I have one scared of cows and one without much cow in her. I’m wanting her to be really comfortable with what’s going on. That just means to be in position to take an extra swing. She always wants to back off, so I’m not going to have to worry about the stop. It's OK if she doesn’t drag her butt. I’m more focused on her holding that position and not letting her spook if the cow takes a funny jump.
"I’ve got another who can really stop, but he needs to read the situation a little better. My other reads the situation, but needs to free up and stay solid with the steer. For the other it’s about getting his timing back and making sure he understands the cues and the timing. That’s part of what makes them easy is that they’re thinking about it on their own."
Motes is working on giving his colts something to think about over the summer, as the plan remains to head to Reno for the Reno Rodeo and the BFI the third week of June.
Dixon Flowers' Operation
Saebens is recovering from a slight tear in his rotator cuff—meaning he's got a month off of roping anyway. But that means more time than ever before to just work on how his horses ride around.
"I went and rode with a guy, and I’ve been working on getting my colts paying attention to me instead of looking off and watching other stuff going on," Saebens said. "I used to get on them and lope the crap out of them for 30 minutes until they were tired. Now I want them paying attention to me when they’re fresh. What I do—if they’re not paying attention, I make them work. If they’re looking off, I just make them work and put my hand down, and if they look off, they go to work and eventually they’re waiting on me. In doing that, they get softer and more broke." TRJ