The red dirt of Lazy E Arena has been home to Timed Event Championship legends like Paul Tierney, Leo Camarillo and Trevor Brazile. But in the last four years, a big bay gelding named Willie added his name to the list of Timed Event greats.
Willie, Kody Woodward's great bull dogging horse responsible for at least $400,000 in earnings, died this February at the age of 22 from a brain tumor.
Willie first made his appearance at the Cinch Timed Event Championship with Paul David Tierney in 2014, helping Tierney win his first title at the Lazy E. In 2015, the first year the Timed Event paid $100,000, Trevor Brazile rode the bay gelding to the win, Paul David rode him to a second place finish and Jess Tierney won third riding Willie, all with Woodward hazing.
"He came from Willie Cowan, a guy up in South Dakota," Woodward, of Dupree, S.D., explained. "I've had him since I was a sophomore in high school, so I had him for 12 years. Me and both of my brothers rode him all through high school. I made the College Finals all four years on him and rode him my first year ProRodeoing. Since then, he kind of went home. He was 18 or 19 then. The first year I hazed here with Willie was when they won first, second and third on him. Last year, they won first and second on him."
All-around icon and Nebraska performance horse legend Brian Fulton started Willie after he came off the race track as a 3-year-old. Cowan bought him, and then he sat for a few years until Woodward's high school bull dogging horse got hurt. Cowan lent Woodward the horse, and soon Woodward's dad realized the family had to have him.
"We had him for two weeks, and my dad told Willie, 'Either you sell him or we're going to bring him back. He's too nice,'" Woodward said.
Cowan got to see the horse win the $100,000 last year with Tierney aboard, and Woodward's parents came every year to watch Willie, too.
"He was part of our family," Woodward said. "My brother rode him at a high school rodeo in Rapid City and won first on him, and then a week later he quit eating feed. We took him to the vet and they thought he had an infected tooth and an infection in his nasal cavity. It ended up being a tumor. They said it happens a lot.
"He was a special one. Kyle Irwin and I rode him both through college. We were talking the other day about it, he was never great horse, but everyone who got on him won. He was just easy. He gave you the same start every time, ran to the same spot."
The horse wasn't an in-your-pocket type, but he loved his job, Woodward said. He'd buck and play at the end of the arena.
"He didn't like anything else, but he loved bull dogging," Woodward said.
The best agree–Willie was hard to beat, especially in the Lazy E Arena for the Cinch Timed Event Championship.
"I’ve ridden him since college, and he was too fast then," Tierney said. "Now that he’s older he’s slowed down. He goes to the right if they go right and left if they go left. He’s perfect there. He makes it easy to go catch, and that’s all you need to do there—especially in the bull dogging. Getting on too fast of a horse or getting in a hurry can get you in a huge wreck and cost you a 60."
Willie could make guys who didn't bull dog look like they could, Woodward said.
"I don't practice for the bull dogging, and I get five live steers a year at the Timed Event," Brazile said. "So to get on something like Willie, man he made everything easy. He just scored good, ran hard and got you were you needed to be every single run."
Despite losing Willie just weeks before the Cinch Timed Event Championship, Woodward didn't let the cowboys who count on him down–he brought his other good one, Pacman, for Paul David, Jess, Marcus Theriot and Trell Etbauer to ride. Woodward is hazing for Brazile, too who is jockeying Tyler Waguespack's horse in the bull dogging this year.
Willie is buried at the Woodward's place in South Dakota, where he'll be remembered as part of the family.