The defending heading champion of the American Rope Horse Futurity prepares to leave Colorado with 26 head of horses for the 2018 edition of the event in Fort Worth, Texas.

JD Yates, the 21-time NFR roper and many time AQHA world champion, will head to Fort Worth, Texas, to compete in the American Rope Horse Association Futurity Oct. 18 and 19. With him he'll take 26 horses, including returning champ DT Air Jordan, a son of Shiners Lena Chex out of Margies Lil Jessie by RC Command. 

Is DT Air Jordan better this year with another year of riding under his belt?

The horse is probably better than the rider. He's a pretty nice horse. I roped on him at some ProRodeos this year, and it didn't seem to affect him. 

Of all the horses you're bringing and riding, do you have any that stand out heads and tales above the others?

I'm not sure if I can say if any are better than the others, because they're all pretty nice horses. I feel like I have a pretty nice set of heel horses. I’ve got three that Trey is going to ride that are pretty nice horses. Two of the three that I showed there last year are still eligible. And I’ve got a young horse of my own that’s got two years left. I bought some nice geldings a little over a year ago. I don’t know that he’s quite ready to go as far as where I need him to be, but he’s one I maybe have a keeper for Trey to rodeo on later. So Trey is riding two client horses and one of mine.

I’ve got a 4-year-old for the heading futurity that I bought and have been riding a year that’s making a nice horse that I’m going to show. And I’ve got another 5-year-old that I will show in the heading part of it. In the show horse deal they don’t want the geldings as much, which is fine with me, but I had an opportunity to buy three nice geldings so I did it. I think I’ve got a nice set of head horses to go down there this year. I’ve got a couple 5-year-olds, a couple 4-year-olds. 

With the futurity being judged on both time and form unlike the horse shows, do you have to do anything differently in the weeks and months prior to prepare them than you have to do for, say, the AQHA World Show?

No, not really. I just want to get them broke and get them doing good. The only thing I basically do different is that I speed it up just a tick. I don’t try to over analyze it as far as what I’m going to do on them horses because there’s this one valued piece of information that you can’ get away from in the industry, regardless of how good of horse you got: You still have to go catch for the judges to mark you. So, all I’m doing as an individual myself is basically trying to speed it up a tick as far as how I would show one. They’re still judging on the proper work of a horse. I’m not convinced we have to do anything too much different. It’s just a tick more aggressive as far as in the AQHA shows. The third judge is the time judge. I guess I want to make consistent, strong runs, but I ain’t worried it because at the end of the day, that futurity is a four-header. It takes a pretty good young horse to stay consistent for four go-rounds and still have a consistent time. It’s not about being 4, but it’s not about being 14 either. When I’m training for the futurity, I’m training to be between a 6 or a 9 depending on what the steer lets me do. I don’t try to expose myself. Hopefully my brain kicks in, and I don’t try to do anything that the steer doesn’t allow. That’s what my mental capacity is. I don’t want any major penalties and any major mistakes. 

Has Trey been in futurity-training mode since ProRodeo's regular season ended?

Trey needed to get his butt home from rodeoing. He’s been doing it. It’s one of those deals where I’m not as concerned about Trey’s ability to get them right. His first job is to go down there and heel a bunch of steers for me. His first day down there, that’s his job, to catch for who he’s roping for. It’s a little different roping when it’s your job. This is the job he’s created, it’s his first initial appearance of what he’s got to do. I’m going to show all the head horses that we have. And let's face it, he heels better than me.

I know you use tons of different bridles, but is there one that more of your young horses are riding in right now that you'll use on more of them at the futurity?

The bit of the month of course—but I don’t know which one that is yet. Everyone who works for me gets so mad. When I start with one bit at the house, I ride it on every horse. The next day might be a hackamore day. They always tell me when they start getting a horse ready, “What’s the bit of the month?” I don’t really have one I per se favor. I have a flat bit I ride that I try to have copied four or five times. I got it from a guy in California that was a preacher. I rode it at the NFR and everywhere else. I ride it on a lot of horses. It’s never been copied. I got a guy in Iowa trying to copy it and get the weight right in his machine shop right now, so we'll see. I ride one from a guy in Brazil, and it’s got a pretty good feel. I ride a lot of Tex Rudolph hackamores—they’re the best ever made, he made them in California. They have the feel. I ride a lot of those. It depends on the day. I have a sorrel mare that I think has a good chance this year, but I don’t have any idea what I’m going to ride on her. One day she feels better in a hackamore, the next she’s better in a bit. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. It's a four-header, so I could ride a hackamore on the first two and change it up to a bit on the second two. It’s a game-time decision. I’ll get down there, have 50 bits in the tack room, and I might only use five. 

You mentioned you're riding a mare. Is there any difference in the maturity level of a mare versus a gelding versus a stud at this early point in their careers?

I have good luck with the good mares. They don’t bother me at all. I think that sometimes the maturity level in a mare might be a tick later than the geldings, and the maturity level for the studs is damn sure way later than the mares and the geldings. They’re just young and full of spirit thinking what they’ll do in life. Are they good? Yes, very good. But it’s hard to keep their attention full through a major all day event. In the cow horse, you can consistently stay with him or have somebody on him. I’ve got to have somebody who rides good to keep him moving and keep his attention so I might be able to get on him right before I rope, and I need him thinking my way, not his way. There are so many horses moving around there. You ride up next to a mare, he might stud up. That’s nobody’s fault. That’s part of what real life is. The maturity of a gelding is the highest in what we do. A mare is not that far behind. 

How many people does it take to keep everything going at your place in Pueblo?

I have six people working, not counting me, Julie, and Trey. And my dad spends a lot of time with us, whether he’s roping or watching it makes a lot of sense. I’m pretty fortunate that way that I get to have a critic sit there and watch. He doesn’t always say what you want to hear, but I’m pretty fortunate we get to do that. He said last year he thought it was one of the nicest events to watch as far as quality of horses. He knows there are a lot of great ropers in the world, but he’s more about good horses. 

And lastly, have most of your customers been enthusiastic about the Rope Horse Futurity, even if it's cost them more money and time?

My customers love it. They've been eager about going to it, and they really enjoy it. 

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