A torn deep flexor tendon sidelined TG’s best mount.

The last steer Travis Graves heeled on his sorrel superstar was to seal the deal with Chad Masters on the team roping average title at the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He’s hoping hard that the next rodeo steer he runs on Manny will be at this month’s 2018 NFR.

[Read More: Masters and Graves Dominate 2017 NFR Average]

Graves bought Manny—who’s named after his last owner, Manny Egusquiza—six years ago, when Egusquiza decided to switch ends and head. Graves has been missing Manny, who’s 18 now, all year long.

“I don’t know for sure if it was that last run at the NFR last year, or something that happened over the years, in the trailer on the way home, or when we got home. But I haven’t been able to ride him since that 10th-round steer,” said Graves, who this month will rope at his 10th NFR in 11 years.

[Read More: Helping Your Horses in the Long Haul]

The diagnosis, which was made by Graves’ vet—Charlie Buchanan of Brazos Valley Equine Hospital in Stephenville, Texas—was a torn deep flexor tendon in his left hind leg, with some additional damage to some of the support structures in the tendon sheath. They tried rest and other less invasive procedures first.

“I had hoped that after some time off I could ride Manny at The American,” Graves said. “But he didn’t get any better. So it was either surgery or retirement, and even if I retired him I wanted him to be comfortable in the pasture.”

Buchanan operated on Manny the end of July.

“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 said. “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 roundpen.

[Listen: The Score Episode 15 with Travis Graves]

“We brought Manny back slowly, and watched him pretty closely with weekly exams, and an ultrasound every couple of weeks. He became a clinic favorite, especially with the rehab people. Manny came back right by the book—maybe even 30 days ahead of schedule.”

Graves has spent most of this year aboard a brown horse he calls Chip, whom he bought from Joseph Harrison after last year’s NFR. Graves—who hadn’t yet run his first steer back on Manny as of press time the first week of November—plans to take both Chip and Manny to Vegas.

“To tell you how much confidence I have in Manny, I haven’t roped a steer on him since the 10th round last year, and it would not faze me to ride in there and rope one on him in the first round this year,” said Graves, who’s had Manny home in Morgan Mill since returning from the Northwest run in September. “If I had to rope one steer for $1 million dollars, there’s not a horse I’d rather be on than Manny. Horses of his caliber are everything.

“Darn near everything I have has been won at that horse—The Strait, The American, the USTRC Finals, all in one year in 2015. Then winning the NFR average on him last year. I’ve won more money on Manny than any horse I’ve ever had. I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever get to rope on him again. But he’s as sound now as he’s been in a long, long time. He feels amazing.”

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