Winning the PRCA and AQHA's honor of horse of the year obviously takes a talented equine athlete. But above talent, the one thing contestants (the top 30 in each event vote for the nominated horses each year) respect the most is consistent excellence.
"Anytime you get to swing your leg over something that just does the same thing every time, you're going to do better," said Turtle Powell, whose horse Vegas won the honor for the first time. "I've had some good horses, but I don't know that I've ever had one like this and had the chance of him being so young. Hopefully he stays sound and I don't ruin him."
Vegas (Ra Sonoita Silver) is only 8 years old and has carried Powell to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2008 and this year, as well as to major wins in Houston and Fort Worth. But even at 6 years old, when Powell cracked him out, people noticed the obvious talents of the big gray. In fact, the horse has been named the top head horse at the Spicer Gripp for three years in a row now.
"I think more than anything, he's a little bit older and more seasoned," Powell said. "Now he's eight. Plus, it helps to win some of the things I've won on him. Guys watch a winner and watch him go over the years and seen that he's a solid horse. I'm lucky to get that honor. It means a lot, I'm glad the AQHA does it, it gives what we do a little more meaning."
What's more, Powell's looking forward to bringing Vegas back to Las Vegas for the Wrangler NFR.
"Back when he was 6 years old at the NFR, he worked really solid, but he was a little weaker on the wall than I would like to have had him," he said. "He just didn't know, I'd never had him in tight situations like that. He struggled with that a little bit. A horse can get to anticipating that and get droppy. This year he might be looking for it a little more, but I'm going to have to pay a little bit better attention. My expectation is going to be the same, that
he's going to be the same as far as scoring and running across there, and he'll be a little stronger coming up the wall."
Travis Tryan's Precious Speck, "Walt," ?who won the heading horse award four times (2003, 2007-09), was voted into second place posthumously, ahead of brother Clay Tryan's Bear Cash Partner, "Syndicate." Walt died April 24 of an aneurysm at the Clovis (Calif.) Rodeo.
On the heeling side, Jade Corkill's Fine Snip of Doc, better known as Cave Man, was named the Team Roping Heeling Horse of the Year, ending a four-year reign by Diesel (2006-09), owned by fellow Nevadan Randon Adams. Diesel finished third in this year's balloting behind Travis Graves' Super Star.
Wick (Dashs Dapper Star), owned by Wade Sumpter and Ken Lewis, was voted the Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year. Sumpter and Lewis bought the horse from former NFR regular Birch Negaard.
Eightys Sport, "Sweetness," was second in the Tie-Down Roping Horse of the Year balloting last year, but moved up to the top spot in 2010 by earning more than $90,000 for the cowboys who rode him, a list that includes three Wrangler NFR qualifiers: Clint Cooper, Trent Creager and Fred Whitfield. The 16-year-old gelding is owned by Karen Herbst and Spur Resources 1 in Whitesboro, Texas.
Rocky Patterson's Pops (Skips Harlan Tyree) won his first Steer Roping Horse of the Year title. Judge Buy Cash, or Jethro, owned by Frank and Lynne Mays, and ridden by Brenda Mays, is the Barrel Racing Horse of the Year.
For the first time since 2003, all of the AQHA/PRCA/WPRA Horses of the Year are first-time selections, a rather notable changing of the guard.