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Billie Jack Saebens: Balancing Training, Rodeo, Life
Billie Jack Saebens talks futurities, training, rodeo dreams and more.
Billie Jack Saebens heeling at the 2023 Greeley Stampede.
Billie Jack Saebens doing work on Milo at the 2023 Greeley Stampede. | TRJ file photo by Chelsea Shaffer

Billie Jack Saebens qualified for two Wrangler National Finals Rodeos back-to-back in 2016–17 and won the 2022 BFI heeling for fellow Oklahoma cowboy Jake Cooper Clay. Beyond the rodeo arena, Saebens serves as head trainer for Dixon Flowers Rope Horses, and also regularly rides for Southern Ranches. Billie Jack and his NFR barrel racer wife, Ivy, live in Nowata, Oklahoma. 

Q: You finished 20th in the world last year roping with Jake Cooper Clay. Who are you roping with in 2023?

A: I’m roping Curry Kirchner. We started roping right after the BFI in May. Earlier this year, I roped with Pedro Egurrola, Jake Clay, Tanner James and Matt Sherwood at the BFI.

Q: Is it true you weren’t planning to rodeo hard this year? Why was that, and what happened to change your mind?

A: Yes, that’s true. And I’m still not planning to rodeo hard. I have some little rodeo trips planned around training and the horse shows at home. 

Q: You’re on pace to make your third NFR in 2023. Have you had big hits, or a lot of little ones?

A: No huge hits. Me and Jake Clay won good at Fort Worth. Other than that, just a lot of little checks. I’ve been just kind of clipping along. 

Jake Cooper Clay and Billie Jack for the 2022 BFI win and buckles. | Andersen/CBarC photo

Q: What are you riding at the rodeos this year? 

A: I’ve been riding the 8-year-old sorrel horse I won the BFI on last year. His name is Milo, and he’s what I’ve ridden at the rodeos the last couple years.  

Q: How tough is it to juggle the time you spend training horses with a rodeo schedule?

A: It’s tough. But giving the show horses a week off here and there is good for them. And I circle back and get home a lot to keep the show horses and young horses ridden. 

Q: How much have you been showing horses this year, and which horses are you most excited about? 

A: I’ve gone to every roping futurity they’ve had so far this year. I have a head horse, SJR Diamond Billy, that belongs to Shane and Jessica Boston’s Southern Ranches and is really nice. I’ve been riding a black stud in the heeling, The Notorious BIG, that’s also owned by Southern Ranches and is really good. I’ve also been riding DF Bet Hesa Legend, which is a nice heel horse we (Dixon Flowers) raised who’s now owned by Patrick Gideon. 

Q: How different do you ride a rodeo horse and a futurity horse?

A: In the heading it’s a lot different. It’s a lot slower-paced and more correct at the futurities. There’s not as big a difference in how I ride the heel horses. At the futurities, it’s basically the same approach as at the jackpots. I’m not trying to throw on the first hop as much as on the third or fourth hop. I just try to ride a good corner and catch. 

Q: What’s it take to transition a futurity horse into a rodeo horse? 

A: Experience is the main thing. Horses are done at the futurities their 6-year-old year, then it’s time to show them different scenarios, so they’re prepared and learn to expect the unexpected at the rodeos. 

Q: Who’s had the biggest influence on your roping over the years?

A: I can’t really name one person. I’ve watched a lot of people, and taken a little bit from a lot of ropers. I’m a visual learner, and I’ve picked up little things from a lot of different people. 

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Q: Has there been a greatest influence on you on the horse-training side?

A: I spent quite a bit of time with J.D. Yates in the beginning, and got to see how his program works. But again, I’ve mostly learned by watching a lot of people. I’ve been watching and talking to Trevor (Brazile) a lot lately about how he does things. I also like talking to guys like Brad Lund, who rides cow horses, and Tyson Benson, who starts all the Dixon Flowers and Southern Ranches 2-year-olds and also shows cow horses. I enjoy bouncing things off of those guys. 

Q: Are there things in life that you enjoy that don’t involve a horse and a heel rope? 

A: I enjoy coyote hunting in the fall and winter. But besides that, it’s mostly horses and roping for me.

Q: Do you still have big rodeo dreams?

A: No, I don’t. And it’s kind of a weight off my shoulders to admit that, and not feel like I have to go to every rodeo they have anymore. Of course, I want to win when I enter. And if I have a chance to make the Finals again, great. I’ve set a plan to have to win at the right places to have a chance. If it works, great. If not, it’s not life or death, like it was at one time in my life. 

Q: What do you see your cowboy future looking like?

A: No different than what I’m doing now. I may ride a few less horses at some point, but I really enjoy it. If I had all the money in the world, I’d do exactly what I’m doing—riding, training, preparing futurity horses and rodeoing a little bit. I have so much work to do at home that when I go to a few rodeos, it’s like a vacation for me. TRJ

Billie Jack and Ivy Saebens live the rodeo life together. | Andersen/CBarC photo

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