His header at the time was Coleman Proctor, a lifelong friend. As Proctor threw his rope, Long saw it go on as an illegal head catch, and gave up on the run. Proctor dallied anyway and turned the steer. With no cue from his rider, San Badger Gin, or Mikey, made the hard left and put Long in a perfect position to throw.
“That’s when I knew I’d never miss a corner on that horse,” he said. “Nobody really knew about him. He was a pretty good find. Cody was going to college and like most college kids could use the funds and it worked out good for me.”
The horse came to Long named Chili Dog, but with Rich Skelton already making a horse by that nickname famous (two-time PRCA/AQHA Heeling Horse of the Year), he knew he had to come up with something else.
He could have called him “Ready or Not”—based on his ability to make the corner regardless of his rider’s state of preparedness, or maybe
“Steady Eddie” for his consistency. Or “Badger” based on his registered name. But nothing Long brainstormed seemed to fit the horse.
Then, tragedy struck: Long’s older cousin, Mike White, died in a four-wheeling accident, leaving behind a wife and two small children.
“He was the lifeline of our family,” Long said of the tight-knit Coffeyville, Kan., clan. “He was the guy that made everybody laugh. He was really good to me ever since I was little. Two weeks after I bought the horse, I was at a little amateur rodeo in Alabama—we had gone over for the Beast of the East roping—and I got the phone call. We were really close. Everybody around home called him Mikey. I couldn’t come up with a name for that horse, so I decided to name him in his honor.”
To that point in Long’s career, his biggest win was the 2007 Dodge National Circuit Finals title. His best finish in the world standings was also that year, when he wound up 24th. Despite the new horse, success wasn’t instant.
The next year, 2008, he still only finished around 40th in the world standings. In fact, he began taking a hard look at his career choice. He and Proctor couldn’t catch anything and Long was burned out on rodeoing. In an effort to rejuvinate his career he even considered heading. When his friends from the Prairie Circuit saw he wasn’t rodeoing, he got calls from both Travis Graves and Kollin VonAhn wondering if Mikey was for sale.
“I told them, ‘No,’” he said. “I named him Mikey and he’s never leaving. If I hadn’t named him that I might have sold him.”
The time away from the road paid off and when the 2010 season rolled around, Long was ready to go again. But he couldn’t find a header who was.
“Tell you the truth, starting out I just couldn’t find a run,” he said. “I had done a lot of praying, just praying for the right partner. Everything fell through.”
For different reasons, the headers he had targeted as potential partners—Cody Graham, Adam Rose and Justin Parish—all had other plans.
“I ended up starting with Cory Kidd,” Long said of the 2008 National High School Rodeo champion and PRCA rookie out of Charlotte, N.C. “He was a great partner, awesome to haul with and be around, but we didn’t catch very good together. I made a lot of mistakes for him and I should have been a lot more solid for him. At San Antonio, I roped with Cody McMinn and we won about $4,000 there. Then at Huntsville I started roping with Brady Tryan.”
It was Travis Graves—a fellow Prairie Circuit heeler—who was roping with Clay Tryan who hooked Long and Clay’s younger brother, Brady, up.
During the La Fiesta de los Vaqueros in Tucson, Ariz., the two decided to start entering together. The books for the George Strait Team Roping Classic closed in two days, so rather than force a chain reaction of partner switches, they decided to stand pat with who they entered the GSTRC with and begin their partnership after it finished.
Teaming up with his old pal, Proctor, something unexpected happened. They roped three steers in 14.93 seconds to win one of the biggest open ropings in the land and $79,815 each. Interestingly, Brady Tryan and Cody Doesher finished third, roping three in 15.40 and winning $21,949.
Watching each other do so well, seemed to give them both the confidence they’d need heading into the rest of the spring and summer rodeo runs.
“We weren’t actually going yet, but it was a good momentum starter,” Long said. In fact, that became Long’s signature win in the sport and he took advantage of the opportunity to tell the story of his horse and his cousin. “It’s been an honor to do it in his name,” he said. “His wife called and thanked me for getting his story out.”
And now? They’re on a roll.
Long is 8th in the PRCA World Standings (as is Tryan) with nearly $40,000. Now that Long is having a career year, the idea of finding this super 10-year-old that could instantly carry a top roper to the sport’s highest platforms seems remarkable.
“It takes a horse like him to be out here trying to make it,” Long said. “Everybody out here ropes so well, or they wouldn’t be here. It’s not necessarily the top 15 guys have the top 15 horses, but they dang sure have good ones. You’re not going to make it on nothing.”
In fact, Long puts Mikey in the top 10 active heel horses in the world right now. With a nod to Randon Adams’s Diesel, Kinney Harrell’s Taz and Travis Graves’s Superstar as the top in the game, he feels Mikey falls in behind them somewhere.
“I dang sure think he’s close,” Long said. “For me, he fits me good and I get along with him good. He’s got plenty of speed, he’s really, really cowy. He’s by far the best horse I’ve ever had. Probably his only downside is he’s not real big. He’s pretty stocky, but he’s short. Not huge bone or anything. He’s a pretty small horse, but has a lot of heart. I’ve never had a steer jerk me forward or anything like that.”
The measure of a great timed-event horse, however, is not how much money they carry their rider to. Rather, it’s how little they keep their rider from winning. In the dog-eat-dog world of modern team roping, chances for a “W” are unpredictable. Cowboys have to be ready to capitalize when everything shapes up, and if their horse lets them down in those situations, he’s taking a paycheck out of their pockets—biting the hand that feeds him, so to speak.
“He’s never made a mistake and he’s never cost me money,” Long said. “If he’s ever made a little bitty mistake it’s been me. I’ve never had a steer get away from me, I’ve always had a throw.”