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Nogueira’s Secret Weapon: Gigolo the Lead Steer
Junior Nogueira's lead steer Gigolo has been a critical part of his game almost as long as he's been in the States.

Jake Barnes and Junior Nogueira were in the fight of their lives to get Nogueira qualified for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo by the time they pulled in to run their short round steer at Nampa, Idaho, in July 2014.

The seven-time world champ and the Brazilian rookie sensation couldn’t afford the charter flight from California Rodeo Salinas to the Snake River Stampede short round in Nampa. So, they made the 10-and-a-half-hour trek across three states to hop on an extra set of horses to try to gain some ground on the rest of the top 15 in Nampa.

“We are like third or fourth back, and the rodeo had fallen completely apart,” Barnes remembered. “We know we have a real slow steer—a trotter—and I stick it on him right there. Junior turns in there and lays it right beside him. He never gave me a chance to try to get him to hop, and I was so mad. That was the only time I was ever mad at him, and we had to get in that car and drive all night long back to Salinas.”

Barnes, a mentor to Nogueira who’d taken him in earlier that winter upon Nogueira’s arrival in the U.S., had of course roped with heeling’s GOAT, Clay O’Brien Cooper, for most of his career. So instead of showing too much anger at the time, Barnes tried to make a suggestion based on the methods he’d watched Cooper use to win seven gold buckles.

“I’d tell him Clay can rope every kind of steer—a steer that gets heavy and drags, a trotter, he doesn’t loose many legs,” Barnes said. “I tried to mentor him on the things Clay did. Clay roped the donkey trotting all the time, so he was always really good at roping steers that trotted. There’s not many guys who can rope a trotter—still to this day. You have to get to where you can rope one, even if it’s just once or twice during the year that you draw one.”

Enter: Gigolo the Lead Steer

Junior Nogueira's Lead Steer Gigolo
Junior Nogueira and his lead steer, Gigolo. | Courtesy Junior Nogueira

Fast forward six months, Nogueira was fresh off his first National Finals Rodeo qualification in the winter of 2015 when he showed up at Arizona roper Jerry Lilly’s house to rope, where he’d go to practice with Robert Reynoso in his down time.

“Mr. Lilly had a few bigger, Mexican steers, and they gave me a heel horse to rope on because I didn’t even own one at the time,” Nogueira explained. “I run this red steer the first time, and I miss him. He only trotted, but he hopped really weird. I asked if I could run him again, and they told me OK. His back legs were so wide, and he’d almost drag his toes. I missed him again.”

As the practice ended, Nogueira heard Lilly talking about unwrapping the slower end of the steers to send them to the sale, and that strange-hopping, big-horned gentle M-branded steer was one of them.

“I told Mr. Jerry I wanted to buy him, and he laughed and said, ‘What for?!'” Nogeuira remembered. “I wanted to buy him, but he just gave him to me.”

Nogueira didn’t have his own truck or trailer at the time, so he rode home from the practice and borrowed Arizona horse trainer Shawn Grant’s truck and trailer. He drove an hour and a half back to Lilly’s, loaded the steer, and headed back to Grant’s. There, Grant helped Nogueira learn to train his lead steer, and Jake Barnes couldn’t help but love to head him, too, because he’d developed such a head trick over the years that he became a great test to Barnes’ abilities.

Why Would Anyone Name a Lead Steer Gigolo?!

“He got his name at Shawn’s, because I told him I was going to name him something in Portuguese, and Shawn said, ‘Did you say Gigolo?!’” Nogueira laughed. “I told him no, I didn’t, but that was a good name. And it stuck.”

Grant—known for training great lead steers and innovating as a rope horse trainer—helped Nogueira teach Gigolo how to go through the heel box, down the arena, turn left and trot straight across to the far fence before starting the pattern all over again.

“You can rope him by the horns, too, and he follows the head horse,” Nogueira added.

Barnes would come load Gigolo in his trailer to take him back to his place in Scottsdale to rope so often that Gigolo thought nothing of loading in a trailer being led with a rope around his horns.

Texas or Bust for Junior Nogueira’s Lead Steer Gigolo

When Nogueira moved to Stephenville, Texas, he swung in from the California rodeos and picked up Gigolo—in his Bloomer Trailer, in a divider, alongside his best horses GreenCard and Hali.

Junior Nogueira's Lead Steer Gigolo
A young Gigolo tied by the horns to Nogueira’s trailer next to his great horses Green Card and Hali. | Courtesy Junior Nogueira

“By then, his horns were already really long,” Nogueira said. “So I put splint boots on them as padding and loaded him in the trailer. We went to Guymon on our way home, and we just tied him out to the trailer with the horses at the rodeo.”

Junior Nogueira's Lead Steer Gigolo
Gigolo in his Lipan, Texas, pasture. | TRJ File Photo

Since coming to Texas, Nogueira has used Gigolo to hone his skills on trotters and to refine the abilities of all of his great horses. From Apache R Hali to GreenCard and Timon, no horse has been too good to track Gigolo. That also includes Docs Gunslinger Chic, the mare Nogueira helped make that Paul Eaves won his 2020 gold buckle aboard. Gigolo might be responsible for more money won in ProRodeo on great horses than any lead steer in history.

“Now, he’s just gentle,” Nogueira said. “He’s not as hard to heel anymore, but he is still just as good. I’m trying to make another one like him, because he’s been so good. There are two things at my place that will never be for sale: Green Card and Gigolo.”

Nogueira, who had a record 2022 ProRodeo season and also leads the WCRA’s Reliance Ranches VQR standings for another $25,000 bonus, owned Gigolo before he owned anything else in the States. So, safe to say Gigolo’s got pet status at Nogueira’s Lipan, Texas, compound. He comes moseying over through the pasture when Nogueira calls him with a little alfalfa in his hand, and he’s graduated past the point of having his back feet dallied on.

“Everything you do always teaches you something,” Barnes concluded. “It’s a learning curve as you’re out here rodeoing. There were many learning experiences the first couple years that happened in a bad way, but in the long run, they made Junior better—like missing that steer at Nampa, partly inspired him to get Gigolo. There were a handful of things—of hard knocks—so part of the things he learned along the way are some of his strengths now.”

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