Team roping is big business. With the World Series of Team Roping Finale paying out more than $10 million annually and the Cinch National Finals of Team Roping awarding ropers $3.6 million last year, ropers who want to win at every level are counting on horses to set them apart and give them the edge when hundredths of a second separate teams at the top. A select few horse people have taken notice, making a commitment to the industry to elevate the quality of equine athlete available to the roper.
“You have to realize that it’s no secret anymore the amount of money that ropers at every level are getting to run at,” Trevor Brazile, 23-time PRCA World Champion, said. “You don’t want to be the last one to step up your game with horses. It’s a terrible feeling to realize you’re under-mounted when you’ve already spent the money and time to get yourself to the big money situations, only to realize you’re at a disadvantage from the get go.”
Breeding programs serving team ropers are striving to get the right mix of run, ranch, and cow, and each one has a different take on what professional and recreational ropers want and need. Some breeders are shooting for flat-speed, while others want more bone and body for a more ranch-ready prospect. The Team Roping Journal spoke with the breeders and the pros who ride their horses to find out where horse quality is going in the era of big-money team roping.
Fulton Family Performance Horses, Todd County, S.D.
Long before the late Brian Fulton’s name became synonymous with legendary performance-horse stallion A Streak Of Fling, Fulton qualified for two Wrangler National Finals Rodeos and won the all-around title in the Badlands Circuit 12 times. So when Fulton bought A Streak Of Fling almost 20 years ago, his goal was to produce top-of-the-line calf roping and team roping horses.
“He was looking for a stud who could produce the types of horses he competed on,” Lisa Fulton, Brian’s widow, said. “He caught the eye of the barrel people, and that Cinderella story is what it is. Where he started from is what you’re seeing today in the team roping, bull dogging, and calf roping horses—that was his sole intent to begin with.”
Horses like Sarah Rose McDonald’s late, great Fame Fling N Bling helped make A Streak Of Fling famous in the barrel pen, but early believers in his team roping offspring are already seeing their investment pay dividends. Zac Small rode 2005 AQHA gelding Streakin Sun Dew (A Streak Of Fling x PC Sun Dew x Sun Frost) to qualify for the 2016 WNFR, and win the 2016 Bob Feist Invitational and the 2017 Rodeo Houston team roping title.
“They’re truly a diversified horse,” Fulton said. “We get them started and ready to roll so you can take them any direction you want. We don’t start them in any direction because there are some you can take either way.”
The Fulton Sale has garnered world-wide fame over the last 17 years, held annually at the Cherry County Fairgrounds in Valentine, Neb. The 2017 edition offered 57 head of weanlings, yearlings, 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds sired by Fulton Ranch stallions as well as prospects from guest consignors.
Featured bloodlines: A Streak Of Fling, CS Flashlight, A Streak Of Fame, Paddys Irish Whiskey
Success stories: Streakin King Daddy, American qualifier ridden by Blake Hughes; Streakin Sun Dew, BFI winner and NFR qualifier ridden by Zac Small.
Pros say: “He’s pretty unique. He’s fast and you can rope on him in several different setups. He was really good at the BFI and at the NFR. We have a few others, but he’s the best one we’ve got. I’ve been to the Fulton Sale, and their program is outstanding. They’ve got some pretty great horses, and he’s sure pretty good.” – Zac Small
More info: 402-322-0110; fultonranch.com
DT Horses, Bend, Ore.
Dean Tuftin qualified for the WNFR in 2008 aboard Rich Skelton’s AQHA/PRCA Heel Horse of the Year, Chili Dog, but for 30 years before that, he was riding and training horses of his own. In the decades that preceded his WNFR trip, he learned what he needed to succeed at the highest level, and today his program reflects that lifetime of experience in the arena.
“Really, if I can put it simple, if I were chasing a cow, and I were looking for a dog, I’d ride a Border Collie that can stop, turn and pay attention to the cow,” Tuftin said. “I wouldn’t ride a Greyhound. Great head horses have to be able to drag their butts and run. I think most of them have plenty of run. The really good ones have plenty of run. You’ve just got to breed the size into the cow horses with a bigger mare.”
While the vast majority of Tuftin’s 100-plus horses are strictly cow bred, one of his mares, King Snazzy Sugar, is a paternal granddaughter of Fols Native (TB). That mare is the fourth-leading mare of AQHA open performance points earners and has produced three AQHA world champions.
Tuftin has grown his program into the AQHA show market, winning five world titles in the roping events in the last four years. DT Horses starts saddling its colts as yearlings, starts roping the dummy on them in the fall of their 2-year-old years, and by the time they’re 4, they’re pretty finished, Tuftin said. Not unlike other programs on this list, Tuftin turns to JD Yates for his showing expertise.
“Two years ago at the AQHA World Finals, we went and watched JD, and we won first, second and third in the prelim,” Tuftin said. “I said, ‘Man I could die now.’ Then we won first second and third in different order in the Finals.”
Tuftin’s program will move to Scottsdale, Ariz., this fall, and looks to expand its cowhorse market—making his caliber of horse more available to the snowbird team roping market.
Feature bloodlines: Hickory Holly Time, Metallic CD, Shiners Lena Chex
Success stories: Rey Shines On Top, two-time AQHA/PRCA Heel Horse of the Year, ridden and owned by Brady Minor.
Pros say: “Dean puts the time into them. He gets a really good start when they’re young. He gets them so broke already by the time we get them. They catch up faster than any horses because they’re already broke. They get consistent riding when they’re young so they come along faster. Plus, he’s got such great mares.” – Brady Minor
More info: 541-389-2159; dthorses.com
Bobby Lewis Quarter Horses, Overbrook, Okla.
Bobby Lewis has won dozens of AQHA world titles, is a National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame inductee and competes in the National Reined Cow Horse Association, and that experience informs his decades-old breeding program.
“I’ve always been really concerned about conformation, good body, clean legs, soundness and good-mindedness,” Lewis said. “That means I try to stay up with the times on what the general public wants. They want a comfortable horse, size-wise. I don’t breed for the great big horses, personally. I like cow-bred horses. The 14.3 to 15-hand type of horses is what I’m trying to breed for. Heading, heeling, and calf roping. I want that speed, I want a good mind, I want them sound. When people call looking for one, that’s what they’re wanting.”
Lewis has 40 to 50 colts on the ground annually, and he sells some as weanlings and keeps some back to sell as they get a little older. Pedigree is key, Lewis said, as many customers are looking for one bred to specialize.
“A lot of them don’t have race horse bloodlines, but further back in their pedigrees they do have some run,” Lewis said. “But the biggest thing is that they’ll let you do your business when you get to the cow. They’re bred for the event, rather than just for speed.”
Lewis sells his horses at the occasional sale, but mostly they’re available through private treaty. And anymore, he’s selling horses to weekend ropers looking to get an edge on the competition.
“I get calls all the time and I see people wanting better horses because of how much these ropings pay,” Lewis said. “The World Series and the USTRC have been phenomenal for the team roping horses. You can win so much money at them. The guys who win want a horse that’s capable of giving them the opportunity to win. As far as training, raising, and producing roping horses, there’s a real market out there.”
Featured bloodlines: Dual Spark, Dual Patron, Spooks Show Time, One Cool Cat, Genuine Chrome BF
Success stories: Dual Chip, ridden by Joseph Harrison and owned by Bobby Lewis.
Pros say: “Chip is a son of Dual Spark out of a mare named Zans Diamond Girl by Zans Diamond Sun. He’s got a ton of personality. He’s fast-footed, he can run, and he can stay between my bridle reins and between my legs. He doesn’t do a whole lot without me telling him to, so if he messes up, most of the time it’s my fault. He’s got a cool way that he crawls through the turn that makes it easy to throw fast or go another swing if I have to. Both of the horses I have out here are half siblings. Her name is Lula Dual by Dual Spark as well, out of Wicked Lula Lena, a Freckles Playboy mare. Bobby’s got it figured out, what he likes, the horses he likes, the way they feel. He mashed them all together through the breeding program to come out with a bunch of nice horses. Bob’s ridden a bunch of Shining Sparks and he knows what he likes, and he’s bred them to feel the way he wants them to feel. They have some speed and a bunch of stop. They’re catty and quick footed, and they’ll be pretty horses, too.” – Joseph Harrison
More info: 940-727-2995; bobbylewisquarterhorses.horse
Dixon Flowers Rope Horses, Nowata, Okla.
Duke Dixon founded Dixon Flowers Rope Horses in early 2011 after meeting a young kid from Missouri named Billie Jack Saebens.
“We were already showing horses with AQHA, and we had quite a few going down the road,” Dixon, who makes a living running private ambulance companies in Oklahoma and Texas, said. “We needed a way to transition them from the show world to the real world. The whole idea was to have horses that were able to function in the jackpot and rodeo world. Horses guys want to ride for all levels—from guys making a living rodeoing to the average, weekend team roper.”
Legendary NFR cowboy and AQHA world champion JD Yates shows some horses for Dixon, and then Saebens takes them on the road heeling for Coleman Proctor and Tyler Wade. But long before they make it to the show pen or the Thomas & Mack, they’re checking cows and spending hours and hours in the arena with Saebens.
Traditionally, Dixon Flowers Rope Horses has bought young prospects and turned them into rodeo-ready mounts, but recently Dixon has ventured into breeding.
“We aren’t breeding lineage and papers—mind you, they’re all stocked with whatever you want—but these are actually proven mares,” Dixon said. “Mares who’ve already proved they’ll go out and make a living. There are so many mares out there who have never done anything. We aren’t a 50-year operation in terms of breeding. We’re kind of having to create our own deal here. We’re doing a lot of trial and error to figure out what works. Billie is riding all these mares, so he knows what we need to offset.”
Saebens handles most of the buying and selling, and most of Dixon Flowers’ horses are available through private treaty.
Featured bloodlines: Progeny of Shining Spark, Smart Little Lena, Freckles Playboy, Hickory Holly Time
Success stories: Zans Colonel Shine, AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year ridden and owned by Jake Long.
Pros say: “We want to make a horse that’s user friendly for anyone. If an open guy wants to come look at horses, we have them. If a beginner wants to try a horse, we have them. At so many places, horses aren’t good enough for an open guy, or if they are, an amateur can’t ride them. Every horse that comes through there, I think could be my next great one but I want them usable at all levels.”– Billie Jack Saebens
More info: 918-688-0223; dixonflowersropehorses.com
Myers Performance Horses, St. Onge, S.D.
The Myers family has worked the last four decades to perfect the combination of run and cow, able to excel across performance horse disciplines, and their current stallions reflect those efforts.
Frenchmans Guy has undoubtedly dominated the barrel racing ranks over the last two decades, but the palomino stud at the center of the Myers’s breeding program is making his mark in the roping arena, too.
“Frenchmans Guy was a cow horse, more or less,” said Billy Myers, son of Bill and Deb, who runs the breeding operation now. “We’d buy broodmares and see what worked with him. We can cherry pick through the broodmares and see what crosses work with our studs and go from there. The combo of cow and run is the best combination. They’re still good-minded, and they still want to get on their butt and stop. They’ve got enough run in them that they’re the best of both worlds.”
Bill Myers heads on every one of the stallions they stand, and each colt that comes through the Myers’s program as a 2-year-old gets 120 days riding and is started on the Heel-O-Matic. A Smooth Guy, Myers’s junior stallion by Frenchmans Guy and out of a Dry Doc mare, is outstanding to head and heel on, Myers said.
“My old man heads on all of our studs,” Billy said. “He won’t keep a stud you can’t rope off of. These three junior studs, he heads on all three of them. He plans on putting Ima Special Kinda Guy in that futurity (see page 90 for more) this fall. Dakota (Kirchenschlager), Cesar (de la Cruz), and (Kaleb) Driggers all bred back to A Smooth Guy this year. It’s kind of based on the way he was to rope off of. Smooth Guys are all big boned. He’s completely cow-bred on the bottom. He’s old-school cutting, before they got small and fine boned. That’s something we don’t do—we don’t keep fine-boned horses. Good bones mean they’re less crippled.”
Myers Ranch partnered with de la Cruz in 2016 to breed his NFR mount Annie Oakley to A Smooth Guy, and got a bay stud colt this past spring. She’s bred back to A Smooth Guy again this year.
Myers Ranch sells 30 head of riding horses each fall at the Myers Ranch and Copper Spring Ranch Performance Horse Sale in Bozeman, Mont.
Featured bloodlines: Frenchmans Guy, A Smooth Guy, Ima Special Kinda Guy, This Guyz A Keeper, Mr Sassy Frenchman, Cowboys Cartel, Hot Colours
Success stories: Higgins Frenchman, AQHA Cinch Timed Event Top Horse 2017, ridden by Clay Smith.
Pros say: “To me, Mr. Bill Myers is one of the best hands with horses I’ve ever seen. He knows what a good rope horse should feel like. He likes an athletic horse that can really run but still has brains. The Frenchmans Guy program is the best. I look through the stalls and look at the babies, 2-year-olds, they’re built to be good rope horses, barrel horses, and cowboying horses. I needed a horse last summer, and I won about $8,000 in two weeks when Billy sent me one he’d been heeling on.”– Cesar de la Cruz
More info: 605-641-4283; frenchmansguy.com
Pitzer Ranch, Ericson, Neb.
Since its start after the end of the Great Depression in 1944, the Pitzer Ranch has produced horses built to drag a 1,700-pound bull or spin steers at the WNFR. Most famous for iconic stallion Two Eyed Jack, today Pitzer Ranch puts out 250 to 300 colts each year, selling a high percentage to jackpot team ropers.
“We’ve tried to keep our structure and our muscle pattern made the right way for it,” said Jim Brinkman, grandson of Pitzer Ranch founder Howard Pitzer. “And, of course, their dispositions are a priority. I tried to go into the cutting horses as outcrosses, and right now I’m trying a Corona Caliente horse. I want to keep some speed and size. We always kept more size and structure than the cutters and the reiners. That lends itself to the team roping deal.”
The Pitzer Ranch still runs plenty of beef cattle, so colts that aren’t sold as weanlings at the Pitzer Sales stick around to do ranch work until they’re ready to hit the jackpots. Most Pitzer Ranch 4- and 5-year-olds are scooped up by ropers as soon as they start to get solid, Brinkman said.
“We have 50 or 60 years of selection,” Brinkman added. “These horses they do have a natural inclination to be rope horses compared to some of the outcross horses I’ve had. Over time, it does start to make a difference. We’re putting out 250 to 300 colts a year. Take that times 50 years, that’s a lot of horses.”
Some of Pitzers horses also end up in the horse show market and the feed yards, but a vast majority end up in the hands of recreational ropers. Most of Pitzer’s mares have been roped, shown in the reining or roping or even shown in the halter classes until they become broodmares.
Featured bloodlines: Mr. Gold Bucks, Just Genuine Jack, Show Me Ty Eyed, Duke Got Jack, Remember The Song, Reds Diamond Jack, Joe Jack Red, and many more
Success stories: Ima Two Eyed Con, ridden and owned by Chad Masters.
Pros say: “Cody is 19 now, but I won pretty much all my big days on him. I rode him at the WNFR in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2015, and I won the world on him in 2007. I won the US Finals on him in 2010, 2011, and 2015, and I won the Wildfire on him in 2013. I bought another horse that I named Jim after (Pitzer Ranch owner) Jim Brinkman, and I rode him at the WNFR as well. I’ve probably had 10 of them over the years.” – Chad Masters
More info: 308-653-2134; pitzerranch.net
Philipp Ranch, Washington, Texas
The Philipp family foals out 40 to 50 broodmares at their Texas ranch annually, and they keep most of the foals until they’re 4- or 5-year-olds to sell in their annual production sale. The program, founded by Johnnie and Kathy Philipp more than 30 years ago, features foundation bloodlines that trace back to King.
“We want horses that are big enough to head on,” said John Philipp, the second generation of Philipp running the operation with brother Shane. “A nice-sized horse that will hold up and do the job. Nowadays, the cutters keep getting smaller and smaller and finer-boned and littler-footed, and just about 10 percent are big enough to head on. We’re looking for head-horse types. We want them to watch a cow, but have the size to pull a steer and do the job. Our stud is a Dun Commander—Old King breeding, out of a Rocket Wrangler mare, so he has some run. I’m a fan of the Shining Sparks. They all can run and stop, so we have a Shining Spark stud, too. We’ve ridden a lot of our mares, so they have a performance record. They’re just as important if not more important than the studs.”
The Philipp family is are raising horses for the meat of the market—the general team roping public. They strive to put a foundation on their horses that makes them a pleasure to ride, John said.
John and Shane Philipp both have ridden their horses in the professional ranks, pulling checks everywhere from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Beaumont, Texas. They start their colts as 2-year-olds and, put 30 to 60 rides on them, then kick them back out. Then they put each colt on a cow or ranch on them when they’re 3, and start roping on them at 4.
“I’ll buy a few prospects,” John said. “I’ll try some different bloodlines, but nowadays it’s hard to go buy those horses. The size just isn’t there. That’s why we try to raise them.”
The Phillip Ranch sells its colts and saddle horses each May at the Brazos County Expo Center in Bryan, Texas.
Featured bloodlines: Commander Curtis, November Buddha and Genuine Katz
Success stories: Steel Trap, ridden by Bobby Harris to win the 2010 Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Pros say: “He could really run, he could really rate a steer and he could stop as hard as any horse there was. I’ve ridden a lot of their horses. They’re all quick-footed, broke well and have good cow sense.” – Bobby Harris
More info: 936-878-2833; pitzerranch.net
Reliance Ranches, Guthrie, Okla.
Owned by the McKinney Family, who also own the Lazy E Arena and race horse program, Reliance Ranches’ performance horse program is operated by four-time PRCA world champion bareback rider Bobby Mote. The McKinney family stands Quarter Horse racing legends like Mr. Jess Perry and Corona Cartel, and when their offspring are through racing, Mote transforms them into top performance horses.
“They’ve all proven themselves on the track,” said Mote, who grew up riding cutting horses and has honed his team roping skills with the likes of Trevor Brazile. “There aren’t any—I don’t like the term rejects—but there aren’t any of those. These owners aren’t into drugging them to run their wheels off.”
Mote introduces the horses to junior rodeos and team roping jackpots, and they each get 90 days of cutting training, too. He rides them on the ranch. The end goal is for these horses to go to ropers who make a living rodeoing, but he works to get each one broke enough that a roper at any level could ride them, Mote said. Ropers at all levels are divided by their horses, Mote added, and at any level you can make real money competing with a rope in your hand.
“These horses have the absolute best genetics that you could ask for in a speed horse,” Mote said. “I ride horses every day by Corona Cartel and daughters of Mr. Jess Perry. They’ll send me the horses with the right genetics and dispositions to be performance horses. Just the cream of the crop that comes out of the race program. We spend a lot of time getting them really, really broke. People like them to be used like a cutter. When a person is going to buy a prospect—be it a roping or barrel horse prospect, they’ll have been through the paces. The number one question is: Do they have the speed? That’s answered. These horses are proven to run. Are they broke? That’s where we come in. We’re going to put them through the steps to be sure they’ve seen a lot. I haul the younger horses with me to the jackpots and junior rodeos. I want them used like they should be used.”
Featured bloodlines: PYC Paint Your Wagon, Lookin For The Secret, Coronada Cartel, Corona Cartel, Mr. Jess Perry, Treis Seis
Success stories: Jubilant Version, ridden by Trevor Brazile.
Pros say: “I always thought the race horses would be hotter in the box, and I’ve been really surprised with how well they’ve scored and done the things I thought would be their weaknesses. They’ve done those things exceptionally well. Bobby has been around it and knows what we expect at this level out of those horses. It takes that before someone can get them to that point. I know his work ethic, and there will be no short cuts.” – Trevor Brazile
More info: 405-282-0041; racingfree.com