This past June, Contributing Editor Julie Mankin wrote a feature on where some of the greatest horses in team roping history are living out their retirement, as well as what they did to deserve the good life in green pastures. While Julie was working on that story, she came across so many good ones, we at The Team Roping Journal tossed around the idea of doing another edition of the story someday. But readers let us know quickly that we needed to do another edition of the story right away. It was such a hit, and there were so many great horses who changed the team roping industry, that we proudly present to you Part 2 of Where Are They Now?
For 16 years—or Cesar de la Cruz’s entire career—one outlaw gelding has been the elite heeler’s best friend.
Johnny Ringo helped de la Cruz earn $1.3 million dollars and go to nine straight NFRs. The whole time, fans couldn’t get enough of the fire-breathing little bay with smarts and a mile-wide proud streak.
“He was the best horse I’ve ever had,” said de la Cruz, who got Johnny from his uncle George Aros as a 5-year-old. “He took me to the final level in my roping. He loved to rope more than me. He’s why I got there.”
Johnny, who sports Doc O’Lena and Two Eyed Jack blood, is 21 now and has an even more important job.
“Now he’s teaching my boys—they are 7, 5, and 2—how to ride and rope,” said de la Cruz. “He’s by far the best horse I ever owned!”
It’s true. Check out de la Cruz’s Facebook page to watch his 2-year-old, Zorro, actually roping aboard Johnny Ringo. The great gelding also does some swimming and stays kid-sound thanks to Tucson Equestrian Center and AquaStride Equine Hydrotherapy.
“The boys love him, and he’s loving retirement as a babysitter and a swimmer,” de la Cruz added.
The ugly, skinny, red-and-white grade gelding was 2 or 3 years old and a little pigeon-toed when Derrick Begay’s uncle brought him and another Paint home from the sale in Clovis, New Mexico, for a few hundred bucks. He then called Begay and said he had a horse for him.
“What I know now, I didn’t know then,” said Begay, 34, who never tracked a cow on the little colt, but just went straight to team roping. “He was a horse; I had a rope; it’s all we did. When he cracked out, I did too.”
The very first day, they’d branded some calves in the desert and Begay simply ran the same dead-fresh calves into the roping chute.
“I backed him in the box; the calf just walked out, then took off,” he recalled. “I roped him, turned him, and Paint faced. Just from the very first run. He wasn’t made then, but I still remember that.”
The pair won the All Indian RCA in 2006 and the Indian NFR in 2007—along with Team Roping Horse of the Year. It was what happened that spring that set Begay up to take Paint to the first five of his seven NFRs and his magical four-year run with Cesar de la Cruz, which included NFR go-round wins and a victory at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Not bad for the horse nobody wanted.
“He was so skinny you didn’t know he was underneath you; it was almost like roping the dummy on foot,” Begay said. “He was short-strided with his head down and it was a nice flat feeling. But that tail would stick straight up like a flag. Head down and tail up—that’s what you want,” he wisecracked.
Still, it was aboard Paint that Begay stopped the clock in the fastest run he’s ever known—3.3 seconds. It happened at the 2007 George Strait Classic, and happened to be on a red-wrapped steer, so it was worth $10,000 to the young Navajo. More than that, it changed his life.
“I had been a nobody. It was the first time I’d butted heads with those guys, and the first time my horse had, too,” Begay remembered. “A couple of weeks later, we won the big USTRC roping in Albuquerque, and a week after that, we won the Hork Dog.”
Today, nobody knows how old Paint is, and his mane is in dreadlocks, but Myrtle Begay takes tender loving care of the old gentleman where he’s turned out on the open desert of the Navajo reservation.
“He was the hardest and easiest horse I’ve ever ridden,” Begay said. “He didn’t score the best. He might start to get left after too many. But he was short-strided, ran with his head down, and was smooth.”
At press time (and all season long), Paul Eaves was the world’s number-one heeler.
The grey gelding that carried him to this level was started by Shot Branham and sold to Allen Bach, which is where the kid from Missouri noticed him while learning “the ropes.” Eaves kept his eye on Cadillac, and finally took out a big loan to buy him from Trey Whiteman in 2009.
“The thing that stands out most to me is that, when I bought him, he cost a bunch,” Eaves said. “Three or four days later, I went to the US Finals and paid for him that first week I had him.”
Indeed, Eaves had placed third in both the US Open and #15 Shootout for a $36,000 haul on Cadillac that week. The gelding just kept getting better with age. In 2012, he took Eaves to the Canadian Finals Rodeo and National Finals Rodeo—where Eaves has been back every year since.
It was a rich 10-year-ride for this pair. Since last summer, 19-year-old Cadillac has enjoyed his days turned out in Millsap, Texas.
“He’s out with a couple of mares that he really loves, and he’s real protective of them,” Eaves said. “I had a couple of opportunities to sell him, but I didn’t want to do that. I figured, he’s just fine turned out.”
Truth is, Eaves could probably inject a stifle on the great heel horse and use him some more, but he doesn’t want to do that. Cadillac is responsible for most of the million dollars Eaves has earned in his decade-long career.
Matt Sherwood doubts he’d have ever competed in the PRCA without Nickolas. The sorrel gelding on whom Sherwood won world championships in 2006 and 2008 carried him to every major roping he won from 1999 through 2014.
“You wouldn’t even know who I was without that horse,” said Sherwood, 48.
Nickolas is one of those horses that rubs his halter off and unlatches gates. He’s turned himself loose all over the United States—including Los Angeles. One time, at Allen Bach’s place, he also unlatched all the other horses’ gates and turned them out, too.
He’s gentle to the point of being annoying, Sherwood said, and that makes him perfect for his latest job. Matt’s daughter, Megan, gives riding lessons on the 2006 PRCA/AQHA Head Horse of the Year, who is now 25 and sound as ever.
Sherwood was over in California one autumn heading for Jason Hershberger at some rodeos when a local guy had a yearling colt he wanted to sell for $600.
“He was a cool-looking little horse, and the guy needed the money for his son; plus, we had a hole going home,” Sherwood said.
It’s been quite a ride ever since—from the 1999 USTRC Open to the 10th round at the 2015 NFR. Sherwood trained Nickolas from the ground up and heeled on him in the early days. Often, he’d rope both ends on him in a weekend. In fact, he and Nickolas won the PRCA’s Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo title heeling for Rube Woolsey in 2005.
The following year, Sherwood won first and second at the Wildfire Open to the World heading on Nickolas when the score was tail to the pin, and he remembers three or four guys would want to ride him at places like Cheyenne and Salinas.
The sorrel wasn’t necessarily the fastest horse at the rodeos, but he simply out-scored every horse on the road. He’d stay in the corner all day, if asked.
“I’d heeled on him so much, I think that kept him really calm and relaxed,” said Sherwood, who’s been to the NFR five times. In Las Vegas, even in the short NFR set-up, he “felt like he was as good as any horse that was there.”
And, he never weakened. Sherwood won the George Strait Team Roping Classic in 2014 with Clint Summers—when Nickolas was 21.
This year, aboard Nickolas’ younger half-sister he calls Murphy, Sherwood is repeating his 2006 feats with Walt Woodard. Sherwood trained the mare, too, starting when she was 2, and sold her to Riley Minor for a few years before buying her back in 2017.
Both horses are out of Rocket’s Breezy Lady—an own granddaughter of the thoroughbred Rocket Bar—and Murphy is by a son of Nickolas’ sire, who goes back to Three Bars and Joe Reed II.
It’s been said many times that Trevor Brazile owns the best horses in rodeo, and one bay Freckles Playboy/Doc O’Dynamite gelding helped reinforce that reputation. Brazile bought Lite My Dynamite for $4,500 as a cutter reject that was obviously too big—and bucked.
He never bucked with Brazile. Six months from the day he started Sic ’Em, Brazile was entered on him at Kansas City and never looked back. The horse placed in voting for Horse of the Year as far back as 2007, and won it outright in 2012. That was the year he helped the King of the Cowboys win his record 10th world all-around championship.
Now 19, Sic ’Em is owned by Gary McKinney of Reliance Energy and Reliance Ranches, which also owns Lazy E Arena. The horse lives at the Llano, Texas, division, which is also home to Bobby and Kate Mote and their three kids.
“He’s kind of got it made,” Mote said. “He lives in a nice, big, 100’ x 100’ pen with a shed, and we get him out and exercise him every day. And those kids that won’t hold still while we’re riding? We put them on him, so he’s a babysitter. He’s a cool horse.”
Mote’s 11-year-old son, Trey, has learned to rope the Smarty aboard Sic ’Em, and his daughter, Laura, won a recent junior high rodeo heading on him.
“He still loves being a head horse and, as long as the conditions are right where he won’t hurt himself by trying too hard, we use him a little bit,” Mote said.
The double-bred Doc Bar cutter that came through Clay Logan to Brady Minor has just enough Peppy San Badger blood to be described as “little and grumpy,” even now, at 21. But Dugout packed Minor to about half of his nine NFRs and career total $1.5 million, also helping rack up a national circuit finals championship in 2012.
“He was really easy to ride for a long time,” Minor said.
Jade Corkill won the George Strait on him in 2011, the year Dugout won the PRCA/AQHA Heel Horse of the Year award. And last fall, he was ridden by both Minor and Travis Graves—who was second high call—at Pendleton, but got hurt.
Last year, Minor was visiting with Trevor Brazile at the rodeos about how his son, Treston, was starting to breakaway rope, and how Dugout had been used to rope calves. At barely 14 hands, he’s definitely kid-size, but has been known to pin his ears at toddlers. Still they figured he’d be alright with an older boy.
“I was to the point I wasn’t hardly using him, and I feel like a horse gets older faster when he’s not being used,” Minor said. “I just wanted him used. I didn’t really want to sell him, and mostly, I thought they’d take good care of him, with Trevor’s good vet right there close, if he needed it.”
Brady and Ashley Minor’s 3-year-old boy, Maverick, will also be ready in a couple of years, if Dugout is still good, and they could get him back.
“Clay Tryan recently told me, if Treston isn’t using him enough, his kids would sure like to have him,” Minor said. “But I’m happy. He gets the best care; he was put in Brazile’s best stall in their barn.”
Freckles Taz, 20, is the toughest, longest-lasting heel horse still on the road. Maybe it comes from the Hancock on his top side, but the little bay great-grandson of Colonel Freckles placed second for PRCA/AQHA Heel Horse of the Year in 2006, and placed third in 2007, ’08, ’09, and 2015. He’s still Kinney Harrell’s main man—and spends plenty of time packing around his darling little daughter, Kindall.
Chad Masters indirectly owes part of his 2007 gold buckle to the little bay, who carried Allen Bach at the Wrangler NFR, where the duo placed in five rounds en route to finishing second in the average.
“Two people asked me if they could use him at the NFR last year,” Harrell said. “But I said no.”
Not because he doubted his heart.
“In 2004, that horse had colic surgery in Omaha that first year I was making the NFR,” Harrell said. “They said, if he lived, there would be no chance I could ride him in Las Vegas. He was so tough that I practiced for almost two whole weeks before the first steer in the Thomas and Mack. And then, he broke a bone in his right foot shortly after Allen rode him, and they won that gold buckle,” Harrell added. “But I didn’t know it for months—he never, ever limped. We saw it on a random X-ray.”
It takes a special horse to out-rank Cave Man and Switchblade—and to hold today’s world record in team roping at 3.3 seconds—but this little, grade, sorrel outlaw is Jade Corkill’s favorite of all-time, and the foundation of Corkill’s status as one of the G.O.A.T. Corkill was just a teenager when he bought the green 5-year-old, and Ice Cube was his go-to at the Nevada high school rodeos.
Ice Cube’s talent is best described by zooming in on one roping, one day, in 2009. Not only did he help Corkill and Chad Masters shatter the average record at the George Strait Team Roping Classic by more than a full second, but he helped them place in both the first two rounds against 485 teams.
He gave Corkill a stunning three call-backs at one of the richest ropings in America at the time, meaning that Jade and the little sorrel dynamo averaged five-flat on every steer, on nine head, with three partners. Corkill placed three times to bank $152,193, plus a Chevy dually, Bruton trailer, saddle, buckle, and much more.
The grade, sorrel superstar was briefly owned by Allen Bach and Jim Ross Cooper, who rode him at the 2011 and 2012 NFRs. Cooper finally traded him back to Fallon, Nevada, where Corkill gave him to his dad, Bruce. He’s at least 22, but Ice Cube still climbs the trailer, can’t be alone, and tries to buck when being saddled.
Still, despite a cataract in his left eye that means he can’t see the steers he’s chasing anymore, he retains an uncanny ability to know exactly where to be on a steer, so Bruce has won his share on him, too. The horse just makes it easy.
“I hope my little boy will get to learn to rope on him,” Corkill said.