The 2008 ProRodeo season will be a retirement tour for the Burch Brothers' exceptional saddle bronc Blood Brother.
At once, he's a horse feared and coveted by saddle bronc riders. They know he can buck them off without even knowing what they did wrong, but they also know if they get tapped off on the horse, he will carry them to the pay window for first place money.
As a 14-year-old that has been hauled to every event Matt and Chad Burch have the contract for since they began in 1999, he's beginning to show signs of aging, according to Chad, and the brothers want to retire him while he can enjoy the remainder of his years as the herd elder on the Rozet, Wyo., ranch.
"He's dang sure earned his keep," 2006 World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Chad Ferley said. "He's one of the top three broncs there is."
He's finished second in the Saddle Bronc of the Year voting twice, (2002-03) and has made eight trips to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He began his career in what's referred to as the "TV Pen," at the NFR. Event directors sort the stock into five groups so each pen is as even as possible and the TV Pen is where stock that will garner the highest scores are showcased. Now, he's more often put in the "Eliminator Pen," which hosts horses that are the most difficult to ride.
"He's not very easy to ride," Ferley said. "He bucked me off twice and I got him rode once. You never know what he's gong to do. He's got about 50 different trips he might have. Even when he goes straight he's super hard to ride."
Nonetheless, if he's ridden, it's usually a made-for-TV event. In the ninth round of the 2001 NFR, Billy Etbauer rode him for 89 points and the round win. Burch remembers that as Blood Brother's signature trip.
He also carried Jesse Bail to a 90-point ride that earned him the crystal cup at the 2003 Pace Picante ProRodeo Tour Finale. Bail had his hat screwed down so tight for the ride that afterward, when he heard his score and pulled his hat off to toss it in celebration, the sweatband stayed on his head while the rest of the hat came off.
In 2006, Dan Mortensen won Cheyenne Frontier Days on Blood Brother after an 83-point score.
And just this year, Taos Muncy rode the gelding for 86.5 points in the ninth round. While it didn't cement his first world title, it gave him the confidence he needed in the pressure-packed 10th round.
But for all the great rides Blood Brother has carried bronc riders to, he's dashed as many dreams. Scott Johnston bucked off of the great horse in 2000 for the world title.
"I don't know what makes him hard to ride," Burch said. "He so quick and he just keeps after those guys, very seldom does he tail off. They'll get around there and think they've got him rode and he'll just keep going at them. Plus, he doesn't do the same thing every time. Blood Brother is smart. He knows what he did, why he did and what he's going to do next. In my eyes, bucking is an art. You have to know how to jump and how to land."
But for being such a rank horse to ride, he's a teddy bear in the chute and handles easily in the pens and up the alley despite coming from a sour line of horses.
Over the years, he has become the cornerstone of a bucking program on the rise. With 900 head of horses, the Burch brothers have plenty to choose from, and 2009 will mark a new era in their program as many of their young horses will have gone through the paces in preparation for continuing the tradition the older horses have established.
"They've treated Matt and I good," Chad said. "These old horses can't do nothing but disappoint Matt and I. We expect them to do what we know they're capable of doing every time."
That's a standard set by Blood Brother. As Chad and Matt survey their nearly 300 head of young prospects and no doubt develop future stars, Blood Brother will always be the one that put them on the map.