Special Horses: My Big Three
"They say we only get one great one, but I’ve been blessed by three of them."
Clay O'Brien Cooper heeling on one of his favorite horses: Ike.

I was blessed to have a long career that basically stretched over three different eras. The first part of it was spent trying to scrape, scratch, climb the ladder and claw my way through the jackpot and amateur ranks. Then came the transition into professional rodeo. The third chapter of my career were some fun comeback years in my 50s. Special horses were a big part of my whole career, and looking back, there were three that stood out: Blue, Ike and LB. 

My first really amazing horse was Blue. He’s who I won my first championship on in 1985, then rode at three or four (National) Finals after that for my first three or four championships. Blue came from the Doy Reidhead Ranch up around Holbrook, Arizona, and (NFR heeler) Rick Stock was instrumental in me getting him. Rick’s good horse, Pork Chop, came from that same ranch. They made really good horses, and were well-known in Northern Arizona. 

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Blue was the first horse that had it all, and really fit me. He was honest and athletic, he scored great, had lots of run, a great stop and perfect timing in his stop. Blue just fit me to a tee, and I got to ride him for a little while before they agreed to sell him to me. I rode Blue in the beginning of 1985, when Jake (Barnes) and I went on a winning rampage. Blue was a big part of that. 

Unfortunately, Blue didn’t last very long. But I still hold that horse in high regard. He really worked, and I also loved the way he looked. Blue was just a gorgeous horse, in my eyes. He was sound the first couple years I rode him. After that, I had to cut down on his use to keep him going. 

After Blue, I struggled with my horses for a while until 1992, when I bought Ike from Ozzie and Judy Gillum. Ike was Driftwood on the bottom, and he lasted me 12 years. I think I rode Ike at 11 NFRs, and that kind of longevity is unheard of. I won my last two championships on Ike, along with the BFI, George Strait, US(TRC) Finals and Houston. That horse had a lot of speed, and knew how to get to the right spot, no matter what. I couldn’t mess Ike up. When the steer squared up, he gave me a good shot. 

Ike was tough, and that had everything to do with why he lasted so long. Ike’s right there at the top of my all-time favorite horses list, because I had him the longest and did so good on him. He was just a neat horse. 

Ike did have his quirks. I was roping a lot of calves at the rodeos back then, but you couldn’t tie Ike up or he’d set back. I just left the reins over the saddle horn when I went to rope a calf at the rodeos, and Ike would just stand there. Most of the cowboys knew to leave him alone, but when someone came along, thought he was loose and tied him up, I’d go through another headstall or set of bridle reins. 

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Ike was funny. He’d go to sleep in the trailer, and a lot of times I’d have to wake him up when we got there. He sometimes fell asleep with me sitting on him. Ike was just a unique character, and in a good way. Ike was awesome. 

My third great horse was LB. By God’s design, when I wanted to make a comeback in my early 50s toward the end of my career, I was able to buy that horse from Kory (Koontz). I had the best five years of my career riding LB, and got to win the NFR average, The American, George Strait, Houston and US Finals on him. 

LB was just incredible, and like Blue and Ike before him, he fit me like a glove and was such a character. If LB hadn’t been a great heel horse, the best place for him would have been a petting zoo. When you came to the corral, LB met you and without words was saying, “Put the halter on me, please.” He loved people, and was an amazing athlete, as well. 

They say we only get one great one, but I’ve been blessed by three of them. And I’m very thankful for that.

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