There are only seven men who have done it. Brent Lewis, Stran Smith, Trent Walls, Rich Skelton, Guy Allen, Tee Woolman and Justin Maass have won the PRCA/AQHA Horse of the Year Award with two different horses. Woolman’s horses, interestingly, were in steer roping and team roping.
Maass is the only cowboy to win back-to-back PRCA/AQHA Tie-Down Horse of the Year Awards with two different horses.
It started in 2004, when Maass bought a horse named Smash Par Fancy, with papers back to Easy Jet, from his friend and fellow Wrangler National Finals Rodeo tie-down roper Clay Cerny. Cerny originally bought him from a horse trainer named Mark Atkinson.
Maass knew good horses. His grandfather and father made sure of that. While they didn’t rodeo, they raised and trained the kind of horses that did. In fact, Maass made his first two Wrangler NFRs in 1999 and 2000 on a horse named Ace that his grandfather, Monroe, trained and later gave to Justin.
In fact, that horse finished third in the PRCA/AQHA Horse of the Year balloting in 1999-the year Jerome Schneeberger’s Smokey won it.
“He was a really good horse,” Maass said of Ace. “I’ve kind of always been around good horses. My dad and grandpa never rodeoed, but they always had good horses around and roped all the time. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in having good ones. They started me and got me on the right track and got me used to having good horses more than anything. Then I worked for a guy named Jerry Powell when I was in college (at Wharton County Junior College), and he trained horses, so I got to ride a lot of horses, so he kind of finished me. My dad and grandpa got me used to riding good ones, so I knew what a good one felt like, then I kind of figured out a little bit more about how to make them and keep them when I was at Jerry’s.”
And in professional rodeo, horses are what separates the top 15 from the rest. In 2004, he missed the Finals by one hole, so in 2005 he became a man on a mission. Riding Flip, he not only qualified for the NFR, he won or tied for the win in three of the 10 rounds, worth $44,591, and finished ninth in the world.
Ace had been replaced and the NFR performance looked to be a springboard on to greater things. In fact, in February of the following year he bought another horse, Acre Te Run, or Oz, from Richard Agan.
“He was pretty good looking to begin with,” Maass said. “He’d been to the horse shows and the jackpot ropings and stuff like that. I was kind of looking for a horse, but I wasn’t hot and heavy looking for a horse. I already had Flip. I went and tried him at the man’s house and he let me take him for a week and ride him at the rodeos and I ended up buying him.”
Maass came out blazing in 2006, then-with two of the best horses in the tie-down game in his trailer-he tore the ACL in his left knee at Calgary in July, ending his season.
As it turned out, however, Flip quickly earned his keep. Due to Maass’s knee injury and the birth of his and wife Paige’s first daughter, Addy, Maass decided to scale back his competition schedule in 2007.
Meanwhile, while returning home after the 2006 Wrangler NFR, his good friend Scott Kormos was in a traffic accident that injured both his good horses.
“Justin and I had been friends for pretty much my whole career,” Kormos said. “So that next year he was going to be out and I had nothing to ride and he offered Flip to me. As soon as I started riding him, I just started clicking with him. I rode him all that year. He’s not a kid’s horse. He’s spooky on the ground. If you’re standing beside him and you make a move or reach up to pet him, he’s going to jump away from you. He’s fractious, but when you’re on his back, he’s calm. In the arena, he’s not as wild with me as he is with other guys. I rope a little different and he kind of fits how I rope.
“I want a horse to stand in the corner and not move a muscle, not move with the gates or anything until I ask him to go. He’s like that. You hold the bridle reins and when you’re ready to go you drop them and he’s gone. He can really, really run. I don’t like to reach much when I rope. I like to run close, since I’m not very big, and set my go up a little better. This little horse lets me set up my go because he runs so fast, lets me rope like I want to and when he stops he is bellied up in the ground and heading backwards. That helps me because I need lots of pull when I get to the calf. Since I’m not the biggest guy, the more pull I get the better I can flank and tie. He is so fun to ride.”
The horse will even work without a bit in his mouth. While he sometimes rides Flip in a hackamore, once, to prove how solid he was, he took every bit of headgear off except the tie-down and neck rope and he worked flawlessly.
While Maass was laid up, Flip carried Kormos to wins in Ellensburg, Wash., Bandera, Texas, and his third Wrangler NFR.
“Scott rode him all that year-and he still rides him quite a bit-he rode him at the Finals in 2008,” Maass said. “Scott just made up his mind that he wanted that horse to win horse of the year as a favor to us and he promoted him a little bit and hustled him around and told people he was nominated. Everybody pretty much agreed that he deserved it and he was good all that year.”
Kormos echoed those sentiments.
“It was pretty obvious, I thought,” he said. “You know every year and you watch the horses. You see the same guys and same horses all year long, so you know what horses have been great all year, and it was pretty obvious that year that he was as good as any horse out there.”
Beating out Jake Hannum’s Scout and Mike Arnold’s Boogie Man 2 was no small feat, and when the announcement was made, Justin’s wife Paige was the only name on the horse’s papers, so she became the recipient. Maass caught some flack from people telling him how lucky he was that his wife let him borrow the horse, but the simple truth is she was the only one in the household with a current AQHA membership when they bought him.
But while Flip was the toast of the town, Maass was discovering just how good the other horse he had in his barn was.
“He’s a big, strong, stout horse-a lot stronger than my other horse, Flip,” Maass said. “Oz you can pretty much ride anywhere. The faster you get running, the stronger he gets. It just kind of all clicked and I knew he was special when I first rode him that night. I honestly didn’t know how good he was, I just knew he was a pretty good horse.”
So strong, in fact, that as Maass made his return from injury in 2008, he discovered the horse was tough enough and talented enough to make more runs than the average horse. As a result, he began mounting the horse out.
“Joe Beaver rode him, Scott rode him, Cody Ohl rode him, Jeff Chapman rode him, Cimarron Boardman rode him, Royce Lynch rode him,” Maass said. “Six or eight guys got on him at various times throughout the year.
“At Greeley (Colo.), we made four runs on him in the short round and three out of the four of us placed and Cimarron was the only one who didn’t and his calf got up to win the short round and the average.”
Maass, incidentally, did win the average there and Cody Ohl won Abilene riding the horse. Oz’s durability and strength is probably what earned him the 2008 PRCA/AQHA award more than anything.
“Throughout the year, there were quite a few guys that rode him,” he said. “It seems like when people get to see a horse go more times and be good with everybody that rides him, they feel like he’s the one to vote for.”
This time, by the way, the registration had Justin’s name on it.
When it came to the Wrangler NFR, the two stable mates were in demand. Scott Kormos rode Flip for rounds two through 10, placing third in the second and second in the fifth. Maass rode Oz for the first eight rounds then switched to Flip for the final two. He placed third in the third round and sixth in the sixth. In the ninth, round he finished fourth, and in the 10th split fifth.
“Oz was a little bit too much horse for that set up there,” Maass said. “I kept thinking I was right on the verge of really doing good on him. I took the jerkline off of him after the first round and pretty much backed off of everything and he was a little bit too long for those fast setups. I should have got off him a little bit earlier, but I just kept thinking it was really close. I tied one calf fast that I placed on and then tied a couple calves fast enough to win good but they got up. So I just kept thinking I was so close, but it never quite clicked.”
Nevertheless, Maass’s horses won $46,514 in Las Vegas.
As he looks forward to 2009, he’s got something no other cowboy has ever had; the past two horses of the year in his trailer and at his disposal.
“That’s probably my proudest accomplishment, to have two different horses win it back-to-back years,” he said. “I’ve always been one of those guys who has a lot of respect for my horses and I want to have good horses all the time.”