Clay Tryan’s #1 Head Horse Rebounds Right on Time
Clay Tryan's No.1 head horse "Johnson" bounces back from deep flexor tendon tear just in time for the 2021 Wrangler NFR.

Three-time World Champion Team Roper Clay Tryan roped at his 19th Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in December 2021. While Tryan’s worked his tail off for every accolade, he didn’t get where he is today by sweating the small stuff. His ability to roll with rodeo’s punches served him well in 2021, when his #1 head horse—the now-17-year-old sorrel named Cee How Nifty, AKA “Johnson”—was sidelined all summer.

“Johnson’s been my main horse the last four or five years,” said Montana-native Tryan, who now lives in Texas. “In his prime, he ran hard, scored and faced good. And Johnson’s been good in all conditions. I rode him at Cheyenne, and I rode him at the NFR. Johnson was definitely my #1 from 2017–2020.

“Then last spring, about April, Johnson just randomly got sore at a roping, and acted like he’d overreached. He was dead lame. Then he seemed fine, and I got to riding him again. Then he got sore again. He was sore in the front end, but I didn’t think it was any big deal.”

Read: Maintaining the Head Horse with Clay Tryan 

Tryan took his main mount straight to his main man in all matters of equine medicine, Dr. Charlie Buchanan at Brazos Valley Equine Hospital in Stephenville, Texas.

“Johnson was sore on both sides in the front—a little worse on the right front,” Buchanan said. “It was a chronic condition that’s been around awhile. We blocked him, and used an MRI to confirm the diagnosis, which was a deep flexor tendon tear.”

The treatment plan on Johnson was a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection in both front. And talk about trust. Tryan left Johnson in Buchanan’s care for months when he left Texas to hit the rodeo road.

“I left Johnson with Charlie all summer,” Clay said. “It was a big loss not having him in the trailer. I won third on him at the BFI, won San Angelo on him, and second at Guymon. But it happens. And I left him in the best possible hands and getting the best possible care.”

Buchanan and Brazos Valley Equine Hospital took no shortcuts on Johnson’s rehab, and conditioned him one step at a time after he recovered.

“After Johnson had the rest he needed, we started him back just by walking him every day,” Buchanan said. “When he was sound walking, we slowly increased the pace and distance as he could take it. Controlled exercise is key, and we got him up to being long-trotted for 30 minutes a day. We used the cold-water spa and the Aquatred to build Johnson back to where he could start being ridden again.”

Meanwhile, Tryan bought a bay mare, JLo, who’s 12 now.

“She’s the horse I rode the first four rounds at the Finals,” he said. “I started on her there, and she’s almost too honest at this stage for that setup. I’d missed a couple, and I knew it was going to get tougher. I had Johnson there, and he was ready. So I got on him.”

The light switch flipped in his team’s favor. Tryan and Jake Long placed third in Round 5; split second and third in Round 6; split Round 7 with Dustin Egusquiza and Travis Graves in 3.7; split sixth in Round 9; and finished a solid fifth in the average. Translation: Johnson saved the day.

Learn: Rope Handling with Clay Tryan 

Given his age and what he’s been through on the soundness front, Clay plans to ask JLo to step up a little more in 2022.

“I plan to ride both horses this year, but will definitely ride her more now that Johnson’s getting some age on him,” Tryan said. “JLo’s younger, and she’s ready.”

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