There was a very sad and unexpected twist at the 2022 Reno Rodeo this summer, when Wrangler National Finals Rodeo header Jason Stewart lost his promising young head horse Boss to a sudden bout of colic. No hauling hardships or changes in feed. It just happened. Thankfully, cowboy camaraderie kicked into high gear in Stewart’s time of need. It was also a friendly reminder to contemplate colic-related decisions before disaster strikes, as these things have a way of happening after hours.
It was June 17—the eve of the 2022 Resistol Reno Open, and right before Stewart was also set to rope with BJ Campbell at the Reno Rodeo. Boss, a 9-year-old sorrel horse who was actually registered as George And Rus by the American Paint Horse Association, was resting comfortably in his stall when Stewart walked over to watch the perf. Stewart had just fed Boss at 5 p.m., and he was fine.
“I went to watch the team roping, and got a call from Leigh Lockett (wife of nine-time NFR heeler Kyle),” said two-time NFR header Stewart, who roped with Kyle Lockett at the 1998 NFR and Bucky Campbell—who coincidentally raised Boss—at the 2000 NFR. “She was over at the stall area, saw some breakaway ropers trying to get a horse up and out of a stall, and noticed my name on the stall door.
“I ran over there, Boss obviously had a horrible belly ache, and we could hardly keep him up. (NFR header) Jr Dees stayed with Boss while I went and found the (Reno Rodeo) vet. When Boss was hurting so bad that he was trying to lay down out in the paved cowboy parking lot, (bulldoggers) Tyler Pearson, Will Lummus and Shayde Etherton baled in to help. Tyler held Boss’s head up by the halter, and Will and Shayde were on either side of Boss with their hands interlocked under his belly trying to hold him up, so we could get him tubed and run some oil in him.”
Timed-event chute boss Tony Amaral gave Stewart the keys to Flying U Rodeo’s livestock care unit, which is a truck and trailer kept on hand to help in case of emergencies, similar to the ambulance for contestants.
“As soon as we got some Banamine in him and got him tubed, we led Boss into the trailer to get him over to Comstock Equine Hospital,” Stewart continued. “Jr was at the wheel, and I got in the trailer with Boss. I couldn’t keep him up, so I jumped in with Jr.
“When I opened that stock-trailer door, I thought Boss was dead. Then he blinked, we got him out of the trailer, and he stood up, nickered and shook. They did an ultrasound, and gave him more drugs for the pain. He pooped three times, so we knew he wasn’t compacted. The vet on call confirmed that Boss had a complete twist in his large colon.”
By then, it was 9:30 in Reno, and 11:30 p.m. in Texas, where Stewart has his horse insurance. He tried reaching his agent, but at that hour he was understandably unavailable.
“I grew up on a ranch, and quit rodeoing to go home and ranch full time when I was 27 years old,” said Stewart, who’s 46 now. “Ranchers don’t stand for animals to suffer. It was late at night, my horse was beating his head against the ground and the pain meds weren’t helping him for five minutes.
“The vet was telling me that the only option was surgery, but that the only vet available to do it was 45 minutes out and there was a good chance Boss couldn’t be saved. The rancher and cowboy in me did not think he would make it that long, and I couldn’t stand to see him thrashing and suffering like that. So I made the very difficult decision to put him down.”
Stewart made what he thought was the most humane decision. And to be clear, though there had been quite a few inquiries from other ropers about this talented young horse, Stewart is not exaggerating his literal value.
“I’m not saying Boss was the next Bob (Riley Minor’s star) or anything,” said Stewart. “He was a nice young horse, he scored great and he was really coming along. He was free, and ran all the way to steers with his ears pinned. Tucson earlier this year was his first rodeo, and I felt like he had a lot going for him.”
It was special to Stewart that Boss was a grandson of Frosty Tops—the stud owned by Gilbert Reynolds who sired a lot of NFR horses and was ridden by NFR header Jim Wheatley and headers the likes of Jake Barnes and Tee Woolman, who sometimes rode him when they flew in. That also made Boss kin to Jason’s sorrel NFR horse, Parr.
“(NFR heeler) Bucky and Amy Campbell raised Boss, then (NFR header) Jake Stanley’s dad, Rawley, broke him to ride and was the first guy to haul him,” Jason said. “He traded him to Cody Ford, who was a PBR (Professional Bull Riders) Finals bull rider and now ropes. I got Boss from Cody in 2020.”
There are basically two take-homes here in the wake of the loss of Boss.
“It’s true that we should consider important decisions about horses before emergencies,” said Stewart, who’s hoping to return to riding his brown horse Cliff, who’s been out a year with a deep flexor tendon injury.
“It’s also a very good idea to know the fine print on your horse-insurance policy, and what you should do if something like this happens to you after hours. Understand the difference between mortality and loss of use, and whether or not colic surgery is covered.
“This was a young, healthy horse, and I hadn’t changed his feed or anything else. I do wonder if it getting cold all of a sudden—it was 52 that night in Reno—was a factor. But sometimes things just happen, and you have to go with God’s plan.”