Team roper Justin Davis has been a heavy hitter in the horsepower department his whole career. The Cottonwood, California, cowboy’s rodeo remuda has included four-legged hits by the likes of Slim Shady, Lil Kim and Shakira. The 2009 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo heeler is a 35-year-old comeback kid in 2023, and he’s been busy making headlines on a horse with no mention of music. His name is Pocket, and he’s given Davis high hopes for a return trip to Vegas in December.
The 10-year-old red roan’s registered name is One Two Many, and has Peptoboonsmal and CD Olena in his family tree. Pocket actually belongs to Davis’s aunt and uncle, Tracy and Allen Gill of Palo Cedro, California. Tracy is Justin’s mom Terri’s sister (Terri and Jeff Davis own Four Star Rodeo Company), and Uncle Al was the 1981 National High School Rodeo Association and 1982 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association team roping titlist. He won both titles heeling for 1990 BFI heading champ Rocky Carpenter.
When Pocket was 4, Allen was doing some cutting with trainer Shad Platt in Orland, California. After a cutting session, Platt asked Gill to get on him, and they roped a lead steer into the night. Pocket had done a little cutting and only been lead steered on when Gill bought him as a 5-year-old.
“When I got Pocket, I asked Justin to ride him for me,” Gill said. “He rides so correct, and never picks on a horse. This horse could spin and slide, and was really broke. Justin roped on him a little bit, then left to go rodeo. So I sent him to Les Oswald for about six months. He headed and heeled on him—mostly heeled.
“When I got Pocket back, I was in working mode and my shoulder was sore. I let Justin use him again when he was home. He was his practice horse, then became his second horse. Now he’s his #1, which is pretty cool, because Justin made him what he is today, and he’s more horse than I need now. He runs and stops hard, but he’s got a cool mind.”
Pocket’s gentle, and earned his name by being the horse that’s, “Always in your pocket,” according to Gill. “If you don’t tie him short enough, he’ll take his own bell boots off. He’ll take the horse in the next pen’s fly mask off. He just likes to fidget and play. This horse has a very big motor, but he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
Davis has heeled behind seven headers this season—Garrett Rogers, Hayes Smith, Nelson Wyatt, Matt Sherwood, Spencer Mitchell, Brandon Beers, Jaxson Tucker, and now Spank (Mitchell) again this summer. But he’s only had one horse partner.
“Pocket’s a huge reason for my success this year,” said Davis, who roped with Blaine Linaweaver at the 2009 NFR. “My roping has actually changed a little, because he’s longer strided than the other horses I’ve ridden in my career. My swing is a little more open, and I’ve been more consistent about catching two feet every time when I ride Pocket. I have a bigger, more open, powerful swing on him, and seem to catch more two-footers. I match my swing to his stride.”
At 15.1 hands and 1,250 pounds, “Pocket’s pretty big for a heel horse,” Davis recognizes. “He’s really good in the corner, and he’s fast, so it’s easy for him to get me where I need to be. With that cutting and cow-horse breeding, Pocket’s got buttons to push sometimes. You need to know those buttons, but with his big, strong stop, he’s like dallying to a fence post.
“Pocket is a lot of horse, but he’s the gentlest horse in the world. He’s the brokest horse I’ve ever ridden, but he’s not a kid’s horse. If you hit the wrong button, you might get too far to the inside. He will not run by one, so I try to keep him away from the steer, and ride him further down the arena. Pocket covers more ground with one stride than the average heel horse.”
Davis says Slim Shady, who was the reserve 2009 Heel Horse of the Year, was the best he’s owned.
“Slim Shady was just a freak of nature, but he always got hurt,” noted Justin, who retired the now-24-year-old horse on the ranch. “The next best one was Lil Kim, who I sold to Chase Tryan and he sold to Patrick Smith. Patrick and Junior Nogueira both rode her at the Finals. She was only 13 hands, and didn’t weigh 1,000 pounds. She was tiny, but as Slim Shady’s backup I probably won as much on her as him, because he was always hurt.
“Shakira was awesome also. She was an orphan, and (reined cow-horse trainer) Justin Wright bottle-fed her in his backyard. He sold her to JC Niesen, who started heeling on her. You’ll never find a horse that slides as far as Shakira. A couple other guys owned her a while, and now JC and I are partners on her and have her back. Shakira’s 18 now, and has never taken a bad step.”
Perhaps the coolest part of Davis’s horse stories is the combined price tag.
“I’ve been very fortunate to ride some great heel horses in my life, and between Shady, Lil Kim, Shakira and Pocket, I don’t have $20,000 total into all four of them,” he said. “I just kind of stumbled onto all of them.”
As for reuniting with Mitchell, well, they are two of the four-man roping boy band who grew up the best of friends. Their posse also included the late Broc Cresta; Broc’s brother, Brent; Russell Cardoza and Justin’s cousin Kyle Davis.
“Spank and I just have a lot of chemistry and comfort, because we’ve roped together a lot forever,” Davis said. “I’ve roped with him my whole life. My gut told me to, ‘Go with what you know.’ So here we are.” TRJ