Horses are one of God’s most amazing creations. And I’d say horses and dogs are the animals humans are the closest to. I loved listening to the grown-ups tell stories about the great cowboys—the Camarillos and best ropers from around our area in Southern California as a kid. With that, there was also always a lot of talk about the great horses in the rodeo and horse-racing worlds.
The old cowboys talked about Poker Chip, and the great bulldogging and team roping horses of that time. My family moved to Los Alamitos, built an arena and put on ropings there for several years. A lot of the jockeys around there roped at those ropings, including Bobby Adair, who was one of the all-time leading Quarter Horse jockeys, and the winningest jockey at Los Alamitos.
Bobby took me to my first PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) rodeo. It was in Costa Mesa, California, and I entered as a local when I was maybe 14. Bobby and his wife, Linda, were the perfect team. And I always loved their horses. They got most of them off of the track, and they were the best-bred Quarter Horses you could find.
Linda was always riding a colt—breaking, training and taking them from the track to the arena. Bobby’s pastime away from the track was roping. I thought they had the coolest horses, because they worked good and they were awesome looking.
Growing up listening to all those stories, I dreamed of being a rodeo cowboy team roper and living that lifestyle. And my dream came true, because I grew up into it and started living it.
Naturally, you need good horses to compete successfully. So as I climbed the roping ranks, it all evolved around trying to be a good horseman and having the best possible horses—rodeo, jackpot and practice horses. Horses are a huge part of successful rodeo careers.
The best ropers in the world are in constant search of the best horses. I’ve bought and sold a lot of them, and so has Jake (Barnes). Keeping a good horse under you at all times is critical. Trevor Brazile has won more than any cowboy ever, and has always been in a constant quest to keep the best horses.
There’s a reason there’s always a rush on to be the guy who gets there first when there’s a good one out there. If you’re on the best horse there, you have the best chance to win. That’s the name of the game.
There are people with a good eye for horses with the right look, and people with a knack for making good horses. Everything to do with horses and horsemanship has always fascinated me. I admire people like Mel Potter, who set out to prove certain bloodlines.
There are traits everybody’s looking for in horses—speed, cow, a good mind, durable, tough. And when you have a good one, it’s an amazing feeling. Riding a great horse is what gives you the ability to really shine.
Those of us lucky enough to have ridden some great ones had some special signature horses. Roy Cooper was tough to beat when he rode Whit, just like Leo (Camarillo) on Stick. To this day, you can go down the list of guys who are dominating, and they’re riding the best horses that fit them.
I was lucky enough to ride my buckskin horse Ike for 12 years. Then I had one of the best five years of my career in my 50s when I bought LB from Kory Koontz. He fit me so well, you couldn’t outrun him, and he was in the right place at the right time. It all came together in that one little horse. He was gentle, had a big personality and just all the attributes that make you fall in love with one.
Watch: God and Kory Koontz: The Story of Clay Cooper’s Great LB
My Blue horse that I won my first championships on was as good a horse as I ever rode. I was fortunate to have a few of them that allowed me to do good, and that’s the stuff careers are made of. If you’re lucky, you might get one or two great horses you can count on for a good part of your career. When you have that equation—where horse and roper fit like a glove—you have success.