Luke Brown has had several horse headliners in his career. The native South Carolina cowboy rode his game-changing sorrel Slim Shady at eight straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeos from 2008-15, and won more than $1 million on him. He rode a palomino he called Rock Star at three NFRs in 2016, ’17 and ’18 after that. Then there was another signature sorrel in Cowboy, who took Brown to two more NFRs in 2019 and ’20, and wins at the BFI, Cheyenne and The American. Luke has a whole herd of horses in his trailer, as he charges hard toward a return trip to The Show in 2023.
Brown, who turned 49 on August 16, took four horses on the road with him this year.
He calls the 14-year-old grey he’s ridden the last couple years Buda, which is short for the name Budaletto given him by Luke and Lacy’s daughter, Libby, to replace the name he was given at birth. That was Feo, which means ugly in Spanish, and Lacy and Libby could not have that.
“Buda might fundamentally be the best head horse I’ve ever owned,” said Luke, who’s heading for Hunter Koch again this year. “My winning percentage isn’t always what it should be on him, but he’s an awesome horse. This is the horse I’m most likely to ride at longer scores, like Salinas and Cheyenne, and I rode him out in California this spring.
“You can ride this horse anywhere, and he’s the safest one, because he doesn’t ever do anything wrong. When I don’t do good, it’s 95% my fault every time. He’s got no cheat in him whatsoever. I’ve never owned a horse quite like him. He lets me rope on offense.”
Tucson is a 13-year-old bay who’s “pretty fun to ride in faster set-ups.” Then there’s Friendly, a 19-year-old sorrel Brown bought from his buddy Chad Masters this winter after Masters rode him the last couple years at the winter rodeos. Friendly’s gotten the call quite a bit this summer. The fourth horse in his trailer right now is an 8-year-old buckskin mare Brown calls Pecos. He sees her as the hopeful future of his herd.
“Hauling four horses is unusual, and it’s hard,” he said. “It’s overkill, for sure. Lacy’s with me, so she takes more care of them than I do. Bambi (Robb) has been helping me a bunch, too. I’ll leave one or two horses with her in another rig, and she meets us places with them. It’d be impossible to have all four of them out here if it wasn’t for Lacy and Bambi.”
There was a lot of loss for Luke a couple years ago when, “Slim, Cowboy and Fast Time all died in 2021 within six months of each other.” The rebuilding of his head-horse remuda has been a huge undertaking.
“I like all four of the horses I have now at different places, by all means,” he said. “I probably rope the best on the buckskin, Pecos, but she hasn’t been many places yet. I rode her at Greeley, and we won second there, but that was only her third rodeo.”
Asked to name his all-time favorite head horse, Luke says it’d be a coin toss between Slim and Cowboy. If forced to name a new #1, Brown’s got to go with Buda.
“Slim and Cowboy had totally different styles and demeanors,” he said. “They were different from each other, and Buda’s totally different from both of them also. He’s pretty active, like Slim was. He sees everything that’s going on all the time, and is not a laid-back type horse.
“Every horse has a personality, and you could turn Cowboy and Fast Time out in a 100-acre pasture, call them and they’d come to you. Libby could go catch Fast Time when she was 3. If you turned Slim and Buda out in a pasture, I might be the only person who could catch them. Buda’s very free spirited, and not as personable as Cowboy or Fast Time were.”
Brown bought Buda from Cory Smothers, who like Luke lives in Lipan, Texas, in the fall of 2020.
“This horse was good when I got him,” Luke said. “Cory was winning everything on him. He rodeoed on him that summer before I bought him, and got a check about anytime he went somewhere. When he decided to sell him, he gave me first dibs.
“Buda’s always going to score, no matter what. He’s never going to duck—with me, with you, with Lacy, it doesn’t matter who rides him. He has the best move of any horse I’ve ever ridden. He just naturally handles cows by himself perfect every time.”
Brown has three NFR average titles to his credit from 2010, 2013 and 2015. How motivated is he to return to the Thomas & Mack after 13-straight NFRs from 2008-20, then missing the last two?
“I’m as motivated this year as the first time I ever made it,” he said. “I took it for granted all those years I made it. Not anymore. I’m probably working harder now than before the first time I made it.”
Did a horsepower deficit have anything to do with his absence in Vegas the last couple years?
“Yes and no,” Luke said. “I had the grey. I bought him in the fall of 2020, and having him can’t say I was short on horsepower. I just didn’t do as good as I needed to. We weren’t quite clicking yet, and Fast Time was getting some age on him. He was still giving everything he had every time, but it was starting to catch up a little. Cowboy was the greatest ace in the hole horse I could ever have. When I needed him, I could depend on him. Losing him was hard.
“The proof’s in the pudding when it comes to the importance of good horses. The guys with the best horses win the most money. The better the horse, the better the roper. It’s always been that way. A horse might not be the best one for everybody, but if he’s the best horse for you, it makes all the difference.”
It’s unanimous: Good horses max out the fun in roping. Luke’s looking for the youngster in his trailer, Pecos, to add to a happy future.
“Pecos has made it more fun this summer than it’s been in a long time, and she has a little more sentimental value to her,” said Luke Brown III. “My (now late) mom (Debbie) and dad (Luke Jr.) bought her when she was 4, and gave her to my nephew Carson (Brown). He’s done all the work and trained her. Carson rode Pecos two or three years, then I bought his half out. Now I’m partners on her with my dad.
“Between my mom and daddy buying her, my nephew training her and now me being able to win on her, it’s a full-circle family thing. I have big hopes and dreams for Pecos. I pray she’s going to be the future for me. She’s the horse I prayed for the last couple years.”