Ryan Motes was having the season of a lifetime. He’d won $433,333 on his home-raised horse Rocky at RFD-TV’s The American, and he and Coleman Proctor had the Finals made before the summer run even started.

Fate threw a wrench in his plans, though, in late summer when Rocky came down with a horrible case of pneumonia that almsot took his life.

Thanks to the work of the amazing vets at Brazos Valley Equine Hospitals, no-quit attitude of Motes’ wife Courtney and a clutch year-end performance by his’ 21-year-old former Horse of the Year backup mount Starbucks, Motes is back at his fifth NFR with a chance at a gold buckle. Here’s how it all came together.