Bragging rights are always on the table when there’s a gold buckle involved. But none of the people in this particular horse’s path are interested in exercising those rights.
Meet Chumley, the 2004 gelding Cory Petska just won the world on in 2017. Contrary to popular assumptions, he’s not named after the character Chumlee of Pawn Stars fame. This Chumley started his journey as Boomchuckaluckaboom when he was born to Spokane, Washington, cutting-horse breeder Ron Knutson in 2004.
We all watched Cory and Erich Rogers close the world championship deal at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas last December. They were the winningest team at the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with $131,705 a man, and rewrote ProRodeo’s record books with a shiny new $265,417 annual team roping earnings record to go with those gold buckles.
Cory made the statement that Chumley’s the best he’s ever ridden, which is a tall compliment coming from such a renowned horseman. A deeper dive into this horse’s history reveals just how long the odds were against the newly crowned world champion heeler saying such a thing.
Besides Cory, the principle players in this four-footed fairytale include Northwest businessman Rod Chumley, who ropes for fun and calls it his “fix,” and Northwest cousins and Cory’s fellow NFR ’17 heelers Brady and Jake Minor.
Rod Chumley is a #5 heeler from Selah, Washington, with way too many hot irons in the fire to find time to rope more than recreationally. His main mission at the moment is his thriving Scout Lake Construction company. Business is booming, and has branched out to jobs in Montana, Yellowstone Park and beyond. Chumley is currently building a wine-tasting facility for former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
On the side, Chumley raises rope horses, border collies and Professional Bull Riders-caliber bucking bulls, including the notorious Doctor Proctor, as Chumley Cattle Co. Chumley bought the horse that would inherit his name from Knutson as a 2-year-old.
“He had just turned 2, and only had about five rides on him when I got him,” said Chumley, a lifelong friend of the Minor family who also counts 2008 World Champion Heeler Randon Adams as one of his best friends. “He was never broncy, but was kind of owly on the ground with people he didn’t know. My daughter was a little girl at the time, and liked to pet everything without warning. My biggest fear was that she would walk up and pet him on the belly and get into a wreck with him.”
That little girl, Emma, is 13 now, and is already making headlines as a barrel racer. Horse Chumley’s fear-based reaction to sudden surprises was to pull back. Rod Chumley got the horse good and broke, then roped on him a little before sending him on to Brady Minor to polish up his rough edges as a heel horse.
“He was still a little jumpy on the ground,” Rod Chumley said. “He hadn’t been handled much as a baby. But Brady got him going good for me. We passed him back and forth. I’d rope on him awhile. Then Brady would take him back and tune him up for me.”
The horse’s natural talent was obvious. But there came a risk-reward ratio Rod Chumley could no longer live with. So when Brady and wife Ashley got married in 2010, Rod put a bow on Chumley’s head and gave him to Brady as a wedding present.
“My daughter was in love with horses, and she would come up to them so strong and never slow down,” Rod Chumley remembers. “I saw him jump back when she walked up one day, and I just couldn’t take the chance. It wasn’t his fault. But it also wasn’t something I could live with if something happened to her.”
Rod didn’t actually raise Chumley. But on an interesting side note, he is the listed breeder on Riley Minor’s back-to-back reserve American Quarter Horse Association Head Horse of the Year Bob, who’s 16 now and averages 60 rodeos a year. Northwest header Bob Moriarty had the horse between Rod and Riley.
“Every breeder has his own recipe,” Chumley said. “My goal with my horses is that I want a controlled mind, a big motor and a big stop. I’ve basically worked to create a very athletic, sensible horse. I don’t want a hot, stingy, crazy-wired horse. I want one that’s good to be around.”
There’s also a Rod Chumley connection to the buckskin horse—Buck—that helped raise Jake Minor.
“Brady and Riley’s dad, Brent, started that horse,” Rod said. “I bought him from Brent when he was 4. I roped on him a couple years, Jake was coming on strong and didn’t have a good enough horse, so I sold him to Jake.”
Rod Chumley’s been too busy tending to business to venture out to ropings in recent times, but has high hopes to find more time to hit some jackpots with friends in 2018.
“I love to rope,” he said. “I ride my young horses and rope at home every chance I get. I don’t know Cory personally, but I’ve followed that horse and have a sense of pride about it. I watched that horse every single night at the Finals on TV, and it was fun to think that I used to heel on him. I knew he was good. It makes me happy to see where he’s been able to go. He never could have gotten this far with me riding him. They don’t get any better than Cory.”
Rod Chumley first sent Chumley to Brady Minor when the horse was 3.
“He was broke to ride in a snaffle when Rod sent him to me to make a heel horse out of him,” Brady remembers. “I started him on real slow cattle. He wasn’t broncy, but he was a little sketchy. I rode him at some amateur rodeos and lots of jackpots, but maybe only one or two pro rodeos at the most.
“I kept him around a year or two after Rod gave him to me, because he was really fast. But when he was young he had some little bobbles, like he might go by the corner. I had five or six horses, so I didn’t really need him.”
Brady decided to pay it forward with the gift horse by giving cousin Jake Minor “the family discount.”
“I had that horse off and on from when he was 3 to when he was 8,” Brady said. “It took me a year to start making real runs on him. I knew the horse was really athletic and talented, but I didn’t rope the greatest on him. He wasn’t easy for me to catch on.”
When Jake sold old Buck to another 2017 NFR heeler, Wesley Thorp, he was in need of a ride.
“I told Jake I’d sell him Chumley,” Brady said. “It wasn’t like I had him in the newspaper advertising him for sale, but Jake needed a horse. I would have given him the family discount anyway, but I also didn’t feel right charging him much after having the horse given to me. Jake finished seasoning him at (Columbia River) circuit rodeos and amateur rodeos in the Northwest.”
Cory’s success on Chumley surprises no one.
“Cory’s ridden a lot of horses his whole life,” Brady said. “He’s going to rope good on anything, let alone a horse with that much talent. Chumley looks awesome, and was obviously awesome at the NFR. Maybe he just grew into it. It’s hard to say. Cory makes everything look easy.”
Jake’s Big Break
Brady dubbed Boomchuckaluckaboom “Chumley” before passing him along to Jake, who also noted the degree of difficulty in navigating the horse in the early going.
“I loved him, but I never roped that good on him,” Jake said. “The horse is really quick and movy. He was pretty wild, and he did pull back. Two years before I traded him to Cory, he got on him. I wanted to see how Chumley felt to him. Cory said he was one of the best horses he’d ever swung a leg over. I said, ‘I love this horse. I have to learn how to ride him.’”
Jake owned Chumley about three years, and roped with Bryce Palmer a couple of those years and Jake Stanley another. Jake and Garrett Rogers just wrapped up the third year of their partnership with their second-straight NFR qualification last December. Jake, who’s heeling for Dustin Bird in 2018, traded Chumley to Cory about the time he and Garrett got together.
Cory had a chestnut mare he called Pickles that he’d ridden at the NFR twice and won both Houston and San Antonio on, not to mention second at The American. Chumley was part of the family-and-friends horse-upgrade program that got Jake over the NFR hump for the first time. On the human side, Cory also was a key component.
“Cory’s been awesome to me,” Jake said. “For the last five years, he’s helped me more than anyone with my roping. When I was struggling, he got me straightened out. I’ve learned a lot about riding a horse from him, too. He’s handy, and a really good horseman.”
Cory helped Jake with the horse they both knew had all the right buttons. If only they could crack his code.
“Chumley made stuff happen so fast, because he was so quick,” Jake said. “But he made too many moves for me at the time. I ride better now than I did then, so he’d probably be better for me now. Cory let me practice some on his mare and ride her at the Mike Cervi roping, and at that time she fit me better. Chumley was hard to ride. That’s why we traded. I could win on Pickles right then, and that’s what I needed to do—win. I needed a horse that was ready to go.”
Since this deal went down, Jake’s ridden mostly Pickles and his young roan horse, Cat.
“I wish I would have had the money to buy the mare and not sell Chumley,” Jake said. “Chumley’s a cool horse. But everything happens for a reason, and Pickles got me to a different level. I’m glad Cory got him and has done so good on him. That guy is unreal. He never pushes the wrong button.”
After passing through the law-firm-sounding remudas of Knutson, Chumley, Minor and Minor, Chumley found his permanent home in Petska’s pasture three years ago, about the time he turned 10. But it was not love at first blush for Cory and Chumley, whom he’s ridden at the last three NFRs. Fact is, Cory stayed pretty disgusted with the horse in the early going.
“Chumley was a dink the first year I had him,” Cory said. “He had so much ability, and I kept hoping and thinking one of these days he would go to work. I just didn’t know what it was going to take.”
Quite by accident, Petska discovered the secret password when he took off the tie-down.
“We were running steers through the night before my roping in (Ceres) California, and I was jacking around on him,” Cory remembers. “I’d actually been heading on him because I was mad at him. I was trying to get him to keep his front end up and keep his back end moving, and that’s easier to teach one heading than heeling. We were about done, and Brandon Beers and I wanted to set the score, so we ran two steers. All I had on Chumley was a chain gag and split reins. He’d never felt so amazing. He worked outstanding.
“He was really front endy with a tie-down on. He would drop his front end. With it off, he stays up in your hand and stays sliding. This is the only horse I’ve ridden without a tie-down, but he works so good I just go on with it. When you pull on most horses without a tie-down they throw their head in the air right when you’re turning. Chumley’s a freak, but whatever works.”
Chumley’s a stout 14.3 hands and 1,100 pounds.
“He’s all there,” Cory said. “He’s a soggy little guy. What I’ve always liked about him is how fast, quick-footed and short-strided he is. He legitimately has head-horse speed. Most horses as fast as him aren’t very cowy. Chumley’s that special combination. You can’t fault him anywhere. And he’s honest.”
Cory says he really doesn’t have a standard heel-horse checklist.
“I just go off of how they feel,” said Petska, who’s now roped at 14 NFRs. “I have five heel horses and they’re all built different. All I really care is if they have a good feel and they’re easy for me to catch on.”
Most team ropers would tweak a thing or two about even their best horse if they had the chance. Not Cory when it comes to Chumley.
“I wouldn’t change one thing,” he said. “There’s nothing I could make better. There’s nothing I would take away. He’s literally the perfect horse for me. That’s not saying he’s better than everyone else’s horses or that he’s perfect. But he is that good for me.”
The hauling is harder on horses than the runs. Still, Cory’s Chumley Management Program is light on the repetitions.
“The hours in the trailer and all the bouncing up and down on rough roads is tough,” he said. “It’s got to be hard on their feet and legs. Unfortunately, they go as many miles as we do. I don’t overdo the runs on Chumley, and the way he stops he takes it all on his butt. That’s a good thing for a horse’s longevity. Chumley never gets sore, and he works good even when he’s tired. The most I run on him at home now is five or six steers a day, three days a week, just to keep him sharp.”
About the only special treatment Chumley gets in terms of maintenance is a set of shoes aimed at managing his tendency toward quarter cracks, which has happened twice now. Other than that, he’s a pretty easy keeper.
So is Cory, who’s about as calm as they come. His favorite horse isn’t quite so consistent.
“Chumley’s a real cross,” Cory says. “He wants to be in your pocket and be your friend one day, and he’s snorty the next. He’s got a funny personality the way he changes from day to day.”
Chumley has gotten past pulling back, Petska’s proud to report. And like all the truly great ones, he shines under all conditions.
“I’ve won Salinas on him (with Rogers in 2016; Cory also won the California Rodeo with Clay Tryan in 2004 and ’09), I’ve done good on him at Cheyenne, and he’s great in the Thomas & Mack,” Cory said.
Cory considered Cruiser—the little bay horse he heeled on when he roped with Matt Sherwood—his best-ever before Chumley found his full stride. Cruiser came from Brady Minor’s heel-horse program, too.
“I’ll ride behind Brady anytime,” Cory said. “He rides good horses.”
Cory’s bought and sold a lot of horses in his career, but Chumley won’t leave Marana, Arizona, once his roping and rodeo runs are done.
As Petska puts it, “There’s no price tag on him now.” TRJ