Simpson’s Pack-Horse-Turned-War-Horse Makes NFR Debut
2016 World Champion Levi Simpson relies on his sort-of-snorty ex-pack horse Stetson in Arlington, Texas's Globe Life Field.

Back in 2010, Levi Simpson was on the hunt for some green prospects to start building his head-horse herd. He’d high school rodeoed with Tees, Alberta’s Meston family, and knew they raised some horses. So he stopped by and bought a long-legged, sorrel 3-year-old named Teel Bar Badger. 

“They’d been riding him, and just started roping the sled on him a little bit,” the eventual 2016 World Champion Simpson remembered. “I tried him and bought him on a whim. I rode him that spring until the rodeos started up in Canada again in the summer, and he got put off and didn’t have much going on.” 

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Just standing around in a pasture in Alberta, the horse’s personality started to shift. He got worse and worse about kicking at anyone pestering him, and his snorty attitude made him hard to be around. 

“My dad, Frank, had an outfitting string at the time, so they hauled him up to Northern British Columbia,” Simpson said. “They get all their horses in on a six-hour boat ride. They load them up and down a ramp onto a riverboat, and then spend three months at the camp packing all sort of stuff on him. They were mainly hunting stone sheep, moose, mountain goats, maybe an elk or two. By the end of the summer, I think Dad was even riding him some.”

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Stetson ready to pack hunters into the Northern British Columbia wilderness for the Simpson family hunting outfit. Courtesy Levi Simpson

At least 90 air miles from civilization, Stetson would carry heavy loads of hunting and camping gear up to 10 hours through the rugged mountains and swamps every day.

“When I got back that fall and he came back home from the mountains, he was back to being gentle and not too bad to deal with,” Simpson said. 

So Simpson started him back on the heeling dummy that fall while he was attending classes in Lethbridge, Alberta. 

“We’d haul steers into Claresholm there in town every night from 9 to 11 or midnight,” Simpson said. “I just rode him and did that until the next spring, when he was a 4-year-old. I decided it was time to move him to the head side and see how things went. I didn’t want him to get fresh so I never really gave him any time off. I was roping with John Robertson at the time, and we’d been doing really good. John decided not to come up for the last 10 rodeos because we already had the Canadian Finals made.”

Teel Bar Badger, a.k.a. Stetson.

Mossleigh, Alberta’s Kasper Roy was bouncing between partners at the time, so he and Simpson decided to enter the last few rodeos of the year together. 

“I roped with Kasper at Pincher Creek (Alberta), and I figured I’d ride that 4-year-old, and we went 4.6 to win the rodeo. That was late in his 4-year-old year. So we go to an amateur rodeo, then Armstrong (British Columbia), which is two and a short. The fair was right there, and they didn’t have bleachers at the time so the zipper ride that goes up and down, was right there. You could have thrown your head rope and hit it from the head box. That would have been the third steer I ran on him at a rodeo, and he backed into the box, and I remember him looking over his shoulder both ways trying to figure out what that was. We placed second in the first round, then came back to the short go and ended up placing at that rodeo.”

From then on, Stetson took the bulk of the work throughout Simpson’s career. In 2012, Canadian cowboys voted him the Head Horse of the Year in the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, and Stetson took the brunt of the regular-season workload in 2014 when Simpson earned $42,459 to win the Canadian title that year. 

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He was also on Simpson’s team in 2016 when he and fellow Canadian Jeremy Buhler stunned the field at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, though he didn’t get the call in Las Vegas. 

“He is just a bigger horse and the left wall comes into too big of play,” Simpson said. “He doesn’t do the best facing up the left wall. I had better practices on Stetson and another practice horse than I did my old horse, Frasier, that I ended up riding. But when it came down to saddling one for the first round, it had been my dream to ride Frasier there. Stetson was my grand entry horse, though.”

Simpson rides Stetson at a majority of the rodeos throughout the year, including his win at Belle Fourche, South Dakota, with Shay Carroll, worth $6,354 a man, in early July 2020. Kaitlin Gustave Photo

For all he’s done and won in his 10-year career, Stetson hasn’t lost all of that fire that sent him to the mountains to pack hunting gear a decade ago.

“He’s definitely not kid-friendly. He’s snorty, he will get out of the trailer and spook, and if you’re in the wrong place, he’ll kick ya. If my traveling partners try to take his Soft Rides off, he’ll try to kick them. He’s not scared of anything a horse would be scared of like plastic bags blowing by, but he’s super untrustworthy of new people. He’s like a one-person dog.”

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That attitude has helped give the 15.3-hand, big-boned horse the longevity and grit he’s shown throughout his career. 

“He scores and runs, and being kind of snorty keeps him just right so the traveling doesn’t bother him. Just having the benefit of that—at the end of the year, he’s still as grumpy as he was at the beginning of the year.”

Simpson is admittedly not much for papers, as his great, gold-buckle mount, Frasier, is grade. But he’s not alone in recognizing the talent the Meston family has bred into their program. Alberta header Braidy Davies has a full brother to Stetson that he made the Canadian Finals aboard, and Brock Hanson, Tom Richards and Coleman Proctor rode a gray half-brother to Stetson they called Rampage, too, who they all described as freaky fast. TRJ

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