Defending BFI Champion Header Jake Cooper Clay has ridden back-to-back Head Horse of the BFI winners. Two years ago, he borrowed Kevin Williams’ RC Shining Freckles, and “Leroy” was named Head Horse of the 2021 BFI. Last spring, Clay rode his career game-changer, Streakin Sun Dew, to the $75-grand-a-man win with Billie Jack Saebens, and “Sun” took Head Horse of the 2022 BFI honors. Sun’s the same horse that took Zac Small to the 2016 BFI win with Wesley Thorp, and also got Small to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo that year. This horse is one heck of a common denominator.
The Oklahoma-based Small family bought Sun as a 2-year-old from the Nebraska-based Fulton family at the 2007 Fulton Performance Horse & Production Sale. Sun’s sire is the Fultons’ signature steed, A Streak of Fling. When his recip-mare birth momma didn’t do her duty on the nursing side, now-late NFR tie-down roper and steer wrestler Brian Fulton, and his and Lisa’s son Jared bottle-fed the little guy they called Dew as a baby.
Tony and Kristi Small’s three kids, Zac, Courtney (who’s now married to NFR heeler Brye Crites) and Blair, all roped on Sun, who’s 18 now. Jake Clay spent a lot of time in the Smalls’ Flying Cow Arena in Grove, Oklahoma over the years.
“I roped with the Smalls when I was younger, and there were always ropings there,” Clay said. “I’m friends with the whole Small family. I still borrow Courtney’s heel horse Mary when I heel. I saw them ride Sun back then. I’ve ridden a lot of their horses, but I’d never ridden Sun. They figure between their kids and all the people they mounted out on him, Sun’s earnings while they owned him were about $700,000.”
If you tack on what Clay’s won on Sun, his head-horse earnings are straight-up staggering. There was the $75,000 Jake and Billie Jack each earned at last spring’s BFI at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Then there was the $ 50,000-a-man Clay and his 2023 rodeo partner, Kollin VonAhn, won last December at the Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale Open at the South Point in Las Vegas.
“Sun’s just a winner,” Clay said. “He’s by far the best horse I’ve ever ridden. There are definitely things other horses do better than him, but Sun scores great every time, he’s fast and he just lets you win.
“I wanted Sun because he’s just a good horse. He does the popping up thing in the box, but that doesn’t bother me and he’s proven. He’s just a phenomenal horse, and I needed one really bad.”
Clay actually bought Sun at 17 from Kaleb Driggers last year, about a month before the BFI.
“The first steer I ever ran on him was at the Lone Star Shootout the end of February (2022) in Stephenville (Texas),” Clay said. “When Zac switched gears to focus on his veterinary career, he sold Sun to Driggers, who rodeoed and jackpotted on him. Kaleb sold Sun to Jake Cooper (not to be confused with Jake Cooper Clay), who rode him a year or two. Then Driggers got Sun back.
“I needed a horse really bad, and Brenten Hall called and told me that Driggers had Sun back and might sell him. I called Driggers, and basically bought him over the phone.”
For those of you who might be curious about Dwayne and Julana Clay’s son’s name, the answer is yes and yes.
“They named me Jake after Jake Barnes, Cooper after Clay O’Brien Cooper, and Clay is just our last name,” he says with a grin of honor.
To be chosen the Head Horse of the BFI at the Lazy E, you have to be a long-score winner. But Clay says Sun’s good under all conditions.
“He’s been awesome everywhere,” Jake said. “I’ve ridden Sun in literally every set-up in the last year. I was 3.8 on him to place in a round at Spanish Fork (Utah), and I’ve ridden him at Cheyenne (Wyoming) and Pendleton (Oregon). Sun’s good with whatever you want to do.”
When his main ride was being recognized as 2022 Head Horse of the BFI, Clay was told Sun’s the only horse to win the BFI with two different riders. Driggers placed on him there, too.
“That’s a special award that they don’t just hand out to any horse,” Clay said. “It was a great feeling to win it, even on a horse I didn’t own (in 2021). That award does not come easy, and they only give one a year.
“I would buy Sun again in a heartbeat. People talk about making life-changing choices. This horse has sure been a game-changer for me. I don’t even know how to put it into words. He’s helped my roping, my riding—all of it. Sun’s the greatest investment I’ve ever made.”
And at 18, Sun is thankfully sound.
“For an older horse, Sun’s as sound as can be,” Clay said. “And I think he loves rodeoing. You can turn him loose, and he’ll load himself in the trailer. The only thing is, he will untie himself and all the horses around him, if you don’t tie Sun up just right.
“All I know is that at the level we compete at, having a horse that’ll score and let you get good starts every time is everything. If you’re trying to get by a horse, it’s so much harder, if not close to impossible. Sun just lets you win.” TRJ