horsepower

The Horses at the Heart of Team Graham
Talent runs deep in Dawson and Dillon Graham's truck and trailer.
That's Dawson Graham on his No. 1, Outlaw, and brother Dillon on his main man, Cruze. | Avid Visual Imagery photo

Canada’s Graham brothers—Dawson and Dillon—are making their move up the rodeo ranks. The 2022 Canadian champs finished 19th and 16th in the world last year, respectively, and are looking to close the deal on their first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge in 2024. As is the case with all world-class teams, their rise in the roping world has a whole lot to do with the horses in their trailer.

“It could always be better, but it could always be worse,” big brother Dawson says of their 2023 NFR near miss. “The day it happened, and we finished just short, a guy was pretty bummed out. But then at the same time, you think of all the screw-ups you had, and realize that maybe making it isn’t as hard as you think.

“At the end of last year, I was like, ‘Man, I messed up some easy ones for money, and it would have made the difference.’ If a guy just does his job, it’s going to pay off in the end.”

These two have always been tight, and they’ve competed alongside each other since the beginning.

“From a young age, we’ve done everything together—baseball, hockey, everything,” said Dawson, who’s 25 now and less than two years older than Dillon. “We’ve been on the same team all our lives. Dillon’s always been super talented, so he always played up a league and was by far the youngest guy on the team. The nicest part about roping with your brother is having the same goals, and always having a partner to practice and enter with.”

A horse you can count on is equally important, and Team Graham is two deep at both ends.

“A good horse is one that doesn’t ever cost you any money,” Dawson said. “If I know what my horse is going to do every time I get on him, it eliminates the hardest part of roping. Having a good one just makes your job so much easier.”

Dawson is Team Graham’s quarterback, and his first stringer is Chex Yer Gun, a 12-year-old palomino he calls Outlaw for a reason.

Dawson Graham's Chex Yer Gun.
Chex Yer Gun

“He’ll paw you, he might pull back, he’s kind of hard to saddle and he’s hard to shoe,” Dawson grinned. “He doesn’t like his back feet being picked up, so he goes barefoot in the back. I think I last trimmed his back feet about four years ago. Outlaw’s not the easiest horse to get along with on the ground—thus the name.

“Outlaw’s got some quirks. But he doesn’t ever take your throw away. He might not be the fastest horse, but he’s not going to duck on you and take you out of it. He might not score like a rock, but he’s going to give you an easy go every time. He’s the same horse every single day, and I’ve had him forever.”

Dawson bought Outlaw as a 5-year-old from one of his best friends, Tristin Woolsey.

“Outlaw’s pretty user friendly to head on, and I ride him in pretty much all conditions,” Graham said. “The only place I’ve not ridden him is Pendleton, and there was no reason not to ride him there, really. He was there, and I was going to ride him there this last year. But I had my other horse there that I can get back shoes on. So I decided to ride her there, with ice nails all around.”

Outlaw got the call from Dawson’s wife, Cora, last December, and she won $80,000 on him with a third-fourth split in the #10 roping heading for Jake Howe at the Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale in Las Vegas.

DT CashNHannah, a 14-year-old sorrel mare Dawson calls Hannah, is who got the nod on the grass at Pendleton.

Dawson Graham's DT CashNHannah.
DT CashNHannah

“I like Hannah at the longer scores, but I’ve been riding her about anywhere I don’t have the yellow, too,” Dawson said. “It’s nice to have a second set of horses, for times like when we need to leave horses in Canada. I’ve ridden Hannah at Pendleton, Cheyenne and Salinas, but both of my horses can go about anywhere.”

The same can be said for little brother’s heel horses. Dillon’s No. 1 is Coys Smokin Jet. Cruze is a 12-year-old bay he bought in June 2023.

“Cruze has been pretty special,” Dawson said. “He’s good everywhere, and he can run and stop. He’s one of the best heel horses going right now. Cruze came from one of our best friends up in Canada, Keely Bonnett. I think he’s won heel horse of the year up there four years in a row now.

Dillon Graham heeling a steer on his first stringer Cruze.
Dillon’s first stringer Cruze came from well-known Canadian cowboy Keely Bonnett. | Hailey Rae photo

“Dillon knew Cruze, and had ridden him a few times before he bought him. Keely and his brother, Logan Bonnett, were our buddy team in Canada before we started going to the PRCA rodeos.”

DT Sly Axel Dunnit is the second heel horse in Team Graham’s trailer. Axel’s a 14-year-old brown gelding that backs up Cruze when called upon.

Dillon Graham's DT Sly Axel Dunnit.
DT Sly Axel Dunnit

“I really like this set of horses we have,” Dawson said. “There’s a saying that you’re one bad luck from only having one, so the name of the game is always staying on the lookout for the next one. If you run short on horsepower, you can only do so much with your rope.

“Both of our second stringers came from JD (Yates will be inducted into the ProRodeo and AQHA Hall of Fame this year), and he was nice enough to let us take them and ride them before we decided to buy them.”

It’s all systems go for Team Graham both North and South of the border, and the trailer’s as loaded with talent as the truck.

“Dillon and I have been trying to get where we make the same run every time,” Dawson said. “We’re good if we just need to catch, and pretty good at going fast. Our weakness we’ve been trying to work on is the middle game—where you can be 4.5 to a long 5 every time, consistently, no matter what happens.

“Dillon and I have both headed and heeled enough that we know each other’s jobs are hard. So there are never any death glares when something goes wrong. We feel good about our horses, and we feel good about our team.”

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