The horses that carried Colby Lovell and Paul Eaves to the 2020 PRCA Team Roping World Championship pulled off an incredible feat, winning the last three rounds to claim the unlikely gold. Here are their roads to the top.
As Fate Would Have It: Lovell and Eaves Win 2020 PRCA Team Roping World Titles in Inspiring Fashion
Recently crowned World Champion header Colby Lovell will tell you people notice his head horse because of the pretty color. But the bay roan could be plain sorrel because it’s his scoring, speed and heart that catch your eye.
A handful of Oklahoma heelers cultivated “Bartender.” Unregistered, he was nicknamed for his Two ID Bartender breeding. The roan stallion from the Pitzer Ranch was sired by Hall-of-Famer Two Eyed Jack out of a mare that went back to Bartender three times. Bartender, by a grandson of Midnight, sired some big-time athletes, including Wanda Bush’s famous Dee Gee. Two ID Bartender was a perfect 15.2 hands and won the AQHA’s 1983 Junior Heading and Heeling World Championships.
About a decade ago, Matt Strickler was heeling on the roan colt, then coming 3, when the late Ronnie Stapp of Henryetta plunked down a few thousand bucks for him for his son, Jake. Stapp knew good horses. He’d already sold a team of bulldogging horses to Bill Duvall that included Spud Duvall’s great Magic. At the time, Jake Stapp, now an 8 heeler, was rodeoing with Weston Jones and they were roping every day. The horse started quartering a little (likely thanks to an ill-fitting saddle), so Ronnie suggested Weston start Bartender heading.
“Man, he was really easy to make,” said Jones, now 31 and a 6.5 header when he’s not shoeing horses or training them out of Nowata. “He had lots of natural ability. He was just kind of a freak of nature when it came to the box. He always scored that good. That horse really fit me. Ronnie, one day, got a phone call with an offer of $25,000 for the horse, but still, he wouldn’t sell him out from under me. I rode him almost three years.”
Stapps eventually sold Bartender to heeler Blayne Horne’s family in McAlester. But John Goodson of Holdenville had his eye on him as a head horse for his son, Roper, now 17. The kid tried Bartender at a #15 roping in Tulsa and won it, so the purchase was made. In just six months, the teenager (a 6.5 header/7 heeler) won $150,000 jackpotting on Bartender.
“He was pretty honest and fast enough you can almost ride to the hip and be as fast as someone who reaches,” Roper said. “He’s a winner, that’s for sure.”
When the kid began focusing on heeling, they offered Bartender for sale. The Goodsons let Lovell try Bartender for an extended period of time. However, at a jackpot early on, so many people came up asking Lovell about the horse that he got nervous. He pulled the trigger and bought Bartender, then 11. Shortly afterward, Wyatt Imus wanted the horse bad enough to get him purchased. But Lovell feels fortunate he soon bought him back.
“I swear, this horse holds a grudge against me for selling him,” said Lovell. “He won’t leave here again. It’s the only horse I’ve ever said that about. He’s earned a spot here.”
Today, Lovell just keeps Bartender in shape and rarely practices on him because he’s so strong that he can get ahead of him in the practice pen. But when the money’s up, those gears are perfect. And they’re user-friendly—Lovell said the horse’s conformation, tying in so low, means you can’t feel him running; it’s like you’re sitting still. And toughness? He has it. He was Lovell’s only horse for two years. In 2020, Lovell raked in $12,400 on him at the WCRA’s Stampede at the E, $20,000 at The Capitalist, another $25,000 for second at RFD-TV’s The American, and $112,328 in NFR go-rounds.
Conversely, Bartender is also so gentle that Lovell’s daughter roped the Smarty on him between performances of the past RAM Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo, which Lovell won on him. At the same time, Bartender ran off with him during NFR victory laps because he wants to catch whatever’s ahead of him. Lovell knows his horse now like the back of his hand, which is why he stepped off him in the fourth and fifth rounds of the NFR. You may not have realized that Lovell has a look-alike roan horse he calls Grit.
“Bartender acted like he didn’t feel good that fourth morning, like he was stressed out or tired,” recalled Lovell. “I gave him two days off and here’s why. I lost my rope in 2015 to win the world with Kory Koontz because my horse was tired and I was scared to switch. I told myself I would never make that mistake again.”
It paid off. Bartender came back spectacular. He ran into those yellow bucking chutes like they weren’t there, and he never ducked. After all, back when Weston Jones was starting him, Ronnie Stapp wouldn’t let Jones take him to a single rodeo for fear he’d learn to duck.
“We lost Dad the day after Thanksgiving,” said Jake Stapp. “It would have been pretty cool for him to see Colby win the world on that horse. He’d have been pumped. I remember him watching Colby at The American and calling me right afterward.”
Headgear: Myler correction bit switched with others often; leather curb strap
Saddle: Don Gonzales
Pad: Half-inch Classic pad over Navajo Casa Zia blanket
Leg Gear: Classic Equine Legacy
Shoeing: Chase Taylor in Huntsville (Bartender frequently pulls shoes while leaving the box)
Feed: Nutrena ProForce Senior and two flakes of alfalfa twice a day
The bay mare used by Paul Eaves to claim his second gold buckle in December 2020 is the same one he was only trying last March when she fell and knocked him out cold at the 2020 Hork Dog Classic.
Doc’s Gunslinger Chic, coming 10, was nicknamed “Jade” as a filly because she’s pretty as a gem. As a 2-year-old, she was consigned to a sale via Texas cow-horse broker Melanie Smith of Solo Select Horses. But Derick Alexander, struck by the filly’s beauty in the photo online, bought her first.
Her papers are just as shiny as her physique. Jade’s sire is a grandson of both Smart Chic Olena and Hollywood Doctor. On the bottom, her damsire is by Playgun out of a Peppy San Badger/Doc O’Lena/Hollywood Gold mare. And Jade’s dam was out of a mare that went to Doc’s Prescription and Otoe on top, out of a double-bred Roan Hancock dam.
“She wasn’t easy to train,” said Alexander, a 33-year-old Stephenville horse trainer, originally from South Carolina. “She took a while. She’s real feely and a little tough-minded. But she was always fast-footed and did everything you’d ever want one to do—and it come natural to her.”
The 5 header entered an American qualifier on Jade when she was 4 and placed just out of making it to Fort Worth. After that, he mostly heeled on her because she seemed to like it better. He recalled being pleased that Eaves ended up with her because he rides so quiet.
“She was just stupid fast and would sometimes get a little ahead of herself,” said Alexander. “You had to ride her quiet. If you tried to be real aggressive, she’d get a little too quick.”
He was heeling on Jade as a 6-year-old when All-Around World Champion Junior Nogueira saw her go at Northside.
“She’s very strong and moves really good, so I thought she’d be a great rodeo horse,” said Nogueira, who bought her and hauled her locally, plus to California. Also, he left her with Jean Poythress the summer of 2019 to ride every day and check cattle and pasture rope.
“Me and Kaleb used to make some runs going fast and she was phenomenal,” he recalled. “But after Jean had her, I got her back with a way more solid mind.”
In March 2020, Nogueira had no partner and was busy building his place. He didn’t need Jade. Eaves wanted to try her with some money up. At the Hork Dog in Stephenville, she tripped on a stumbling steer, slamming Eaves into the dirt. The concussion had him out of commission two full months, during which time he forgot about her. Jade, meanwhile, was fine.
In about June, Eaves thought she might work for a friend of his, so he called Nogueira again. But in the end, Eaves sold the friend his own horse, Garfield, and bought Jade for himself.
“I liked how easy she was; the way she wanted to hook up to the cow,” Eaves said. “Junior did a really good job getting her in a good spot all the time.”
Eaves immediately won a lot jackpotting on Jade, but didn’t like her at the rodeos. He didn’t even take her to rodeos until August.
“Other guys thought she looked good, but she didn’t feel to me like she was trying,” he said. “It was like she was giving me 70-80%. But she’s gritty and tough. I put some different spurs on her a couple days before The Capitalist and she was good that day. And she’s done pretty dang good ever since.”
In the first round at the NFR, despite having won $20,000 at The Capitalist on Jade, and despite Nogueira’s suggestion he ride her or borrow Hali, Eaves saddled the roan gelding he’d only had a week. They didn’t mesh. So he got on Jade.
“That second night, Jade worked outstanding and Paul roped good on her,” said Nogueira. “She was so strong. Good spacing and she stops. When Paul dallies, she’s super strong on the saddle horn.”
Eaves went on to win three rounds and $112,328 to clinch his second World Championship by a few thousand bucks over NFR average winner Paden Bray. He has considered pulling an embryo from his great mare to get another one started. Like Nogueira, he likes that she’s big and strong and he’s impressed with her papers. Plus, although she acts “grumpy like a mare,” she’s very gentle.
Only one man was likely as happy about Eaves’ success with Jade in Arlington as Eaves.
“I had a terrible NFR, but look at my horses,” said Nogueira. “I also won AQHA Reserve World Champion Heel Horse with Hali. Everyone thinks I ride like crap, but I come from a horseman family and lived near Robbie Schroeder and went to working cow horse and reining schools. I’ve been working my whole life learning about riding and training. It shows in my horses right now. I’m very, very happy for Paul.”
Headgear: Petska ported chain and rope-nose tie-down
Saddle: Campbell Custom Leather out of Arkansas
Pad: ¾-inch Classic Equine felt over Navajo Casa Zia
Leg Gear: Classic Equine Legacy
Shoeing: Casey Hilley
Feed: Alfalfa/grass mix with Ultium Gastric Care and Red Cell