Dolla Dolla Bills

War Horses: The Highest-Earning Rope Horses Ever
A rough estimate of the money won by some of roping’s highest-earning horses.
Clay Tran roping on Dew The Cash "Dew"
Gabe Wolf photo

In 2023, the Western performance industry’s top databases—EquiStat and QData—ramped up their efforts to track the earnings on rope horses, from the Riata-Buckle-enrolled horses at all Global Handicaps events to professional ropers’ mounts at the Open jackpots and rodeos. Plus, they count all of the exploding rope-horse futurity money in their systems.

This data will help breeders, buyers and the everyday roper make better purchasing decisions for the growth of the horse industry for years to come. But what about the past? What about the great horses, and their great bloodlines, that have no records in our current databases? 

What’s more, few records exist (in any remotely searchable online space) as to the original money earners at so many famous jackpots and rodeos. Even Kory Koontz’s, Trevor Brazile’s and Travis Tryan’s biographies are now hidden from the PRCA’s website given that they haven’t bought their cards in recent years. That means their ProRodeo earnings, year-by-year, are nearly impossible to find without tapping archivists at the PRCA or flipping through printed media kits kept in Senior Editor Kendra Santos’ attic. 

To document these historical injustices, The Team Roping Journal dug back into the memories of the cowboys who rode those great horses, trying like heck to put together a list of some of the sport’s all-time greats and the money they earned along the way. This list is far from exhaustive, and we admit—each number is a very rough estimate based on PRCA earnings in the years the horses dominated, as well as major jackpot wins on their backs. 

October 2023 issue cover of The Team Roping Journal
On the cover: Travis Tryan on Walt and Michael Jones on Jackyl making a Cheyenne victory lap in 2007. | Hubbell Rodeo Photos

Highest-Earning Rope Horses: Head Horses

Clay Tryan’s Dew | $1.2 million

Clay Tran roping on Dew The Cash "Dew"
Gabe Wolf photo

Dew The Cash
Pedigree: Mia Cash Too x Cea Carolina Dew x Scorpion A Leo
Years Active: 2011–2019
NFRs: 5
Major Jackpots: Two George Straits, plus second once; one BFI; one Windy Ryon (first, second and third) 
Major Rodeos: NFR Average, California Rodeo Salinas, Cheyenne Frontier Days 

Clay Tryan rode Dew from 2010 to 2015, a span in which he won two world titles with Jade Corkill. In 2014, Tryan placed in seven rounds there on his way to the average title that year—setting a single-season earnings record of $220,058, with much of it aboard Dew. 

“I placed on Dew at the first eight jackpots I rode him at,” Tryan said. “Every great horse I’ve ever had, I went to kicking butt on right away.” 

Dew shared the workload with Tryan’s mare, Cate, for much of the ProRodeo regular season, but Dew took all of the work at the jackpots. In 2017, Tryan’s fellow headers voted Dew the AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year in the heading. 

Travis Tryan’s Walt | $1.7 million

Hubbell Rodeo Photos

Precious Speck
Pedigree: Skid Frost x Precious Rhythm x Mr H Z 
Years Active: 2001–2009
NFRs: 11 (Tryan rode him from 2001–2009, but his brother Clay rode him in 2001, too, and Trevor Brazile rode him for five rounds in 2005.)
Major Jackpots: George Strait, US Open prelim 
Major Rodeos: Cheyenne, Sheridan, Pendleton, Reno, San Angelo, Greeley, Red Lodge, Livingston, Nampa, Oakdale and Austin (and many, many more) 

Inducted as the first head horse ever into the PRCA’s ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2015, Walt is the undisputed greatest head horse of the modern era. A horse that could tie the world record in the Thomas & Mack and win the Cheyenne Frontier Days in knee-deep mud, Walt carried both Montana brothers Clay and Travis Tryan to their first NFR in 2001 when the rodeo count was 100, earning $226,583 in his first year of PRCA competition with the duo. They won four NFR go-rounds that first year. 

In 2005, when Jake Barnes cut his thumb off in Round 5 of the NFR, Trevor Brazile (only there in the calf roping that year) stepped on Walt to finish the rodeo for Kory Koontz—winning two go rounds along the way. 

And, despite the extra workload, he lasted a full decade on the rodeo trail before dying of an aneurism warming up for slack at the Clovis (California) Rodeo in 2010. 

Matt Sherwood’s Nickolas | $1.2 million

Gabe Wolf photo

Nicks Rocket Rojo
Pedigree: Shamrocks Nick x Rockets Breezy Lady x Suleos Rocket 
Years Active: 1999–2013
NFRs: 3
Major Jackpots: Wildfire (first and second); George Strait, US Open
Major Rodeos: Guymon, Fort Worth, Greeley, Omaha, Sheridan, Albuquerque

Matt Sherwood’s Nickolas had perhaps the longest and most diverse career in recent rodeo memory. The 2006 and 2008 world champ started his career heeling in the Turquoise Circuit, and his first big win on Nickolas was a second-place finish at the US Finals in 1999 heeling behind Ross Gosney. He heeled for Rube Woolsey in the Turquoise Circuit and won the circuit three times before swapping to the head side. 

Riley Minor’s Bob | $1.1 million

Kirt Steinke photo

RK Tuff Trinket
Pedigree: Tuffys 00 Buck x Tall Pine Wickett x Knock My Sox Off
Years Active: 2015–2023
NFRs: 5
Major Jackpots: Wrangler Finals, WestStar, World Series of Team Roping Open Finale, Cervi  
Major Rodeos: The American, Greeley, Denver, Kansas City, Vernal, Casper

Twice voted Head Horse of the BFI and twice voted AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year, Riley Minor’s Bob has long been at the top of his game in the heading. Like so many other top-earning rope horses, Bob took the majority of the reps throughout the ProRodeo season, from the indoor buildings at Denver and San Antonio to the big outdoor setups like Cheyenne and Salinas. 

The horse came from Bob Moriarty, just 45 minutes down the road from the Minors’ place in Ellensburg. Minor saw him at an amateur rodeo, but he couldn’t ride him right away because the owners still had to haze in the bull dogging on him there. 

“I stuck around there and it turned out to be a life-changing deal for me,” Minor said. “I’ve had more success on that horse than any horse I’ve ever owned.”

Clay Smith’s Marty | $1 million

Gabe Wolf photo

Years Active: 2010–2022 (and still actively jackpotting) 
NFRs: 6
Major Jackpots: Three Wildfire Open to the Worlds, plus one Wildfire Gunslinger title; Cervi; 2018 and 2019 PRCA World Championships

Clay Smith has $1.7 million in ProRodeo earnings, with the lion’s share of that earned on Marty. Smith rode Marty as a teenager at USTRC ropings across the country and, when he made the shift to professional team roping in 2012, Marty came with him. Their first big break was the 2014 Wildfire Open to the World, where Smith pocketed $50,000 a man with Will Woodfin. Marty provided an encore performance in 2015 with little brother Jake Smith, and he won the title again when the event moved to Hamilton, Texas, in 2019. 

“That horse is so smart,” Smith said. “He knew what I was going to do before I’d do it. I don’t know that there will ever be another Marty. I could ride him at Pendleton and turn around and ride him at the NFR.”

Marty is now piloted by Smith’s teenage sister-in-law, taking reps at the World Series of Team Roping qualifiers for big money to this day. 

Speed Williams’ Viper & Bob | $900,000 each

Hubbell Rodeo Photo

Keep On Flushing (Viper); Papers lost on Bob
Pedigrees: Smoocheys Red Man x Lovely Night x Burnt Spur (Viper)
Years active: 1997–2004
NFRs: 8 (Viper only) 
Major Jackpots: Three BFIs; three US Opens; two George Straits (Bob only) 
Major Rodeos: Cheyenne, Salinas, Ellensburg, Reno, Houston (Bob); San Angelo, Denver, Omaha (Viper)

Speed Williams went on his eight-gold-buckle spree thanks to two horses—one long score horse and one short score horse—that he stretched out for the duration of his run. Bob—papers lost long ago but rumored to be a grandson of Easy Jet—was the workhorse for the regular season, excelling at all the jackpots and long scores. Williams estimates 70% of his regular season earnings throughout his career came from Bob.

Viper ran 75 of the 80 steers in Williams’ and Rich Skelton’s eight-straight gold-buckle years, banking nearly $300,000 in the Thomas & Mack back when go-rounds paid $13,923 a man and the average paid $35,705 each to win it. 

“He was the only horse that I’ve ever had that embarrassed me in the box,” Williams said. “I always roped fresh steers, and twice, I dropped my hand to go and my horse didn’t leave, and I couldn’t get on to him for that because he was watching the cow better than me. At Guymon, it would get me in trouble if I dropped my hand. He’d walk a step if the cow walked. The one thing he did, though, was break to the pin. I did everything I could to break him from going to the pin. I put up barrels, I put up panels. After we’d won two or three world titles, I conceded that going to the pin at the Thomas & Mack was better than going wide.”

Dustin Bird’s Dolly | $750,000 

 Kirt Steinke

My Frosty Cocoa 
Years Active: 2007–2019
NFRs: 5
Major Jackpots: Spicer Gripp; third at BFI; third George Strait
Major Rodeos: Austin, Tucson, Kennewick, Bremerton, Puyallup, Sheridan, Canby, Rapid City, Canadian Finals Rodeo (average and year-end), 2017 PRCA World Championship with Erich Rogers

Dustin Bird gave Dennis and Teri Dahle $20,000 for Dolly at the very start of his career—sticking his neck out on a big investment for the kid from Cut Bank, Montana. The investment paid off in a 12-year career that helped Bird win a Canadian title and qualify for five National Finals Rodeos. 

“She was good from the start,” Bird said. “Dolly had so much potential, but it happened slow. She started off a little bouncy and high up front, but she just got better and better and more and more calm. Dolly still gets wound up and gets to going fast, but it’s a little more controllable now. She can get to grinding her teeth on the bit because she just wants to go 110% all the time.”

Dolly got her biggest win, though, when Erich Rogers rode her in six of 10 rounds at the 2017 NFR in route to the gold buckle. Dolly is still trucking, but these days she’s the main mount for Stockton and Sampson Bird, now 6 and 4. 

Kaleb Driggers’ Dre | $650,000

Hubbell Rodeo Photo

Mairs Pocos San
Pedigree: Mairs Rusty Bar x Pocos Peppy Bar x Peppy Doc San
Years Active: 2012–2017
NFRs: 4
Major Rodeos: Fort Worth (with Drew Horner), 3.3-second World Record in the Thomas & Mack, American Rodeo

Dre was Kaleb Driggers’ once-in-a-lifetime horse, setting the tone for his career and helping him win the regular season four times. Driggers bought him from Jake Barnes in 2012, after the loss of his great horse Champ from colic that summer. 

“Dre was as honest as a day was long,” Driggers said. “He always scored great and tried his hardest. Back then, I only had one horse, so I rode him almost everywhere.”

Dre was 16 when Driggers bought him, and, at 27, the horse is still sound and out to pasture at Driggers’ place in Texas. 

Highest-Earning Rope Horses: Heel Horses

Jackyl | $2 million

Hubbell Rodeo Photo

Years Active: 1998–2014
NFRs: 10
Major Jackpots: George Strait, three Wildfire Open to the Worlds
Major Rodeos: Cheyenne (twice), Salinas, Pendleton, NFR average, three PRCA world titles (one with Allen Bach, two with Jade Corkill) 

Jackyl is the only horse on this list without a team roper’s name in front of it, because the horse’s ability was so timeless that to call him anyone’s would be an injustice. From the 15-year-old Travis Graves who rode him at the start; to Kory Koontz who made him great; to Allen Bach who won a gold buckle on the borrowed horse; to Michael Jones who fit Jackyl to a T; to Jade Corkill who gave the horse a career again in 2012 after he’d been in semiretirement; to Jim Ross Cooper who rode him at his final NFR in 2014, going out on top with the day money in Round 10 that year—so many owe a debt of gratitude to the highest-earning rope horse of all-time. 

“There will never be another one like him,” Corkill said. “I got to be a part of his career—he wasn’t a part of mine. I feel more lucky to say that than anything.”

Clay O’Brien Cooper’s LB | $1.1 million

Melissa Baus photo

Stars Topsail Whiz
Pedigree: Topsail Whiz x Docs Tender Star x Hes Tender Cash
Years Active: 2009–2017
NFRs: 3
Major Jackpots: US Open (once with Kory Koontz and once with Cooper), George Strait 
Major Rodeos: Rodeo Houston, The American, NFR average, Reno

Like Jackyl, LB was another of Kory Koontz’s works of art that went on to win big with anyone who got on him Koontz started rodeoing on him in 2009 and went to winning on him. But Koontz needed money, and Clay O’Brien Cooper was nearly afoot heading into the end of the 2012 season. Cooper bought LB and had the best five years of his career, averaging $240,000 a year for five straight years on the gelding. The reining-bred horse didn’t have a ton of cow, but he had a ton of slide, speed and try, letting Cooper set his rope down and heel steers the way only Cooper can. 

“I’m asked now which horse in my career is my favorite, and it’s him,” Cooper said. “I had nothing to do with it though. He was all God and Kory Koontz.” 

Travis Graves’ Manny | $1 million

BBF Barely Fancy
Pedigree: Mighty Awesome x Barely Fancy x Mr Fancy Bonanza
Years Active: 2004–2017
NFRs: 5
Major Jackpots: George Strait, US Open, Windy Ryon, Mike Cervi Jr. Memorial
Major Rodeos: The American, Salinas (twice, second twice), Red Bluff, Clovis, NFR average

Manny, a breeding-stock Paint, kicked off his career as a heel horse named Tarzan in the Southeast Circuit with Manny Egusquiza. They’d won the circuit four times in the heeling and placed at the George Strait. But when Manny went to heading, Travis Graves bought the horse and started winning, fast. Graves won second on Manny behind Driggers at the 2013 USTRC’s Cinch NFTR, third on him there in 2014 with Trevor Brazile (winning the Open Prelim, too) and then won it in 2015 with Chad Masters (winning the Open Prelim that year as well). 

Jade Corkill’s IceCube | $900,000 

Years Active: 2003–2022
NFRs: 4
Major Jackpots: Wildfire, George Strait (first and second), US Finals, Spicer Gripp 
Major Rodeos: Cheyenne, RodeoHouston, 3.3-second World Record in the Thomas & Mack, Greeley, Nampa, Lovington, Casper, Spanish Fork

Jade Corkill started his career on IceCube, the grade gelding he rode from the high school rodeos to the Thomas & Mack. IceCube won everywhere from Cheyenne to the Wildfire Open to the World to multiple holes at the George Strait, putting a young Corkill on the map. When IceCube lost vision in his left eye later in his career, Corkill’s dad Bruce took over the reins and won on him at Ariat World Series of Team Roping qualifiers and rode him in Las Vegas. IceCube eventually became a kid’s horse for Colby and Kelton Corkill, and he died at Corkill’s home in Stephenville, Texas, the same day Corkill won the Cheyenne Frontier Days again in 2022. 

Junior Nogueira’s Hali | $750,000

Kirt Steinke photo

Apache R Hali 
Pedigree: Apache Blue Boy x RA Soft Smoken x JD Playin Gin
Years Active: 2013–2023
NFRs: 1
Major Jackpots: Spicer Gripp, US Open, Wildfire Open to the World 
Major Rodeos: Puyallup, Spanish Fork, Oakley, Livingston

Kollin VonAhn cracked Hali out when he had no other choice over the Fourth of July in 2013, with all of his other horses hurt. At just 6, and having only been to one jackpot before getting thrown to the wolves over the Fourth that year, Hali carried VonAhn to the Finals that year and he rode her everywhere but Las Vegas. She’d get VonAhn back to Las Vegas in 2014 and 2015, and then Junior Nogueira bought her as his first major horse investment in the U.S. in 2016. 

“She’s so forgiving, and so strong,” Nogueira said. “She let me win everywhere. She was great at the US Finals, and she was great at the Wildfire and everywhere else I rode her. If you need to get on a horse and go catch, you get on her.”

Nogueira would go on to win the AQHA’s Senior Heading world title on Hali, making her babies eligible for export to Brazil. TRJ

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