RODEO HORSE­POWER: Justin Davis’ Ham­mer

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Justin Davis’ Ham­mer is soak­ing up re­tire­ment with the third gen­er­a­tion of Davis boys.

The rop­ing world out­side of Texas first got to know Justin Davis when he and Cole Dav­i­son cracked out at their first Bob Feist In­vi­ta­tional in 2010, and Davis did so aboard his blond bomber, then-18year-old Ham­mer. Ham­mer would help Davis at­tract the at­ten­tion of none other than Clay O’Brien Cooper, and the Fish­er­ranch-bred horse would set the wheels in mo­tion for Davis’ ca­reer to take off.

Justin’s dad, Tommy, bought the geld­ing from fam­ily friend Gary Thorn­ton and used him as a ranch horse be­fore start­ing his head­ing ca­reer.

“They’d ranched, run bar­rels and tried calf rop­ing a lit­tle bit on him,” Davis said. “He was a run-off when he was younger. There were times I could pull as hard as I wanted to, but it was his pro­gram and I wasn’t go­ing to change his mind. All the top guys wanted to buy him back then. Charles Pogue, Speed Wil­liams, Tee Wool­man. My dad was rid­ing him, and he wouldn’t sell him. My dad came to me and said he was re­ally good, and a lot of guys wanted him, but he was too much horse for him. So I started head­ing and rodeo­ing. He’s the rea­son I even started head­ing.”

In his prime, Ham­mer weighed around 1,300 lbs., scored sharp, broke flat, ran hard and had quite an un­for­giv­ing cor­ner. For a while, he was a one-run type horse, but as he and Davis trav­eled more and more, Davis said the horse got com­fort­able with his run and didn’t move nearly as fast.

“He was a one-guy sort of horse,” Davis said. “Other guys bor­rowed him but they’d lose their rope. If I did some­thing out of the or­di­nary, he’d get too fast. But he and I got so com­fort­able to­gether, he just got bet­ter and bet­ter.”

By the time the 2010 BFI rolled around, Ham­mer and Davis were so in the groove that other rop­ers took no­tice in a big way and voted him Top Head Horse of the BFI. Davis and Dav­i­son won fourth there with a leg and fin­ished fourth at their first Reno (Nev.) Rodeo the same week. That cross-coun­try trek told the Texas header he be­longed on the rodeo trail, so Davis and Ham­mer pre­pared to hit the road in 2011. But fate had other plans for the palomino.

“In 2011 he had a sti­fle in­jury,” Davis said. “We did stem cell, and he never was as fast as be­fore. I was al­ways afraid of hurt­ing him. It took me a while to get used to rid­ing other head horses. It took me a lot of horses be­fore I bought Woody. He took me to the next level after I lost Ham­mer. Ham­mer has never felt the same to me, and I didn’t want to push him. He’d done his part. For my dad to take a horse and train him, and I won my card heel­ing be­hind that horse be­hind my dad. He was awe­some be­fore I knew I could rope the horns.”

In the time Ham­mer stood in the pasture, Davis won the Ram Texas Cir­cuit Fi­nals with Ryan Motes and qual­i­fied for the Wran­gler Na­tional Fi­nals Rodeo with Cooper in 2013, pick­ing up wins at Mo­lalla, Ore., and Lo­gan­dale, Nev., along the way.

The seven-year break was just what the doc­tor or­dered for Ham­mer, who now has im­por­tant du­ties with Jace Davis, 8, and Ry­der Davis, 6, at the ju­nior rodeos.

“For him to still be sound and both of my boys get to ride him, that’s the coolest thing. It’s cool to have an an­i­mal that’s blessed our whole fam­ily. I never thought my boys could ride him, but he knows the dif­fer­ence. Jace rode him at the county rodeo head­ing for a 10-yearold kid. They won third, and be­tween the two horses they were rid­ing, they had 49 years of age. It was awe­some.”

And just for kicks, Davis, who splits his days teach­ing clin­ics with Trey John­son and work­ing as a con­trac­tor, swings a leg over Ham­mer from time to time in the prac­tice pen.

“Ev­ery once and a while I’ll get on him and go fast and come over the chutes with it ev­ery time. He’s still fun to get re­al­is­tic prac­tice ev­ery time.”

KIRT STEINKE PHOTO

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