A cut above

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Competitive Edge - By Julie Mankin

Acow horse is a cow horse is a cow horse. At least, that was true in the old days. But as the sport of team rop­ing has ex­ploded, so have the nu­ances in breed­ing, caus­ing heel­ers to in­creas­ingly look to the cut­ting in­dus­try for the bright­est shin­ing stars.

Case in point: The three best heel horses in the rodeo world last sea­son—Jake Long’s Colonel, Bil­lie Jack Saeben’s Kevin, and Brady Mi­nor’s Sug—pack the blood of Colonel Freck­les, Peppy San, Doc O’Lena, and High Brow Hick­ory. For the record, the lat­ter sired cut­ting leg­end High Brow Cat, whose off­spring have earned $76 mil­lion ... and count­ing.

High Brow Cat is the sec­ond-most valu­able Quar­ter Horse stal­lion of all time be­cause his get are cow-smart, quick-footed, can crawl on their bel­lies, and have huge stops. What more could you want in a heel horse?

The breed­ing fee for High Brow Cat’s se­men is $22,500, while the 30-year-old stal­lion him­self sold five years ago to an in­vest­ment firm helmed by Dar­ren Blan­ton—a 4 header—for what the Wall Street Jour

nal ap­prox­i­mates was just un­der $10 mil­lion (the sale also in­cluded a clone—Copy Cat—and a 500-acre Texas ranch).

Rope-horse train­ing icon and 21-time NFR qual­i­fier J.D. Yates never dreamed of this kind of mar­ket, but he also never thought amateur jack­pot­ters would be win­ning the kind of money they’re rak­ing in to­day.


Cow-horse blood is noth­ing new in the world’s best rope horses.

Like High Brow Cat, Pa­trick Smith’s gold-buckle sor­rel, Amigo, and Martin Lucero’s great Spi­der­man were both grand­sons of Doc’s Hick­ory. Hol­ly­wood Gold dot­ted the pa­pers of Kyle Lock­ett’s Dinero and Rich Skel­ton’s Chili Dog. Dinero and Kory Koontz’s leg­endary Ice­man both sported Hall-of-Famer Mr. Gun Smoke on the top side.

Colonel Freck­les has been king a long time—he shows up in the blood of Jake Long’s de­fend­ing Horse of the Year, Colonel, and Jade Corkill’s two-time PRCA Horse of the Year, Cave Man. An­other main­stay has been Doc O’Lena. Though thought too small as a year­ling to train for cut­ting, when some­one fi­nally did, he said the horse trained him­self, and Doc O’Lena went on to sweep all four go-rounds at the NCHA Fu­tu­rity.

“I think cut­ting breed­ing makes rope horses more cow-smart,” NFR heeler Joseph Har­ri­son said. “It helps if a rope horse is able to read a cow bet­ter.”

That’s one of the rea­sons NFR heeler Dean Tuftin, whose fam­ily showed cow horses at the Cana­dian ver­sion of the Snaf­fle Bit Fu­tu­rity, stands a trio of cut­ting-bred stal­lions at DT Horses.

“I was sold on the fact that the cow horses are broke, ath­letic, and near what we needed to make great rope horses,” said Tuftin, who founded the Amer­i­can Rope Horse Fu­tu­rity As­so­ci­a­tion last year.

One of his stal­lions is by NCHA Fu­tu­rity champ Me­tal­lic Cat out of Sweet Lit­tle CD by CD Olena—a for­mer NCHA Fu­tu­rity champ and the sire of two PRCA Heel Horses of the Year: Brady Mi­nor’s Dugout and Ryan Motes’ Star­bucks.

“He times steers re­ally well; reads them per­fectly when they switch,” Motes said of Star­bucks.

The Texas heeler has been aboard cut­ters ever since the Dual Pep horse he rode his rookie year. His mother, Danny Motes, stands the world cham­pion cut­ter CD Lights by CD Olena; and Ryan and his wife, Court­ney, own a Dual Rey mare. Plus, he’s bring­ing along 5-year-old heel horses by CD Lights and Me­tal­lic Cat.

“Their ad­van­tage is not only their ‘cow,’ but their de­meanor,” he said.

Pros and cons

For years, there were vir­tu­ally no rope­horse breed­ers, mean­ing heel­ers (luck­ily) ended up with cut­ting and rein­ing re­jects.

“They al­ready have a huge stop and can read a cow,” said rope-horse trainer and AQHA world champ Clay Lo­gan, who’s been con­vert­ing cut­ting horses since 1999 via Clay Lo­gan Per­for­mance Horses. “And, they’re so broke and well-trained.”

Lo­gan mostly trains for­mer cut­ting prospects be­cause he gets along bet­ter on cut­ters than rein­ers, al­though it should be pointed out that Mi­nor’s other two-time PRCA Heel Horse of the Year, Rey, is rein­ing-bred on both sides (Top­sail Whiz and Shin­ing Spark), and is a grand­son of the great cut­ting mare Reylena.

“I feel like horses started in rein­ing pro­grams carry their heads lower and haven’t had as much han­dle put on them,” Lo­gan said. “Cut­ting train­ers move their feet a lot and also use their hands. If you want to send one of those horses some­where, it knows how to fol­low its nose and con­tinue with its feet. For me, that takes a lot of steps out of the way, so I don’t need to go back and get one re-broke to where it will fol­low its nose or rate a cow.”

But Lo­gan did say he’s pleased with some rein­ing prospects he picked up as long 2-year-olds.

Two-time NFR heeler and trainer for Dixon Flow­ers Rop Horses Bil­lie Jack Saebens also doesn’t mind a 2-year-old culled from a rein­ing pro­gram. He says that’s a colt with a re­ally good start that isn’t bred to be quite as “watchy” with a cow, but isn’t far enough along to have the low-headed rein­ing han­dle that doesn’t work for team rop­ers.

Tim­ing is im­por­tant if you plan on poach­ing from a cut­ting or rein­ing pro­gram. Get­ting one early means en­sur­ing hocks and sti­fles are still in good shape. Plus, when it comes to prospects whose blood seeps with “cow,” less is more. A heel­ing prospect drilled too long in cut­ting can step off to the in­side too much on the cor­ner. That horse needs to be repo­si­tioned and taught to hold its shoul­ders up.

“It’s hard to fix,” said Yates. “Let’s face it, since they were 2, they were trained to get to the head, stop, and turn. In heel­ing, one place you don’t want them to go is the head.”

If you’re handy like Lo­gan or Har­ri­son, who trains for Bobby Lewis Quar­ter Horses, you can get by it. Har­ri­son’s 18-year-old NFR heel horse, Main­street Boon (by Pep­to­boon­s­mal out of a Freck­les Play­boy/Doc O’Lena mare), was cut on for about three years. An­other mare he’s rid­ing, Lula Dual, first won a re­serve na­tional cham­pi­onship in the reined cowhorse genre.

“I’ve had some that I couldn’t get com­pletely over it,” said Har­ri­son. “But I’ve got one I’m rid­ing that, in the past three months, has kind of got it fig­ured out and I’ve won quite a bit on this sum­mer.”

That would be young Dual Catt, by So­phis­ti­cated Catt (by High Brow Cat), out of Miss Dual Play by Dual Rey. Be­hind world champ Chad Masters this May, Har­ri­son clocked a 4.0 and a 4.4 to split sec­ond at both the Min­eral Wells and Bridge­port, Texas, pro rodeos, in Dual Catt’s first week in the PRCA.

Saebens’ first rodeo horse earned reined cow-horse money be­fore Lo­gan trained her a decade ago. The flashy sor­rel, Gunna Be A Leg­end, by a son of Smart Lit­tle Lena out of a Mr. Gun Smoke grand­daugh­ter, taught Saebens what can hap­pen when cut­ters are turned loose on Cor­ri­entes.

“It was re­ally fun to get on her and cut,” Saebens said. “But it got her watch­ing too much and it would take me a week to be able to get her good to heel again.”

One caveat of cut­ting breed­ing is that the lat­est su­per­stars aren’t bred to be very big. The best rop­ing prospects, then, are horses too big to get across the pen or not quite cowy enough to make cut­ting train­ers happy. That’s where Lo­gan’s great heel horse, Re­play Blue Boon, comes in.

“He didn’t have enough cow, but had plenty of stop, and was plenty strong,” Lo­gan said. “You kind of had to beat him up to make him cut.”

Re­play, now 16, is by Dual’s Blue Boon, out of the same dam as Pep­to­boon­s­mal (she was cloned, if that tells you what kind of blood runs through Re­play). The blue roan for­mer cut­ter is an AQHA world champ and has been heeled on at RodeoHous­ton and the BFI. Like most cut­ters, Re­play only stands 14.2, but he’ll weigh close to 1,200 pounds.

Motes said CD Lights stands just un­der 14.2, but tends to pro­duce good-sized colts with some speed. For feel, Motes prefers a big­ger heel horse, so he likes Star­bucks’ bald-faced younger brother, CD Rock­star, who stands 15 hands. While Yates also prefers a nice 15-hand, good-strided rope horse that’ll “be with you a long time,” Har­ri­son prefers his to stand about 14.3.

“If one is 15 or 15.1 hands,” he said, “they don’t have a tight enough stride to be able to cor­rect as well. And most of those horses that are only 14.1 or 14.2, for me, their stride is a lit­tle too tight to where you can’t match them with your swing.”

This is not quite the case for one of the world’s best heel horses: de­fend­ing run­ner-up PRCA Heel Horse of the Year Domino Lena, or “Kevin.”

“He might only be 14 hands,” Saebens said of Kevin, who’s out of a daugh­ter of rein­ing su­per­sire Grays Starlight. “But I bet he weighs 1,200. Most guys need to ride 10 feet wide; I can ride 5 feet wide be­cause he’s so short-strided and quick. I can see the steer’s feet any­where, be­cause his neck’s only a foot and a half long!”

Sur­pris­ingly, speed has not been a fac­tor with Kevin—also the de­fend­ing Heel Horse of the BFI.

“I didn’t know if he’d be fast enough,” Saebens said. “But that horse has been fast enough ev­ery­where—at the Na­tional Fi­nals and at Cheyenne. He’s fast enough in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion.”

Sourc­ing smarts

So where to go for some of this horse­flesh?

“If you look around on the In­ter­net, there are sev­eral ranches rais­ing some nice colts,” Yates said. “They’re not all 100-per­cent cut­ting-bred; but if they are 100-per­cent cut­ting, a lot of those are too small to rope on.”

In one week this May, Yates said he’d bought and sold more than $250,000 worth of rope-horse prospects and was still look­ing, though he did men­tion one promis­ing set of prospects might be those turn­ing 2 this year by Smart Nu Shiner. The buck­skin AQHA world cham­pion heel horse, who is stand­ing at the famed Pitzer Ranch in 2018, is out of Dean Tuftin’s great mare, An­nie’s Nu Lena, by Smart Shiner—a mix of Shin­ing Spark, Doc’s Hick­ory, and Peppy San.

“They’re prob­a­bly not small enough to be cut­ting horses,” Yates said. “They’re big strong colts, but have an aw­ful nice look.”

To get good culls direct from cut­ting and rein­ing train­ers, word-of-mouth is the best way. Con­sider places like North Texas a dou­ble-edged sword—there are more horses for higher prices.

“Cut­ting is so com­pet­i­tive down here that if you’re look­ing for that life­time-type horse, you can find a re­ally nice 3-year- old that won’t make the cut­ting fu­tu­rity,” Motes said. “Or, out in Wyoming or California, you might more eas­ily find some 5-year-olds with a lit­tle less cut­ting train­ing that are still rea­son­ably priced.”

If scout­ing AQHA train­ers, talk to some who don’t over-spe­cial­ize and do some cowhorse work and cut, or do sort­ing and rope both ends. Well-rounded horses fall into the dis­ci­pline they’re best at.

Rep­u­ta­tion means some­thing, too. In ad­di­tion to Gunna Be A Leg­end, Dixon Flow­ers got Saebens’ Kevin through Lo­gan, who also trained Mi­nor’s Dugout. Ask Open rop­ers which train­ers they trust to sell horses that are what they say.

You can also check out auc­tions such as the Win­ter Premier Sale pre­ced­ing the World’s Great­est Horse­man Fi­nals each Fe­bru­ary, or the Le­gacy Rein­ing Breed­ers Sale ev­ery Oc­to­ber, and NCHA Fu­tu­rity sales each De­cem­ber, all in North Texas.

But, Saebens warns, don’t get stuck on par­tic­u­lar blood­lines. Buy for de­meanor and in­di­vid­ual traits. And, Har­ri­son says, don’t com­pro­mise just for big­ger size, be­cause that can lead to prospects that are “bad-minded and slow-footed.”

Yes, prospects with cow-horse breed­ing come with value-added prices, but the in­creased de­mand for head and heel horses to­day means the world’s best train­ers are rid­ing prospects a lit­tle longer, even if they won’t make Open horses.

“I need a horse that can out­run the head rope,” Har­ri­son said. “But most 5 heel­ers just want the po­ten­tial. There are some re­ally good young horses out there now that maybe aren’t sea­soned enough for a #15 or Open rop­ing, but are so good-minded.”

In fact, Motes loves the way the new rope-horse fu­tu­ri­ties are giv­ing train­ers a place to sea­son young heel horses that aren’t yet ready for full-on jack­pot­ting or rodeoing. That’s good news for those of you who want to­day’s “cow horse” to be­come your next calm-scor­ing, hard-run­ning, belly-crawl­ing, big-stop­ping heel horse.

“Fu­tu­ri­ties are the best thing in the world for these guys go­ing to World Se­ries rop­ings,” Yates said. “Let me ride a 4-, 5-, or 6-year-old and by the time he turns 7, you’re go­ing to want him.”


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