Twenty-three years ago, these American Quarter Horses received the first rodeo horse of the year awards from AQHA.
Back in the glory days of the American cowboy, the days of the open range prior to barbed wire, Quarter Horses were the standard mode of transportation. No mechanical contrivance worked cattle as cheaply or easily as Quarter Horses, then called “Steeldusts,” due to the influence of the famous stallion in the mid-1800s. Their level-headed disposition, lightning quickness and hardiness was ideally suited to the rugged lifestyle of the plains.
Little has changed on the ranches of America since the late 1800s, as cowboys still ride American Quarter Horses when working cattle. But another breed of cowboy also rides Quarter Horses to work each day – the cowboys and cowgirls of professional rodeo.
AQHA recognized this fact, and in 1989, set out to identify and reward the outstanding American Quarter Horses competing in professional rodeo timed events. The result: the AQHA-Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Horse of the Year program, which continues today. In the beginning, AQHA presented the owners of the winning horses with $1,000 and a Suzann Fiedler bronze during the PRCA awards banquet at the 1989 National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
An award was given in each of the timed events in professional rodeo: tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping (heading and heeling), steer roping and barrel racing. The job of selecting these outstanding horses went to the cowboys and cowgirls in the respective events. Sixty-eight horses originally received 250 votes, and the top three horses in each category were then voted on by the top 25 cowboys (or cowgirls) in that particular event.
Cowboys have long appreciated Quarter Horses for their intelligence and attitude. These were the same reasons Joe Parson believed his horse, Docs Desperado, the tie-down roping horse of the year in 1989, was so outstanding.
“This horse is so smart, it is almost like he is a reincarnated human,” Joe said after receiving the award. “If you miss a calf, he even nickers at you. He enjoys roping that much.”
Joe, who started tie-down-roping seriously in 1976, qualified for several NFRs. However, several injuries prompted retirement for the Yuma, Arizona, cowboy on two different occasions. In 1983, he and his business partner, Paul Zanardi, purchased Docs Desperado. A 1980 gray gelding, Docs Desperado was by Doc’s Oak (by Doc Bar) and out of Doc’s Maria, whose grandsire was Doc Bar. Docs Desperado was bred and trained by cutting-horse trainer Tom Lyons. After Joe bought the horse, he started him on tie-down roping.
“This horse gave me the inspiration to rodeo again,” Joe said.
Joe first began hauling him to rodeos full time in 1988, and Docs Desperado distinguished himself as a top tie-down horse. World champions Roy Cooper, Chris Lybbert and Joe Beaver each had thrown a loop or two from the gelding’s back, and Joe figured that more than $100,000 had been earned on the gray. Joe qualified for the 1989 NFR on the horse, but a slight injury sidelined the horse from the finals.
“I didn’t want to risk hurting him, so I didn’t ride him at the finals,” Joe said. “We will be there in 1990, though. He’s the kind of horse that loves to take care of you. He is the first horse I have ever owned that is so willing to work. All it takes is to saddle him up, lope him, and he is ready. Big calves, long scores, it doesn’t matter. He loves to rope.”
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Another top money-earning horse was the 1989 steer wrestling horse of the year, Doc Bee Quick, who was owned by Larry Ferguson of Waco, Texas. In fact, Larry said that in the seven months’ time that he owned the bay gelding, more than $250,000 was earned by riders.
The 1980 bay gelding, bred by Noel Skinner of Draper, Utah, was by Doc Bar grandson Docs Bee Good and out of Barbie Bells. Larry, who purchased Doc Bee Quick in 1989, had seen the horse at an old-timers rodeo, where he was ridden in the steer wrestling.
“I just tuned him up a little,” Larry said. “He wanted to work on his own.”
Doc Bee Quick was the chosen mount of many top cowboys in professional rodeo, including Butch Myers, who pocketed nearly $32,000 by jumping off the horse at the 1989 NFR.
When asked about the horse’s greatest asset, Larry said without hesitation, “His calmness. To mount cowboys in the steer wrestling, it takes a calm, well-broke horse. It also takes an athletic mount. In my estimation, he fits the bill perfectly.”
Team roping is the only team event in rodeo, and, therefore, it is fitting that the heading and heeling horses of the year in 1989 were ridden by one of the hottest teams in professional rodeo. The heading horse of the year was owned and ridden by Matt Tyler of San Marcos, Texas, while the heeling horse was piloted by J.D. Yates of Pueblo, Colorado. Both ropers tied for sixth in the 1989 world team roping standards.
Matt’s horse, Mister Ruby Clerk, nicknamed “Cannonball,” was a 15-year-old sorrel gelding by Mister Ruby Bar, who traced to Three Bars (TB), and out of Sale Clerk. Matt said he first saw the horse in the summer of 1985. Up until that time, Cannonball had been ridden strictly as a ranch horse in South Dakota and had only been used for heading steers for two or three years. But Matt liked the powerfully muscled and balanced gelding, and purchased him.
“I’ll never sell him,” Matt said. “He scores really well, runs strong and never tires. He has a heart bigger ’n Dallas. I couldn’t ever put a price on him.”
Matt’s heeling partner was no stranger to professional rodeo or AQHA competition. J.D. qualified for his first NFR in team roping in 1975 at the age of 15.
J.D.’s horse, Flits Friend, was bred by his dad, Dick. The gray gelding, nicknamed “Pac Man,” was by Bar Flit’s Pokey and out of Mighty Mindy. Flits Friend traced to Three Bars, Leo and Peppy on his top side and Top Deck and Midnight Jr on the bottom side of his pedigree. Both father and son trained the horse for heading, heeling and tie-down roping. J.D. figured he had earned more than $60,000 on the gelding in 1989.
J.D. also rode Flits Friend in AQHA competition, where the gelding earned points in tie-down roping, team roping and barrel racing. He also qualified three times in team roping-heeling at the AQHA World Championship Show. (He won the world title in 1996).
“He’s as good a horse as I have ever ridden,” J.D. said. “He’s so physical and athletic for his size, he runs really good and really gets his rear in the ground in the timed events. He’ll last as long as I want to ride him.”
Long-time roper, AQHA competitor and Quarter Horse breeder Tee Woolman in 1989 figured he was riding one of the best steer roping horses in the business. His suspicions were confirmed when his mount, Cody Bar Skip, aka “Dutch,” who was owned by Mack Yates of Cherokee, Texas, was chosen as the steer roping horse of the year. He was by Skipper Bar Four and out of Jane Mavis.
Tee was another competitor who had been “roping all my life,” but he’d only been steer roping since 1985. He is probably best known for his skills as a team roper, as by 1989 he had earned two world championships, countless circuit awards and boasted career earnings of more than $600,000.
“Team roping is my life,” Tee said. “But I also like steer roping. It is just you and your horse. It is like any event – if you have a good horse, go for it.”
Tee said his success in steer roping – he finished second in the world standings in 1989 – was owed to Dutch.
“He’s only 14.1 hands, but he weighs in at more than 1,250 pounds. He is built low to the ground and really works well in the steer roping. I’ve heeled on him, but he is strictly a ‘tripping’ (the nickname for steer roping) horse.”
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In 1989, the barrel racing horse of the year surprised no one. It was “Scamper” and Charmayne James Rodman. And they were, without a doubt, the best barrel racing duo in professional rodeo history. They also provided one of the greatest success stories of the American Quarter Horse.
Registered as Gills Bay Boy (by Gill’s Sonny Boy and out of Drapers Jay), the 1977 bay gelding was bred by Walter Draper of Wetmore, Colorado, and traced to Three Bars on his top side. The horse went through several owners (including one whom he bucked off and put in the hospital) before being purchased by Charmayne’s father for $1,100 from a feedlot cowboy in their hometown of Clayton, New Mexico. Though the bay gelding had never run a barrel pattern, Charmayne mounted her new horse and began working him on barrels. Two weeks later, they won their first barrel race at a small playday. Three years later, they won their first world championship at the NFR.
After winning that first world championship and $53,499 in 1984, records fell all over the place for Charmayne and Scamper. The pair won the world again in 1985, with $93,847 in earnings. In 1986, they posted the highest single-event season earnings ever in professional rodeo with $151,969. Charmayne then became the first woman to wear the No. 1 at the finals in 1987, where she won her fourth world title, with season earnings of more than $120,000. In 1988, she and Scamper won the most money in professional rodeo competition that year, and with $130,540 – more than the men’s all-around world champion Dave Appleton – clinched their fifth world championship. And in 1989, after trailing going into the finals, Charmayne and Scamper won the Finals average and jumped to the lead in the world standings with $96,651 in season earnings.
“He’s still the best horse out there,” Charmayne said.
Charmayne and Scamper went on to win a total of 10 world barrel racing titles.