Out of Nowhere

photo by Matt Cohen / Cowboy Journal

photo by Matt Cohen / Cowboy Journal

It’s funny: The horse I didn’t want to ride has become one of the best I’ve ever rode.

by Adam Gray

When it came to horses and calf roping, this year was a real disaster. At least it started out that way. That’s why it’s so surprising that I’m standing seventeenth and closing the money gap.

I’ve made the National Finals Rodeo four times since I joined the PRCA in 2008. My last NFR was in 2014. After that, my hip started hurting. In 2015, I finished at seventeenth. My hip hurt worse. In 2016, I finished seventeenth again.

I thought I had a sciatic nerve problem. The pain was in my hip and into my butt. There were times when it would bite me so intensely I would wet my pants. That literally happened during my final run at San Antonio in 2017. I mean, it wasn’t like in Tommy Boy, but I definitely let a few drops go. What I’m trying to say is I’ve broken a few bones, but this was intense. I lost thirty pounds, to where I could not wear any of my normal pants. It got to the point where I said, I cannot rope anymore.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

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I went to see the Justin Sports Medicine team in Houston in March of 2017. The guy who read the X-ray said, “What are you doing at seven a.m. tomorrow morning?”

“I’ll be sleeping,” I said.

“How about you come down to Houston Methodist and we take an MRI, because this is not what you think it is.”

Turns out I had what in the medical world they call a pistol-grip deformity. In the horse world, we call it a bone spur. There was a big bone mass sticking off the end of the ball joint in my hip. The bone spur had worn a groove in my labrum. Normally, that’s God’s warning: the pain from tearing the labrum lets you know something’s wrong. I guess I didn’t heed the warning, because it got so bad the bone spur also caused a couple of hip fractures. I developed a cyst inside one of the fractures. Any time the bone spur made contact with that cyst, pain shot through me like an electric shock. That was the final straw.

I had surgery in the spring of 2017. The surgeon said it would be four to six months before I could ride again. I sold everything, including most of my horses. I wasn’t even going to rodeo anymore.

Five months later, I was itching to get back on a horse. I missed rodeoing and wanted to enter something really bad. I entered an amateur roping in Decatur, Texas, at the end of August. It was really muddy. I probably shouldn’t have roped, but it had been so long since I’d nodded my head at anything. At that rodeo, my first rodeo back, I crippled my last horse in the mud. I felt terrible.

I was horseless, but I didn’t want to have to go out like that. I wanted to quit rodeo because I wanted to quit, not because I had to. I bought a green horse from a guy I knew and started entering rodeos to try to season him. It was a disaster. I was having to relearn everything. After my surgery, the way I used to rope didn’t work anymore. My groundwork has never been something I had to worry about. I may not be as fast as some people, but when my left foot hits the ground, I flank and tie and I’m done. It’s always come natural.

Now, I had to cross and tie differently because of the pressure on my hips. After twenty years of building up muscle memory, I had to retrain myself because my body couldn’t do it that way anymore.

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And Tux, my green horse, was a problem, too. I roped one and fell down, and when I got up the calf was wrapped around me. At Reno, Tux drug off so bad I got fined on both calves. One of those calves was good enough that I could have made the short round, but Tux probably drug him a hundred feet. The judges had to help me stop him. The next night, I went to Pleasant Grove, Utah, and Tux ran off and tried to circle the wagons.

I felt like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights making his racing comeback. He was like, What were those things? Were those the other cars? They were all going so fast, and he was going so slow. I felt the same way. Why am I roping at professional rodeos?

To be honest, I tried to sell Tux. Nobody was interested. So I figured I’d have to keep working with him or I’d never get my initial investment back.

When I set out for the Fourth of July this year, I wasn’t even in the top fifty. My whole goal was to get thirty thousand won for the year so I could get into the winter rodeos next year.

At Springdale, Arkansas, Tux drug off again, but it was really, really muddy there, which helped the situation. I ended up winning Springdale in the mud.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

I decided I was done riding Tux, so I drove all the way home to Texas and leased a friend of mine’s horse. I was gonna ride that horse through late July to try to reach my thirty-thousand-dollar goal. But those July rodeos were muddy. I didn’t want to cripple my friend’s horse, so I rode Tux again. He started coming around. I did, too. We started winning checks.

By the middle of August, I had around thirty-eight thousand won and was ranked somewhere in the thirties. Rodeoing was starting to be fun again. I won good checks at San Juan and Puyallup. Everywhere else I’ve been nickel-and-diming them.

A couple weeks ago, the guys ahead of me had nine thousand on me. When last week started, it was down to sixty-five hundred. Now, it’s around thirty-five hundred. But I only have five rodeos left: Stephenville, TX; New Braunfels, TX; Kansas City, MO; Omaha, NE; and Apache, OK. They’re all one-headers, which means I’ve got to win a bunch.

If I end up not making the NFR this year, I won’t be as disappointed as I was in 2015 and 2016. I only set out this year to get my horse seasoned. It’s kind of funny how it all worked out. The horse I didn’t want to ride has become one of the best I’ve ever rode.

Read more about the other CINCH JEANS and Classic Equine athletes fighting to make the NFR. Follow #theCjHASE


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