Looking for a Horse
A high-dollar gamble on a pot-bellied gelding.
CINCH and Cowboy Journal are proud to bring you Boys in the Box, a three-part series about the bond among bulldoggers, the 2017 Horse of the Year and one of the most amazing NFR finishes in recent memory. Maybe ever.
Some of you may know that I won the gold buckle at the 2017 National Rodeo Finals. You might also know that Scooter, the horse I own with my bulldogging partner, Kyle Irwin, won Horse of the Year last year. It’s what came before that I want to tell about.
Yes, this is a story about winning, but it’s also about try.
When me and Irwin bought Scooter, we didn’t know he would take us to the NFR. And we sure as heck didn’t expect the Finals to end the way they did, with me $2,000 down for the World Championship and hazing for the guy trying to beat me—Ty Erickson, who was riding Scooter! I’ve never felt pressure like that. Messing up while hazing for Ty would be worse than losing.
That’s how tight we bulldoggers are. The tightest among all rodeo cowboys. Maybe I’m biased, but that’s what I believe.
Irwin and I have rodeoed together since 2014. For the first couple of years, we both rode a horse I owned called Sketch. But something happened at the 2015 NFR that changed everything. That’s where the story of Scooter begins.
It was December of 2015, Round 10 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. I didn’t make the Finals that year, but I was hazing for Irwin. He wasn’t having a great Finals, but by Round 10 he had thrown all his steers and was likely to place in the average if he threw one more.
Irwin drew a good steer, one that gave him a good shot at winning the round. He backed into the box, but before Irwin could nod, Sketch reared out. He spooked. He wouldn’t go back in the box. I sat in the saddle, watching from the hazer’s box. Half a minute passed. The clock kept ticking.
The PRCA likes to keep things moving at the NFR. They fine you if you take too long in the box—$250 after forty-five seconds. And the fine doubles every twenty seconds after that. After two minutes, you’re disqualified.
Sketch was a great horse, a great athlete. When he was on point, Sketch was hard to beat. But he had a wire loose. Every once in a while, he got goofy.
This was one of those times.
Irwin’s fine reached $500. Twenty seconds later, it doubled to $1,000. The seconds ticked. I felt terrible for my rodeo partner, but there was nothing I could do.
Plan B: Irwin jumped off Sketch and onto Ty Erickson’s horse, Shake Em. I doubt any words passed between them. That’s just steer wrestling. Everybody’s got your back. In a situation like that, tenth round of the NFR, I bet every one of those guys would have said, Hop on!
The fine doubled again to two grand. Fifteen more seconds, and Irwin was out. Disqualified. He backed Shake Em into the box.
This whole time, the steer is waiting in the chute. He’s not moving, not exerting any energy. Irwin nodded his head, and the chute opened, but the steer hardly budged. Irwin broke the barrier and missed him. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Sketch’s mistake cost Irwin a bundle, maybe as much as $80,000. And he still had to fork over two-thousand bucks to the PRCA.
Me and Irwin are close. I want the best for him as much as I do for me. Sketch was my horse. I felt responsible. Never again, I decided. I gotta get a new horse.
That’s how I found Scooter.
Big Bet on a Badlands Horse
A few things about Scooter. His registered name is Canted Plan. I bought him sight unseen from a guy in North Dakota on the recommendation of a friend. Scooter showed up long-haired and pot-bellied from the long, cold winter. And I paid a lot of money for him—way more than any other horse I owned.
The way I figured it, my career clock was ticking. I was 30 years old at the time, with a wife and family. I planned to re-evaluate my situation at age 35. I didn’t want to Brett Favre it. I didn’t want to rodeo until I couldn’t compete. My buddy Irwin was in his prime, and I dang sure wanted something good we could both ride without worrying about the horse acting up.
I remember calling Irwin on the phone. “I’m going to buy this horse,” I said, standing in the kitchen of our house in Louisiana. “And I want you to go halves with me.”
“Let me think on it tonight,” he told me. “I’ll talk to my family and pray about it.”
The next day there was disappointment in his voice. “Man, I just don’t know.”
I understood. We were talking about a lot of money. A lot of risk. If that horse didn’t turn out so good—or worse, if he went lame or couldn’t compete for some other reason—we’d be in a bind. This was a big gamble.
“Irwin, tell you what. I’ll get the loan and buy him for both of us,” I said. “As you win, you can pay me back.”
“Well, there’s my answer!” he said. “That’s the Lord telling me I should do this.”
In Ft. Worth, early 2016, we picked up Scooter, a solid sorrel with a big blaze face. He’s long-bodied, sway-back as anything. He’s got this big, long hip muscle. At first, I was kind of bummed. He didn’t look fast. Oh my God, I thought, I’ve never spent this much on a horse. Did we make a mistake?
But put a saddle on that long body, and Scooter’s gorgeous. He took to the Louisiana climate. He got fit, and then he got faster. We put big guys on him. He got patterned out and started winning.
Scooter was just so versatile. You’d use him every which-a-way. He got into longer starts and faster starts. He started to glow. One of the best things about Scooter is he’s just so easy.
We were in the Elite Rodeo Athletes that year. Me and Irwin and Luke Branquinho and Nick Guy all rode him at ERA rodeos. Scooter was dang sure one of the best horses out there. Irwin won a pile on him. Luke won a good bit on him. Luke was three-seconds flat on him at Albuquerque. As the summer of 2016 drew to a close, it looked like me and Irwin would get Scooter paid off.
Flood of Biblical Proportions
August 12th of that year was a Friday. My wife, Carissa, and I were at our house in southern Louisiana, fifty miles east of Baton Rouge, grilling dinner with our kids and her family, when somebody from the local fire station pulled up and told us the river had crested its banks.
“The water is rising,” he said. “It’ll be here in fifteen minutes.”
Dang if he wasn’t right! Fifteen minutes later, the yard was ankle deep. We threw the food in buckets and moved to my mother-in-law’s place. She only lived a quarter-mile away, but her house was on higher ground. By the time I got back to our house to check on the horses, the water was over the truck tires. I walked Scooter and Sketch, plus my hazing horses, Metallica and Poco, from the barn into the trailer.
The water kept rising—nine feet in three hours.
Soon Carissa’s mother’s house was flooding. Carissa, her mother and the kids piled into my brother-in-law’s 24-foot bay boat and took off for the fire department, the highest ground in town. Sending them off was the hardest thing I ever did, but I had to stay with the horses.
I pulled the trailer onto the highest point in the yard, but the water rose above the horses' ankles. My buddy Vincent was there helping me. We would have to swim the horses out. There were eight in all—four on the trailer and four in the pasture in chest-deep water.
We swam to the pasture to halter the horses. When I opened the gate, spiders and crickets jumped all over me. Every living creature had fled to the highest point. They were trying to survive.
We had a wire-mesh fence topped by a strand of barbed wire. A possum was teeter-tottering on that top strand. A snake had wrapped itself around another section of barbed wire, so long it stretched dang near from post to post. I’m not sure what kind it was. I didn’t get close enough to find out. Snakes were trying to climb up the metal walls of the barn, but they kept slipping back into the floodwaters.
Scooter had recently begun to prove himself a champion. Irwin and I had a lot invested in Scooter, but I honestly wasn’t thinking about the money or treating him any different from any of the other horses. I wanted them all to live. Hell, Poco was in our wedding pictures. He’s like family.
I did notice how cool Scooter was acting. He didn’t freak out. He just backed off the trailer into the water, as if he was thinking, Ain’t nothing else I can do.
It was getting dark when Vincent and I set out for the fire department, a couple miles away. I mounted a horse and led three. He did the same. The water came up past the horses’ chests. We rode bareback, the water up over our feet, walking the animals up our road. The horses were feeling their way. The current shoved us around. The water got deep at one point, where a culvert passed under the road. I could feel the current pushing stronger.
The horse I was riding, Busy, stepped into a drainage ditch. Her head went under, and I got washed off her back and swept into some trees. I swam towards a pickup truck stranded in the road, using its bulk to break the current. When I reached the truck, I climbed onto the hood. Vincent rounded up the loose horses. Man, he was leading seven head at one time! He brought them over to the truck. I jumped on one, and we set off again for the fire department.
At the fire department, there weren’t any trees, just a single wooden basketball pole. But it was on dry ground. We tied the eight head to that one pole. We didn’t have any feed or hay, so they chewed the pole. By the next day, they dang near chewed that pole in two!
A boat carried us back to the house so we could free the rest of the animals and help the neighbors.
A neighbor had some horses in stalls. We went down there to let them loose. Man, it was pitch-black. We were walking and swimming in chest-high water. Every branch or bush we hit felt like a snake. We tripped over stumps, logs, lawn chairs. When we got to his barn, I’ll never forget this jackass pony. It was swimming circles around his stall. I opened the door, and he swam out.
After that, we piled into a boat and started helping folks get out of their houses. We stayed out all night.
After a day or so, the water receded. That’s when we started putting our lives back together.
Back on the Road
Scooter came out of the flood just fine. It confirmed what we already knew about him—that horse has try. I left him and Poco with Irwin in Florida. My family and I took Metallica and some other horses and stayed at a friend's farmhouse in Mississippi. I rodeoed out of there for a few months. Then Carissa and I bought a house in Atoka, Oklahoma, and moved there.
In 2017, Scooter really started to shine. The ERA experiment was over (that’s a whole other story), and we started entering him in his first PRCA rodeos.
That winter, Luke Branquinho mounted out on Scooter, too. Luke won the 2017 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo on Scooter. He won the Colorado vs. the World Rodeo at Denver’s National Western Stock Show. Before Luke got hurt, he won at least $40,000 on Scooter and was third in the world.
Things went great for me and Irwin. By the end of the 2017 rodeo season, Irwin was sitting eleventh in the standings, and I was in third place. That felt good, to both be headed for the National Finals Rodeo.
This was Irwin’s first time back since things went bad in 2015. As for me, I had only made the NFR once in my career, in 2013, and that year was a bust. I hurt my knee throwing practice steers the morning before Round One. I tore the meniscus—a bucket-handle tear that folded under my kneecap. It hurt like hell—straighten your leg, and you’ll piss yourself. I had to wear a brace 24/7, even when I slept. I suffered through ten rounds and flew straight from the NFR to Dallas to have surgery.
Ever since 2013, I’ve wanted to come back to the Finals healthy.
In 2017, four years later, I had my chance.
To be continued…
Look for Boys in the Box, Part Two, coming soon.