At the time I am writing this column, it is the middle of August, about a month and a half before the end of the professional rodeo season. I am in Montana and have been lightly going to a few rodeos a week since the end of the busy July run. Thanks to “Sister,” we do not have to go to as many rodeos the rest of the year to try to make the National Finals Rodeo – what a blessing. She helped me have a great winter run of rodeos, which set us up for a profitable summer run. Sister is a great athlete and competitor, and I do not take my responsibility of caring and planning for her wellbeing lightly. There are many rodeos left in the year that I would enjoy running her at, but since we do not have to go to them, we most likely will not. I know her runs are precious, and that time spent on the trailer is tiring to her, so I try not to do more than we have to. With that said, we are not heading “home” just yet.
As it is terribly hot in Texas right now, I am keeping my horses out of the heat as long as possible, so I am staying up north a little while longer. I have three other horses with me along with Sister. “TJ,” as many know, is my old faithful whom I ran in Round 10 of the 2018 NFR. The other two are both 5-year-old mares who are futurity and derby eligible. I have enjoyed going to a few futurity events on them, as well as running TJ at some rodeos this past month.
I have not run Sister in a few weeks in an effort to give her some time off. This has allowed me to focus on the other horses, which includes letting TJ be the star at the rodeos, and helping the two younger mares mature. At the rodeos where I am not running Sister, I often get asked why. Some spectators or committees are confused, if not offended, that I am not running her at their hometown rodeo. I never want to offend anyone, so I thought I may explain how I decide where and when to run Sister.
Some factors that help me decide where she needs to run are ground conditions, atmosphere and payout. She is a horse who excels in most setups, so if there is a rodeo I have run her at in the past where we did not have success, that is a good indicator to me that she did not like that set-up for whatever reason. If I am unsure about the ground conditions I prefer not to test them out on Sister, for her safety. If the rodeo is not too far away and gives me the opportunity to win good money without making too many runs, I will consider running Sister. These three factors are key in my decision-making.
However, there is one major factor that trumps each of these—time of year. For example, 2019 has been a fortunate year for us. After a good winter, I gave her a big break in the spring from making runs. There were a handful of good rodeos not too far away in the spring that she could have gone to, but training for those runs would have cut into her rest time. The same goes for this month. After a profitable but physically taxing June and July, I have avoided running her this month to give her another rest period. So if I enter a rodeo and I am not running Sister, I hope those watching or in charge will consider the factors that I do when planning for my horses. Breaks are something I am a firm believer in, not only for a horse’s longterm soundness, but for their mental game as well. Sister loves to run barrels, more than anything else. She gives 100 percent of her effort every single time. With that said, if I were to run her when she was tired or sore, that intensity she delivers in her run with her big heart and strong effort might not stick around. Heart is something I believe you can preserve and strengthen, with careful management. Breaks can help to heal from anything aching her physically, as well as rest her mind from the pressure of competing. I know Sister enjoys her breaks, because she always gains weight and builds muscle, and when I make her first run back, she always fires hard. She is a well-rested, fire-breathing dragon. That is a good feeling, because I know she is not only physically prepared but also excited to do her job.
Sure, I would love to run Sister at every rodeo that pays good, every barrel race with great ground and anything close to home. If she was a machine, maybe I could. But she is a horse. As tough as animals are, and as talented as she is, we can always do better for them, so my job as her caretaker is to maximize her health and potential every chance I get. I will continue to put her first, regardless of my plans and goals, in order to keep that sweet horse at the top of her game as long as possible. In the end, always put your horse first, and consider giving them time to rest up for when we need them the most.