Josie Conner of Iowa, Louisiana, might have been new to ProRodeo when she cracked out this year at 18, but her horse, Dutch, is no stranger to the bright lights. The chestnut gelding was once owned by Cade Swor, an NFR tie-down roper who lent him at times to Trevor Brazile and Tuff Cooper.
“He’s been so great at the pro rodeos,” said Conner who bought him from a fellow Louisiana family. “He has a lot of run and if the barriers are let out there, I can pretty much go catch anything.”
Thirteen-year-old Stylish Drifter—Dutch—boasts cutting genes with Driftwood speed. He’s by the Docs Stylish Oak son Playin Stylish and out of an own daughter of White Lighting Ike. The Conners bought him in December, just in time for Josie’s rookie year. The duo jumped out in April and won the Charlie 1 Horse BFI Breakaway worth $11,000, and this summer they busted the arena record in Salt Lake City with a 1.85 to win the WCRA Days of ’47 gold medal and a check for $25,000.
Those checks didn’t count toward PRCA standings, however. And while Conner spent years dominating amateur and youth rodeos on her sorrel gelding, Tonka, by throttling him to the scoreline, Dutch is stronger off the corner.
“I’ve rodeoed in Texas my whole life and I just float and feel my way through the start,” she explained. “Dutch starts hard. This year at pro rodeos with longer scores, I’ve broken a lot of money on barriers that I wish I could have back. Technically I’m a rookie, but I’ve been doing this a really long time. As much as I’d like to blame it on my horse, I definitely made the mistakes. I’m looking forward to the next couple of years.”
Whereas some horses lose weight on the road, Conner said Dutch is an easy keeper and actually gains weight if she doesn’t keep him exercised. She switches between using an Israel bit with no tie-down or a Gordy Alderson bit with a port and copper bars.
“I’ve never had a horse I didn’t ride a tie down on,” she said, “but he gets a little tight with one and I’d rather have him put his nose out and run. I did use a tie-down at Puyallup because that bit I used makes his head come up a little.”
She keeps a medium hold on Dutch in the corner, since he’ll squat a little if it’s too tight. At home, she scores a lot of cattle on him.
“This week I was home three days and roped on him twice,” she said. “I’d score the whole pen and run one calf and hit him across the line to wake him up so he’s running hard, and cross him over to that left hip. Afterward I’d ride him back into the box, pet on him, and score more.”
Right after she bought Dutch, she did work to change up his angles a bit, since tie-down ropers like their horses on the calf’s right hip. Dutch wasn’t getting to the pin and crossing over, which can hide the calves or even step them left. But it’s not been a concern lately.
“I can hardly fault him this year,” Conner said. “He’s so sound-minded and just one of those horses that wants to do good and wants to win; he’s really level-headed and was super easy to transition to what I needed.”
Sitting 15th at the tail-end of the season, Conner planned to give her last handful of calves a bigger start, knowing Dutch has the quick speed to get her there. Taking a month off mid-summer is what put her on the NFBR bubble.
In late July, she was trotting Dutch on some hard, slick ground and he fell on her, breaking her ankle. That meant roping in a walking boot when she came back in late August. Until Puyallup rolled around, Conner decided to stay on Tonka because he’s smaller and not as strong as Dutch.
Tonka, the little sorrel that rides in a brow-band tie-down, is the horse that made her a teenage phenomenon. They scored a win at Oklahoma’s Richest worth $11,500 and split the win in 2020 at the inaugural San Angelo Roping Fiesta Women’s Invitational for about $8,000.
In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to Lari Dee Guy’s junior-rodeo career to find a gal who’s won as much as this teenager, all on Tonka. In eighth grade, Conner was the national junior-high finals breakaway champ. Then in 2020, she won the NHSFR short round with a 1.88 and was second – by six-hundredths of a second on three head – to Louisiana rival Josey Murphy for the national title. After that, “breakaway blew up” and Conner stuck to jackpots and amateur rodeos.
Both Dutch and Tonka stay healthy on the road thanks to Conner’s partners like MVP, 5 Star Equine, Lone Star Feed and Outlaw Equine. Conner plans to split runs in Texas this winter between the two.
“I hate going back and forth between them at rodeos; it’s just a mind game,” she said. “I’ve been trying to ride mostly one full-time and have the other at home.”
One thing Conner learned this summer is that it does pay to hit the scoreline running in some situations, though she figures she’ll go back to floating her starts in Texas this winter. That’s where she’ll likely reserve Dutch for big rodeos and Tonka for jackpots. In addition to making her first NFR, Conner’s plans included hitting all the WCRA events and the American, plus matching Jackie Crawford in October at the Oklahoma’s Best, and repeating a win at the San Angelo Roping Fiesta.
Josie’s dad, Jade Conner, almost made the NFR in tie-down roping just before she was born. No one would be surprised if he spends some time in Vegas in the near future, sidling into a roping box near Dutch.