Oldies but Goodies: The 3 Oldest Horses Competing at the NFBR and What Makes Them Great

Ropers shouldn't count older breakaway horses out—because the top ProRodeo athletes are calling on them at the pinacle of breakaway competition; the 2023 NFBR.

Josie Conner's "Tonka" is one of the three oldest horses competing at the 2023 NFBR.
Josie Conner's "Tonka" is one of the three oldest horses competing at the 2023 NFBR. Photo by Click Thompson

There are three horses in their late teens and beyond competing in the 2023 National Finals Breakaway Roping with riders Kelsie Domer, Josie Conner and Rickie Fanning.

The Breakaway Roping Journal caught up with their riders before the Finals to hear how they keep their older teammates comfortable and why they choose to ride an older, seasoned horse.

Little Man – 17 years old

Kelsie Domer rides out of the arena at Sioux Falls
Kelsie Domer’s “Little Man” is consistently her No. 1 ride. BRJ file photo.

Registered as: Kits Tiana Play

Rider: Kelsie Domer

Warm-up routine:

I try to long trot Little Man quite a bit. Warming him up is the hardest part about him because he wants to prance around and doesn’t care for it. He can be a punk sometimes. But I try to long trot a lot and lope a little bit. You can’t lope him tired, so I mainly try to get him stretched out.

Special considerations:

I try not to keep him on concrete. I’ll build a pen if I can so he can move around or tie him loose enough he’ll lay down. I try to him comfortable and think of it as ‘Hey, if I were a horse…’ I use the Cloud Boots on him in a concrete stall, and bed him deep with shavings in the trailer. I don’t haul with the boots on, I feel like over a longer period of time he’s more comfortable with shavings. I’m looking at getting some of those fold-up stall mattresses.

What’s special about older horses:

Older horses have been-there-done-that. You don’t have to worry about any green funny business. They also know how to protect themselves on different ground, they know how to travel and make themselves feel good on the road. They learn how to drink better and what the whole rodeo deal is.

Tonka – 17 years old

Josie Conner is one of the 15 ladies competing at the 2023 NFBR
Despite being 17, Josie Conner insists “Tonka” is as reliable as ever. Photo by Click Thompson

Registered as: Hermie Sadler

Rider: Josie Conner

Warm-up routine:

I like to get on about an hour before I compete because it’s good for them—especially if they’ve been hauling long hauls—that they can walk around and stretch out.

Special considerations:

Just because Tonka’s 17 doesn’t mean he’s old. He has minimal soundness issues and I don’t have to do much extra for him compared to my other horses. We do fresh shavings every time they’re in the trailer. I feel like if I were in a trailer, I’d want fresh shavings every time I was in it. We like to keep alfalfa in front of our horses on the trailer, and we’ve got these little rubber buckets we put water in so they can dip their alfalfa in it and have some water.

What’s special about older horses:

Tonka’s done breakaway so long, and he’s had so many runs on him. Sometimes it’s a disadvantage that he’s had so many runs, so I slow work him in the arena at home so when he’s at the rodeo he knows his job. He’s really fun to ride and doesn’t feel like a 17-year-old because he has a lot of energy.

Rollo – 21 years old

Registered as: Lavaca Sting

Rider: Rickie Fanning

Warm-up routine:

I always aim to do slow and steady. We’ll walk quite a bit—at least 5 minutes—and then lot of trotting and a little loping. We do both directions. I can tell when he thinks he’s done with warming up, he’ll take off up the arena.

Special considerations:

We have a big stall mat, so I’ll put that down for him. If I don’t have it I’ll do a lot of shavings and put his Soft Rides on. I wrap him too, for any swelling in his legs. I’ll do poultice and wraps on his back legs and Back On Track wraps on his fronts. I really like at least doing back wraps on all my horses.

What’s special about older horses:

Older horses are more reliable, I can count on them no matter what. Rollo is awesome, I know he’ll work for me every time. He’s a huge confidence-building horse because he can handle my nerves and doesn’t get too worked up.

These older horses are competing at the highest level in their sport—the National Finals Breakaway Roping. The Breakaway Roping Journal is proud to share their stories while highlighting their reliability thanks to the support of Cosequin.

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