With the explosion of opportunity in breakaway roping, the need for top-notch horsepower is as real as ever for athletes at every level of the sport. Leading ropers have honed in on what makes a great horse—from sharp scoring to fast breaks to big stops, to the illusive X-factor that separates them from the pack.
At The Breakaway Roping Journal, we surveyed the top ropers in the game to find out who the elite equine athletes in the sport of breakaway roping are, and then we talked to their jockeys to find out what truly sets them apart. Here they are.
Ridden by: Samantha (Jorgenson) Fulton, Watford City, North Dakota
His story: Fulton, 25, bought Sambo—registered with the AQHA as BCR Lenas Nic—from Nebraska's Cati Stanko when the horse was 9. Stanko had rodeoed on him across Nebraska and the Dakotas, and when Fulton found herself afoot, she immediately thought of Sambo.
"She text me one night and said he was for sale," Fulton remembered. "We'd seen him a lot, and we knew he was super nice. A few days later, we bought him without a vet check."
Since then, Fulton has won the Three-Star Memorial, the Badlands Circuit and a round at the College National Finals Rodeo on Sambo.
"He was super rank when we bought him, but he's calmed down quite a bit since then. He has a huge personality, and, other than in the box, he prances all over and can be kind of crazy," Fulton laughed.
X-Factor: "He goes in the box and stands flat-footed and scores and breaks so hard and can really stop. He has all the ability, but he tries so hard every time, too."
Height: 14.3 hands
Program: "We just keep him exercised and lope circles on him. I'll rope two or three calves on him every couple days, and that's about it. We keep him shod, and he stays pretty good that way."
Feed: Platinum GI, Equioxx and Total Equine while traveling
Ridden by: Hope Thompson, Abilene, Texas
His story: Hope Thompson was a college kid in Louisiana living with Jade and Wendy Conner when she first met 8-Track—a son of CD Olena named CD Or Eight Track. Jade was partners on the horse, and said that as a 3-year-old 8-Track was the best calf horse he'd ever been on. But the horse tore a suspensory, and they kicked him out for a solid year.
"I was living there, so I started hand walking and ponying him," Thompson said. "I'd grown attached to him. I started tracking around and roping him, and I popped off one day and asked if he'd sell him. Jade said he'd never be the same as a tie-down horse after his injury, and I got him bought, from then on, him and I were a team."
[SHOP: Thompson's Gear]
Thompson won the Louisiana Rodeo Cowboys Association four years in a row, with 8-Track winning Horse of the Year each time. She won the Windy Ryon and Horse of the Windy Ryon title with him, and the Ross Churman Memorial Horse of the Year title.
"We have just as many horse of the year buckles as we do year-end buckles," Thompson said.
She also won the College National Finals Rodeo in 2008 on him, as well as her 2013 WPRA World Title.
"He was just special," Thompson said.
8-Track died in 2019 at 20 years old.
X-Factor: "He scored great but didn’t stand good—but it didn’t matter. He ran so fast. He could do things and you could draw one that was bad and the calf drew bad that day. It just felt like the whole time I had him, we were going to win. I know you don’t win every time, but that’s what it felt like. We were a great team and he loved his job and did it 110% every day."
Height: 14.2 hands
Program: "When he was young and I was in college, I roped on him every day. Later on, I hardly ever roped on him. I kept him exercised and we entered the rodeos."
Bit: Kerry Kelley Correction
Ridden by: Wanda Bush
His story: The late National Cowgirl Hall of Famer and ProRodeo Hall of Famer Wanda Bush was an all-around hand, but her favorite rope horse was a palomino gelding named Eagle.
Back before breakaway took hold, Bush tied-down calves on Eagle and won everything there was to win on him at the time.
Eagle came from a Bush family friend, Harold Heath, of Brownwood, Oklahoma. They got him as a so-so broke 3 year old, already tracking calves.
"My granddad trained him to rope calves, and Mom just started hauling him," Wanda's daughter remembered. "He was just a natural."
Eagle gave Bush the same shot every time, allowing her to throw her iconic solid loop each run, too.
"She won so much on him," Shanna said. "He dropped dead at Duncan (Oklahoma) right after she tied her calf. He nickered when she got off, and he had so much heart he didn't quit pulling until she got off the calf, and had a massive heart attack."
The Bush family took a trailer to the rodeo grounds, loaded Eagle's body into it, and buried him under a big oak tree at the arena.
X-Factor: "She could shut her eyes and rope one on Eagle, as he put her in the same spot every time," Shanna said.
Height: 15 hands
Ridden by: Jackie Crawford
His story: Jackie Crawford rode Zans Diamond Shine—a stallion on whom Trevor Brazile won the AQHA World Show in the heeling and calf roping aboard—while living at Lari Dee Guy's house in Abilene, Texas, and eventually, the stud's owner sent some of his colts to Crawford and Guy to train, too.
"T-Boy was one of those colts," Crawford said. "We rode him for a little while, and he kind of sucked. Then one day he finally got it all together. He just wasn't the easiest horse in the world. Stopping wasn't easy for him and he was a bit of a challenge. There was something about him, though, that I knew he'd be a winner."
The first roping Crawford took T-Boy to in 2010 was Joe's Boot Shop Roping in New Mexico, and they won it. Since then, they haven't looked back. On him, Crawford as won multiple WPRA world titles, as well as a $50,000 World Champions Rodeo Alliance payday in Chicago in 2019. And all of that despite the horse's numerous quirks.
"He's a complete pain in the butt, but he's always been that way," Crawford admitted. "He will mother up. You have to tie him in the trailer or he will eat whatever horse is next to him. If he can’t go over the divider he’ll go under it and try to eat the horse. He knocks my hat off once a day."
T-Boy is also a paternal sibling to Jake Long's three-time AQHA/PRCA Heel Horse of the Year, Zans Colonel Shine.
[Shop: Jackie Crawford's Essential Products]
X-Factor: "You can’t really point it out, but some horses are just winners. That horse has had that from day one. Everyone who’s gotten on him has won money on that horse. I remember one year we flew into a rodeo from Reno, and five of us stepped on us in the same perf, and he won the rodeo and gave every single girl a chance in that same perf. Lari Dee’s won $15,000 on him, and Kelsi won more than $10,000 in one week. Me, LD and Kelsi all made the short round on him at the BFI one year."
Height: 14.3-15.0 hands
Program: "I just maintain him and make sure he makes enough runs to stay good and young."
Stay tuned for the release of the rest of the greatest breakaway horses of all time, as determined by the leading ladies of the sport today, in the coming weeks! Know of one that belongs on the list? Shoot me a note at email@example.com and let know! BRJ