Long before the stout sorrel gelding made his national debut at RFD-TV’s The American Rodeo, many people had given up on him. Smokey Gold Jack’s nasty attitude outweighed his talent, and he was passed from hand to hand until a young girl took the reins and turned him around. It seems as though “Jack” was made especially for Wylee Mitchell.
Mitchell’s mother, Rita Cheeney, purchased Jack from his breeder, Ron Fausett of Castle Dale, Utah, as a yearling—Mitchell was 5 years old at the time. The 2009 gelding by Vista Gold Jack and out of Ima Dble Smokey by Smokeys Gray is a full brother to Cheeney’s 1D barrel horse. However, Jack proved more than a handful.
“Once my mom trained him and started hauling him, they didn’t get along at all,” Mitchell said. “He would strike, kick and bite. He was just really bad. He would pull back and fall over on my mom. The best way I can describe how Jack was is Jekyll and Hyde. One day he was an angel, but the next day you couldn’t even touch him.”
Fed up with constantly battling Jack’s ugly temperament, Cheeney sent him to a friend—the friend promptly sent him back. Enter young Mitchell.
“I begged my mom to let me try him. She had a hard time but she let me, and [Jack and I] bonded,” the 12-year-old barrel racer said. “Some days we’d get in fights, but I stuck with him and ended up being able to accomplish a lot.”
Mitchell’s whole-hearted trust was just what Jack needed to blossom. His flaring temperament calmed, and Jack looks forward to Mitchell’s daily visits and riding time just as much as his rider does.
“We naturally got along. A lot of it was me trusting him. Nobody else would trust him,” Mitchell said. “We had that natural bond, and we had trust for each other. I don’t know what makes him so special—we just really get along. I’m so excited every day to just go and ride him.”
Jack’s ‘tough guy’ personality is part of what makes him so dear to Mitchell. Jack makes his presence known everywhere he goes. Not one for small talk before a run, he demands his own space in the warm-up pen.
“I love his personality. Whenever I walk by him at the rodeo grounds, he’ll start whinnying at me. We get along really well—I just love him,” Mitchell said with a fond giggle. “He’s such a brat, like we’ll be riding by other horses in the warm-up pen, and he’ll pin his ears at them. When we’re running, in all of our pictures, his ears are pinned back. Like his headstall comes off of his ears.”
When it’s time to run barrels, Jack is all business. Jack carried Mitchell through the arduous qualifying system to the elite floor of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for RFD-TV’s The American Rodeo. Mitchell says Jack feeds off her own nerves, so she maintained an even keel to keep her plucky gelding calm at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“I don’t know if he knew exactly what he was going up against, like the caliber of horses, but with how huge the stadium was, all the lights, the crowd being humongous, I think he had an idea of what a big deal it was,” Mitchell said.
Back at the Cheeney ranch in Pioche, Nevada, Jack adopts more of a cow-pony role. He is the king of his own 5-acre pasture, and Mitchell says Jack’s favorite thing to do is go out on the ranch and gather cattle from the Cheeneys’ 350-head herd. He doesn’t leave his grumpy personality at the gate, though.
“Most of the time we don’t take him in the arena. I’ll take him out in the wash and the brush and ride out there with my mom,” Mitchell said. “I think he really enjoys being able to go out. Jack loves getting cows, but he’s still a grouch. He’ll pin his ears at the cows, and he loves biting them.”
Treats also top the list of Jack’s favorites. In fact, Mitchell says if Jack could talk, treats would probably be the first thing he’d ask for.
“He gets a lot of treats, but I think he’d constantly be saying, ‘Hey, I think I deserve a treat right now!’” Mitchell said. “He’d also ask me, ‘When are we going to go again?’ I think he really likes running barrels.”
And if Mitchell could only describe Jack in one word?
This article was originally published in the May 2017 issue of BHN.