So You Want A Rodeo Horse?
Written by Amanda Luchsinger with Tammy (Key) Fischer; originally published in the February 2003 issue of Barrel Horse News.
From Futurities and Derbies…
Before nipping at Charmayne James’ heels for the 2002 world title, topping five of 10 go-rounds and setting a new arena record at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo—earning $158,896 for the year—Tammy Key and Easy Dash Oak were already household names on the other side of the barrel racing track, in the futurity and derby arena.
Key of Ledbetter, Texas, and the 1995 gelding “Roundpen” have more than $170,000 in Equi-Stat earnings, which doesn’t count rodeo money. Of that $170,000, about 93 percent was earned in futurity and derby competition alone, with the remaining won for two AQHA World Championships and three consecutive Cowboy Publishing Group Timed Event Challenge championships at the Fort Worth Stock Show, as well as only a handful of other open races.
Make the Transition to Rodeos Easier on Your Horse With Help From Tammy Key
If you’re looking to make the transition to rodeos with your futurity and derby horse, Key is the one to ask. Key’s tips are helpful not only for those used to aged-event competition with their horses, but also for those who primarily run at the larger 4Ds, where the environment, ground and arena conditions are similar to the aged events.
“When you go to the futurities and the jackpots, nine times out of 10—no matter how much people may complain—the ground is good,” Key said. “They drag every five, they water and it’s all indoors, so the weather doesn’t play a part in it. When you go to the rodeos, it’s a new ballgame. They water for half of the performances, and they don’t drag until 10. You get really spoiled. You also have the factors that come with running outside, where half the arena may be hard while the other half may be deep. You don’t even get the same conditions for every run. And [horses] have to learn how to stand up to that. You’ve got the signs and the banners flapping all around where, at the futurities, they’re strategically placed so your horse never sees them. At rodeos, I’ve had bulls come up over the chutes and be hanging on the fence right beside me. Those kinds of things, they blow you horse’s mind.”
Roundpen took easily to the soft dirt and subdued crowds at the futurities and horse shows early on, carrying Key to 1999 Barrel Futurities of America World Championship and AQHA World Championship Junior Barrel Racing victories as a 4-year-old. Although Key successfully campaigned the gelding for two more years in that arena, wrapping up the horse’s aged-event career last year by topping the 2002 Speedhorse Gold Cup Derby, professional rodeos remained a constant in the back of Key’s mind. Even though Roundpen had proven himself in the futurities and derbies, Key knew the rodeos would hit a different note with the horse, especially since the gelding was a nervous horse that worried. Even Roundpen would need to be carefully introduced to the world of bulls and broncs.
“When Roundpen was a 4-year-old, I only went to about four rodeos with him—hardly any,” Key said. “When we did go, they weren’t big rodeos, and I went in the slack. We didn’t have the big crowds with all the people, the bulls or the calves—none of that. And I made sure we didn’t have all the signs and banners hanging everywhere. When he was 5, I did the amateur and circuit rodeos on him, but nothing extreme. And I did the same thing; I tried to enter the slack, where it was after the performance. He got to see the crowd and all that stuff, but he didn’t have to run up against it.”
Key hailed the professional rodeo trail aggressively in 2001, finishing just three spots shy of the top 15, but attributed many knocked barrels that year to her horse’s lack of rodeo experience.
“The more nervous he gets, the more tense and on-edge he gets, the less relaxed he is when he runs,” Key said. “Instead of just turning and running the circle around the barrel, when he’s tense he hits that spot and just sucks back, to get away from the crowd. It’s like he thinks, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s the crowd. Well, let’s just run the other way.’ It’s not like he runs over a barrel; he comes back around them and turns too hard. It’s a matter of getting him to relax so he can make the more confident run.”