angle-left A Strong Stable

A Strong Stable

Taylor Santos’ road to victory at the 2020 Timed Event Championship.

Taylor Santos ropes the heels of a steer at the 2020 Timed Event Championship, riding Lil Skeet Olena.

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By Holly Clanahan

When AQHA life member Taylor Santos won the CINCH Timed Event Championship last week as a rookie competitor, he definitely didn’t do it alone.

He had his big brother, Lane Karney – a fellow competitor – there alongside him. Of course, Mom was there, too, longtime rodeo journalist Kendra Santos, as well as her significant other, ProRodeo Hall of Fame steer wrestler Ote Berry, who hazed for the brothers.

And, of course, Taylor also had some pretty talented four-legged help. Competing in heading, heeling, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and steer roping, Timed Event Championship competitors not only have to be multi-talented themselves, they also have to have access to a stable of snappy horses.

For tie-down roping, Taylor had to look no farther than his own barn, where Henrys Smooth Cash (Badgers John Henry-Smooth Move Lena by Wonders Deluxe) has been a game-changer for him. “Hank” helped Taylor qualify for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo last year and took him to fourth in the NFR average and a $182,484 season.

“Hank’s tough,” Taylor says of the 19-year-old bay gelding, whom he bought from Jared Parke. Taylor had borrowed Hank several years ago and won four out of five rodeos, placing second in the other one.

“I begged to buy him then,” Taylor says, but Jared wasn’t ready. In 2016, Jared called Taylor to see if he was still interested, and without a bit of hesitation, “I said I’d buy him.” Since then, he has been Taylor’s dependable go-to horse, no matter the conditions.

“A lot of people, whenever it’s muddy, they’ll get on their second-string horse, but I ride Hank,” Taylor says. “He’s just a warrior.”

Another of his Timed Event mounts came from close by. Brother Lane loaned Taylor his heel horse, 16-year-old Lil Skeet Olena (Smart Lil Riddler-Freckles Skeet Olena by Mr Freckles Olena). Very fittingly, the horse that got the call in the Timed Event heeling for both brothers is nicknamed “Special.”

“My grandpa (cowboy veterinarian Dr. Frank Santos) heeled on him for a while, then Lane took him to college and roped calves on him,” Taylor says. And when Taylor needed to practice his steer-roping skills for the very first time before this year’s Timed Event, Special is the one who helped him do that, too – adding another timed event like it was no big deal.

“Special is kind of our go-to all-around horse,” Taylor says. “If you need to do anything around the house, or anybody wants to heel a few steers or rope a few calves, that’s the horse we go catch.” Special also serves as a hazing horse, if anybody wants to wrestle a few steers.

Other horses in Taylor’s string weren’t as lucky to have their registration papers updated, but they’re worth mentioning. Taylor borrowed a heading horse from his junior high and high school header Cody Snow, “Jet,” who was bred by Judd Little. Taylor’s on-loan steer-roping horse was “J.B,” whose papers burned in a truck fire last year. He’s owned by Jace Bland and was previously owned by J.B. Whatley and Ike Sankey.

For steer wrestling, Ote was able to borrow back two horses he had previously owned but sold to the Kahla family after the 2019 Timed Event Championship. “Ernie” is a stellar bulldogging horse, and “Polly” is a hazer extraordinaire. The two horses, with Ote hazing, also gave Jordan Ketscher a lift en route to his 2018 TEC win, and Lane, Taylor and Jordan all bulldogged on Ernie this year.

Taylor, 25, conquered 25 head at the 2020 TEC in 340.4 seconds. It was good for a $103,000 check. Only 30.2 seconds separated first through fifth place, and Taylor edged the runner-up – 2017 champion Jess Tierney – by just 7.3 seconds.

Although this was Taylor’s first year to compete at the TEC, held at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, it all looked pretty familiar. Taylor helped his brother, Lane, at one of his three previous appearances there (Lane has finished in the top 10 all three times he has competed at the TEC), and Taylor has watched Timed Event recordings “a million times.”

Taylor and Lane are roomies, spending part of the year in Stephenville, Texas, and part in their hometown of Creston, California. They, and other friends, prepared for the TEC together.

“We rope every day,” Taylor says. “It was nice to have all the people who helped me get to that point around me and helping me.”