Horsepower at The American Rodeo

Horsepower at The American Rodeo

Meet the big-money American Quarter Horses who lit up Globe Life Field in 2024. 

Brandon Cullins and MJ Segers Fast Lane won $1.1 million at the 2024 The American Rodeo. PHOTO: Holly Clanahan

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Story and photos by Holly Clanahan for The American Quarter Horse Journal 

Barrel Racing – The $1 Million Mare

MJ Segers Fast Lane went into The American Rodeo with lifetime earnings of $318,000. Brandon Cullins, her rider, was already a million-dollar barrel racer, with wins at some of the industry’s biggest futurities and derbies. But a win at The American had eluded him thus far, and this was his sixth qualification as a contender.  

Sixth time was the charm, as Brandon and “Seger” clocked a :15.173 and walked away $1.1 million richer. Brandon was the only event winner to have come up through the qualifying rounds, giving him the entire $1 million set aside for winning contenders. The other event winners were from the top-five-ranked riders at the end of 2023. $100,000 went to each event winner. 

Seger, bred by Mark and Linda Jarvis of Spanish Fork, Utah, and owned by Grant and Rayel Little of Eastland, Texas, is a 7-year-old daughter of The Goodbye Lane, out of SKS Running Faucet, who, prior to The American, had produced the winners of $564,000. The Goodbye Lane, by Lanes Leinster and out of a Dash Ta Fame daughter, was bred for the track and started his career there before becoming a barrel-horse sire. He has gotten the earners of $7,674,337, almost all of that in barrel racing. 

Seger started her career with Rayel and continued her futurity career with Marcie Wilson, the Jarvises’ daughter, before being sent to Brandon at the end of 2022. 

“She’s one of the most athletic horses I’ve ever rode,” Brandon said. The mare hadn’t been in a raucous environment like the rocking Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, before, but “I felt like the louder it got in there, the more relaxed she got. She allows me to place her anywhere, like going down the alleyway, she doesn’t take off until I tell her, and then when I do, it’s like zero to a million, just like that.” 

Grant and Rayel were equally thrilled with their million-dollar mare. 

“Seger is one of those horses that truly is once in a lifetime,” Grant said. 

Tie-Down Roping 

Shad “Money” Mayfield lived up to his nickname, and his gray gelding, Lil Squaller, aka “Platinum,” also proved his immense value when they clocked the winning 7.06-second run in the finals round of The American. 

The duo recently won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos at Fort Worth and San Antonio, and Shad is sitting at No. 1 in the standings with almost $98,000 in PRCA earnings. 

“He has been a blessing to me,” Shad said of Platinum. “Places like this, he just makes it so easy. He’s special to me, for sure. I’ve been rolling on him all year long. He’s my dependable, No. 1 go-to, because I can always trust him, that he’s going to do his job. With him, I trust him so much that I’ve just got to worry about myself.”

Platinum, purchased from Blair Burke in 2021, is a 16-year-old son of Colonels Blue Tenino who has many of the past performance-horse greats on his papers: Colonel Freckles, Tenino Badger, Peppy San Badger, Doc O’Lena and Peppy San. He was bred by Crystal Hindman of Weatherford, Texas.

Shad’s success this year is due in part to amazing horsepower, but there’s a lot of grit involved on his end, too. He is competing with torn labrums in both hips, hoping to finish out the year before having the needed surgery. 

“The year I’ve had, with all the winnings I’ve had, the success, I know it’s not me; it’s God,” Shad said. 

Team Roping 

The winning team, header Luke Brown and heeler Hunter Koch, have a lot in common – one thing being that it took each of them a while to get in the groove with their rope horses. But when they clicked, they clicked. 

Hunter said his horse, Smart Little Cab, better known as “Casino,” has competed at The American twice before with Paul Eaves. “I bought him without trying him (about two years ago), and it took me a good year before I finally got with him. Now that I’m with him and I know what he is and how he is, we fit together a lot better.  … He has been a super big blessing to me. He really thrives in these shorter setups, where the steers are getting turned fast.” Their time was a lightning :4.94. “He really came through good today.” 

Casino is a 17-year-old son of Oak Lena, a grandson of Doc’s Oak and Smart Little Lena. His bottom side goes back to Doc Tom Tucker and Bueno Chex. He was bred by Jess Ranch of Ione, California. 

“One of the things that me and Luke talk about, the guys that dominate and do good, love the horse they ride. Having a great horse, maintaining them and keeping them working so they allow us to win is 80 percent of the battle,” Hunter says. 

Luke was riding DM Jet Off, aka “Buda,” whose dam, Rocket Jet, is a daughter of Easy Jet who earned her Register of Merit on the racetrack.

The 15-year-old gray gelding, bred by Dillon Mundorf of Three Rivers, Texas, is sired by Hand Off Boy, who traces to Two Eyed Jack and Jet Deck.  

“I’ve had him for three years now,” Luke said. “For the first year or so, I knew that he was probably one of the best horses I’ve ever bought, but I had a little trouble getting with him, and it took some time. He’s such a good horse, he’s just something different than I’ve had, and he has been a blessing this last year and a half.” 

Having the right mount, obviously, is crucial. 

“To me, horsepower is probably the most important thing to make a living roping,” Luke said. “Good horses change your life.”

Breakaway Roping 

With two of the final four breakaway ropers having the last name “Angelone,” the sisters had good odds that one of them would walk away $100,000 richer. It ended up being Sarah Angelone, riding Dont Cry To Me Wendy, who clocked the fastest :2.16. 

“Wilma,” bred by Whitt Bell of Hickory Plains, Arkansas, is a 9-year-old daughter of Hottish, who was the National Cutting Horse Association’s leading freshman sire in 2017. Her dam is a granddaughter of the cutting horse Shorty Lena. 

“I bought her from Jared Lesh, who is a penner and sorter, and I trained her to breakaway. She has just been awesome for me the past four years,” Sarah said. “I’m blessed to have her. I couldn’t do it without her. It makes me happy she added money to her LTE, so I’m excited, and it’s a dream come true, and it hasn’t set in yet.

“I couldn’t do what I do without good horsepower. I’m blessed to have that mare and a couple other good ones.” 

Steer Wrestling

At last year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, steer wrestler J. D. Struxness caught a ride on Ty Erickson’s great horse Finding Meno, aka “Crush.” He has stayed with him this year, as well, earning the win at The American with a :4.60 run.   

“It has been a good fit so far,” J. D. said of Crush. “I really like him, and he fits, and I love going with Ty, and I’m thankful that he lets me ride him.”

Crush is a second-career racehorse, having earned $9,600 on the track.  The 13-year-old gelding was bred in Idaho by Mark and Holly Curtis, who owned him while he earned an AQHA Register of Merit on the track. They sold him to Ty and his barrel-racing wife, Cierra. 

Cierra says the idea was to make Crush into a rodeo horse for one of them, but steer wrestling was where he shone. “He’s in an elite league of horsepower,” she says. 

Crush is by Finding Nemo by the First Down Dash son Fishers Dash. He also goes back to famous racers Chicks Beduino and Streakin Six. 
“In the steer wrestling, horsepower is everything,” J. D. said. “We don’t have a rope or anything to make up the gap, and so we need good, powerful horses.” 

Fan Favorite 

If you’re a fan of athletic American Quarter Horses, there was lots of eye candy at The American. 

Those in attendance were able to vote on their AQHA Fan Favorite Horse of the Event, and Rosas Cantina CC, ridden by Lisa Lockhart, came out on top. She is a 2010 buckskin mare, sired by the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame racehorse Corona Cartel. Her dam, Dash Ta Vanilla, is a daughter of Dash Ta Fame who qualified for the NFR and earned $150,000. “Rosa,” bred and owned by Alan Woodbury of Dickinson, North Dakota, is a six-time NFR qualifier and has lifetime earnings of more than $500,000, according to Woodbury Performance Horses. 

Tune In

The American Performance Horseman will be broadcast at 11:30 a.m. Eastern March 16 on Fox Sports 1. The American Rodeo will air at 1:30 p.m. Eastern March 16 on Fox.