Jess A Moose is the 2022 Nutrena Head Horse of the Year presented by the AQHA

Jess A Moose is the 2022 Nutrena Head Horse of the Year presented by the AQHA

With a big racing background, Jess A Moose makes a great head horse for Lightning Aguilera.

Man in a black shirt roping a steer from the back of a gray horse.

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By Lane Karney & Kendra Santos

Good horses make good cowboys, and great horses make great cowboys. This notion is not a new one, but it often seems reiterated when talking to those who find that special fit with their equine partners. One of the most recent examples is Lightning Aguilera, who has in recent times been elevated by riding Jess A Moose, the 2022 Nutrena Head Horse of the Year, presented by AQHA. 

Aboard the 11-year-old gelding, who’s appropriately called “Grey” around the barn and is owned by Jim and Treasa Donnan of Center, Texas, Lightning is headed to his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Grey, who is by High On Corona and out of Jess Tara, was bred by Butch Webb of Isabel, South Dakota. While Grey’s sire and dam won a little money on the racetrack, it’s his grandsires who made names for themselves in the racing world. High On Corona is by American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Corona Cartel, who has sired the earners of more than $68 million on the racetrack and the earners of more than $600,000 in barrel racing competition, according to AQHA’s QData. Jess Tara is by American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Mr Jess Perry, who won more than $600,000 on the racetrack and has sired the earners of more than $60 million on the track and $33,000 in barrel racing competition.

“I owe it all to Grey,” says Lightning, who turns 29 on December 17. “Last year was the first year I rodeoed all year, and I finished 30-something in the world (39th, to be exact). This year, I’ve had Grey and made the Finals. My roping has gotten better because he gives me so many chances. I’m not trying to sneak by anything or worried about him. So it’s all up to me when I’m riding him.”

Lightning picked Grey up a year ago from Jordan Weaver on his way home from the Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale in Las Vegas,. He hasn’t looked back since.

“Jordan said he had a horse he wanted me to come try,” says Lightning, who calls Athens, Texas, home. “Chad (Masters) went and tried him first and told me I needed to go try him and that I’d really like him. I guess the rest is history. Grey’s an extremely big horse, and I think that’s why nobody wanted to try him. The big deal for me is when I reach and throw my whole rope, he stays there and lets me get my dally, and he’s still strong enough to pull steers.”

For Lightning, who’s known for his talented reaching ability, Grey proved his honesty and set of strengths on the road throughout the entire regular rodeo season.

“I rode him everywhere, from the Denver qualifier to San Angelo, San Antonio (which Lightning won with Jonathan Torres; they will team back up and rope together at the NFR), Salinas and Calgary,” Lightning says. “Grey scores so good, he’s fast and so strong that I have a chance everywhere. I’ll be on him at the Thomas & Mack, too. Tanner Tomlinson (who is also making his NFR debut in 2022) rode Grey some, too, and had some good luck on him.”

Horse of the Year votes are cast by the top 25 cowboys in the world in each respective event, so it’s an achievement that holds some real weight with rodeo’s elite.

“It’s an honor and a blessing to have Grey and to have those guys think he’s that good,” Lightning says. “Grey was up against some amazing horses, so to even be considered is big. To win it is a special deal. Andrew (Ward) and Riley’s (Minor) horses are amazing. In that company, if Grey would have won third, I’d have been just as happy.”

In fact, Andrew’s Cole E Man, aka “Biscuit,” is the reserve 2022 Head Horse of the Year, and Riley’s two-time Head Horse of the Year, RK Tuff Trinket, aka “Bob,” finished third in the voting.