A Leg Up

A Leg Up

A pro rodeo horse of the year, at the end of his career, is giving an ambitious young roper a jump start. 

J.D. Hadlock and Warren Heckaman pose with two of the top-notch roping horses that Warren is learning on.

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Kendra Santos 

Tie-down roper Timber Moore has quietly qualified for seven Wrangler National Finals Rodeos, the first one in 2011 and the last one last December. I’ve never known Timber past hello, but when my professional roper son Taylor was driving solo 23 hours back to Texas from Reno the other night, he mentioned something really, truly cool – Timber is letting 11-year-old Warren Heckaman ride his horse of a lifetime, “Colonel.” 

Before I get to the simple “why,” let me put this legendary 2016 AQHA-Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tie-down roping horse of the year into perspective. MFO Harvey, aka “Colonel,” is a 2004 model who’s 17 now, and he isn’t just another horse.

“Colonel has meant everything to my career,” says Timber, 35, who lives in Aubrey, Texas, with his wife, Valery, and little girls, 8-year-old Vaughn and Quay, who’s 2. “I bought him in 2012 from John Miller in Kansas when I was coming off of knee surgery. When I got Colonel, I made five NFRs in a row. He did everything you want one to do – score , run, really stop and back up. A lot of guys had a lot of success on Colonel.

“Colonel put me on the map. He’s just awesome, and there was no situation I couldn’t win in when I was riding him.”

So why’s a little boy riding this priceless unicorn? According to Timber’s buddy J.D. Tadlock, who has been renowned for good horses for decades, young Warren Heckaman is as special a human as Colonel is a horse.

“You’ve never met a kid like this in your life,” says J.D., who lives in Pilot Point, Texas, with his wife, Beth. “Warren’s the nicest, most polite kid ever. He lived next door to me when he was born and started coming over to my house when he was about 4 years old. Warren’s dad, Steve Heckaman, is a horse trainer. But all Warren has ever wanted to do was rope. 

“When Warren was a little kid, he’d say, ‘I’m going to win more championships than Trevor Brazile.’ As long as he has got that heart in him and wants to rope, I’ll help him. This kid won my heart.”

J.D. and Beth own Buff’s Grill in Pilot Point. Timber is a Buff’s regular when he’s home and is a good friend and also a big fan of Beth’s daily special. 

“I was building some fence to turn Colonel out into the pasture, and J.D. got to telling me about Warren,” Timber says. “I used to rope over at J.D.’s when Warren was little, and now J.D.’s helping him rope. J.D. has always taken great care of his horses, so Colonel’s over at his house now for Warren. Colonel has something to do and gets to help a kid, and a good kid gets to rope more. It’s a win for all of us.”

Timber could have cashed out on Colonel and sold him. But he wasn’t having that for a horse of Colonel’s caliber, who has done his trailer time and earned some good-life golden years.

“A lot of good horses end up as some college kid’s practice horse at the end of their career, but I can’t let Colonel get used and abused after all he has done for me,” Timber says. “He served his time. Being a rodeo horse is tough. Colonel deserves the good life, and he’s getting that with Warren.”

Colonel is not for sale. And when his days here are done, he’ll rest easy in a sweet spot under a big shade tree next to another of the all-time calf-horse greats.

“When ‘Big Time’ (Tyler Milligan’s 2018-2019 horse of the year, registered as Little Smart Leo) died last fall, we buried him at my house,” Timber says. “When Colonel dies one day, he’ll be buried under the same shade tree as Big Time. Horses like those two don’t come along every day. When the people you’re trying to beat trying to make a living rodeoing vote for them, well, they’re just in a different league of horses.”

J.D. knows all about horsepower. Prime Time (registered as Grand Rapid Return) was the 1994 tie-down horse of the year, “and they won $260,000 on him in 1994 and $240,000 on him in 1995,” according to J.D. “Everybody rode him, and everybody won on him. They ran 26 walking-fresh calves on him at Red Bluff Round-Up one year. Prime Time went 14 times, then I gave him a bath and a rest, and he came back and ran 12 more. They won every hole on him at Red Bluff that year, and that wasn’t the only place that happened.”

Another horse J.D. hauled was the black, streak-faced horse he called “Orejas” (registered as Cowboy Marine) who Cody Ohl won two gold buckles on and who was the 1995 tie-down horse of the year. But right now, it’s all about Warren and Colonel. 

“Warren rides Colonel all the time on slow Jerseys at home,” master horse-human matchmaker J.D. says with a grin. “He’s still a little too much horse for him at the ropings and rodeos, because when they pull that barrier up, Colonel knows it’s game time and catches another gear.”

Warren team ropes, too, and heads and ropes calves on a little mare named “Fancy” (registered as Lulus Gem) that came from ProRodeo Hall of Famer Chris Lybbert, courtesy of another cowboy connection.

“Fancy’s out of all those good horses Chris won so much on for years, like ‘Luke’ and ‘LuLu,’” J.D. says. “Chris let Warren ride her about a year, then I finally bought her from him for Warren. Fancy is Warren’s main horse until he grows into Colonel in the calf roping. 

“It’s pretty cool what these great old horses can do for a kid like Warren. And him getting to ride them says a lot about the character of cowboys, too.”