Since 1998, Wise Guy has been a fixture at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
The great horse will buck for the last time inside the Thomas & Mack Center and will retire back to his rightful home in east Texas on a pasture just outside Waskom.
“We get to retire him at the NFR, then he’s going to live on the ranch until he dies,” said Lovelace, who purchased the horse as a colt.
Now he’s all grown and has been one of the most decorated bucking horses in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. The Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo bronc has drawn grand acclaim over the course of his storied career, and those kudos come from the cowboys that have ridden him. He was selected as the Reserve World Champion Bareback Horse, the top bareback horse at the NFR and has been named the Texas Circuit Bareback Horse of the Year.
At the NFR alone, cowboys have won more than $200,000 on the bay, now in his early 20s. Seven times he’s led cowboys to go-round victories in Las Vegas, most recently in 2011 when four-time world champion Bobby Mote posted an 87-point ride to win the sixth round. It’s because of that legacy that Wise Guy has been selected as one of the top 100 horses that will be in Las Vegas for those marvelous 10 days in December.
“We’re doing it for that horse,” said Heath Ford, a three-time NFR qualifier who serves as the bareback riding representative in the PRCA. “We all decided that the horse deserved to buck one more time at the Thomas & Mack, and that every guy still thinks they can win the round on him. That’s why he’s going.”
That’s a brilliant message the cowboys are sending to one of the top horses in the game. Those who have ridden the great gelding over the years realize there always has been something special about Wise Guy.
“He was a known horse when I came around,” said Will Lowe, a three-time world champion bareback rider from Canyon, Texas. “I really loved that horse. I made my first short round at San Antonio, and I had him in the short round. That dang sure paid some bills for us, especially since I was a college kid.
“I’ve always loved that horse. I’ve drawn him quite a few times, and I’ve won money almost every time. He got my career started, and he’s been solid every year.”
And he’s been a standout inside the Thomas & Mack Center. Lowe’s traveling partner, Wes Stevenson, has been the most profitable on Wise Guy in Las Vegas, earning wins both times he’s been matched with him: They were 89 points to win the first round in 2006, then 88.5 to win the sixth round in 2010. With those two rides alone, Stevenson earned $33,534.
Wise Guy has bucked two times nearly every year he’s performed at the NFR, and he’s been in the money more often than not. In fact, of the 27 times he’s bucked in Vegas, cowboys found the pay window 20 times. His best years came in 2004 and 2006, when he led cowboys to the round wins both times he bucked – in 2004, Kelly Timberman (the eventual world champion) was 87 points to win the first round, while Cimarron Gerke was 90.5 to win the sixth round; in 2006, Stevenson won the opening round, while Royce Ford was 87.5 to win the sixth.
That’s pretty good for a horse that was acquired as a colt in a herd of 18 horses, purchased by Lovelace, Gerald Smith and Sammy Andrews. Each person got six horses out of the load.
“We basically gate-cut them, and the good Lord grabbed my hand and said, ‘This one’s for you,’ ” Lovelace said. “The first time I bucked him, I could tell there was some potential there. We bucked him the next summer a little bit, and you could see Wise Guy was starting to be something special.”
That magical move worked out well for the cowboys that ride bucking horses for a living.
“That horse was just special because he bucked all the time,” said Lan LaJunesse, a two-time world champion bareback rider from Morgan, Utah. “He was something that not everybody could ride, but anybody who could ride him could win first on him. He was just that kind of a horse. He could throw some guys off, and he could raise hell with some guys.
“For the most part, if the top hands drew him, they won money on him. I had to have won $25,000-plus on that horse. I had to have had him four or five times. That horse was big time.”
He still is, which reflects the care he receives in east Texas.
“I always put him in places where he had good guys getting on him,” said Lovelace, who rode bareback horses before getting into the stock contracting game. “He’s not real big – about 1,100 pounds – but he needs good guys to ride him. If you ride square, he’ll give you his all.
“He’s not a strong horse, but a timing horse. He leaps way in the air with a late kick. They tell me that he really drops out of the air.”
Since half the score in a ride comes from the horse, it’s important for cowboys to get on something they know will give them the opportunity to win money.
“The first time I saw that horse, Bruce Ford had him at Houston and won a round on him,” three-time NFR qualifier Kelly Wardell said of Ford, a five-time world champion bareback rider. “That was the last year Bruce went to the finals, so Wise Guy’s been around a long time.
“If he had a bad trip, you could still count on him to do well at the finals. If he had 10 bad trips in a year, once he got to Vegas, he was going to be great. He’s one of those horses that could always thrive under pressure.”
That is another key reason Wise Guy will return to the Nevada desert in December for his 16th consecutive NFR.
“I’m glad the bareback riders are letting him go out with dignity,” Lovelace said. “I’m going to feed that old man until he can’t get around. I want him to retire while he’s still at the top of the game.
“He’s been a blessing to the Lovelace family: me, my wife, my daughter and my mother. From little rodeos to the big rodeos, he carried all the guys to the pay window.”
In the 20 times he helped cowboys cash-in at the Thomas & Mack Center, they averaged nearly $10,500. That’s awfully solid.
“Wise Guy is one of those horses that was just a step above,” said LaJeunesse, who retired from competition nine seasons ago. “He had just enough extra and just enough try. He had enough drop, but he was so showey that if you did your thing right, you’d be first, second or third.”
Now the top 15 cowboys in the world hope he does so at this year’s NFR.