By Jennie Rees (Find her on Twitter @CJ_Jennie)
Amid the crowd of 19,568 at Keeneland Friday were well-known professional rodeo cowboys Chad Masters and Charly Crawford. Both compete in team roping as headers, the one who first ropes the steer’s horns before the heeler ropes the hind legs.
Masters is a two-time world champion from Clarksville, Tenn., who holds the world-record of 3.3 seconds. Crawford, from Oregon, is a six-time qualifier for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December, rodeo’s Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup rolled into one.
Masters and Crawford had never been to a racetrack for live horse racing. They picked the right one to come to on a gorgeous, crisp afternoon. The cowboys’ sponsors include LubriSynHA, the oral joint natural lubricant that has become extremely popular in horse racing (and apparently other equine sports) for helping to maintain the health of joints and minimize the need for injections.
LubriSyn was developed by prominent equine lameness veterinarian Steve Allday, who has gotten into team roping in a big way and developed a showcase arena on his farm in Simpsonville, Ky. Masters and Crawford are in town for the weekend staging “Ropin’ with the Champs” clinics at Allday Farm & Arena. They stopped at Keeneland after going to Old Friends equine retirement facility in Georgetown.
Former thoroughbred trainer Alex Hassinger, who now works for LubriSyn out of Texas, took Masters and Crawford to Keeneland and up to the press box, where I was able to ask them some penetrating questions. Like, for instance: What makes a real cowboy?
Crawford: “There are your rodeo cowboys who go to rodeos and compete and stuff. And then you’ve got your every-day cowboy who sure enough goes and supports his family and works every day and makes sure the cows are all in line and fed. Probably puts in 12-13 hours a day. There are dang-sure two different versions of it.”
Masters: “I think about it all the time. We get to thinking we’re cowboys that rodeo. But those guys who work those feed lots, horse trainers, there’s a wide variety.”
Crawford: “My dad always said a real cowboy is someone who supports his family and dang-sure takes care of his animals – kind of a courageous fellow with good manners and good morals and lives by the code. That’s more of a character than just by something you wear.”
What, in fact, are the jeans of choice for cowboys? Wranglers?
Crawford: “Wranglers. Oh yeah. That’s what the real men wear.”
What have you learned your first time at Keeneland?
Charly Crawford and Chad Masters at Allday Farm & Arena.
Masters: “It is a lot like NFR as far as the fans. I mean, it seems like this is a big day. Is this a big day? It seems like there are a lot of people here…. We’ve seen the scratches and then the guys (jockeys) pushing other ones out of the lanes. There’s a lot to it. I see how confusing rodeo can be (to newcomers) when we didn’t understand how much stuff there is to racing. There are a lot to the rules of rodeo, too.”
What did you think of watching a race live for the first time?
Masters: “It was good to watch them hold them up there for a little while. That way they don’t run out of air too early. I thought they ran them full blast from the get-go, from watching TV.”
Would it be a good thing if they had betting on rodeo?
Crawford: “I think so. Anytime you go to betting you kind of create maybe a little more excitement and spark to it. Get some more people involved with it, that creates more understanding of it.”
Masters: “Every college student we’ve seen down there, they’re pretty excited about betting.”
What makes a good roping horse and roping rider?
Crawford: “Head horses and rope horses and race horses are a lot alike because every once in a while you come up on that freak, that horse that is so willing and has so much grit that it outruns and out-tries and outlasts the rest of them. They stand out, and that’s something you can’t really train. That’s just God-given talent.”
Masters: “I used to think it was me training them. But now that I look at it and got lucky and had a couple of those horses he’s talking about, that’s the freakish kind that stands out. Now, on the roping part, it seems with all the videos and training techniques and stuff, there are kids now who are freaks, that it just comes easy for. They’ve started since they were small and learned at a young age how to do it. There are more of them now than there were.”
Are your rodeo horses on LubriSyn?
Masters: “Yes ma’am!”
Loaded question, but is Steve Allday a good roper?
Masters: He’s gotten better, a lot better. I met him three years ago, and in the last three years it’s been a tremendous change. He’s been working at his roping.
Crawford: “Any time you learn to be successful at something, the next thing you get into, you learn how to be successful. It’s just your nature. I’m guessing that’s probably Steve.”