As superstitious as it may be, Friday the 13th brought fame and fortune to the rope horse industry. Horse trainers and avid ropers came from all over the country to Ft. Worth, Texas to prove their young, rope horses were worth a quarter million dollars. The first ever World Championship Rope Horse Futurity was a raving success. Career made rope horse trainer JD Yates claimed the World Champion Head Horse title, while two time NFR Qualifier Billie Jack Saebens proved he’s more than just handy with a rope, as he claimed the World Champion Heel Horse title. A quarter of a million dollars was poured into the success of rope horses, dispersed between professional ropers, career trainers, and lower numbered horseman. Everybody in the industry won, thanks to the dream and persistence of Dean Tuftin.
Dean Tuftin has lived a thousand lives. Born into a rodeo family, Tuftin has been a country music star, professional team roper, NFR qualifier, and owner and breeder of the finest reined cow horses in the industry. His passion for horsemanship and love for team roping has set up his newest mission- building an industry for quality rope horses.
“From an early age, I really took to the cow horse industry,” Tuftin explains. “My parents had a cow horse when I was a kid and they took him to the Canadian Snaffle bit. So I was exposed to that at an early age and I could see the benefits in having a great broke horse. I was sold on the fact that the cow horses are broke, athletic, and near what we needed to make great rope horses.”
Post musical career, Tuftin moved to the roping hot spot of Arizona, began roping professionally, and established his breeding program DT Horses. Traveling and roping with the legends of team roping- Speed Williams and Jake Barnes, sold him on one fact—horses and horsemanship are the key to roping.
DT Horses is a premier breeding program for performance horses. In the Reined Cow Horse world, DT Head trainer Kelby Phillips won the 2016 Snaffle Bit Futurity. In the roping world, Tuftin has produced Rey Shines On Tip, two time PRCA Heel Horse of the Year and has racked up five AQHA World Championships in the team roping.
Tuftin says, “I’ve tried to surround myself with some really good people and I probably stay more involved than most owners and breeders. I ride everyday so I can see the progress and start to understand what genetics I like, which combinations we like.”
Although Tuftin has much success in breeding and owning horses, he did not see growth in the rope horse industry. Jackpot ropers still rode subpar horses and trainers still struggled to make a living with rope horses.
“Educating all the ropers on what it takes to have a great rope horse and what makes a great rope horse is essential,” Tuftin explains. “There are too many people that don’t understand the importance of a great rope horse and what it means to your success as a roper.”
Tuftin decided to partner with Jay Wadhams and the American Rope Horse Futurity Association (ARHFA) to bring change.
Tuftin says, “I feel like Jay has done a really good thing for many years, but (ARHFA) hasn’t been given the platform to showcase it. Jay is a good friend of mine. He and JD Yates have shown my horses a lot. They understand the show horse industry and we wanted to make a marriage of the rope horse and the cow horse sports together.”
The World Championship Rope Horse Futurity was held in conjunction with the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity. While more ropers frequent jackpots like the WSTR Finals than a performance horse show, Tuftin sought out this event for a specific reason.
“It’s about the horses,” he explains. “It needed to go to a futurity because it’s about the horses and it needs to stay about the horses. It’s about showcasing the young talent in America, the young, great rope horses. There are already a lot of cross trainers, that are training rope horses and cow horses. You’ve got guys like Brad Lund, Luke Jones, and Les Oswald, who are riding Snaffle Bitters and rope horses.”
The Futurity drew ropers near and far, with a variety of reason to showcase their horses. Among the contenders were big time roper horse trainers, smaller scale cross trainers, PRCA team ropers, and ropers who pride themselves in their horses and horsemanship.
“There is a real mixture of ropers,” Tuftin says. “There has been a lot of closet team roping horse trainers that didn’t feel like they had a place to show or compete for money. This event, you don’t’ have to haul all year long. You can stay home, get your horse ready, load them up, and in one day compete for almost a quarter of a million dollars.”
In its inaugural year, the Futurity saw record breaking numbers for the ARHFA. Ninety-seven horses were entered on the heading end and 123 horses were entered on the heeling end.
Tuftin says, “We didn’t know how popular this would be. We didn’t know how many people would jump on board, but we know how big the team roping industry is and how many great team roping horses there are out there and great programs that just need a place to showcase these horses.”
Tuftin’s Futurity is not a typical horse show, as ropers realized. While AQHA, the primary association to show a rope horse in, rely on judge’s discretion and outdated roping style, the Futurity in Ft. Worth judged on the ideal jackpot horse and combined a traditional score with a speed score, based on how quick a roper can stop the clock.
“It’s more realistic,” Tuftin explains. “There are a quarter of a million team ropers in America and they all need their horses to work a certain way. The show horse deal, I think, is very dated. Team roping has evolved. There are four second runs now. You need a different type of horse to be successful in the team roping world and they have to be a different style than they were forty years ago.”
Tuftin had another reason to change the judging format.
He explains, “We want to showcase what we need today, what we need to be successful. Then these horses can go straight from the Futurity, right into people’s hands.”
While professional ropers and trainers shined in Ft. Worth, lower numbered ropers and less experienced trainers had just as good of luck throwing their hat in the ring. An incentive was placed on number 6 and lower ropers in the heading and 7 and under ropers in the heeling, evening the playing field and making this event exciting for all skill levels. Bobby Lewis aboard Dual Patron and JohnRyon Foster aboard Genuine Metallic won this year’s incentive and took home $7,000 a piece.
“The incentive was really Jay (Wadhams’s) idea,” says Tuftin, “And I have to give him all the credit for that. He’s been very involved and said there is definitely a demand for guys that maybe aren’t open ropers but they love to work on their horses and train on their horses. We felt like they needed a spot to show as well.”
One day and one quarter of a million dollars can change everything. For the contestants and Tuftin alike, the World Championship Rope Horse Futurity was about more than just good horses, good roping, and big money.
“I want to see industry come from this thing,” says Tuftin. “I want to see rope horse trainers be able to make a living training horses all day long the same way a cow horse trainer does.”
With so many changes occurring in the team roping industry in 2017, the next few years breeds excitement. The quality of ropings are going up, the purses will increase, better horses bred and trained for roping will be available, and more ropers at all levels will be turning to horse power and horsemanship to bring success. Thanks to Dean Tuftin and the American Rope Horse Futurity Association, it will all be possible.
About Lainey Smith
A native to Norther California, Lainey Smith immersed herself in the ranching and roping community. From an early age, she developed a passion for roping, taking every chance she could to get in the branding pen, competing at local jackpots, and traveling to amateur rodeos. She received a degree in Ag Communications from Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, where she expanded her equine knowledge to the performance horse world. Today, Lainey resides in Cave Creek, Arizona, where she works in marketing and writes for equine and ranching publications.