He is the horse that was never supposed to be.
Smokin Reata, a little sorrel blaze-faced gelding ridden by tie-down roper Shane Hanchey is like the little engine that could. At 17 years old, he is making his sixth appearance in the Thomas and Mack Center at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
When a 20-year-old stud needed a pasture buddy and a 21-year-old mare fit the bill, no one ever expected these senior citizens to become parents. In human years, they were both over 60. In fact, Reata was nearly an orphan. His father passed before he was born and his mother shortly after he was weaned.
The mare, Henrietta Daniel was owned by Buck and Terry Daniel, of Okeechobee, Florida. The Daniels own Lake Cattle Company where they raise cattle and horses. Reata was one of many and for the first two years of his life was treated just like the rest of the herd. He had no idea what his future held.
He had been saddled a few times and ridden up and down an alley in a barn when he was sent to Louisiana to an up and coming tie-down horse trainer, Jason Hanchey. Jason was 24 years old at the time and was working for his uncle, Butch Lott, who also was a horse trainer.
From the get go, Jason knew that Reata was going to be special. He learned quickly and easily. He had all the qualities that make a great horse in any discipline and was naturally doing all the things that a tie-down horse needs to do in the arena, run, stop, back-up and wait. Jason took him to horse shows and brought him along slowly.
When Reata was four years old, they entered the tie-down roping at Jackson, Mississippi, and left as champions. Jason had started working for the Daniels and “Mr. Buck” wanted to go rodeo. He did for a while and took Reata with him. But Jason felt like he had too much invested in training horses and returned to Florida.
Shane was 13 years old and was showing some interest in roping even though his first love was baseball. There was a jackpot roping in Florida, Shane flew down and Jason, who is 13 years older, had Reata ready. That was the beginning of the team effort that continues today.
After riding Reata for the first time, Mr. Buck asked Shane how he liked the horse. Shane’s response was something to the effect of “he’s the best horse I’ve ever been on.” Shane had placed in every round of the roping and won the average.
“Mr. Buck told me if I could find a ride for him back to Louisiana I could take him,” Shane recalled. “I said that Reata could have my plane ticket and I’d find a ride.”
That changed Shane’s life. He went home and got rid of all of his baseball equipment. Roping on Reata got him to the National High School Finals then the College National Finals Rodeo and now to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
The first trip that Reata made here was in 2008. Shane was competing on his permit, but his good friend Tuff Cooper had qualified and wanted to ride Reata. There was some negotiating with Mr. Buck, but the final decision was left up to Jason who sent him here. Tuff won over $80,000 on Reata.
In 2009, Shane won Rookie of the Year and finished 32nd in the world standings. That same year, Reata missed over four months of the season with pneumonia. He spent four months at a vet clinic in Vinton, La., with treatments that included being in a hyperbaric chamber.
He came back after the first of the year and helped Shane win the legendary Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. They finished the regular season strong and made their first trip to Las Vegas together to compete at rodeo’s championships.
When that happened, Jason made the trip here and became Reata’s primary caretaker. The first time Jason walked Reata down the alley and into the building, it was an emotional moment.
“It’s always a trainer’s dream to have a horse compete at the highest level,” Jason said. “For that horse and my little brother to fulfill my dreams, that’s something I’ll never forget.”
Jason and Reata have made that trip down the alley to meet Shane nearly 60 times. Shane concentrates on the competition, Jason concentrates on Reata. The teamwork was successful enough to earn Shane the gold buckle in 2013 and set a record for fastest total time on 10 head that holds today.
That was another remarkable time in Reata’s life. He had been out in 2012 due to colic surgery and was out of action for six months, then came back solid as ever. There have been other injuries that come with the territory of an athlete, but Reata has had two life threatening experiences that many horses would never recover from.
“He just loves what he does,” Jason said. “And he won’t quit. He doesn’t want to quit. He’s a freak and it’s amazing.”
Over the past two years, Reata has spent much of his time in Florida at Jason’s. No spring chicken, they had decided to let him rest and possibly retire him. Then Jason took him to a local roping and won the final round and overall title. He got a buckle that will be special because it’s likely to be the last buckle that Jason will win on him.
Shane and his girlfriend, Taylor Jacobs, were visiting Jason and the family in Florida. They took Reata for a ride and Taylor, who holds the NFR arena record in barrel racing looked at Shane and said, “I think he still has some gas in the tank.”
After some discussion and planning, Reata was on the trail again. He is largely responsible for the $32,293 that Shane won over the Fourth-of-July. It was also Reata that helped him win the $100,000 bonus at the Calgary Stampede last July.
Mr. Buck passed away in 2014. After that, his wife Terry had Reata’s American Quarter Horse Association papers transferred to Jason. While he is officially Jason’s horse, he belongs to the whole family.
And, that whole family is Shane’s fan club and support system. His parents, Doug and Gail, sisters Brandi and Megan are in the stands every night. Jason is in the alley with Reata. Their sister Kayla is at home in Sulphur, La., with nieces and a nephew taking care of everything so that the rest of the family can be here. Taylor, who finished this year in 16th place is also in the stands.
The Hancheys are a tight-knit family that has been brought closer and to heights they never imagined by a horse that was never meant to be. Careful planning and mating of parents goes into the development of performance horses in every discipline. Reata’s story is not normal in any way, form or fashion. His progress with Shane at all levels of competition, his desire to perform and come back after injuries truly make him one in a million.
“We have a lot of hope in him,” Jason said. “He’s just 17 and if we are careful with him, he’s still going to be behind calves. He’s just special and has a heart that is bigger than most.”
When Jason led Reata into the Thomas and Mack Center for the first time at this year’s NFR, the horse knew where he was. His ears were perked up and he was ready for action. So was Shane and they won the first round with a 7.1 second run. The family was on stage with him when he got his buckle that night at the South Point. Behind the scenes, he gave his buckle to Jason.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Jason and Reata,” Shane said. “My whole family has been so supportive, but those two really changed my life.”
Reata not only changed Shane’s life and gave him the opportunity to be one of the best tie-down ropers in the world, the horse changed Jason’s as well.
“That horse taught me to expect the unexpected,” Jason said. “He taught me that I could make good horses. He’s been something special for all of us and it’s been one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences we could ever have imagined.”
It’s been a fun journey for those of us watching. Tie-down roping horses have to do so many things in such a short period of time and they do much of it without anyone on their back. They truly are amazing animals. Reata is exceptional among those amazing horses.