When Heith DeMoss won his third consecutive Reno Rodeo bronc riding championship, he went into the record books as only a handful of contestants to accomplish that feat.
Heith was the first contestant to win his third set of silver championship spurs since Kristie Peterson did that on her great horse Bozo in the barrel racing (1997-99). The lasts rough-stock rider to win Reno consecutively was Clint Corey in the bareback riding (1988-90).
Heith’s third championship was a little different than the first two. Saddles are everything for bronc riders. Sure, they can borrow one if they need to, but even if it is the same seat size, has the same maker’s mark, and is essentially identical to look at, each saddle has its own variables and character that makes it nearly irreplaceable.
Heith DeMoss won his first two Reno Rodeo titles and has had most of his success in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) aboard a saddle that he bought used when he was 16 years old. In fact, the saddle is older than Heith.
He went to a bareback riding school hoping to have the chance to get on a few horses. He had been on about 20 saddle bronc horses before with a borrowed saddle. Ford Adkins, from Lufkin, Texas, had a used bronc saddle that peaked Heith’s interest. It was made by Salisbury Saddle Company and Ford was asking $200.
Heith’s cousin, Buckshot Sims, happened to be there as well and when Heith didn’t have the money for the saddle, Buckshot gave him a loan.
“I had to work off that loan,” Heith said. “I walked a lot of miles in his fields checking cotton. I’m not sure he got his money’s worth, but I got my saddle.”
That is the saddle that took him to eight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifications. It has been so good for him, he gave it a name and a gender. She is known as Sally Berry (because she was made by Salisbury) and while she might not be a member of the family, she has helped him provide for them through the years.
Just over a year ago, Heith got a new saddle, tried it out for a while and just didn’t like the way it felt. He got Sally back out and started winning. This year, his older brother, Cody, won rodeos in Jackson, Mississippi and Lafayette, Louisiana on a saddle that he had gotten from fellow bronc rider and craftsman Brad Rudolph.
That saddle also carried Cody to a win at RFD-TV’s The American in February. Even though Cody was winning while riding it, it wasn’t “just right,” so he gave the saddle to Heith. The Rudolph made saddle took Heith to his third Reno Rodeo championship, earned the name Frank, and has a special spot in the van they travel in.
“My relationship with Sally isn’t over,” Heith said. “She’s served me well and I still have her with me. She’s my backup. I’d say she paid for herself last year,” he added with a grin.
In fact, Heith has career earnings of over $2 million with the majority of that coming from rides on Sally. Through those years, stirrup leathers have been replaced and repairs have been made, but that saddle has been a million miles, and on thousands of horses of a variety of sizes and bucking ability.
“A bronc saddle is one of the most complicated things on the face of the planet,” Heith said. “The mechanics of it and the way it’s set up make a huge difference.”
Bronc saddles come in a variety of sizes (seat length) but must be made according to rules set by the PRCA. While each saddle has a lot in common and essentially looks the same, the differences can make or break a rider. Even the two saddles that Heith has had success with are completely different. With Sally, he sat up more and Frank has him sitting back farther. It took riding different saddles for him to realize just how different each one is.
And, there is a language of its own that could be devoted to saddles of all kinds, from cantles to swells, binds and gullets, there are specifics to each part of the saddle that make it work for each discipline, horse and rider.
“Sally and I have had quite a relationship,” Heith said. “She’s been good to me and not so good at times. Frank is working pretty well. I’m getting used to him and so far, things are good.”
Standing behind the bucking chutes, seeing the variety of gear and listening to the squeak of leather, the snorting of a bucking horse going into the chutes and the jangling of spur rowels is reminiscent of cowboys through the eras. It all made me wonder, “Is Sally lonely in the quiet of the van, or is she content with a job well done and enjoying a rest?”