There are some notable veterans in this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo field.
Kory Koontz has ridden into the Thomas and Mack Center to compete in the team roping 22 times.
The next contestant in line in a single event is Trevor Brazile with 18 qualifications in tie-down roping.
It would be easy to think that Will Lowe would be next with 15 in the bareback riding, but that would overlook and count out Sundance a big sorrel bucking horse owned by Flying Five Rodeo Company of Ritzville, Washington.
Sundance just made his 17th trip to Las Vegas to be among the athletes at the NFR. Flying Five Rodeo along with Big Bend Rodeo started as a partnership between the Hutsell and Riley families. Chad Hutsell is at the helm of the organizations today.
Sundance is a ranch raised horse out of one of their mares and the great stallion, Major Holly. At the time that he was born, 23 years ago, the Hutsell and Riley families had no idea what kind of a career was ahead of him.
He spent the first five years of his life eating and growing and growing and eating. He did such a good job that he grew a lot and was a really nice prospective bucking horse. So, he loaded on the trailer looking for adventure with the rest of the bucking horses. He took to the lifestyle immediately and even better than what might have been expected.
“We start our horses when they are five,” Chad said. “If we think they are strong enough and can get enough trips on them to get noticed, we let them keep going. If they aren’t mature enough, they go back home, and we give them time. He was a hard-core bucking horse at five.”
His first trip to Las Vegas saw him in the Thomas and Mack Center as one of the youngest horses. That was in 2002 when he was five. His last happened this year where he is the oldest. He will be 24 next spring.
And, he has tested the best. He bucked off Brody Cress in round two this year and Clay Elliott in round 7. He has bucked off Billy Etbauer and taken him to a round win. The list of cowboys that have been tested by Sundance is long and noteworthy.
“He’s been a good rascal forever,” Billy Etbuaer said. “It’s really unbelievable for a bucking horse to have that kind of a career. Seventeen trips to the NFR — it’s unheard of.”
The Hutsell’s and Riley’s are no strangers to award-winning bucking stock. They have had numerous world champion animals including Spring Fling who won the award in the saddle bronc riding and in the bareback riding. While Sundance has never gotten the coveted world champion bronc halter, he has gotten plenty of hardware for his performances in the Thomas and Mack. There have been 10 round wins on him in his 17 years here.
He was selected one more time, but Donny Hutsell, Chad’s father, left him at home. There was an equipment regulation Donny didn’t think would agree with Sundance. That probably wasn’t the choice that Sundance would have made.
“When we start loading trucks, you better get out of his way,” Chad said. “He wants to be the first one on. The decision to retire him has been a tough one. He likes his job so much that we hate to take it away from him.”
Sundance has one more appearance to make before he gets a lighter workload. He will be on the stock roster at the RAM Columbia River Circuit Finals in Yakima, Washington, January 11-12. But it likely won’t be his last rodeo.
“I think we’ll probably just take him along for the ride when we go to a rodeo close to home,” Chad said. “Maybe let him out in the arena for a victory lap and let him play a bit.”
Sundance’s longevity is a testament to the care that these animal athletes get and the desire they have to do their jobs. That has been rewarding in its own right for Chad.
“This year, he’s on his second generation of cowboys,” he said. “Dawson Hay, Cody Wright’s boys and Zeke Thurston all got on him sometime this year. All of their dads got on him at some point. That’s something that really sticks out to me.”
The family in rodeo really is multi-generational, from the two-legged athletes to the four-legged ones that make this event so exciting. And the people behind the scenes like Chad, whose great-grandfather Lew Hutsell provided bucking horses for the Fourth-of-July rodeo in Spokane, Washington in the 1920s.
As a gelding, there won’t be any offspring from Sundance, but the blood that runs through his veins is part of the breeding program that hopes to develop the next superstar for Big Bend and Flying Five. And, the next generation of Hutsell’s has an interest in the business too. Chad and his wife, Lindsey, have a teenage son appropriately named “Bronc,” who loves the bucking horses as much as anyone. Bronc has two older sisters who have grown up in the business.
That is exactly what Sundance did, grow up in the business, and he had a fruitful and memorable career. It’s an investment for any stock contractor to raise their own horses, especially when they don’t start bucking them until they are five. Just the feed costs can add up to $6,000 before they are ever bucked. For the Hutsell and Riley families, the investment in Sundance was well worth it.