COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. Rodney Burks isn't headed to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo later this year, but that hasn't stopped him from enjoying one of his finest seasons.
That's because Burks and his father Jim own the great steer wrestling horse FF Zans A Baron Jack, or "Zan," who recently earned honors for the third straight year as the American Quarter Horse Association Horse of the Year.
It marks the first time a steer wrestling horse has been honored three consecutive years. Team roping heading horse Oklahoma Top Hat (Scooter), owned by Charles Pogue, has the overall record with six titles (1991-93, 1997-99).
"This won't ever get old," Burks said. "I couldn't say that one year is better than the other, but I know I'll never find another horse like that. He's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse. It's a great honor."
Zan has carried several of this year's top-ranked cowboys to major victories, including standings leader Dean Gorsuch (Gering, Neb.) and Ronnie Fields (Oklahoma City), who's ranked third in the standings and rode Zan last year en route to qualifying for the Wrangler NFR.
Coming up next for Zan is the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Championship, hosted by the Texas Stampede, Nov. 10-12 in Dallas. The horse will carry Gorsuch, Dean and Wade Sumpter in the American Airlines Center and later Gorsuch and Dean at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Nov. 30-Dec. 9 in Las Vegas.
Since 1989, the AQHA has annually honored the top three steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping, steer roping and barrel racing horses in the PRCA. Horse owners receive a bonus and a bronze statue for their accomplishment. The top PRCA and WPRA timed-event contestants conduct the voting.
The other top vote-getters all won their event for the first time:
Team roping (heading) Nicks Rockets Rojo (Nickolas), owned and ridden by Matt Sherwood;
Team roping (heeling) Baileys Cooper Doc (Diesel), owned and ridden by Randon Adams;
Tie-down roping Express on Heir (Luke), owned by Darren Blanton and ridden by Cody Ohl;
Steer roping Okays Sunbeam (Dunny), owned by J.P. and Patt Wickett and ridden by J.P. Wickett; and
Barrel racing Rare Fred (Fred), owned by Ronald H. Martin and ridden by Mary Burger.
Gorsuch turned his year around at RodeoHouston in March when he joined Burks and Fields as a traveling partner and, with Zan's help, earned the average title and nearly $13,000. Fields claimed his season's biggest victory aboard Zan at the Pace Picante ProRodeo Chute-out, May 12-14 in Tulsa, Okla.
"Without him, I wouldn't be where I am today," Gorsuch said. "At Houston, a spot opened up in Rodney's traveling group, and I ended up getting in. I rode Zan for the first time and won. He's good anywhere you take him."
Added Fields: "I tell people all the time that I'm the most fortunate person in rodeo to have a horse like that. He works in any condition, to Salinas (Calif.), which has a really long score, to a smaller arena like Tulsa. He can outrun anything."