It’s a peacefully pleasant fall afternoon in Tolar, Texas, and Famous Lil Jet is lounging in his sandy stall, beckoning me with the kindest brown eyes ever. The AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year wants a scratch, a cookie, and some love. Justin and Jordon Briggs’ sorrel speedster “Rollo” could just as easily have been nicknamed “Sweetness,” because he clearly wants to be my new BFF. However, that title is reserved exclusively for Jordon, who describes him fondly as “my Bozo.”
Jordon and her 2014 sorrel gelding head to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev., with $102,618 in regular season earnings to their credit. On Oct. 14, the quintessential dream team was validated as such by a vote of the WPRA’s Top 25 ranked barrel racers honoring Rollo as Nutrena WPRA Horse of Year, presented by AQHA.
“My proudest moment was a few weeks ago when I got a phone call that my fellow competitors and peers that I look up to voted Rollo the AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year,” said Jordon. “We are very proud of that, and we thank everybody that voted for him. It’s very special that other people notice how special he is and how well he did this year; we really appreciate it. We’re looking forward to Las Vegas.”
When Justin and Jordon purchased Rollo from Busby Quarter Horses as a yearling, the royally bred prospect was on track to be expertly trained, campaigned and one day likely sold. However, when life took a few unforeseen turns, and now, after having achieved greatness in the futurity world, the upper echelon of the rope futurity world, and soaring to the top in professional rodeo, Rollo has his forever family.
Rollo is a very different horse,” said Jordon. “Like my mom, when she had Bozo, that’s the kind of horse—a great horse—that I am used to. And Bozo, he didn’t want to be touched. He just wanted you to saddle him and run barrels and that was it,” she said of the late, great five-time AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year French Flash Hawk (1995-99) ridden by her mom Kristie Peterson to four WPRA world championships (1994, 1996-98) and five consecutive NFR average titles (1994-98). “Rollo, I really feel like he loves me as much as I love him.
“My whole life, I’ve never really kept a horse before,” added Jordon. “I’ve just always started over and sold them and started over, and I just could not let this one go. Neither could my husband, he wouldn’t let me sell him either. We just have a really special bond, and he’s definitely my Bozo.”
Not All Sweetness
Jordon knew she wanted to try the Dash Ta Fame bloodline, which led to a conversation with Busby Quarter Horses and subsequent trip to Andrea and Jeff Busby’s facility in Brock, Texas, to look at colts. Seeing the son of Dash Ta Fame that was out of a Blazin JetOlena mare (Blazin Black Beauty, see Pedigree Power), Justin and Jordon were instantly drawn to the yearling with the roly-poly physique.
“My husband and I just instantly fell in love with him out in the pasture,” she said. “He was this short little fat thing that looked like a calf horse, and we knew that if we wanted to try a Dash Ta Fame that he was built the way that we wanted one to be built.”
The Briggs’s took Rollo home, turned him out in the pasture for a year and then got him back in to start as a 2-year-old.
“He was pretty tough as a 2-year-old. There were a couple of times when my husband wanted to give up on him and said he was crazy,” Jordon laughed. “He had a lot of go and didn’t really want to give, so he was a challenge as a 2-year-old, which most great horses are a challenge at some point in their life.”
It was during Rollo’s 3-year-old year that his greatness really began to surface, and the couple quickly realized how talented and athletic he was.
“He needed a lot of jobs to keep him busy, so my husband started roping on him and tracking cattle and doing all that kind of stuff on him at the same time as I was training him on the barrels to get him ready for the Juvenile. We knew he had a lot of talent,” said Jordon.
The Briggs’s were wise to train Rollo to be a multi-tasker since, as fortune would have it, Jordon learned that she was pregnant prior to the first Juvenile payment coming due.
“I did not want to waste his futurity year for just those few months that I would be able to still ride, so I ended up saving him to run as a 5-year-old,” she said. “That’s when my husband stepped in and really started making him a rope horse. His 4-year-old year, in October, he went to the American Rope Horse Futurity Association World Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, in the heading and the heeling. He shined as a head horse. He was a phenomenal heel horse also but didn’t have quite as much stop as those showy cow horses.”
Justin showed Rollo for the three years that the gelding was eligible to compete at the ARHFA futurities, and Jordon attributes the seasoning Rollo gained on the roping scene as integral to his success as a 5-year-old futurity horse because he knew how to handle pressure in unfamiliar places.
“His futurity year, he placed at nearly every futurity we went to,” she said. “He won around $150,000 his futurity year. He won a big futurity in Utah (Glen Wood Memorial, 2019), and he was just solid. I knew that he was going to be a great rodeo horse when he was a futurity horse. I think what helped him a lot was going to the rope horse futurities, also that he was a 5-year-old barrel futurity horse. That was one of the best decisions that we made.”
In the time between Rollo’s futurity year and his rodeo debut, Justin and Jordon welcomed their first child, a curly-headed, horse-crazy little girl named Bexley, now 3.
“Rollo loves my daughter, he brightens up when he sees Bexley because he knows she’s bringing him cookies,” said Jordon.
After wrapping up their solid derby year in 2020, Jordon hauled Rollo to a few rodeos to get the feel of things, a formula similar to what had worked so well for Frenchmans Jester, her BFA Futurity Champion and 2009 NFR qualifying mount (check out Jordon and Jester’s story here).
“I started rodeoing on him a little bit last year, went to 10 rodeos and he was very solid,” she explained. “It took him a little bit to get used to the perfs, he was a little look-y, but he came on really strong and I knew that this year I was prepared and had done my homework and was ready to be competitive at the rodeos.”
Down But Not Out
Starting their 2021 rodeo season at the Sandhills Stock Show and Rodeo in Odessa, Texas, Jordon and Rollo won enough to get into the San Antonio (Texas) Stock Show Rodeo, accomplishing Jordon’s goal of getting qualified to compete at the major rodeos. Then things went slightly awry.
“This year was kind of a rollercoaster,” said Jordon. “Shortly after Odessa I broke my ankle and was unable to compete, so I was not able to go to San Antonio or to The American Semifinals. I was non weight bearing for two months. I was pretty disappointed. It kind of took the wind out of my sail a little bit because I had kept Rollo, he was the first futurity horse I had kept in a long time to try rodeo again. So, it was April before I was able to go to some rodeos again.”
Recuperated fully and determined to pursue her rodeo goals, Jordon entered Pioneer Days in Guymon, Okla., and hit the trail in earnest.
“I was able to split the win with Hailey Kinsel at Guymon and that put the wind back in my sail,” she said. “I just knew that after doing so well at Guymon that it was time to push for the summer, so we entered quite a few rodeos over the summer and Rollo just kept getting better and better.”
Summer saw Jordon on a heater as Rollo hit another level of rodeo savvy, which made the big pet a formidable competitive force. To name a few, they won the Laramie (Wyo.) Jubilee Days, Red Lodge (Mont.) Home of Champions Rodeo, the Dodge City Roundup in Kanas, then wrapped up their season on Labor Day in the Northwest where they won The Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo, at which point Jordon pointed the rig south to home-base in Tolar. Fun Fact: Jordon and Frenchmans Jester won Ellensburg in 2009 en route to her first NFR.
“The more runs we made the smarter we were about learning how to be rodeo professionals,” said Jordon, adding that she and Rollo both learned how to better navigate rodeo ground while adjusting to WPRA standard patterns versus indoor arenas and perfect ground like they’d experienced at the futurities.
“He’s just a really special horse. He loves to snuggle, he likes to be scratched, the second he sees you he comes to the fence to be loved. He really loves his job. He just walks flat-footed down the alleyway and waits for me to tell him when to go. We have a lot of confidence and trust in each other,” she said.
An inspiring story defined by hard work and determination resulting in the coveted honor of AQHA/WPRA Horse of the year; it’s a journey we can’t wait to see come to fruition as Jordon and Rollo go head-to-head running with the best in the business at Thomas & Mack Center Arena come December.
“This year, I decided to try my hand at rodeo and Rollo got us to the NFR,” said Jordon. “We are now second in the world headed to the NFR.”
Runner-up AQHA/WPRA Horse of the Year DM Sissy Hayday, “Sister,” ridden and owned by Hailey Kinsel, will be chasing a fourth consecutive WPRA world championship in Las Vegas. Rounding out the top three was a tie between Fiery Miss West, “Missy,” ridden by Jessica Routier and owned by Gary Westergren and HR Fameskissandtell, “Kiss,” owned and ridden by Shelley Morgan.