Thanks, Ike: Clay O'Brien Cooper Retires His Great Horse

It's hard to step off a once-in-a-lifetime horse. Team roper Clay O'Brien Cooper knows this all too well.
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It's hard to step off a once-in-a-lifetime horse. Team roper Clay O'Brien Cooper knows this all too well.

I retired the horse of my career, Ike, when I was in California this spring. I bought him out there from Ozzie and Judy Gillum when he was 9, and rode him 12 years. He's 22 now, and it was time to take him back home to retire. I turned him out at Ozzie and Judy's place in Oakdale, so it was full circle. It's a beautiful ranch. You know the prayer they say in the openings at the rodeos, where the grass is lush and green and stirrup high, and the water runs cool, clear and deep? That's where Ike is now.

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I've won more money on Ike than any other horse, and he became my trademark horse over the years. Everybody's career has a signature horse, like Leo (Camarillo) and Stick, Kory (Koontz) and Iceman, and Charles (Pogue) and Scooter. Ike was that horse for me. He was the one I won the 1992 and '94 championships on, and set the 10-steer arena record on at the Finals. I won the George Strait, Houston, Cheyenne and the USTRC Finals on Ike. So many special moments in my career were on that horse.

Throughout 12 years of my career, which is half of it, I had a horse I could rely on that had all the qualities I need, and I didn't have to worry about my horse. He was there for me, and was incredibly tough. To ride one horse at 10 (Wrangler) National Finals (Rodeos) and go year after year is pretty special. It's an incredible feat for a horse. Ike was always just a pleasure. Anybody who took him or hauled him for me always thought he was an absolute gentleman. He doesn't fight with other horses or haul bad, he eats everything in front of him, and every time you stopped and offered him a drink he drank a whole bucket. Nothing-big buildings, crowds, noise-ever bothered him. He was a statue. Ike was the perfect rodeo horse.

Ike's as honest as they come. He'd never try to cheat you. He was just so tough that he could take the pounding run after run, and he never had a disposition where he tried to look for a way to cut corners. He always stopped the same way, which made my delivery, loop, slack and dally the same every run. He was so tough and consistent that he was never looking for a way out, even later in his career. He just had that inner toughness, which is a trait Driftwood horses are noted for.

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I owe a lot of Ike's longevity to Dr. Richard Galley, who kept him going the last six years I rode him. He really got attached to Ike, and took care of him like he was his own horse. Doc Galley's a close personal friend to me, and he really prolonged Ike's career.

It's always hard to know when a horse has had enough. When it comes to retirement, it's all timing. Now I have another horse I rode at the Finals last year (Scout's an 11-year-old sorrel horse). I won the George Strait and a few other ropings on him this year, and it's gotten to the point where I have enough confidence in him that I can let Ike go. The timing's perfect. Ike's had an awesome career, and I don't want to put him through anymore of the rigors of the road. It's time for Ike to be able to go spend the rest of his years relaxing, eating tall, green grass and drinking cool, clear water. I've been close to Ozzie and Judy the last 20 years when I go to California. They're just like family, and I know they'll take care of him and watch over him. Ike's part of their family, too.

Ike has a real unique personality. People who are around him pick up on it pretty quickly, and everybody likes and respects him for it. He's very predictable and patterned in his ways. He'll come up to you, and loves to be scratched and loved on. When you catch him he always stretches. He's so docile, almost half asleep. But he could move like a cat when he was scared or it was time to go to work. You wouldn't expect that out of a horse that calm. He almost had a split personality that way. If something spooked him, you'd swear he was a bronc.

I feel very blessed to have had Ike in my life. I know God has had his hand on every part of my life. He's interested in each and every part of our lives, and I'm just real thankful he gave me a horse like Ike to ride for 12 years. It's been an incredible journey. God has taught me so much through that horse. I've provided for my family on the back of that horse. He's been an incredible part of my life. What a blessing. What a friend.