Here’s a look back at Roper Elite Team member Travis Tryan’s great horse, Walt. The four-time PRCA/AQHA Horse of the Year was ranked by Western Horseman as the No. 1 head horse in rodeo during the first decade of the 21st century.
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(This story originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Western Horseman and was written by Susan Morrison.)
APRIL 24, 2010, started out as a routine day for Travis Tryan and his accomplished gelding, Walt. The two partners had been through the ups and downs of competition for nearly 10 years. Primarily riding Walt, Tryan surpassed $1 million in PRCA career earnings last year. He rode Walt at each of his nine Wrangler National Finals Rodeo appearances.
Other talented ropers, including Trevor Brazile and Tryan’s brother, Clay, had also ridden Walt successfully. In fact, Tryan estimates the horse has helped his riders earn more than $1.5 million in total. But Tryan and the horse had a special connection. That’s what made that seemingly ordinary morning in Clovis, California, so difficult.
While warming up for morning slack, Walt suffered an aortic aneurysm. In a matter of seconds, he was gone. The horse simply laid down, allowing Tryan to step off, unhurt.
“It happened fast,” Tryan remembers.
That ending seemed appropriate for a horse that had taken care of Tryan for a decade. It was in the fall of 2000 that Tryan first threw a leg over Walt.
“I was looking for a head horse, and my dad remembered him,” Tryan recalls. “He’d seen him a few times, and he made an impression on him.”
Walt—nicknamed for his breeder and trainer, Walt Vermedahl of Cave Creek, Arizona—was a plain bay gelding who might not have attracted a second glance unless a person saw him in action.
“He was just a ranch-looking horse,” Tryan says. “He was built well, but he wasn’t eye-catching. You noticed his skills before you noticed his looks. When I got on him, I knew he was something pretty special.”
“It took me about six months before he knew exactly what I wanted him to do. He would run so hard. You’d throw and he’d just keep going. Once he got it figured out—and it took about six months of jackpotting—we clicked really good. We got better and better as time went on.”
Walt’s need for speed always stuck with him. Tryan laughs as he remembers the horse’s signal that he was ready to rope.
“When you’d get him warmed up pretty good, he might run off with you,” he says. “You knew he’d stop, but you could tell he was warmed up and ready to go.”
Walt’s talents earned him AQHA/PRCA Horse of the Year honors for heading in 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2009. From 2004 to 2006, he was still proving he wasn’t a flash in the pan.
“It takes time,” Tryan says. “He wasn’t considered a great horse until we competed on him for a couple of years and proved his longevity.”
Walt had a few health challenges during his long career. When Tryan bought him, the horse frequently tied up, but the right feeding program remedied that issue.
“He was an easy keeper from then on,” Tryan says.
A case of ringbone about four years ago threatened his career and kept him home for about a year, but Walt came back sound. Then, in 2009, he had a serious bout of colic that resulted in surgery. But nothing kept Walt down for long.
“That horse, he was just something,” Tryan says. “He wanted to do good. He was really cowy, and the farther the steer was out there, the harder he’d run. He had the ability and he also had the want to do it. He always wanted to do the best he could do that day.”
Tryan also remembers Walt as plain enjoyable.
“He was just good to be around,” he says. “You could trust him. He wasn’t going to do anything to hurt you or anybody around him. He was a high-powered horse, but he was the best horse to be around. I do believe he’s the greatest head horse that’s ever been.”
Although Tryan has a new heading horse, he says none will ever quite compare to Walt.
“Nothing’s going to replace him,” he says. “I just loved his attitude. He had a great attitude all the time, no matter what he was doing. You could always pick out his whinny, no matter where he was. He was just fun to be around. I miss that more than anything.”
1990 bay gelding
Registered name: Precious Speck
Owner: Travis Tryan, Billings, Montana
Breeder: Walt and Pat Vermedahl, Cave Creek, Arizona