Debbie Crafton with Dualin Alittle Time, her winning cow horse stallion who she recently began training for roping in the hope of some day competing in the World's Greatest Horseman. • Photo by Lillian Kent.

Straight Talk: Cow Horse to Rope Horse with Debbie Crafton

If you ask Debbie Crafton, there is no time like the present to take a shot at a dream. The lifelong rider and Ordway, Colorado, resident has found consistent success in the cow horse arena in recent years, boasting lifetime earnings of more than $335,000 in EquiStat

Crafton’s dream led her to enter the World’s Greatest Horsewoman at last month’s Art of The Cowgirl with a horse – trusted partner Dualin Alittle Time –– that at age 6, would have been more expected to be in a two-rein than in the show’s four-event format.

Dualin Alittle Time (One Time Pepto x ARC Little Dualena x Dual Pep) was Crafton’s 2019 National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity Non-Pro Champion. The stallion wasn’t originally slated for the event, but the winner of more than $91,000 got the call when a round of COVID-19 in Crafton’s family derailed her plans to leg up a different bridle horse. 

Dualin Alittle Time was in shape and willing, taking to the steer stopping component in less than a month and competing straight up in the bridle. The pair finished seventh in the World’s Greatest Horsewoman finals on Jan. 22. 

Quarter Horse News (QHN) sat down with Debbie Crafton to discuss her journey of training Dualin Alittle Time for the Art of The Cowgirl World’s Greatest Horsewoman and competing in the event, which was won by Whitney Hall and J Noble Daggett.

They are entered back in straight cow horse competition for this week’s NRCHA Celebration of Champions, where they are expected to compete in the Non-Pro Bridle.

QHN: What drew you to The Art of The Cowgirl World’s Greatest Horsewoman event?
Crafton: I thought it would be a good experience. A stepping stone to the [NRCHA’s] World’s Greatest in Fort Worth, which I would like to do one day. I’m setting my sights on next year. I had heard a lot of good things about it, a lot of girls have talked pretty highly of it. 

QHN: Why do love these four-event competitions?
Crafton: It really takes a great horse and a huge team effort. You’ve got a cow involved in three of those four events, so it’s elite. To be able to do in on one horse, especially when you’re in the finals and you’ve got to do three events [back-to-back], a horse than can be so versatile so quickly is special. 

It’s nice to show off your skills as a horseman or cowgirl. It’s part of the whole ranch experience. When you’re out working on the ranch you never know what’s going to be thrown at you.  

QHN: Is this something you had in mind for Dualin Alittle Time for a while?
Crafton: This past year was when I really started thinking about it. I think he could be good enough. Dualin Alittle Time gets better as he ages, where some horses just don’t do that, they peak out [at a younger age].

This past year has shown me that he’s a show horse and [will] do whatever I want to do. He’s game for anything. I said that when he won the Futurity, you know, he’s just a team partner.

QHN: Tell me about Dualin Alittle Time’s demeanor and ability to accept training.
Crafton: He’s very easy to teach something new. He never wants to be in trouble and he’s so open minded, especially for being a stud. Instead of having that ‘stud-up’ moment that a lot of horses can get, he doesn’t do that. He’s so open and willing for whatever I ask of him. 

He does everything so well and continues to get better at all of it. He’s got an incredible mind. I can’t brag enough about him.

QHN: What was your process of acclimating him to roping out of a box?
Crafton: This horse hadn’t been roped on at home. Prior to this whole idea that I had, I had drug calves to the fire on him a bunch and maybe pasture roped once on him. His experience with a rope prior to this idea [was minimal]. 

There is a huge difference in dragging calves to the fire and backing into the box and saying ‘We’re going to go rope this thing.’ I backed him in the box Dec. 31 [2021] and came out on couple [cows]. He seemed to take to it really well. 

Debbie Crafton and Dualin Alittle Time showed their roping skills at World’s Greatest Horsewoman. • Photo by Lillian Kent.

I started focusing on teaching him to come out of the box and run to that [cow’s] hip and rate. Because prior to that, he thought we were going to run by and [turn] this thing. I came out of the box on slow cattle and let him track them around. He was always good with a rope, I just focused on keeping him quiet and confident there. 

QHN: What is your weakest event of the four and how do you navigate it?
Crafton: The herd is my weakest. I wish somebody could tell me why! I think I get a little pressured up in the herd, personally. I’m worried about picking the right cows and don’t have the right confidence in myself. I know how to read cows but they can trick you. 

QHN: If someone was looking to compete in an event like this, with the four events, what advice would you give them?
Crafton: Go do it. Just going and doing and getting your feet wet is [key]. There is never a perfect time if you’ve got a horse you can do it on. I think the four-event thing is going to continue to grow.