Wormy Dog was bred to be a cow horse, but he's found his groove in the barrel racing pen. • Photo by Alysia Hargus Photography.

Royally Bred Cow Horse Blazes in the Barrel Pen

Only slightly larger than a pony, a palomino gelding named Wormy Dog churns through the barrel pattern with quick strides and steely determination. He and his rider are well-matched, winning a round and finishing fifth in the average at the International Professional Rodeo Association’s International Finals Rodeo (IFR) earlier this year.

But there is more to this barrel horse than meets the eye. A peek at Wormy Dog’s papers reveals a family tree of top cow horses. 

Bred by Cottonwood Springs Ranch, of Rancho Santa Fe, California, Wormy Dog is bred to chase cows with the best of them. His father is EquiStat Elite $2 Million Sire Nic It In The Bud and his mother, Shining Smarty, is a Shining Spark mare hailing from a family of leading reined cow horse producers. 

His dam is a full sister to Lil Miss Shiney Chex, who as of Dec. 31, 2021, ranked as the second-leading reined cow horse dam of all time in EquiStat with $632,177 in progeny earnings from foals such as National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Stallion Stakes Open Champion Blind Sided, NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Reserve Champion Nineteen Ten and NRCHA Derby Open Champion Reys A Shine.

His second dam, Lil Miss Smarty Chex, was an NRCHA Open Bridle World Champion who ranked as the 13th leading dam of reined cow horse earners in the database with more than $401,848 in reined cow horse progeny earnings.

Wormy Dog, however, has found success in barrels, not cow horse.

“I take no credit,” owner and rider Jessica Hopkins of Gosport, Indiana said. “He’s just a freak. It takes a lot for me to say good things about horses, I’m very picky. His style is really wild. He’s got that [cow horse] in him and even when he’s at a full-out run he’s sitting down on his butt. I think it gives him an advantage and he can really push coming out of a barrel.”

According to Hopkins, Wormy Dog stands at a “narrow” 14.3 hands, but puffs up coming down the alleyway for a run. 

“Everybody who meets him thinks he was bigger. You take a picture of him around a barrel and he looks like a 16.3 hand, 1,300-pound horse. When he goes to run he beefs himself up. He could not stride any farther. At the same time, he manages to keep that butt under him. It doesn’t make any sense at all,” Hopkins said.

At 13 years old, Wormy Dog has had a few careers. He competed in tie-down roping and heeling before barrel racing. According to Hopkins, he was never on anyone’s “A-team.” She was shopping for a back-up barrel horse when she purchased him in early 2021.

“I was nervous to buy him, wondering why he was everybody’s back up horse and not their main horse. I go to check him out and I’m skeptical, of course. I’d never bought a finished horse and I was terrified when I bought him. I had been looking for a while and I was drawn to his style,” Hopkins said.

Wormy Dog is known as “Zeke” in the barn. 

“Ezekiel means God’s strength. Before I knew he had this [success] in him I said ‘You’re going to be a winner, I believe in you, I’m going to give you a winner’s name.’”

Zeke proved his strength immediately, pulling a check at he and Hopkins’ first IPRA rodeo together. 

“I [took] him because my other horse was a little sore,” Hopkins said. “We won money and I was like ‘Wow, we might actually have a chance to keep going.’”

According to Hopkins, her main barrel horse never made an appearance in 2021, with Zeke singlehandedly qualified her for the 52nd IFR in Guthrie, Oklahoma. 

At the four-day event the team hung tough despite Hopkins getting banged up before the competition even started. 

“In the grand entry practice I had a horse flip over on me and roll down a hill. I ended up tearing my [right] calf muscle, getting nerve damage and a hematoma. I couldn’t walk at all and the sports medicine team told me to walk away,” Hopkins said. “I made it work. I couldn’t kick, hold on or anything. [Zeke] did it literally by himself. Somehow we won one of the four rounds at the IFR.”

With a third-round win – clocking a 17.283 on a standard pattern and winning $1,778 – Zeke and Hopkins finished fifth in the IFR average with more than $18,000 in year-end winnings. 

“A lot of people will take a cow-bred horse and succeed on some of those smaller pens. What I love about [Zeke] is that he can go run a 12-second pattern and he can go to the IFR and throw down on a standard pattern,” Hopkins said. “My eyes have opened completely [to cow horse breeding]. I’m upset he’s a gelding, because I want 12 of him.”