Joe Beaver’s “Cripple” Champion Pistol’s Pat
Pistol's Pat was the calf horse of his generation—carrying Joe Beaver to the four Tie-Down World Championships when other horses would have given up.

When a very young Joe Beaver in the spring of 1985 forked over what, in today’s dollars, would be $30K for a calf horse that looked used up, people thought he was nuts.

“He’s crippled and everybody knows it,” they told Beaver, who retorted, “He doesn’t know it.”

When Beaver tried him, he only ran two calves. The seller, Bill Buteau, insisted that he run four. So Beaver just nodded and scored the last two. He knew he wanted Pistol’s Pat. His veterinarian, Dr. Charlie Graham, told Beaver he thought he could keep the horse going despite the navicular – as long as Beaver never practiced on him.

Pistol’s Pat is not used up yet

The Hall-of-Famer, as a teenager, was smart enough to listen. Beaver was cagey enough to have the horse’s trainer, Calvin Greely, tune him up before big events; to only have Kent Karnei apply special wedge shoes; and was lucky enough that his wife, Jenna, would swim Pat to keep him in shape without stressing his feet. It took a village. But not only did they keep that horse going for eight years, Pat is the entire reason the Thomas and Mack Center became “The House That Joe Built.”

For one thing, the duo went straight to Beaver’s first NFR that year and won the gold buckle. They went on to secure no less than three NFR average titles (and four gold buckles). The literal toughness of Pat – the 1987 PRCA Calf Horse of the Year – was evident in Las Vegas more than anywhere else.

 “Sometimes in Vegas, I’d think, ‘Maybe I don’t need to ride him,’” Beaver recalled. “Because I’d go to saddle him and he’d be laid down in his stall, sore. I’d just put the halter on him, lay the lead rope over his neck and walk away. In a minute, he’d stand up and stick his head out. He’d step ginger when I started leading him toward the Thomas and Mack, but when he got close enough to hear the music, he’d go to prancing and dancing and never limped again.”

There has truly never been another NFR calf horse like this one. Pat’s outlaw looks matched his temperament – he was a line-back red dun with a mane so long Beaver tucked it in the breastcollar, and a foretop so bushy that he braided and tucked it into the noseband. Pat had crazy swirls in his hair pattern. And he was a bonafide runaway anywhere but leaving the box at a rodeo.

Run away

“Pat would always run off inside an arena if you didn’t use double hands on the reins and kind of keep him sideways,” Beaver recalled, laughing. “Mike Arnold had the best one drawn at Nacogdoches one time and I said he could ride him. I didn’t tell him about the quirk – most of the guys I rodeoed with knew. So, all the calf ropers were horseback, standing at the gate waiting to ride in the arena. When they open that gate, the first two guys lope out there and here comes Mike – it blows his hat off, he drops his rope…  the far fence finally stops him. Mike had to come back and get his hat and his rope. He won the rodeo, but he said he’d probably just lead that horse to the boxes next time!”

One of a few

As rare as that particular quirk was, Pat was one of the tiny handful of horses in history just as tough on the small calves and 10-foot box of the Thomas and Mack as the 30-foot score and 300-pound calves formerly of Cheyenne. Riding Pat, Beaver broke the arena record at old Cheyenne that had stood for years.

“There are very few Pockets,” Beaver said of Caleb Smidt’s horse that also excels at both long scores and quick setups. “But Pockets scored so good. And Pat was like that – he scored so well that he could get the start right there. Those horses know in a quick setup they don’t have to stop so massive – they can slide. Or if the calf runs harder, they get stronger.”

Pat never wiggled in the corner, then could be running wide open and just lay down and bring one to you.

“You just won on him,” said Beaver. “I tied one in 6.7 seconds in 1986, and nobody was doing that. He was so easy. And the same week I did that, Ricky Canton won Cheyenne on him.”

In fact, there are two things that make a great calf horse in Beaver’s estimation. It excels at both long and short setups. Or lots of different guys can win on it. And the latter was true of Pat, too. In addition to helping Canton make the Finals, Mark Simon won plenty on the horse. In fact, Pat himself was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.

“I rode him at the Finals the first time in 1985 and the last time in 1991,” said Beaver. “And I rode him at a lot of tough match ropings on big calves with long scores.

“That horse is a lot of the reason I am what I am,” added the 8-time world champion. “At 19, I had confidence and I was mentally tough from amateur-rodeoing so much. But when I got that horse, I knew I was fixin’ to show them something.”

When Pat finally colicked and died, Beaver buried him on his place. The boys who did the job honored the countless fast calves Beaver tied on the horse with a headstone that read, “Here lies the King of Sling, Pistol’s Pat.”