Hammer Time

Justin Davis' Hammer.
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Justin Davis' Hammer.

The roping world outside of Texas first got to know Justin Davis when he and Cole Davison cracked out at their first Bob Feist Invitational in 2010, and Davis did so aboard his blond bomber, then-18-year-old Hammer. Hammer would help Davis attract the attention of none other than Clay O’Brien Cooper, and the Fisher-ranch-bred horse would set the wheels in motion for Davis’ career to take off.

Justin’s dad, Tommy, bought the gelding from family friend Gary Thornton and used him as a ranch horse before starting his heading career.

“They’d ranched, run barrels and tried calf roping a little bit on him,” Davis said. “He was a run-off when he was younger. There were times I could pull as hard as I wanted to, but it was his program and I wasn’t going to change his mind. All the top guys wanted to buy him back then. Charles Pogue, Speed Williams, Tee Woolman. My dad was riding him, and he wouldn’t sell him. My dad came to me and said he was really good, and a lot of guys wanted him, but he was too much horse for him. So I started heading and rodeoing. He’s the reason I even started heading.”

In his prime, Hammer weighed around 1,300 lbs., scored sharp, broke flat, ran hard and had quite an unforgiving corner. For a while, he was a one-run type horse, but as he and Davis traveled more and more, Davis said the horse got comfortable with his run and didn’t move nearly as fast.

“He was a one-guy sort of horse,” Davis said. “Other guys borrowed him but they’d lose their rope. If I did something out of the ordinary, he’d get too fast. But he and I got so comfortable together, he just got better and better.”

By the time the 2010 BFI rolled around, Hammer and Davis were so in the groove that other ropers took notice in a big way and voted him Top Head Horse of the BFI. Davis and Davison won fourth there with a leg and finished fourth at their first Reno (Nev.) Rodeo the same week. That cross-country trek told the Texas header he belonged on the rodeo trail, so Davis and Hammer prepared to hit the road in 2011. But fate had other plans for the palomino.

“In 2011 he had a stifle injury,” Davis said. “We did stem cell, and he never was as fast as before. I was always afraid of hurting him. It took me a while to get used to riding other head horses. It took me a lot of horses before I bought Woody. He took me to the next level after I lost Hammer. Hammer has never felt the same to me, and I didn’t want to push him. He’d done his part. For my dad to take a horse and train him, and I won my card heeling behind that horse behind my dad. He was awesome before I knew I could rope the horns.”

In the time Hammer stood in the pasture, Davis won the Ram Texas Circuit Finals with Ryan Motes and qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with Cooper in 2013, picking up wins at Molalla, Ore., and Logandale, Nev., along the way.

The seven-year break was just what the doctor ordered for Hammer, who now has important duties with Jace Davis, 8, and Ryder Davis, 6, at the junior rodeos.

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“For him to still be sound and both of my boys get to ride him, that’s the coolest thing. It’s cool to have an animal that’s blessed our whole family. I never thought my boys could ride him, but he knows the difference. Jace rode him at the county rodeo heading for a 10-year-old kid. They won third, and between the two horses they were riding, they had 49 years of age. It was awesome.”

And just for kicks, Davis, who splits his days teaching clinics with Trey Johnson and working as a contractor, swings a leg over Hammer from time to time in the practice pen.

“Every once and a while I’ll get on him and go fast and come over the chutes with it every time. He’s still fun to get realistic practice every time.” SWR