Zinser program sets the bar high
By Ted Harbin
Forty years ago, there wasn't much talk about breeding programs among rodeo stock contractors.
Somewhat quietly, it seems, Jim and Maggie Zinser were breaking new ground. On their ranch near Claire, Mich., the Zinsers were in the process of breeding bucking horses in a fashion that has become the trick of the trade four decades later.
"I don't think there are any tricks to it at all," said Jim Zinser, who operated J-Bar-J Rodeo until selling the firm nearly four years ago. "Ours started back in the early '70s when we bought a big brown mare out of a riding stable. That horse went on to be the three-time horse of the year in the International Pro Rodeo Association.
"She raised six colts, and all but one of them was a world's champion. They were all that kind of horse. Night line was three times horse of the year in the IPRA, and she sired the great horse, Night Jacket, who bred so many of these great horses we have in rodeo today."
Yes, Night Jacket is a big part of the bucking horse business these days, but so are many other great animal athletes whose foundation is the Zinser ranch.
"I got to rodeo at a lot of Zinser rodeos when I was first starting out, so I got to see it first-hand," said bareback rider Clint Cannon, a three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Waller, Texas. "He took so much pride into breeding these animals. This guy groomed his horses and made them to where they loved to be alive out there. He had such a pecking order on his breeding program that it makes a difference."
It's that attention to detail that has reached much of the mainstream. More ProRodeo stock contractors are making a concerted effort in their breeding programs. The results are fantastic.
"Jim did a great job of putting together a string of horses that's unrivaled," said Will Lowe, a three-time world champion bareback rider from Canyon, Texas. "He did a great job of selectively breeding and also breeding for attributes. You see that at every rodeo we go to and especially at the NFR."
ProRodeo's championship event not only features the top cowboys each season, but also it is a showcase of tremendous bucking beasts. The animals are selected by the cowboys that ride them, so it is truly one great match-up after another.
"There were 29 horses with our brand on them at the finals last year," Zinser said.
Zinser-bred horses have won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association halter for horse of the year multiple times, and there will be more down the line. Many of the top contractors in the sport today have animals with the original brand.
"I've known Jim and Maggie Zinser for over 25 years," said Pete Carr, owner of Dallas-based Carr Pro Rodeo. "Scotty Lovelace and I used to go to all of their rodeos in the winter, so I'm very familiar with their bucking horses, bloodlines and overall breeding program. They have done an excellent job over the years of paving the way for the rest of us in our industry. I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of them as friends, stock contractors and just good people."
Carr features a few Zinser-bred horses, including the 2005 Bareback Horse of the Year, Real Deal. Carr also features Dirty Jacket and MGM Deuces Night, two Night Jacket-sired athletes that have been featured in the elite pen of bareback horses for the last few years.
"Both of those horses are tremendous," said Cannon, who posted a 90-point ride on Dirty Jacket to finish second in Pecos, Texas; only Steven Dent's 91-point ride on MGM Deuces Night was better.
It's that type of quality cowboys like to see.
"I think Dirty Jacket's just gotten better," Lowe said. "But those two horses are exceptional ones. They're in the top 10 percent of their class."
Zinser said he's fortunate to have had the right horses at the right time.
"Night Jacket's grandmother was Nightmare, and it just kind of built from there," he said. "We've crossed those horses up with different stallions. We did it long enough that we knew which ones to go back to with which stallions.
"There's just some of those that are going to be outrageous bucking horses by breeding them that way."
Zinser watched what was happening and carefully worked the animals together in an effort to bring out the best of both sides of the genetics.
"I watched how I crossed them up. I didn't cross up a mare that had a disposition with a stud that had the same kind of attitude," Zinser said. "Then you'd have something you can't handle.
"I watched the confirmation and what I thought they ought to look like if they did buck. The mares took care of that. We went through a lot of different mares to get to that set of mares."
It helps to have a stud like Night Jacket, a horse that sold for a record $200,000 just a few years ago.
"The Night Jacket thing was luck," Zinser said. "There was nothing planned that year. I bought a stud at Texarkana, Ark.; he wasn't a lot of money, but he cost a lot for no better than he was. He didn't buck, but everything we bred him to bucked.
"I had several horses by him that were astronomical. I was fortunate enough to get that stallion and keep him a stallion. That was just luck, but from there on, you did some things to make it work."
Why was Zinser's scheme so revolutionary?
"For years, a breeding program was just putting a stud out there in the pasture, then bucking all those colts," Cannon said. "In the old days, it was a numbers game just like the military. You'd send as many as you could to the beach, then you win the war. In rodeo, you buck all your horses and see what bucks best.
"Now they're putting attention to detail. They develop them into athletes."
Yes, it started in the center of Michigan on a ranch owned by a husband-and-wife team of stock contractors, but the breeding program has taken over ProRodeo. It's why there are so many great horses in the business. It's why there are more and more great bucking beasts at rodeos all across the country.
"I'm just tickled to death to see where it is now," Zinser said. "I don't think it could've ever gotten to where it is now with just me having it. I think it's great that we sold our company and that people like Pete Carr and some of these others have gotten some of these horses. I think that's really good for rodeo. I enjoy going to the National Finals and seeing that."