CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Sean Mulligan never pictured himself breeding horses.
The 42-year-old expected steer wrestling to consume his life after graduating from the University of Wyoming in 1998.
Those plans changed around Labor Day 2004.
It was that weekend he watched a brother of his horse, Lions Share of Fame, run the fastest qualifying time at the All-American Futurity. Lions Share of Fame’s siblings from sire Dash Ta Fame were starting to gain a reputation in the rodeo world, but Mulligan hadn’t intended to take his horse on the road.
Instead, Mulligan had intended to train and sell Lions Share of Fame. That futurity race made the Coleman, Oklahoma, resident reconsider.
“We thought, ‘Holy smokes, we might have something here,'” Mulligan said.
What Mulligan, and his wife, Brayel (Zancanella) Mulligan, had was a horse that has gone on to sire horses that have catapulted several steer wrestlers up the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s world standings.
Cole Edge has ridden Miss Kitty to the No. 3 spot in the world standings. Chason Floyd is No. 22 and competed at his first National Finals Rodeo on Miss Kitty last December.
The top 15 money-earners in each event at the end of September make the NFR.
Tanner Brunner of Ramona, Kansas (No. 13), and Cameron Morman of Glen Ullin, North Dakota (No. 17), are chasing their first NFR qualifications while splitting time between Miss Kitty and Mulligan’s other horse, Holly.
Lions Share of Fame’s children aren’t just good at steer wrestling, either.
Barrel racer Ivy Conrado of Hudson, Colorado, is No. 15 in the world standings this week. She has earned more of her money on her backup horse, Famey, while her primary horse, J-Lo, rested an injury.
“My wife trained barrel (racing) horses, and my sister-in-law ran them, so we knew we could make a go out of it,” Mulligan said. “It has become the whole family’s dream to raise good horses.”
The Mulligans have roughly 20 foals annually, people bring them mares to breed, and they also ship semen across the country.
Mulligan’s horses run in barrel racing futurities when they’re nearly 5 years old. He starts working with them on steer wrestling the following year.
“There are exceptional horses that take right to it, but it’s hard with all the noise and people around them,” he said. “Being at a rodeo is sensory overload for them. They have never seen balloons, flags waving in their face or the big arenas.
“It takes about two years of hauling them to figure out if they’re going to be any good.”
Miss Kitty and Holly are 10 and 11 years old, respectively. With the right care — and some luck — Mulligan expects them to be at their peak for at least five more years. He already has a couple of horses he is preparing to take their place.
“I have been spending most of my time with these two, but I’ll lighten their load a little bit next summer and take the other horses down the road more,” he said. “I’ll still use these two at the bigger rodeos we go to.”
Edge credits Mulligan’s horses for putting him in line for his second career NFR qualification.
“For me, 100 percent of my success is the horse,” the 33-year-old said. “If I know I’m not mounted good enough, I’ll just stay home. I have done that in the past.
“If I feel like I can’t be at the top level, there’s no point in even being out here. There are maybe eight horses out here right now that I would put in that elite category, and (Mulligan) has two of them.”
Mulligan’s traveling groups have been competing so hard during July that Miss Kitty was given a rest when Mulligan and his friends competed at Cheyenne Frontier Days on Monday and Tuesday. All of them competed on Holly during their stint at the “Daddy of ’em All.”
The rigors of the road can catch up to horses, so it is important to have more than one, Floyd said.
“We’re asking them to go from a standing position to running as fast as they can in two or three seconds and then have 200- to 250-pound guys hanging off their sides,” the Buffalo, South Dakota, resident said. “Plus, we haul them up to 50,000 or 60,000 miles per year.
“We haul them all night and then ask them to go out and run hard during the day. We ask a lot out of them.”
Mulligan knows how valuable his horses are and treats them like members of his family, Floyd added.
“There are guys who are made to ride horses and guys who are made to own horses,” he said.
“Not just anybody can own horses and keep them sound. A lot of guys struggle with that,” Floyd said.
“(Mulligan) takes great care of his horses. He is meant to own horses.”
It is commonplace for a steer wrestler to give 25 percent of whatever he earns on the back of a mount to the horse’s owner. The money helps pay for feed, veterinary bills and travel expenses.
“I don’t know who got it started or when it started, but all the bulldoggers know that unwritten rule,” Floyd said. “It’s in the rule book somebody lost a long time ago.”
Because truly elite horses are few and far between, steer wrestlers are more than happy to give horse owners a cut of their winnings, Edge added.
“Getting to keep 75 percent of what I win is better than getting 100 percent of nothing,” the Durant, Oklahoma, resident said. “It’s just the cost of doing business. If you’re paying mount money, that means you’re winning.”