By Amanda Coers
If you follow a winding country road up the lazy hills just outside of Hico, you’ll find a young man who rides longhorns. It sounds like something from a Texas tall tale, but it’s as real as it gets. Cody Garcia, age 16, saddle breaks and rides these iconic Texas legends. And though it certainly turns heads, he’s about as humble as can be, praising the good nature of his longhorns and giving a little side grin. He’s not larger than life; he’s just a good kid who works really hard. When he’s not working with his longhorns, he’s finishing up high school where he is a National Honor Society student and thinking of attending OSU or TCU, majoring in an agricultural field. Cody is also considering a military career with thoughts of becoming a pilot.
Cody is a third generation rancher, living and working with his family on the Rafter M Ranch, a 250-plus acre spread in Erath county that Cody’s grandfather established in the mid ’60s. His parents, Rick and Cori Garcia, moved to the ranch in 2009 to help Cori’s parents, D.L. & Mary McCoy, tend the livestock, work the ranch, and carry on a family tradition of raising beef cattle. The Rafter M Ranch added Registered Texas Longhorns to its herd seven years ago as a way to offset the damaging effects from the longstanding drought that had taken its toll on pastures and pocket books. Longhorns are able to survive in drought conditions better than most beef breeds.
Cody grew up visiting and working his grandparents’ ranch frequently and like any young cowboy, he attended the stock shows and participated in FFA, traveling with and getting to know the familiar faces on the show circuit. Cody began his show and FFA career his freshman year in high school. Cody has qualified for state FFA competition four times and national FFA twice, including winning the Reserve National Champion title with his home site team in 2015. On the TLBT (Texas Longhorn Breeders of Tomorrow) show circuit, Cody has won numerous Grand Champion and Reserve Champion titles with his prized longhorns as well as 2nd place in the Hall of Fame last year and is in the top 3 so far this year. The longhorn show circuit, which is organized by the TLBAA office in Fort Worth, starts in September of every year and ends in June the following year. It’s a full time family affair.
While on the show circuit Cody began talking with a family friend, Janice Heinze, who happened to saddle break and ride longhorns. “I just happened to have a steer that had a great disposition, and Janice agreed to come over and work with us,” Cody explains. In May 2015 Cody began working with his Registered Texas Longhorn, named Real McCoy, or known to the family as simply McCoy, so named for Cody’s grandfather, D.L. McCoy.
McCoy was younger than most longhorns to start the saddle breaking process, but his exceptionally sturdy body and willing temperament allowed him to adapt to the new training easily. Now at around 1,250 pounds of Texas Longhorn muscle, McCoy is surprisingly nonchalant and laid back. “It’s not just his build,” Cody says, “He’s always been a bit broader, but what convinced me to go ahead with saddle breaking him was his attitude. He didn’t really mind, he just went with the flow and was real calm all the time.”
That might sound like another tall tale, but it’s as true as the sunset. McCoy lazily saunters up when called, looking for chin rubs and a nice pat on the haunches. When Cody clips the reins to his nose ring and hops on him bare back, McCoy seems perfectly at ease and will happily – and certainly with his own slow and steady gate – mosey around the yard. When asked if McCoy ever speeds up, Cody laughs, “He’s run one time. Most of the time I have to work to get him going. But we were warming up in Glen Rose getting used to carrying a bigger flag for opening ceremonies and they have a pretty big open space there and he took off a bit.” Though it wasn’t a new rush of spirit that got McCoy moving, it turns out he thought he was headed back to his comfy stall. Disappointed, he resumed his normal leisurely gate.
Watching Cody ride McCoy and the easy and steady rhythm they’ve developed is like a scene from slower and less complicated days. The two are a great team, with an obvious friendship. “The bond that they have is great to see,” says Cody’s mom, Cori. “Cody has had McCoy since he’s been weaned, so they have a really great relationship, they truly trust each other.”
About the only thing that gets McCoy ruffled is when the new kid on the block, Rough Ryder, comes around looking to steal a few chin rubs and kisses. “Jealous,” Cody’s mom Cori laughs when McCoy tries to block Ryder from the spotlight.
And there’s definitely a bit of fame that comes from such an unusual steed. Cody has been asked to carry the flag during the opening ceremonies at stock shows from Texas to Oklahoma, and for the Grand Entry for the Texas Steak Cook-off in Hico, The World Show in Fort Worth, as well as the Old Settler’s Parade in Hico. With all eyes on them, Cody admits it takes some getting used to. “It’s a weird feeling. I’m not the kind of person who likes to be in the spotlight. At first it’s nerve-wracking, but once you get over that, it fun to be out there and it’s an honor to be asked to present the flag.”
His mom and dad are proud to see their son succeeding with their longhorns. “It’s neat to watch him growing up, doing his own thing with a passion for something he loves. I don’t worry much at all watching him train and ride longhorns, I would trust riding a longhorn before a horse any day. I grew up with horses, and remember the many spills I took,” she laughs. “Cody is a young man of faith and is truly grateful for what God has blessed our family with. Proud doesn’t even begin to describe how we feel.”
This summer Cody will be mentoring younger showman on halter-training and showing their longhorns, and he’ll be continuing to work with his own herd with three steers and five heifers, the newest born on April 27th. The new calves, Cody’s halter training and saddle breaking services, and prize money will help him pay for college, continuing in his grandfather D.L.’s footsteps of working to build his own life.
D.L. started as a ranch hand in his teens, he attended and graduated from the TCU Ranch Management program and then went in to real estate, eventually leading him to purchase and build his own ranch. The very one where Cody now works to build his own future alongside his family and the gentle giants that he loves.
Photos by Amanda Coers and provided by the Garcia Family