By: Kendra Santos
Matt Reeves had to say a sudden and heartbreaking goodbye on April 17 to his reigning Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association/American Quarter Horse Association Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year Rattle, when she succumbed to an unexplained ruptured stomach. The best bulldoggers in the world bestowed the honor on the gritty little mare with their votes, and at 8 years old Rattle was really just getting warmed up.
“Rattle was a winner,” said seven-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo steer wrestler Reeves. “But some of them are just shooting stars. They’re bright, fast, amazing and lots of people see them. But shooting stars don’t last long. Rattle made a big impact in a short time.”
Reeves and his wife, Savanah, owned Rattle, who’s registered name was Do Get Famous. Matt and Savanah have two little boys, Carson and Hudson, and Rattle was family, too. Rattle joined Team Reeves in August of 2016, when she was only 4. NFR barrel racer Cheyenne Wimberley had started Rattle on the barrels, but she hadn’t been bulldogged on or done much else just yet.
“Rattle could run, and you can’t teach that, so I figured I’d give her a try,” said Reeves, 41, who calls Cross Plains, Texas, home. “She took to the bulldogging right away, and obviously loved it. Rattle and Roy (Reeves’ other bulldogging horse) used to race in the pasture all the time.”
Rattle got her first big shot in the summer of 2018—ahead of schedule—when Roy needed to take a little unscheduled time off.
“We won on Rattle right away,” Reeves said. “Rattle stepped up and made us happy. She really hasn’t had any bad days, and a lot of guys have won good money on her. She’s user friendly, and that’s part of why I thought she deserved to be horse of the year. I made every horse in my trailer, and I’ve put a lot of work into my horses. None of them had ever been in the box before I got them. A lot of time, effort and work goes into every good horse, and in our line of work they mean everything to us.
“I was pumped for a horse I made to win that award. Rattle was the fourth horse I’ve made that I’ve qualified for the Finals on, so that was a big deal to me, too. Horses are what make it work. Good horses are how you make the Finals. They let your talent show. I don’t know if you can be talented enough to overcome lack of horsepower anymore. I’ve been fortunate to ride some good ones. These horses are special to us.”
One of the many texts Reeves received from cowboy friends regarding Rattle’s sudden passing said, “Everybody loves their horses. You just love them more.”
A lot of cowboys admired and appreciated Rattle. In 2019, Kodie Jang, Hunter Cure, Tristan Martin, Jacob Edler, Stetson Jorgensen, Scott Guenthner and Tanner Milan all made money on the little bay mare’s back, in addition to Matt.
“Rattle’s been great everywhere, and with all sized guys riding her,” Reeves said. “She stayed really strong, which is amazing, because she’s not a very big horse. She’s a hair over 14 hands tall, but that’s it. And she only weighs 1,000 pounds.”
When Reeves says Rattle was a winner, it’s a statement of straight fact. Her first-ever official outing was an open rodeo in Stephenville, Texas, in January of 2018. Reeves was 3.9 on 6-year-old Rattle to win it. Her next rodeo—Rattle’s first-ever professional rodeo—was a couple weeks later in Los Fresnos, Texas. Same result: 3.9 for first.
Rattle aimed to please all along. In June of 2017, Reeves took his young prospect to the Texas High School Finals Rodeo in Abilene just to let her see some sights. She’d never been in a building before.
“She’d never been to town,” said Matt, who last summer won the World Champions Rodeo Alliance’s Days of ’47 Cowboy Games in Salt Lake City to collect a $50,000 check riding Roy (Rattle was at Salinas, California, giving Jang and Stockton Graves a short-round ride). “I was riding Rattle around, and ended up hazing for three kids there that day. She was just a horse that was happy to do whatever you asked of her.”
Roy covered for Rattle the first four rounds of last December’s NFR when she was under the weather.
“I had to leave Rattle behind with the vet at home when I left for Vegas, because she was sick with a virus,” Reeves said. “Once they got her on the right meds, she cleared right up and was ready to roll. She got to town at 1 a.m. I worked her at 6:30 that morning to be sure she felt fine, and rode her in the fifth round that night.”
Roy opened for Reeves, and Rattle helped Matt close the deal on his first Finals average title, a $103,641 NFR and $183,131, sixth-place finish in the final 2019 world standings.
That scary pre-NFR episode was not related to the one that ended Rattle’s young life.
“I fed her at 6 o’clock Friday morning, like I do every other day,” Reeves said. “By 7:30, she’d cleaned up all her feed, so I turned her out in a 10-acre trap on coastal grass with Roy and the hazing horses, Beamer and Kirk, like always. There’s tons of grass, so they love to go out there and graze all day.
“I turned them loose that morning, and they took off running, bucking and playing, which was par for the course. I watched them about five minutes, then went and got on the tractor. I’ve been getting the ground ready to plant Sudan grass. Savanah called—frantic—about 5 Friday afternoon.”
Poor Savanah’s been through this heartbreak before, as has Matt, when he lost his good horse Nacho in 2016. Savanah finished 16th in the world in 2009 after losing her barrel horse Moon to a similar pasture mystery up in Oregon that August. Matt went to catch Moon so they could head to the rodeo in Missoula, Montana, and without explanation found him with a shattered pastern. Moon had to be put down. World Champion Barrel Racer Lindsay Sears, from Canada, let Savanah finish that regular season on her horse Mo. Savanah and Mo did great, but came up one hole short of an NFR berth. They call that the Heartbreak Hole in rodeo for a reason.
“Losing Moon about killed her,” Matt said. “She raised him. Savanah having to find Rattle like she did was very hard on her. It really tore her up.”
Understandably so. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that there was no sign of pain or struggle.
“Rattle just fell over dead,” Matt said. “She didn’t have a scratch on her, she hadn’t thrashed or broke a sweat. She never moved from the time she hit the ground. We’re so thankful she didn’t suffer.
“They say a ruptured stomach usually happens due to a blockage. But the autopsy showed there was no blockage. We’d recently had Rattle scoped and had modified her diet a little bit and started her on probiotics. Our goal was to have her ready to roll and feeling her best when the rodeos start back up. What we do know is that she died because her stomach ruptured. What we’ll never know is why that happened.”
Amazingly, Rattle had won money at every rodeo she’d been to in the 2020 season, from October on. In addition to Reeves, Jang, Edler, Milan, Guenthner, Cameron Mormon and Shayde Etherton had all already cashed checks aboard Rattle this year. Matt alone placed in all three rounds and won the average at the Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo in January, placed at Fort Worth and San Antonio, and won San Angelo on her.
Then there was their grand finale, when Reeves won the $100,000 check at RFD-TV’s The American at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on March 8. That was Rattle’s last rodeo. Yes, this little bay shooting star went out with a great, big bang.
“I don’t think I won $300 when Rattle won her first rodeo at Stephenville,” Reeves said. “And we won $100,000 at her last rodeo at The American. That’s some pretty good growth.
“Another thing that was special about Rattle was that she was good in all conditions, from the winter buildings to the big, long-score summer rodeos and the grass at Pendleton. She scored so good and tried so hard everywhere.”
Like every guy in rodeo’s big man’s event, Reeves is tough. But the loss of Rattle breaks his heart.
“I’ve cried for three days,” Matt said. “And I’ve had a lot of trouble talking to Cheyenne and Bill (Pace, Wimberley’s NFR bulldogger boyfriend, who helped match-make Rattle and Reeves in the first place), because she meant a lot to them, too. Bill’s the one who said, ‘Some of them are just shooting stars. They’re bright and beautiful and exceptional, but they’re just not here very long.’
“You see a shooting star sometimes on all-night drives to the next rodeo. Losing Rattle will always remind me to stop and realize the wonderment of every shooting star. They’re spectacular. Then they’re gone. I believe God has a plan. I don’t like or understand this one, but I know His plan is better than ours. It’s hard, though. Rattle was really, really special. I loved her, and she loved me. We were a team, and she was part of our family.”