After enduring leg and shoulder surgeries in the past five years, Hightower is mostly healthy – he still has a neck issue that might need surgery later this year. But the legendary rider competed Tuesday in the Futurity Open, showing his fellow cowboys he still has plenty left in the saddle.
Aboard Kalightascope, Hightower marked 214.5 to finish 13th in the go-round, 4.5 points behind Austin Shepard and Sweet Little Cats. The top 19 horses with scores of 213.5 or better advance to Saturday night’s final, and Hightower has a chance to add to his legacy in Augusta.
“I’ve been pretty lucky here,” Hightower said, adding he feels nostalgic in this pen. “You better not try to do anything fancy. You better be smart.”
Hightower is a Hall of Fame cutter with more than $3 million in career earnings. In Augusta, he owns five titles – four in the Classic Open, one in the Futurity Open – which ties him for second in Augusta Futurity history, behind only Phil Rapp.
Hightower last competed in Augusta in 2005, when he and Just Playin Smart won the Classic Open finals two days after his mother-in-law, Mary Jo Lyle, died.
“I was on both ends of the spectrum that week,” Hightower said.
Hightower lives in Bluff Dale, Texas, with his wife, Jody. They have two sons, Hunter, a two-time national high school cutting champion, and Hayden. He also has a 26-year-old daughter, Hilary, along with a 5-year-old granddaughter.
Five years ago, Hightower hit a string of bad luck, first suffering a broken right leg after a horse kicked him. One year later, he underwent surgery to repair his right shoulder. Upon his recovery, Hightower went to work with up-and-coming cutter Brody Beaver in 2010. But when Beaver killed himself in August 2011, Hightower dropped the sport.
He soon found work with horse legend Todd Crawford. Hightower helped with the horses, while also assisting with some clinics.
“Riding with Todd and them guys, I had a blast,” Hightower said. “A lot of those people are how it used to be – everybody’s helping each other, hooting and hollering.”
Last year, Hightower started helping his old friend Billy Martin off and on. When Martin offered Hightower a chance to help train his horses on a full-time basis, he jumped at the chance.
“I’m taking another spin at it,” Hightower said. “We’ll see what happens.”