Almost 40 Years Gatherin’s


There is a real good book titled “40 Years Gatherin’s” written by Spike Van Cleve in the late 1970s, and you would enjoy reading it.

I’m sitting in the Sacramento airport with a delayed flight and reflecting on my weekend at the Western States Horse Expo.  It’s been a long time since I have presented at it, and it, like me has changed some.

You might wonder what this has to do with the book I mentioned above.  It just so happened that an old friend of mine, Rob Leslie that I first met in 1979 when we were both going to college in Casper, Wyoming, was there representing Vetoquinol, a pharmaceutical comparing with equine products.  1979 is getting pretty close to 40 years ago.

Back then all I wanted to do was ride, have fun with my friends, and have a pretty girl. The riding was spurring bucking horses, the friends were young rodeo guys that felt the same way, and the girl at that time was Pam Hernandez, a brown haired girl that worked in the college cafeteria that was so nice and so pretty, and smart enough not to let a young cowboy tell what he thought she wanted to hear.  I would sure like to know what happened in her life.  

She was real special.

As Rob sparked my memory, I got to thinking about the last forty years.   I loved riding Bareback horses(I hated riding bulls).  I was tall and skinny and not built to be a bareback rider, so I had to really have fast feet and stay ahead of a horse, and have lots of try to ride good.  I didn’t always ride good but I always tried to ride good.  I think I really learned to appreciate the life, spirit, and athletic ability of the horse at that time, and have always tried to respect that and not take it out of the horse. I would really like to nod my head and spur another one, and feel like I could, but I think I will leave that alone.


BACK WHEN THE CHUTES WERE WOOD, THE MEN WERE STEEL, AND THE CHUTE HELP WAS A POET IN THE MAKING (Paul Zarziski helped me get out on this horse in Cascade, Montana)


One of the real important things I learned rodeoin after college when I started traveling was your traveling partners and who you hung out with when you were on the rodeo trail.  Winners create winners and losers make excuses and end up  hanging with losers, and in the rodeo world, support the winners and tend to not hang around to long because of injury or finances so you get a new crop of losers coming in quite often.  The winners feed off of this and it allows winners to keep being winners.  

Some winners are seen to be arrogant.  It may just be the confidence you need to be a winner in a very demanding and dangerous sport.  I had lots of good traveling partners, but my two favorite were Buzz Cope and Stanley Johnston.  We had lots of people in the van, but these guys helped me to be a winner more than any others.  When I was at a rodeo I liked to hang out with Colin Murnin.  These three would help me get my try on and if you weakened they would tell you about it.  I hope I did the same for them.  We were a bunch of young guys with the same ambition, to give it our all for eight seconds, and then have lots of fun until the next one.  We fit each other’s pressure.

After I was done riding, I started announcing.  It was lots of pressure, and lots of overhyped talk and it was alright but I didn’t really like it.  It was to much pressure, and I did alright but I didn’t really try like I should have.  I didn’t feel a part of it like I did when I was behind the chutes climbing on one.  I was one of the main parts of the production, but I wasn’t in it, and it wasn’t the same. I didn’t have my traveling partners, and that was a big part of the deal.  Riding bucking horses and then getting to the next one is different than talking about it.  I didn’t really fit with the cowboys anymore.

I saw Dennis Reís on Friday at the expo and we had a visit.  Ive been watching the whole clinic game for the last twenty years or so and Dennis has been right in the middle of it all.  I got caught up in all that and we were all competing with each other, but it wasn’t the same as rodeoin, as there was a different kind of an ego involved.  When you nod your head on a bucking horse, you have to impress two people, and that is the judges.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the Calgary Stampede with 100,000 thousand people in the stands, and you ride a wild horse fit and get a standing ovation or the Wilsal rodeo and you make a 23 point spur ride and they don’t even clap, it only matters on how they mark you and your horse.  Judges are supposed to have knowledge.



What I saw happening at the horse expos was the way you win(get the most people to come to your booth, to get the money)was to impress the judges the most.  The judges just happened to be those same folks that would give the standing ovation for a wild horse fit at the rodeo.  They didn’t know so they would be sold on a bunch of hype and not real horsemanship.  If you could get the people to come to your booth and buy equipment or come to a clinic, you could pay all your help and expenses.  The trouble was is there were several other clinicians doing the same thing and you had to do something more impressive than the others to get them to walk by the others booth and come to yours.  It created a extreme horsemanship that didn’t fit the horse, but sure sold lots of halters, sticks and videos.  I didn’t like it.

Dennis explained to me that they would be offered booth space instead of getting paid to preform.  They would get $10000 worth of booths for working the show and make the money selling to the public.  It worked great when the economy of the horse market was booming.  After the Great Recession, that all came crashing down and it really changed things.

I didn’t fit very good in those days.  I didn’t have a booth and had nothing to sell.

My crowds we smaller lots of times, and what I was doing was boring not what people wanted to hear, but there were always some people that were real interested in more horsemanship and not so much hype.  I never let it bother me or change what I was doing, because I thought what I was doing was right for the horse and for people.  I didn’t really fit in at the horse fairs, kind of like rodeo announcing.

Then my focus shifted to the place I had always had my base with and that’s the livestock industry.  I was presenting for Purina at the Red Bluff bull and gelding sale and Darrell Burnett and I were eating breakfast at a restaurant and I looked around at all the cattle people and felt so comfortable and at home and I told Darrell that this is who I wanted to be around, and that’s been my focus every since.  My new traveling partners.

Now I feel like I’m back in my old rodeoin days and my traveling partners fit me again.  We are older and not in as good of shape, but Ron Gill, Todd MacCartney, Dean Fish, Bill Dale and all my partners I work for with Zoetis Canada are winners and help me to present myself in a way that makes my job better.  The people we are presenting to know, and don’t really care about a lot of hype(wild horse fit) but will listen and learn from good stockmanship(23 point spur ride).  If your wrong they know it and if your right they appreciate it.



So now we are in the present and I think back on the weekend of horsemanship.  The crowds were much smaller than 15 years ago.  The booth sizes of clinicians was much smaller.  There were many less clinicians.  The one that we’re there were all very supportive of each other and I saw several of them telling people to go see someone else.  The big hype/ego clinicians have gone somewhere else to make the money.  The people in attendance were there to learn, and I found it very interesting the big day was one Friday.  It use to be Saturday was the big day.  I don’t know but I think many people came on all three days, but some came the first day and went and rode on Saturday and Sunday.  I didn’t see near as many young people as I used too.




I watched some of the clinics.  Really good info and presentation of horsemanship that the attendees can take to the horse and use.  I didn’t see anyone standing on the back of the saddle popping a bullwip or any stuff that was all hype and no horsemanship.  

I watched Jonathan Fields do a trailer loading demo.  It was so good, and he was such a great presenter, and really good at making the horse feel the right pressure and the audience as well.  I really enjoyed watching and learning from a good horseman and a good human.





I had remembered watching a demo in the same spot 15 years ago by a guy from Australia and I am almost certain the horse had health issues(collided or tied up) when done because of all the exertion in the heat for a long time.  In my mind it was cruelty to animals, and when the horse finally went in he got a standing ovation.  I’m so glad I got to see the change in approach.

The last thing I watched was Amberley Snyder.  You will have to check her out on the internet  to know her story.  The last time I presented at Western States my friend and life mentor Michael Richardson was presenting as well.  Michael, like Amberley is in a chair from an accident.  Fifteen years ago Michael kept us all in balance and would help the audience understand what was important with horses and life.

Amberley just did the same thing in her way and she re- inspired me to live life to its fullest and ride as much as I can, just as Michael did in the past.

I had a great colt to start.  I got to start on Friday and have an hour each day with him.  He was a good draw because of the work that had done with him by the owners.  I really enjoyed working with him, and there was no wild horse fit.  I felt real good about the work I did with him.  I didn’t have many people watching, but some of them were there for each one and I appreciated visiting with them about things.

As I look back on the last 40 years, I’ve kind of made a big circle.  All I want to do is ride and work with animals, have a few good friends, and hang out with a pretty girl. 

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