Without horses, there would have been no American cowboy, no iconic cattle drives and no historic ranches to create the unique identity of the “old west.” As technology moves our society away from its rural/agricultural roots, it is ranches that keep the dream of cowboys, western traditions and quality quarter horses alive. In good news for the mile high state, Colorado State University’s equine science program brings top-notch ranches together under one roof to show the public their contemporary relevance, as well as pass along their western heritage to new generations of students.
CSU’s Legends of Ranching Performance Horse Sale completed its eighth year on April 27, 2013. The high-profile event is a culmination of ranches throughout the country consigning horses to, and working with, CSU students in the popular Horse Training Laboratory (or Colt Starting Class). While it may seem the 40-plus students working with young horses bearing famous AQHA bloodlines receive the better end of the deal, the ranchers involved admit their satisfaction in passing along the western lifestyle as they know it.
“(We consign horses for) the students’ interaction and what they learn from the horses,” said Harry Haythorn of Haythorn Ranch Company in Nebraska, one of the ranches bearing the historic Haythorn name and legacy. “It is so that we can get (more) people involved in agriculture, so we have a connection between the farm and ranch to the rest of the world. We can’t sit back on our laurels and expect it to happen through osmosis,” he added. “We’ve got to get ambassadors and these students are as good as you will ever want to get.”
Asked regarding the importance of immersing a new generation of equine science students in authentic ranching traditions and culture, Haythorn provided a heartfelt response.
“It’s very important,” he stated. “It’s almost like trying to convey it to my children and grandchildren. I want to continue a legacy on my ranch, but also I want to continue a legacy in agriculture and that’s where these students carry the torch, so to speak.”
Participating with Haythorn Ranch Company were a host of other historic and high profile ranches whose roots stretched back to the 1800s and/or play a significant role in today’s ranching industry. Names like Singleton Ranches, Wood Ranch, Silver Spur Ranch, Crofoot Ranches, 6666’s (or Four-Sixes) and Wagonhound Land and Livestock were just a few examples among many, and they all expressed the importance of disseminating ranching values and practices to future generations.
“It gets more important every year,” said Grant Mitchell, manager of the Horse Division and San Cristobal Ranch for Singleton Ranches, the largest cow-calf operation in New Mexico. “It seems to me like there are not as many people interested in the ranching lifestyle. The more people we can educate and help to promote our industry, the better it is for all of us.”
“I think it’s the key to the whole horse industry,” agreed Dustin Ewing, General Manager for Wagonhound Land and Livestock, a historic Wyoming ranch that partners with CSU’s Equine Sciences program. “That is what is kind of unique about these horse programs in these colleges, is they are the future of the horse industry. Whether it is the science they are using and the performance and the ranching, that is the future, right there. I think that is why everybody is participating in (the Legends of Ranching sale).”
Putting action to their words, past students involved in CSU’s equine science program and the high profile annual quarter horse sale are already impacting the industry. Zach Iddings is a 2008 CSU graduate and participated in the first Legends of Ranching sale in 2006. After earning his degree, Iddings became the Horse Program Manager of the Montana branch of Cowan Select Horses, LLC, where he described his job as encompassing everything from herd health care to training to feeding and foaling mares. As testament to the ranch’s horses and Iddings’ talent, a Cowan horse took home the high selling honors in both 2011 and 2013. The humble CSU alum appreciates the chance to invest his experience and Cowan’s horses into the current crop of CSU students.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to be able to help the young people; for them to get to experience starting colts,” Iddings stated the day before the sale. “For a lot of them, it’s the first time. That’s the big draw, is to give them the opportunity to learn and try something new. There are not many other programs in the country where the students get to work with this quality of horses.”
Bobbie Skelton Walton, the western riding instructor for CSU, agreed with Iddings’ take on the horses brought in by participating ranches.
“It’s unbelievable, the quality of the horses,” enthused Skelton Walton, who’s Colt Starting Class has been integral to the sale since its inception. “I don’t think the students here realize the opportunity they have, for this to be the first horse they get to start, to have this quality of horse to be able to work with. We’ve benefited as a program and the students have benefited, because the ranches want to put in quality horses that represent what they have.”
The quality of AQHA horses in the class and sale is a direct result of the superior ranches involved with the program, and displays a passion for horses and western traditions that drives those ranches to excel.
“It’s a good life,” described Blair Gigian of the Rocking G Ranch, a quarter horse and Black Angus operation in Alberta, Canada. Blair and his wife, Tami, brought three exceptional ranch broke geldings to the sale (two of them sold for top-five prices) and look forward to instilling an enthusiasm for ranching and quarter horse traditions in future CSU students. “I love horses. We’ve been raising quarter horses for 30-plus years. It’s something we really enjoy, that’s our life,” he summed up with conviction as Tami smiled nearby. “If I could spend the rest of my days raising horses the way I’ve been doing, that’s a good dream for me, you know.”
Through the annual Legends of Ranching Performance Horse Sale, CSU and top-flight ranches aim to keep that kind of western dream alive. ❖