Colorado cowboy returns to BHSS as a winner |

Colorado cowboy returns to BHSS as a winner

Well-known horse trainer Matt Koch wins the AQHA Versatility Contest on SJR Diamond Icon at the 2021 Black Hills Stock Show. The show wrapped up Jan. 22. Photo by ScootemNShootem

After a several-year absence, Matt Koch came back to the Black Hills Stock Show and made his presence known.

The accomplished horse trainer, four-time American Quarter Horse Association world champion, multiple National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity finalist, and almost $800,000 winner in the cow horse, won the AQHA’s Versatility Contest at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, S.D., on January 22.

Koch, of Elizabeth, Colo., won the all-around on San Juan Ranch’s SJR Diamond Icon and placed third on Penny Walsh’s OneTimeWithaCowgirl.

While working for ranches in Nebraska and Wyoming, Koch showed at the stock show, ranch rodeoed, and had horses on the sale, but hadn’t been there for the last few years.

“It was kind of neat to get to come up and play,” he said.

He brought six head of horses to Rapid City but showed the two 4-year-olds in the versatility. “I divvy them out between classes, where I think they’ll fit and be the most competitive. We showed them a little bit last year as 3-year-olds. I thought it would be a good deal to get them in the pen a bunch of times, to see how they are, and to get them more seasoned that way.”

Koch’s next big stop is the Reined Cowhorse Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, Feb. 9-21. Competing in Rapid City helps him “check (the horses’) spots, find where the holes are, and then we have a week to tune them up and go on to the next show.”


When he’s not on the road, Koch and his wife Brianna are home at Koch Cowhorses, on 200 acres outside Elizabeth. They, along with three full-time employees, have 40 head of horses in training, between cow horses, rope horses and versatility horses. “We do a little of everything on them,” he said. At the Black Hills Stock Show, he also showed some cow and rope horses.

The 36-year-old didn’t even know horse events like versatility contests even existed when he was growing up.

In his hometown of Seneca, Kan., his family had a cabinet shop and farmed on the side. He rode horses with his granddad, while they rounded up cows for other farmers.

But it was a chance advertisement in the Western Horseman that determined the direction of his career.

He saw an ad for a horse training program at Lamar (Colo.) Community College, and decided to attend. After graduation, he interned with multi-million dollar National Cutting Horse Association earnings-winner Lloyd Cox, then worked for other ranchers and trainers.


Koch cowboyed on the Haythorn ranch north of Ogallala, Neb., and on the Wagonhound Ranch near Douglas, Wyo., working during the day and training horses in the evenings.

“I started from the very bottom,” he said.

Cowboying has given him a working knowledge of what he wants his horses to be able to do. “I want to make a nice horse you can do anything on.”

The San Juan Ranch, a major breeder in Texas and owner of SJR Diamond Icon, has raised two snaffle bit champions. Penny Walsh’s stud, OneTimeWithACowgirl, is an up and coming horse. “We hadn’t shown him much last year,” Koch said. “We brought him here to see how he would take it, and we got along plenty good with him.” Walsh has been a client of Koch’s since 2017, when he went out on his own. San Juan Ranches added their horses to his barn two years later.

He considers the versatility show horses as “souped-up ranch horses. They’re a little quicker-footed and everything is a little more fine-tuned. When you ride them it doesn’t take much pressure to move them left or right.”

Koch enjoyed his time among old friends at the stock show. “I’ve been real fortunate,” he said of his outstanding career, “to be known around here. I walk around here and everybody says hi. It’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s pretty neat.”


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