Tradition & innovation mix at Vold Rodeo Company to keep pace with changing times
It is hard to escape the sense of history and tradition when you are on the Harry Vold ranch located near Avondale, Colo. It starts at the gate as you enter the ranch, where you see the bucking horse sign that was presented to Harry Vold at his induction into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1994. On the sign is a small metal plate that reads “Two Champs — Ty Murray on Bobby Joe Skoal.” Bobby Joe Skoal is one of 10 bucking horses that are running free and spending their retirement on the ranch. A little farther up the road is the famous Rattlesnake Butte sign, and, as you approach the ranch house, you see the famous black horses of the WNFR as they run back and forth between pastures and in front of the ranch house. The ranch itself has history, in that a section of it was part of Gene Autry’s Flying A ranch.
A little north of the ranch house is the cemetery for 21 animals that have a special place in the life of Harry and Karen Vold. Some of the most famous bucking horses in rodeo history — Sarcee Sorrel, Angel Sings, and Necklace — are buried here. Besides the bulls 777 and Crooked Nose, you will also find the head stones for JR, Harry’s first arena horse, and Mitzi, who was Karen’s trick riding horse.
In the house you will find hundreds of photographs of the history of rodeo and early western contract acts covering the walls. In every room you will find trophies and mementos from Harry Vold’s 60 plus years in rodeo. Tradition is everywhere — and closely held.
It is unfortunate, but sometimes tradition has to give way to practicality. There is no escaping the fact that Harry Vold is getting older, and flying across the prairie on the back of a horse while gathering his horses for the spring branding and bucking try out, is just not something he can do anymore. But it is not in the nature of Harry Vold to sit back and let everyone else have all the fun. His new mount for the spring gather is a brand new pickup truck, and anyone that has ridden with him will tell you that he does not spare the ‘horsepower’ when gathering up his horses.
When it comes to the branding, it is all traditional. Top cowboys like Johnny Holloway and his son Chuck Holloway, Brad and Shirley Churchill, Scotty Hall, Rick and Kim Tune, Bill Larsen and Gary Hall come to help out with the branding. No squeeze chutes here, it is all cowboys, ropes, and muggers to lay the colts down in the pens for cutting and branding.
In addition to the branding, spring is also the time when Harry and his daughter Kirsten get a chance to evaluate the new bucking horse prospects. Although Harry Vold is still involved in the operation of the ranch and anywhere else that he is needed, he transferred day to day management of Vold Rodeo Company to Kirsten about 10 years ago.
The horses on the Vold ranch have a pretty good life. The ones that will be evaluated today have been running free on the ranch with very little human interaction for three to six years. Now it is time to see if Harry’s investment in them will pay off.
Here again is where tradition is forced to take a back seat to necessity. Rather than having the horses tried out by a rider, they will be evaluated using a bucking dummy. “What we are trying to do here is see whether they want to buck or not. Normally, I would like to have a cowboy on every one but that’s impossible.” said Harry Vold, “The cowboys have got so specialized they don’t want to come out here. So this gives us an idea of what they (the horses) are.”
Not surprisingly, daughter Kirsten Vold, has a little bit more modern take on the use of the bucking dummy, “We’re using the dummy to test all of our colts out. It’s a safer way to test them without having a rider on them. It gives them a chance to see if they want to buck or not, and learn to buck without having to counter act with the weight of a cowboy.” Kirsten continued, “It’s a lot better way to go — kind of the wave of a new generation of rodeo. The bull people started it, and now the horse people have adopted it.”
The bucking dummy is a very simple piece of equipment. “It’s just a 34-pound metal box attached like a bareback rig on the horse and you have this button,” Kirsten said, “after eight seconds, I push the button and it pops it off. The dummy is hooked to the flank and it pulls the flank off.”
It is easy to see how the bucking dummy would be safer for the horse. It is very light, inanimate, yet the horse still knows it is there and will give a very good indication of whether the colt will be a bucking horse or not. “The horse bucks because he wants to buck,” said Kirsten, “contrary to popular thought, it’s nothing that we are doing. They buck because they want to buck. You’ve got a little flank in them and some weight on top of them, and give ’em a chance to let it go.”
There may be a mix of tradition and innovation at Vold Rodeo Company, but there is one certainty, as long as there is rodeo and bucking horses, Vold Rodeo Company will continue the tradition of producing world champion bucking horses to test cowboys and delight fans.