by Maddy Butcher photos by Mary Williams Hyde
In the wide open space of the Golden Spike Event Center in Ogden, Utah, a quiet, little event is gathering steam each year.
It’s the Great Basin Buckaroo Gathering, which last year brought Joe Wolter and Martin Black for a rare dual clinic on horsemanship and stockmanship.
The concurring roping competition is geared to elevate horsemanship and honor buckaroo traditions, according to the event’s mission statement.
“It’s judged with an emphasis on being a good hand, not just a good roper,” said organizer Trevor Ellis.
“We’re slowing things down instead of speeding them up,” said Ellis. “There is no other event like it. Fancy loops are not going to win. The event puts a priority on horsemanship, stockmanship, team work, and efficiency.”
Steve Dorrance (Bill Dorrance’s son) and his wife, Leslie, watched the Wolter-Black clinic from the stands. The couple traveled from their central California ranch to check out the action.
“I think my dad would have been pleased that people are still learning and horses are getting handier, better. Bill had been to enough brandings to see that people needed help with roping, needed help with horses, needed help with cattle.
“Out here, in this hot weather and with black cattle, to boot, most people back then would be on them, running them around. The horses would be lathered up. I haven’t really seen any horses lathered up here.
“There is more stockmanship. I’m confident that if my dad was here today, he’d have really enjoyed it,” said Steve Dorrance.
Added Leslie, “There is more attention to taking care of your horse and the livestock. For a long time, there was an image of big rodeo and ‘yahoo.’ But I think they are getting back to those roots of taking care of their livestock.”
Indeed, Wolter and Black asked their students to move past old stereotypes and traditional, preconceived Do’s and Don’ts Muscling your horse into position is so yesterday.
Said Wolter as he watched one rider work: “I want to be interesting to my horse. I want him thinking, ‘what’s he going to do next?’ That’s perfect. But this horse here figured out what to do. It got cow-y, but then it wasn’t interested in you. So, it ceased to be a partnership.”
Black, who split time between the clinic and the competition and teamed with Clair Kempton and Elias Gonzalez to win the overall prize, noted that it’s up to the riders to give clear signals and stay out of the horse’s way. For instance:
“It’s easy for a horse to rate a cow. As colts, they’ve been rating their mother in the pasture. If the mother takes off, they’re right there.”
Added Wolter: “Check your riding. You might be saying slow down, but your body is saying go.”
The stands may not have been full, but organizers nonetheless have made room for growth. This year’s version on September 9-10 will include youth and women competitions as well as workshops in silver engraving and rawhide braiding. Black will return to provide morning horsemanship clinics and Scott Grosskopf will teach ranch roping in the afternoons.