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Horse Roundup 2022

Horse Roundup 2022: Ardith Bruce: The Life and Legacy of a Horsewoman

By Ruth Nicolaus 

Editor’s Note: Ardith Bruce passed away June 27, 2022.  

Ardith Bruce has been a member and a staunch supporter of the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association for years, a world champion barrel racer, and is now a 2022 inductee into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. 

The Fountain, Colo. native, now 90 years of age, was the first barrel racer to host clinics, teaching girls and women across the nation about barrel racing and finessing their skills. 

Born in 1931 to Forest and Evelyn Barnes, she spent days on the back of work horses in the farm fields. The family moved to Mountain Grove, Mo., when she was young.  

After graduating high school in 1949, she married Jim Bruce. The couple moved to Texas, and Jim decided Ardith needed to learn to run barrels.  

So he showed her the pattern, and two weeks later, she was at a rodeo in Muleshoe, Texas. “I had never seen, and never been to a barrel race till the first one I competed in,” she remembered. It was a two-day rodeo, with entry fees of $5 a day. She won both days and $30 for her efforts.  

Bruce competed at amateur rodeos before joining the Girls Rodeo Association, forerunner to the WPRA in 1960. Three years later, she qualified for her first GRA barrel racing national championship, and the next year, won it, pocketing nearly $7,000 for the world title. 

Her best mount was Shaws Kingwood Snip, “Red,” a gelding she purchased as a thirteen-year-old. Red had won grand champion at the Colorado State Fair’s quarter horse show, having been shown in the roping, reining, western pleasure, barrels and poles. He was also a ranch horse that could be broncy at times. When she tried him out, he bucked, “making me think twice about purchasing him,” she said.  

But “we got along fine,” Bruce said. “He had a heart as big as he was. He was a smart horse, and he was great-hearted.”  

Red carried her to every one of her seven consecutive world championship qualifications, from 1963-1969.  

She was one of the first to host rodeo-type clinics. She got her start with a 4-H clinic in 1965, when the instructor didn’t show up. She continued producing barrel racing clinics across the nation, two or three a year, from coast to coast. In the 1960s, video cameras were new, and Bruce took advantage of the new technology, showing students their runs. “We would critique students on their runs and show them home movies of the top fifteen barrel racers at the National Finals. I learned about as much teaching as the kids learned from me.” 

She and Jim had a son, Dan, who was an excellent horseman and trainer himself. He died in a vehicle accident in 2014. Jim passed away in 2007.  

Dan had two children: Spencer Bruce and Amber Bruce West. Amber barrel races, as does her daughter, Jaycie. Her son, Eastan, also competes in rodeo.  

Bruce gained a daughter when she took in Debbie Weaver Thompson. Thompson was introduced to Bruce in 1972 at one of her clinics, and the two hit it off. Thompson spent her high school years living with Bruce and the two women consider each other family. 

Thompson said Bruce’s natural talent is analyzing horses and barrel racing runs. “She is phenomenal at studying and picking out things, small or big, that can help a horse and rider communicate better,” she said. “She can also translate that to the person. Even to this day, she can watch runs on TV and can pick things out.”  

She is tuned in to horses, Thompson said. “She can get on a horse and make him do things that other people couldn’t get them to do. She can communicate very well with horses. Even fifteen years ago, when she was in her seventies, she could have gotten on my horse and probably outrun me.” 

She has a way with animals in general, not just horses. Cats and dogs are her pets, and she’s even befriended the raccoons on the creek. Every night after dark, a family of coons come up for their daily feeding of cat food. She’s made partial pets out of the raccoons, Thompson said. “They aren’t scared and they don’t run from her. She talks to them and feeds them. She loves her animals, all kinds. Some people just have that gift, and she has the gift with animals.” 

She had more talents than what was evident in rodeo.   

Ardith was handy with a sewing machine, making many of her own rodeo outfits. They were stylish, colorful and flashy, and her great-granddaughter Jacie West often wears them.  

Ardith was the first licensed female outrider in the Colorado race industry, and she won the GRA’s 1976 steer undecorating world title.  

She was just as influential in the WPRA office as in the arena.  

When the office moved from Oklahoma City to Colorado Springs, she spent an estimated one thousand hours helping move and organize. 

Her biggest contribution might be how she helped make the barrel racing event more acceptable and professional.  

At the time, there were no electric timers, barrel racing patterns weren’t measured, and rodeos used things like folding chairs or milk cans in place of the cans.  

“I was one of them that worked to obtain a standard pattern in the Girls Rodeo Association,” Bruce said. She also worked to get an electric timer, which was operated by car battery “which we lugged around to rodeos.”  

Barrel stakes might be pieces of twine dug out of the trash can, tied to a pop can, and buried in the arena.  

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“I urged the GRA to better our rule book and to get our judges and members to abide by the rules,” she remembered. “There were a lot of responsibilities that we did to make our event professional. I worked hard and accepted a lot of responsibility to make our barrel race a better event and upgrade the standards.” 

Barrel racing wasn’t always included in rodeo, and Bruce’s work helped make it more acceptable.  

“We have come a long, long way in making our association a professional one, to sell it to rodeo committees and the stock contractors. (Now) barrel racing is next to bull riding in popularity.” 

Her last horse left her place a few years ago, as she isn’t as mobile and has trouble feeding. She misses that horse. “I’d slide open my doors and call to her. I enjoyed visiting with her.”  

She loved to compete. “I could hardly stand to miss a rodeo,” she said. “If there was a rodeo somewhere, I wanted to go.”  

Her barrel racing and rodeo days run through her mind now. “God has seen fit to let me have a good mind at my age, and I have a lot of memories of barrel racing and my old Red and the other horses I’ve had, and my travels around the U.S.” 

The WPRA is also important to her.  

“I have a payback and loyalty to this association that I’ll carry to the grave with me.”  

The Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame ceremony takes place July 16 in Colorado Springs. Other inductees into the 2022 class include Cindy Rosser (WPRA notable), Trevor Brazile (all-around); Bobby Mote (bareback riding); Bobby Harris (team roping); the late Jake Beutler (stock contractor); Rick Young (contract personnel -rodeo clown); Mel Potter (notable); Medicine Woman (livestock -saddle bronc); and Nebraska’s Big Rodeo in Burwell (rodeo committee.)  

Horse Roundup 2021

Horse Roundup 2021: Scot & Jodie O’Bryan: Breeding and raising winners

Belvidere, South Dakota ranchers, horse breeders and performance horse trainers Scot and Jodie O’Bryan have been quietly setting the horse world on fire for nearly twenty years with their stud PC San Sugar Oaks, who was named the 2020 5-State Breeders All Around Stallion. 

Married for over 30 years, the O’Bryans raised five children while training, raising and competing on quality horses. Scot is a farrier and also trains outside horses, and Jodie trains horses, runs barrels and also is a leatherworker and beader. Both of them have also helped countless young people work toward their horsemanship goals. Jodie often has girls come over to run barrels and helps them with their horses. 

The O’Bryans have been connected with the Cowan family for many years, with Jodie’s father Albert Chapman being a close friend of Pat Cowan, and Scot rode horses for the Cowan program. “My wife and I have trained horses all our lives and we wanted to start a breeding program, but not just any horse. Tigh Cowan called me to see if I wanted to ride a stud that he had sold to Alice Moore in New Mexico,” Scot said. 

The someone had started the stud already and hadn’t done the best job, so Scot was to put 30 days on him. “I found that he could stop and turn faster than I could ride. I put the 30 days on him and he was sent to New Mexico. Then Tigh called me and said I jinxed the horse so I might as well buy him since Alice wanted a different horse.” So PC San Sugar Oaks came back to South Dakota, for good this time. 

The bay stud came to live with the O’Bryans, and in addition to covering their own mares they also bred around twenty outside mares a year. When he was younger, Scot would ride the stud to pick-up bucking horse in rodeos where Jodie was running barrels. Scot also roped on him and Jodie ran barrels. PC San Sugar Oaks has been described as the best kept secret in South Dakota as he has sired winners in nearly all rodeo events and top ranch horses as well. Many of them have carried their young jockeys to high school and college rodeo finals also. PC San Sugar Oaks has excelled as a multi-event horse and his offspring are just as versatile. “The stud has been a very consistent sire, no matter the mare, all his colts are winners,” Scot said. 

“Just about every one of those colts is a money earner in whatever event they enter,” Jodie said. “He is a phenomenal stallion. I have won a lot, every one I’ve rode has been a 1D barrel horse. We won the Iron Cowgirl two times, won the senior Iron Cowgirl doing eleven events and we were third overall in the short go. OBryans Hurricane, own son of PC San Sugar Oaks has won the South Dakota National Barrel Horse Association saddle twice. My dad told me, after seeing a video of the Hurricane, to never sell that horse, he is a good son of a buck, so the Hurricane will never be for sale.” 

Scot and Jodie have never heavily advertised PC San Sugar Oaks, but have had very good success filling his books by word of mouth and everything has been live cover. “There have only been two mares he never bred,” Scot said. “They were naughty mares and I wasn’t going to let him chew them up, so I called the owners and told them to come get them. Out of nineteen years, only two mares is pretty phenomenal.” 

In Scot’s opinion, “They are not a horse that everyone can ride, but they are people horses, pranksters, overachievers and like action. The PC San Sugar Oaks are big time gamers, if you are playing a game they want in but they all have a personality you can work with. He has been a very good experience for the last twenty years. I trained horses for the Cowans before I bought my first stud from them. The world is a small place when you get out there, and it was no accident we were able to buy the studs we wanted. We have been very blessed to get involved. One key to success has been buying from a solid, reputable breeder. Pat Cowan’s horse program was fifty years old before I ever bought a stud from them. We know what we are looking for by being performance trainers, and have had a lot of success.”  

Jodie says riding these colts is like riding a freight train, as every one has a big motor and a lot of heart. Scot agrees. “Any event you have to go to win, in a race you have to be stepping over a rocket. They all break fast; in all the years I roped on PC San Sugar Oaks, I don’t believe we were ever late coming out of the box. They are all trainable and smart, you ride them four or five times and they think they are smarter than you. Sun Frost never bred a horse for someone to run second place. Buy horses from reputable breeders who are just as concerned that you have just as much success as they do.” 

“The horses have kept us independent, we are very blessed and I enjoy it,” Scot said. “It takes a village to raise a champion; there is a set of papers and time behind the horse. The biggest thing is to get a horse that is willing to work as hard with you as you are working.” 

“Can’t explain the feeling when you breed them, raise then, train them, win on them and they are all the same.” Jodie said. “Our two year olds go to the hills and move cows before they go to the arena.” 

After trying a few other studs looking for the perfect junior stallion, the O’Bryans called Tigh Cowan again and two years ago PC Ikonic came to live in Belvidere. “He is a different breed of cat, but he has a lot of attributes that I’m very high on,” Scot said. “Jodie has told me to stop comparing all horses to PC San Sugar Oaks; he is one of a kind and can tell what you are thinking. They all can really follow the way you ride and are looking for the play. We are crossing Ikonic on the San Sugar Oaks daughters and they are nice colts and we are liking what we are seeing. When I grain the mares the young colts are already coming up to me, they are curious and have no fear. We are very happy with him. Ikonic never gets a play, he just knows where to be when sorting a cow. The past two years we have just ranch-rode PC Ikonic but this fall we will be campaigning and going to the futurities, it will be the test and he will have to prove his stuff. I have a lot of faith in him and Jodie does too.” 

PC Ikonic has proved to be a solid ranch horse already. The O’Bryans don’t have an indoor arena so their horses have learned how to work no matter the weather. 

The O’Bryans also raise registered Longhorn cattle, which started with breeding roping heifers. After roping the heifers all summer, they all would be bred up which led them to buy registered bulls and start their own herd. They had been running cattle on shares but the Longhorns were multi-purpose. They have showed bulls and females around the country, winning the National Western Stockshow in Denver multiple times, and raised the reserve grand champion bull of the world. Two of their sons paid for their first year at college with scholarships from showing their cattle. Scot and Jodie are also very involved with the Top Hand Invitational Longhorn Sale at the Central States Fair in Rapid City. “We have promoted four different sets of kids and they have to work as hard as anybody. Our 6-year-old granddaughter showed the reserve grand champion Longhorn steer in Fort Worth this year,” Scot said. “Our horses and cattle have done a lot for us.” 

“There are a lot of good horses, but you can’t just have a horse, you have to have a better one than average. I have been very blessed with the first stud horse but I think the second will be just as good,” Scot said. “I talk to my horses all the time and I’m sure they can understand me, it’s like working with another person. If they don’t want to be with you, it’s like pulling teeth. A good horse does most all the work so you need one that is looking to go to work.” 

Horse Roundup 2020

Horse Roundup 2019

Horse Roundup 2018

Horse Roundup 2017

Tips for Horse Judging Success 

Horse judging is a favorite pasttime of many across the country. A highly competitive and intense activity that can demand the absolute most out of individuals and teams alike. Focus, practice, and a passion for excellence are all drivers for success when 4-H and FFA members walk in to the arena for a chance to be high individual at a contest. Great evaluators keep it simple and stay disciplined in their approach.  

Kortney Bahem of Homedale, Idaho says that one of the biggest mistakes young evaluators make is focusing on the bad in each horse. Bahem was the High Individual Overall at the APHA Spring Sweepstakes as well as the High Individual Overall at the Quarter Horse World Show and said, “It is important to focus on the good of each horse and try not to make the class tougher than it needs to be.”  

Amelia King of Huntsville, Texas agrees with Bahem’s statement and said, “4-H and FFA horse judgers should first begin with the basics of staying positive and logical within each class.” King was a member of the Reserve Congress and World Champion horse judging team as well as Champion team at the Arabian Nationals for Colorado State University before becoming the head horse judging coach at Sam Houston State University. 

“Regardless of judging halter or performance horses, individuals must stay disciplined to evaluation techniques and not simply throw away a horse because they are only focused on the problems,” Bahem said. Despite some of the amazing horses shown and exhibited, the perfect horse has never been made. “Remember not to nitpick and bottom horses based on minor holes,” King said, “because every horse has a fault if you stare at them long enough.”  

Therefore, it is important to stay grounded within each class and realize that all you are asked to do as an evaluator is simply place the class. You are not asked to buy them, sell them, or breed them. Simply to judge them for what they are. “Don’t go on a witch hunt and out-think yourself, just evaluate the class as a whole and find the good in each horse,” Bahem said. 

Both Bahem and King offer specific evaluation techniques when judging haltered classes. “I see too many kids getting too close to the horses when they evaluate a haltered class,” Bahem said.
Stay off the horses; the father back you are the more you will see and the easier it will be to evaluate the entire class.” The closer an evaluator stands to an individual horse, the harder it is to see everything the horse has to offer. 

“Your eye should be drawn first to their topline; think proportion, length and strength with how that correlates to the overall picture,” King said. First impressions will inform your decisions, so spend the time to make sure you have an accurate first impression. 

“In halter classes, make sure you move up and down the line while gathering your first impression based on balance, structural correctness, breed characteristics and muscling,” King said. “After you form your initial impression of the class and have a rough idea of your placing, then go back and study the closer pairs, reading deeper in to each horse.” 

Bahem stressed location when the horses are asked to walk or trot when she said, “Standing on the corners of the square are a must to get a clear and unobstructed view of each horse for how they are built structurally.” Keeping horses sound on their feet and legs is a crucial element to placing each class. “Severity always determines structural issues and you must make sure you know which structural deviations cause performance problems, especially in geldings,” said King. Structure is a big placing factor, but it is not the only thing to consider. “Balance, proportion and quality are key elements when talking about visual appraisal,” Bahem said, “but at the end of the day, just consider which one you would like to see out your front window standing in your pasture.” 

Scored classes are a little different from haltered classes and there are some additional things to consider. King said, “You must always consider the overall run quality and not simply the final score because most officials take minor penalties in separate ways if there are two closely scored runs. Rank the maneuvers based on difficulty while always watching for direction, number of turns and non-riding hand placement.” These scored and performance classes are evaluated for different things, but the approach of seeing the whole class and being open minded is still crucial.  

Rail classes are different yet. “When judging rail classes, direct your eye to just below the riders’ heel so that you can focus on watching leg movement while still checking frame and overall attitude,” King said. Rail classes can often offer extra challenge for beginners because of the speed and quickness of the classes. “Train yourself to write without looking down, rail classes run quickly so always keep your eyes up,” said King. 

When it comes to reasons, the best advice for 4-H and FFA horse judgers is to be accurate and tell the truth. Bahem was undefeated in oral reasons at the collegiate level. “I always tried to be as honest as possible in the reasons room. Respect the good in each horse, but don’t be afraid to occasionally criticize because honesty is always refreshing when scoring reasons,” said Bahem. An excellent set of reasons begins with confidence in a good placing however. While at the class, focus on coming up with a placing before worrying too much about what you are going to say in the reasons room. If you are only focused on the reasons portion of a class, you may end up misplacing the class. It becomes really tough to score well in reasons when you have misplaced the class. 

Both Bahem and King offered their take on keys to success. “If you trust in yourself and have confidence in your ability, then success will follow,” said Bahem. Evaluators and judges will always have certain personal preferences that may vary from one another so you may not always get the perfect score even if you give it your best. At the end of the day though, your best is all you can ask of yourself. “Just don’t second guess yourself and trust in your coaching,” King said.

Bucking saddle-fit myths

Being knowledgeable about tack is part of our journey as horseman. Yet when it comes to saddle fit, confusion and misinformation abounds, said Ed Odgers, a saddle-maker from Arena, Wisconsin. “Horses’ backs are complex shapes and a lot of factors need to come together to achieve a good fit,” he said. ”Furthermore, horses can’t talk so it’s up to our observations to evaluate saddle fit. This is a difficult task since the critical saddle tree is concealed from view by sheepskin and leather. To cloud the matter further, the tack industry lacks clear and consistent standards to communicate the dimensions and shapes of saddle trees.” Odgers responds to common myths he often encounters concerning saddle fit. 

Myth: I need a saddle made uniquely for my horse to assure a perfect, comfortable fit. 

“Don’t expect to find and maintain a perfect fit, but avoid a bad one,” Odgers said. Horses’ backs change with age and conditioning, leading most saddle and tree makers to advise to fit a body type, not an individual horse.  

“About 60 percent of horses have good backs and will get along with the commonly available, average tree,” Odgers said. “Another 30 percent may have some special need that can be accommodated, such as a wider gullet angle and/or width. The remaining 10 percent have extreme or unusual backs and can’t be fitted with a reasonable saddle tree. Don’t buy those horses and don’t breed them.”  

Horsemen or cowboys that spend hours in the saddle aboard a variety of horses can suit the 90 percent by owning a few saddles with varying trees. 

Myth: My horse is so big he must need a wide saddle. 

“This might be true for draft-cross horses but the opposite is more common. Many big saddle horses carry a lot of Thoroughbred blood and have prominent withers and a narrow back profile,” Odgers said. “A medium to narrow gullet width and a 90 degree bar angle will usually fit these horses.”  

On the other hand, it is more common for smaller horses bred for cutting and reining to have less prominent withers and rounder back profiles that may benefit from a wider angle and/or gullet width. It is possible to learn to judge a horse’s back, categorize them into two or three body types, then fit them with a corresponding tree. 

Myth: Wade saddles (or Bowman or Sid Special or Association, etc.) fit the best. 

“The names attributed to saddle styles such as Wade, designate the general shape of the fork and have no direct bearing on how the saddle will fit either the horse or rider,” he said. “The original Wade saddle and early copies made by Hamley Saddle Company in the 1940s had a distinctive tree bar style but modern day copies vary considerably.” 

Odgers added that many production manufacturers simply install a Wade-like fork on the same tree bars they use for other saddle styles. 

Myth: Rigging location and type will determine saddle position. 

When a saddle tree fits, it fits in one place on the back, like a couple of spoons nested together, Odgers said. “A good back will have an hour-glass shape called rocker, where the bars rest, and well-defined wither pockets behind the shoulders.” A tree that matches that shape will resist movement.  

It is commonly thought that the cinch needs to be perfectly vertical or it will pull the saddle forward. Consider the physics, Odgers suggests: a cinch that is angled forward by 1.5 inches–the typical setback of a 7/8 rigged saddle–has about 94 percent of the cinch’s pull acting vertically and only 6 percent horizontally. Thus, if the cinch is tightened to 40 lbs., only 2.5 lbs. will be acting to pull the saddle forward.  

“Such a minor force will not counteract the fit of the tree. While there are other good reasons to select a rig location and style, the math and experience of tree and saddle makers confirms that the commonly used rigging positions (full, 7/8, 3/4) will not influence the saddle’s location on the horse’s back.”  

If the saddle tends to shift and not settle into a consistent location, it is probably not a good fit,  the rider may be over padding, or the horse may lack the shape to hold that saddle well. 

Myth: Thicker padding is more comfortable for the horse. 

The functions of saddle pads and blankets can be compared to socks, providing cushion, dissipating heat, and absorbing moisture, thereby protecting the saddle leather.  

“Cushioning can minimize minor fit problems but just like wearing three heavy pairs of socks, too much padding can ruin a good fit and reduce stability. Pads that are a half-inch to 1-inch thick are usually adequate.” 

Heavier padding can help if the saddle tree is too wide, but a too-narrow fit will only get worse. 

Myth: This high tech pad will fix my fit problem. 

“Saddle fit problems, real or imagined, have sold a lot of pads, but most pads can only fine-tune a saddle’s fit,” Odgers said. “If the shape of the horse’s back doesn’t correspond to the shape of the tree bars, there will be pressure points. Padding materials can spread that pressure out slightly but none will fully correct the problem.” 

Be cautious using pads that are not uniform in thickness, are wedged or built-up, Odgers warns. They will alter how a tree fits and may cause serious harm. One example he offered is when using a pad with the front built-up or wedged to level the saddle on a down-hill horse. In this situation, the back of the tree bars will be tipped and potentially gouge into the vulnerable lower back.  

It may be necessary to customize pad thickness to compensate for asymmetrical, atrophied or otherwise extreme back shapes but do this carefully with the help of a competent saddle maker. 

Myth: That saddle looks too big to fit my horse. 

Saddle fit refers to the tree buried under layers of leather and sheepskin. ”Don’t confuse the saddle skirts with the weight-bearing tree bars within. Feel the underside of the saddle to determine the location of the tree bars and how they fit your horse,” he said. “The skirts of a properly made saddle should be molded to flare away slightly from the horse and shouldn’t contribute any significant pressure.” 

Myth: I ride Quarter Horses so I must need Quarter Horse bars. 

Semi-quarter horse, quarter horse, and full-quarter horse bars are general terms used by some tree makers to describe the width between and angle of their bars. Semi-quarter horse bars refers to a medium-narrow gullet width of about 6.25 inches measured at the front of the fork and 90 degree angle. This is the most common configuration, Odgers said, fitting a majority of horses. Quarter horse bars contain a wider gullet width of approximately 6.5 inches and 90 degrees. Full quarter horse bars describes an extra-wide gullet width of 6.75 inches to 7 inches and often a wider gullet angle.  

“These descriptions are most useful for comparing saddles by the same maker. They are not an industry standard and actual measurements and fit will vary. Most custom tree makers do not use this system, rather they specify gullet width and angle measurements,” he said. “They also use a more accurate gullet width measurement at the back of the fork called hand-hole width.” 

Common dimensions are a 4 inch hand-hole width, 90 degree bar angle and 7.5 inch gullet height. “Custom tree makers usually offer bar angles ranging from 90 to 96 degrees along with various bar styles, bar twist, and rocker variations to fit many types of horse and mules,” Odgers said. 

Myth: Treeless saddles are more comfortable for the horse. 

The bars of a properly fitting western saddle distribute the rider’s weight and the pull of the cinch over a large area. This results in less pressure (pounds per square inch) than an English saddle, treeless saddle or a bareback rider. “Especially for long rides and heavier riders, a good fitting tree will benefit the horse,” he said.