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John Hovde honored as Black Hills Stock Show Horseperson of the Year

John Hovde
John Hovde

No stranger to being honored as a top horseman, North Dakota’s John Hovde was still surprised to get the late-night call from Dean Johnson letting him know he is the 2020 Black Hills Stock Show Horseperson of the Year. So shocked, in fact, that, upon awaking, he had to verify that Johnson really called, and he didn’t simply dream it. 

Hovde is a big promoter of the horse industry throughout western North Dakota, often giving his time to high school cutting and working cowhorse competitors.  

“I do a lot of judging for high school rodeo in Montana and North Dakota, and I see John everywhere, coaching and helping youth in cutting events and cowhorse events,” Johnson said. “He’s been a very active advocate for youth development projects.” 

Hovde got his horsemanship start as many do, from his father, Martin Hovde, who often took his oldest son, John, with him to ease his wife’s load as a mother of five to John, Jean, Doug, Dave, and Jim. From the age of a year old, John was strapped on to a horse to head out cowboying. 

“All of us kids grew up on a ranch on the Missouri River bottom southeast of Williston,” John said. “We had to take horses to school for a while until they got a road.” 


Beginning in middle school, John started colts for the public, though not the rank ones. He continued the practice through high school and into college, paying his way to his animal science degree. 

He entered college at Minot State in pursuit of a biology major degree and business minor, with the intent to teach. That didn’t feel like the right choice, though it was there that he met his future bride Kathleen Johnson in 1966, whom he married in 1967. He transferred to North Dakota State University, where he graduated in 1969.  

“She was a great music teacher and loved it on the ranch,” John said of his wife. “Every successful horseman has a wife with a good job in town.” 

Kathi passed away in May of 2016, just short of their golden anniversary.  

After college, John served in the military in the First Cavalry as Sergeant E5 and point squad leader in Vietnam in 1969 and ’70. He received a Vietnam Air Service Medal, Bronze Star, and Expert Rifleman’s Badge. 

After being honorably discharged, John set to cowboying in Montana, and while working in a feedlot around 1975 or ’76 some friends dragged him to a clinic with Ray Hunt, a man he’d never heard of. 

“That clinic helped me figure out the way I was; why my dad did things like that,” he said. “I started thinking about it more, thinking this is the way I wanted to work horses.” 

Throughout the 1970s, at the request of others, John helped people with their horses through individual lessons and clinics as well as 4-H clinics throughout the summers leading up to fair. He also hosted Hunt at his ranch in North Dakota a handful of times. 

“The people and horses I have worked with are what made everything possible. There cannot be a teacher without a student,” John said. “Every person I have been able to influence positively will go on to influence others, and that’s a blessing.” 

As a horseman and rancher, John has always maintained a respectable cow-calf herd, but in the past four years, he has moved to running summer cattle, freeing up his winters to load up his horses and ride in Arizona, where he owns a small place he bought a year ago. 

He still gets requests from people who want to ride with him while in Arizona, just as he does at home in North Dakota, including a recent visit from Miss Rodeo North Dakota, Kara Berntson, who spent 11 days with John before competing in the Miss Rodeo America pageant. 

John and his son JJ run six or seven mares as AQHA Heritage Breeders. North Dakota AQHA inducted John into its Hall of Fame in 2016. He has also served as an AQHA national director since 2010 and was honored as director emeritus this year.  

For several years, he arranged the North Dakota AQHA trail ride on his ranch, and the Mon-Dak Quarter Horse Association St. Jude benefit trail ride for a number of years. He has been a member of the North Dakota Quarter Horse Association for more than 40 years, a member of the North Dakota Cutting Horse Association for more than 30 years and serving as president for about 10 of those 30 years. 

“The awards and recognitions are very much appreciated but somewhat embarrassing and humbling,” John said. “The people and horses in my life are the ones that deserve the credit.” 

In 2009, John was inducted into North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, for which he has served on the board of trustees for the past nine years. He has been an Epping township officer for about 20 years. He is an adjunct professor at NDSU with the animal science department, in which he visits a couple times per year to work with the equine students. 

“When asked what I feel my greatest accomplishment, I was stumped until I realized that, actually, I think of them as gifts and opportunities give to me through wonderful people by God,” John said. “My family comes first. Without them, I would not feel like I had much at all.” 

John is a grandfather to five, including JJ’s daughter, Trista, a sophomore at Sidney High School an up-and-coming NDHSRA talent who works with her dad and grandpa to be competitive in cutting, working cowhorse, barrel racing, goat-tying, and breakaway roping. 

John’s daughter Kristen lives in Georgia with her husband Kirk Gabrielson and their two children Bailee and Dylan. JJ and his wife Tana have three children, Trista, Cedar, and Wacey. 




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