2018 Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo Horse Person of the Year: Dean Johnson
There never really was a “lightbulb” moment for Dean Johnson when he knew that working in the horse industry was where his life was destined, but the Vale, South Dakota business owner, rancher and horseman always knew that he loved horses. From childhood ponies to saddle broncs and to his current interest, reining and cow horses, Johnson has always had a love for the animals. While attending Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, his love for training and showing horses developed and he was struck with a realization.
“I quickly discovered, if you want these events to thrive, you have to be involved,” Johnson says. “As the population grows older there just doesn’t get to be the younger individuals stepping up to make these events happen. This is a big problem because the health of the industry is very important to what events are out there.”
Be it a team roping, a barrel racing, a cow horse or reining competition, Johnson says he believes all events are small pieces of the entire industry, and keeping each event healthy will maintain a market for both horses and people. And the only way to ensure that is to get involved.
Today, Johnson is active in the American Quarter Horse Association, the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association and the Black Hills Stock Show. Besides operating their cow-calf operation, he and his wife, Becky, own and manage Truck Defender, a welding and fabricating business, as well as their own horse program where they breed and train horses, show horses and provide training for both horses and customers on the show circuit.
Because of his continued dedication and support to the industry, Johnson will be recognized as the Horse Person of the Year for the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo during the Stockman’s Banquet and Ball, which will be Saturday, January 27, 2018.
“This is a new award this year, created to help recognize the outstanding horse industry in the Midwest here,” says Ron Jeffries, general manager for the Central States Fair and Black Hills Stock Show.
The committee has recognized outstanding horse persons in the past, but always under the category of Stockman of the Year. This year, Jeffries says that because there are so many outstanding horse and cattlemen in the area, there was a need to distinguish between the two categories.
“Dean is so deserving of this award. He has been a visionary, helping us move toward securing an additional stalling or riding arena,” Jeffries says. “And having shown at so many shows, he knows the kind of investment that the Central States Fair is going to have to make to take on hosting some of these big shows.”
While serving on the horse sale committee, Johnson has been instrumental in tripling the sale numbers over the last five years. Although the number of horses sold remains the same, it is the increase in quality horses that has really taken the sale to the next level.
“The people on the committee, including Dean, they know people in the horse industry and they know who to talk to and reach out to get good consignments, to get the right buyers and to do the right advertising to produce a horse sale that has now become one of the premier sales in the nation,” Jeffries says. “The Black Hills Stock Show has been so fortunate to have him on our team.”
Four years ago, Johnson was selected by the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association as a regional director to be a representative to the American Quarter Horse Association. Johnson’s experience in showing and training makes his input invaluable when it comes to issues regarding rules and regulations, animal welfare issues or any issues that arise when running a horse show, according to Jim Hunt, longtime friend and fellow regional director.
“As I sit back and have watched Dean develop these skills over the years, he is so suited, and has the desire to be instrumental in the governance of the AQHA, the SDQHA and the Black Hills Stock Show’s equine division,” Hunt says. “He’s one of the first to jump to the plate and say, ‘What can we do to make it better?’ He’s always there front and center, whether he is chairman of the committee or whether he is the host of the horse show or a working cow horse event, Dean Johnson has the gifts and talents and the ambition to make it happen right.”
His many responsibilities, especially on the national level, require Johnson to travel regularly. For a man who runs a business, a ranch, a horse training program and a family, that can be difficult, but he says he has it all under control thanks to two things: excellent employees and a very understanding family.
“From the shop to the ranch, I’ve got employees that are wonderful, hard-working and committed people,” Johnson says. “I can pretty much leave at any time, and they’re trustworthy, loyal and in my opinion, second to none. But even still, none of this would be possible without my family support that I’ve got.”
For the last two years in a row, Johnson has left his wife home for five days to calve first-calf replacement heifers because he must attend the national AQHA convention, which falls at the same time. This March though, the Johnsons have decided that they are not doing that again. When the entire family does leave for events, Johnson’s horse training clients are eager to help out.
“They’re a big part of what we do, too,” Johnson says. “There have been times when I’ve been competing, whether it’s at the Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno, Nevada, or at the NRHA Futurity in Oklahoma City, where it’s a big deal. It’s a lot of money that we’re riding for, and my clients have actually come to the house and stayed and did chores so that so my family could come watch me compete.”
With everything that Johnson has done for the industry, his pride and joy remains his horse program and his ranch. He is proud of the fact that his horses that are trained for longevity, and can still be ridden in the show ring and on the ranch when they are 14 years old. And to him, the best feeling in the world is being horseback on a beautiful day, or even on the not-so-beautiful days, surrounded by God’s creation with his family.
“This award is a wonderful honor, but it is really an honor to my entire family,” Johnson says, “Because what I do would not be possible, financially or economically, without the support system that I have. It’s as duly owed to my family as it is to me.”