Black Hills Stock Show feature: Sioux River Ranch, Roy Schuchard and Matt Zancanella
January 20, 2011
Valuable roping horses aren’t born, they’re made. Watertown, SD’s-Roy Schuchard and Matt Zancanella know that as well as anyone. It’s why the two men have pooled their horsemanship skills over the past seven years to find and develop roping and pleasure horses for the rodeo industry.
“Our priority is to find geldings that have the potential to be top roping horses,” Zancanella says. “The type of horses we look for are big, athletic and very fast. We’ll go through 10 or 12 horses before we find a couple that have everything they need to be outstanding roping horses.”
Schuchard and Zancanella market their horses at several sales every year, including the Black Hills Stock Show. Both have been working with horses all their life.
“Matt brings a lot of professional rodeo experience to our partnership,” 82-year-old Schuchard says. “I have an eye for seeing an animal’s potential. I’ve ranched all my life and had some of the best teachers you could find – both my grandfathers. One grandfather was born in 1857. Horses were his only transportation, there were no automobiles. In his time he was the only man the South Dakota State Penitentiary farm would buy horses and mules from. He imported stallions from as far away as France. He had the best stock you could find.”
Schuchard has ranched all his life and raised riding and draft horses. In the past, he trained numerous teams for pulling horse competitions. He’s used horses for many ranch chores such as haying. For a number of years Schuchard held an annual Belgian draft horse production sale in Watertown, dispersing some of the nearly 400-head of draft horses he raised. He was recognized by the Watertown community several years ago as Rancher of the Year.
Zancanella has been roping all his life and professional rodeoing for 16 years, making it to the NFR three times and training a PRCA/AQHA Reserve Heel Horse of the Year. He’s also won championships in the PRCA Badlands circuit and the South Dakota Rodeo Association.
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“I heel for a living and also work with Roy to develop roping horses,” Zancanella says. “We’re always looking for horses that have the ability to give professional ropers what they need in a horse. Roy’s good at finding horses with eye appeal. Most of the time he brings the geldings to his ranch and they work there for a while. Then I use them on the rodeo circuit to see what they have. Once we find a horse that’s got the best potential, we work with some heelers who use him and season him on the circuit. Through all of that we’re able to see what that horse can give a roper.”
Speed is the main characteristic top roping horses possess. In addition to that, the best horses don’t forget what they’ve learned in between rodeo events.
“An outstanding roping horse stands flat footed, runs as fast as you can imagine and pulls a steer like there’s nothing behind him,” Zancanella says.
Neither Schuchard nor Zancanella are fussy about bloodlines when they select potential roping horses. Both say pedigrees don’t guarantee that a horse possesses the characteristics they need to find in their animals.
“There are some horses out there that never get the chance to be great,” Zancanella says. “Just about every bloodline has a horse somewhere with the potential to be outstanding. You just have to find them and get the training time on them.”
Before Schuchard and Zancanella market a horse, the animal spends two or three years at the ranch, another two or three years on the rodeo circuit as well as some “seasoning” time. At this stage, the horses have a great deal of experience and have been exposed to nearly every kind of potential situation.
“Rodeo horses travel a lot and spend a lot of hours standing beside the trailer,” Zancanella says. “That can take its toll. If you’re going to consistently score, the horse has to have the stamina to give the same performance every time they’re in the arena. There aren’t a lot of them that can do that.”
By the time the horse is 10- or 12-years-old, they’re usually finished. They know their job well enough that they don’t need to be worked the week before the rodeo. They don’t forget what they need to do.
“All the time involved in the training is what makes an outstanding roping horse fairly costly,” Zancanella says. “Once you find that kind of horse, he’s going to be around for a while. Rodeo cowboys take as good a care, or even better care of their horses than anyone else because that animal is their livelihood. It’s not uncommon to see horses at a rodeo event that are 19 or older. One of the great rodeo horses, Willy, recently retired when he was 24.”
Whether the horses they sell are for professional ropers or riders who compete at a lower level, Zancanella and Schuchard take pride in producing horses people will enjoy and get along with for many years. Zancanella notes that few of the horses they find will have what it takes to perform at the highest level.
“They’re nearly extinct,” Zancanella says. “You have to find that perfect combination of natural instincts and a lot of training time. Because we’re always aiming for the top, all of our horses have a lot of experience and plenty of hours under the saddle.”
Schuchard makes a point of attending the Black Hills Stock Show every year, knowing he’ll find horse friends he often doesn’t see anywhere else. He’ll bring two excellent roping and pleasure horses to the 2011 sale.
“It seems like a lot of the people I know in the horse business gather at the Black Hills show,” Schuchard says. “As long as I’m alive, I’ll have horses. I still keep a pair of Belgians on the ranch. I don’t use them for much but I like to see them out in the pasture.
“I never get enough of watching roping horses work,” Schuchard adds. “I enjoy it just as much as saddle bronc or bull riding. It’s always enjoyable to watch a horse that knows their job.”