Cowboy Philosophy Prepares Horses for Sale
Billy Ward rides horses to pick up cowboys at the College National Finals, but not to prepare them for years of pick-up work. He rides to drags calves to the branding fire, but not to make the best ranch horses around. He even rides horses in the parade at the Daddy of ‘em All, but not to make well-mannered show horses. Billy rides in all of these scenarios and more to prepare horses to “Come to the Source.”
“The original source for high-percentage Blue Valentine,” is the claim on the website (www.cometothesource.com) for the Come to the Source sale held every August in Laramie, Wyo., (2013 sale to be held Saturday, August 24). The sale was started by Randy Dunn, Chip Merritt, Sam Shoultz, and Dick VanPelt in 1998 to preserve the Blue Valentine bloodline – the big, blue roan, Hancock-bred stallion. Over time, the sale has grown in popularity due to its reputation of producing athletic and gentle horses with a lot of color. Randy Dunn and his family own and operate the Bath Brothers Ranch – located outside Laramie, it is one of the oldest working ranches in Wyoming – and run about 600 head of cattle and 70 registered Blue Valentine-bred mares. Understandably, the Dunn family stays busy all year long running the ranch and preparing for the sale; but in 2005 they brought in some extra help. Seven-time NFR pick-up man, Billy Ward and his family (wife Marlo, son Dalton, and son Denton) began exclusively riding and marketing “Running M” brand horses; and when the Wards ride horses, they don’t just do it in an arena.
“They take 10 to 12 horses a year in the fall, their 2-year-old year, and work with them through the winter. Then they ride them quite a bit their 3-year-old year, branding, dragging calves, spotlighting at night to check calves, picking up and at the parade at Cheyenne Frontier Days … They go through just about everything they can go through,” Randy Dunn said about the training the Wards put into his horses. When asked why he chose the family to ride his horses he answered, “They’re cowboys – Billy Ward’s one of the best cowboys there is. Everything they do, they do from horseback. If they have to go to a branding a few miles down the road, they don’t trailer up and drive, they ride. The horses just get a tremendous amount of exposure.”
This exposure starts on the ranch with what Billy Ward calls, “The Ward Philosophy: if they’re broke on the ranch, you can go anywhere with them. If they’re broke in the arena, you can’t go to the ranch with them.” Taking on 10 or more horses a year from the Dunns might sound like a lot for one man, but on the Ward ranch, all family members ride. Furthermore, the Wards don’t focus on teaching one specific skill to the horses because on the ranch, horses have to be well-rounded. Instead, they are rode in all situations and become as hard-working and versatile as their rider.
“We want them to have a good foundation and take to any discipline you want. We ride on the ranch and don’t practice a specific discipline, but if you want to take that horse to that discipline, he’s ready to go,” said Ward.
This kind of ‘learn as you go’ schooling turns out to be very practical in the rodeo arena where the horses’ exposure continues at rodeos where the Wards work as pick-up men, including Pendleton and Santa Fe, in addition to Cheyenne. The horses go straight from the ranch to the arena and learn to deal with crowds, bulls, lights, and cowboys flying onto their backs. Then, as if the fast-paced rodeo world wasn’t enough to expose the horses to, their next test is at the downtown parades of Cheyenne Frontier Days where the horses are rode by not only the Wards but also other less experienced riders, such as senators, governors, or queens. By the time the Wards have had Dunn’s horses for a few years, they’ve been just about everywhere, seen just about anything, and had just about anyone ride them.
After working on the ranch, hazing rough stock, picking-up rodeo cowboys, riding in the parade, and finally coming back to the ranch again, the sale ring might look like a pretty easy job. After all, what’s a rambling auctioneer over a loud speaker compared to sirens, motorcycles, and screaming parade crowds? If you ask the Wards about the preparation they put into the Dunns’ horses for sale, they might shrug and respond with a humble answer; but the experience they deliver is something that can’t be found after 30 days in a round pen.
“To me, when we put one in a production sale, it needs to represent the person who’s breeding them,” said Ward.
“What dictates whether a horse comes to sale or not is if they are horses that people can take and do anything on and feel safe doing it,” said Dunn.
The Wards don’t take all of the credit, though. Ward enjoys riding Dunn’s horses for their size, athletic ability, and especially, their disposition. He explained, “We’ve had a little over 120 horses from Randy. His horses are very willing. You can go do anything on them.” To prove his point, Ward stated that he was currently at the college rodeo finals in Casper (Wyo.) and had three horses with snake bites at home, so he brought some of Dunn’s young horses instead. He said, “They’re doing great. You wouldn’t know I’ve never picked up on them before.”
Whether it’s the breeding, the ranch upbringing, the rodeoing, or the combination, something that the Dunns and Wards are doing must be working, because their horses have been sold across the country for a variety of disciplines and have proven their abilities. Dunn boasted, “At one time we had three [PRCA] world champions riding our horses: Guy Allen, Mickey Gee, and Frank Thompson.” The Ward family literally “picks up” where the Dunns left off with their horses on the ranch all the way to the sale to create reliable, well-rounded horses that perform.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News