Jolyn Young for Cavvy Savvy: Winter Roping Camp
Warm weather, daily roping practice, a lively night life, and all the jackpots a team roper can enter.
Sounds like a roper’s dream, right? Well, every winter that dream comes true in Wickenburg, Arizona and the surrounding area when the local arenas fill up with fresh cattle and team ropers by the truckload. Many visitors park their living quarters trailers at one of the area’s practice arenas, turning a winter of team roping into an extended camping trip as well. After roping all day, they head into Wickenburg to shop, check out the historic attractions, and relax with a cold drink at one of the many local watering holes.
“They’re down here to practice roping, ride their horses, and have a good time,” said longtime team roper, Dan Iveson.
Iveson joined the annual southbound migration four years ago. He and his teenage son Austin began spending their winters at a roping camp in Wittmann, about twenty minutes from the main hot spot of Wickenburg. He enjoyed the daily on-site roping practice and the abundance of jackpots held throughout the week within just a few miles’ radius. Iveson also liked the camp’s friendly atmosphere and the sense of camaraderie that the owner helped facilitate. Campers got together for potluck meals, barbeques, and conversations around the communal campfire.
As extended campers, the Ivesons were mainstays at local events for the duration of the roping season, which runs from November to March. Iveson enjoyed the seasonal lifestyle so much that he started his own roping camp, set to open January 1, 2020 to welcome campers for peak season. Most camps are open during the fall months, but campsites empty out periodically when people return home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations.
“Generally, most people come the first of January,” said Iveson.
After the holiday season, team ropers flock to the area in earnest. Many campers repeat the trek each winter, drawn to their favorite camp, jackpot arenas, and roping partners. Semi-pro ropers, college kids, and higher-numbered hobby ropers enjoy shorter stays, typically five to seven days. Most migrate from the cold northern states, as well as Canada.
Taking time off work, loading up a living quarters trailer with horses, and driving hundreds (or thousands) of miles represents a significant financial investment. Staying for weeks or months is an additional time investment that the typical team roper with a day job isn’t able to make. As such, most campers are retirees.
Since all attendees paid good money to travel to a camp and rope, they arrive in vacation mode.
“They’re just here to have a good time. If they have a chip on their shoulder, they left it at home,” said Iveson.
As a former camper himself, Iveson is uniquely prepared to ensure guests as his camp have a good time. Like most camp owners, he will provide a steady supply of fresh cattle, access to an ATV-powered roping sled, desert trail riding adjacent to the property, open arena riding, and round pen use. And of course, there will be relaxing barbeques/potlucks/get-togethers sprinkled throughout each week.
“We are ultimately geared toward camper satisfaction, 100%. I want people to be happy for what they’re spending, because it’s a significant financial investment,” said Iveson.
Some camps are geared toward high-end clientele who are accustomed to shelling out cash for VIP treatment. One area camp provides airport shuttle service for guests. Once at the camp, their horses are caught and saddled before each practice session. Service like that costs approximately $2,500 per month. Most do-it-yourself camps run about $1,500 for a married couple to camp and rope all month.
Not all campers are in a top-tier tax bracket, though. Iveson recalled a family he met who camped each winter with their kids. Mom stayed in Arizona with the kids while Dad returned home to Idaho bi-weekly to run his construction business. The kids also roped, keeping up with their homeschooling lessons during their downtime at the arena.
Besides educating kids, winter camp offers an unparalleled opportunity for ropers to bring a string of colts and consistently train for weeks at a time. Most camps offer morning roping sessions followed by afternoon downtime during which campers can use the arena or enter up a local jackpot.
Whether they come for a month, a week, or just the day, all ropers can enjoy the friendly vibe and welcoming atmosphere at a winter roping camp. To learn more about Iveson’s camp, visit http://www.IvesonPerformanceHorses.com.
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