Zimbelmann wears a lot of hats
February 11, 2016
Gary Zimbelmann has a lot of irons in the fire, and he likes it that way.
The Hamill, South Dakota cowboy is an equine podiatrist, brand inspector, drives teams of horses, guides hunts, owns bucking horses and coyote hounds, team ropes, and raises cattle on his family's centennial ranch.
"I'm trying to be a jack of all trades and a master of every one of 'em," he jokes.
The biggest part of his life is spent on his horse shoeing. He got his start during college at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and in 1987 attended the Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School in Ardmore. After graduating from the course, he came home and continued shoeing. But the thought occurred to him: "You can really mess a horse up or you can really help a horse out," with the type of shoeing he did. So he looked into continuing education in being a farrier, and for the past 37 years, has gone to Oklahoma, Miles City, Montana, Lexington, Kentucky, and a variety of places in between, always looking to learn more. Because of his education, his title goes beyond "horse shoer" to equine podiatrist, and he is required to take sixteen hours of credit each year.
“When you can help a horse, bring him back when everybody thought he was crippled, to running again, that’s a big plus. It is proper shoeing and trimming. It doesn’t matter if it’s an old saddle horse or a horse that’s going to run at Ruidoso Downs.” Gary Zimbelmann, South Dakota rancher
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The extra classes he takes have educated him in reading x-rays and assessing lameness, hand-forging the proper shoe, using the proper padding, and even making shoes for horses that cut ligaments or tendons.
Gary estimates he works with between 900 and 1,100 horses a year, and that number includes the big draft horses owned by Elanco Labs in Larchwood, Iowa. The drafts' hooves are trimmed three times a year, with about 200 head each time. Gary takes his special equine hydraulic chute and he and his help can trim and shoe between 26 and 30 head a day.
He's even put shoes on a bucking bull. Years ago, a bull was purchased in Oklahoma and hauled to South Dakota, in a new aluminum trailer with no bedding, which caused his hooves to be ground off. He was put in a hydraulic chute that laid on its side; Gary built oxen shoes, nailed them in on a Wednesday, and by that Saturday, the bull was bucking at a rodeo.
During the autumn of the year, Gary can be found guiding deer hunts. His business, called the GZ Mountain Goat Outfitters, specializes in taking youth and the handicapped on hunts. His focus used to be "a lot of the big, commercial fluffy guys. That was fun, but they got on my nerves." He loves taking kids and those with special needs to hunt. "That's fun. There are too many people who want to make this a big commercial hunting and I go the opposite direction. I do it for those who can't go out."
One of his most memorable guides was for a veteran who was injured in Desert Storm and paralyzed from the chest down. It took two days for Gary to get him close to a deer, but he got one. He used a truck to get him into the brush. The weather was cold, and Gary made sure he stayed covered up. On day two, a "really nice buck came snooping by, fifty yards out, and he whacked him. His smile was huge," Gary said. "That was probably the most memorable event of my guiding career."
Gary grew up around horses, and became good friends with Kim Shade and Ty Cobb, who drove teams. He started working for Shade, and "that's how I got the itch to drive horses." He now owns a four-horse hitch and drives it for chuck wagons, when he helps brand cattle on Shade's ranch near Medora, North Dakota. He also drives the team for funerals and has made several trips to the cemetery for someone's "last ride."
He partners with Kevin and Beth Lindworm on bucking horses, which he keeps on his ranch and helps haul to ranch rodeos. And he has some greyhounds to hunt coyotes with. It's his "winter therapy," he says. "You look out the window, if it's snowing before day light, you drop everything so you can go out and hunt coyotes all day."
With three and a half years of college under his belt, he came back to the family ranch in 1987 to help because his middle brother Arden had cancer. To make a little extra money, he filled in as brand inspector, and has been doing it ever since. He is the head inspector at the Chamberlain Livestock Barn and inspects local feedyards as well.
And he team ropes. In high school, Gary rode bulls, team roped, calf roped and steer wrestled, and in the South Dakota Rodeo Association, he continued with the bull riding. Now, he heads and loves going to jackpot ropings. "It's kind of fun," he said. "I'm fifty but I try to keep up with the twenty and thirty-year old guys. It keeps me younger that way."
Gary's dad, Art, passed away in January of 2015, and his mom, Joan, who is battling cancer, lives on the ranch. Gary raises purebred Angus cattle and has 200 mama cows. He purchased the ranch fourteen months ago. His older brother Arvis works for NASCAR and they sometimes meet in Kansas City when the race is there. He and his girlfriend Della Boyd both enjoy ranch life.
The ranch is remote, "back in the hills," he says. "If you're here, you're either lost or looking for me." He uses four-wheelers on the ranch, but horses are the mainstay for cattle work. "When it comes to calving, you're still horseback all the time. That's how it's done. You rely on horses."
Of all his endeavors, being an equine podiatrist is one of the most fulfilling. "When you can help a horse, bring him back when everybody thought he was crippled, to running again, that's a big plus. It is proper shoeing and trimming. It doesn't matter if it's an old saddle horse or a horse that's going to run at Ruidoso Downs."
Hard work is in Gary's DNA. "I was brought up to work for a living. I was brought up, that if you wanted it, you worked for it, no matter what it took. There was no dead-ass syndrome in my camp. My brothers were the same way, too. If you wanted them hounds or to buy that truck, you had to figure out how to pay for them." His parents taught their boys responsibility but loved them, too. "My parents were there. They stood behind us all the way."
Money, prestige and power don't impress Gary. "Through the years, I've met some high-falutin' people, and I'm just as equal as they are. I work for a living, I strive for a living, and I'm straight up honest and get it done."
"You can have all the money in the world, but when it's all said and done, it's all a three by three by six (a coffin)."