Arizona Horse Country

If you grew up reading Zane Grey, and watching John Wayne on the big screen, there is a good chance you’ve already been romanced by Arizona, but for the modern Canadian western rider there is so much more that Arizona has to offer – mild winter temperatures, desert riding, a plethora of horse competitions and events, unique cowboy towns rodeos, guest ranches and southwest shopping and dining. Oh, did we mention – a distinct absence of two other Canadian riding pestilences – wind and bugs? About 24 hours due south of Canada, everything is possible in the western state of Arizona. Whether you dream of riding across the desert washes and canyons, or crave the ability to get a leg up on your competitive year, Arizona may be calling you. It’s time to check it out, and discover what the hype in this state is all about.

Riding Utopia

When the winter season hits, towns all across the Canyon State explode with thousands of cowboy hats and horse trailers. To facilitate the mania – the lions share of which is generated from Canadian riders – arenas and boarding stables have sprung up in every direction.

"I love horses and love the Wild West, there is nothing better than putting the two together," says Janice Sullivan, owner and manager of Horspitality RV Park, near Wickenburg.

“I love horses and love the Wild West, there is nothing better than putting the two together,” says Janice Sullivan, owner and manager of Horspitality RV Park, near Wickenburg.

Although it just opened in December of 2012, the cowboy town of Wickenburg’s newest arena has already kept itself tremendously busy. The Rancho Rio facility was built in partnership with Ty Yost, Ty Grantham and Bob Crosthwaite and is the fourth major arena built within a three-and-a-half mile radius of town. After a brightly successful debut season, the crew is anticipating another epic winter, filled with tons of competitions and flocks of snowbirds.

“Our peek season is definitely after Christmas,” says Ty Grantham.

Anywhere between January and March is the peak season in Wickenburg. To accommodate the influx of Canadian horse people, Rancho Rio is already expanding on its brand new facilities which include an outdoor arena and ample RV hook ups.

Roping is big business in Wickenburg. When Rancho Rio opened a few years ago, there were 60 ropings scheduled in that month alone. While the dirt at the Rancho Rio grounds gets groomed for another hectic winter season of team ropings, more events such as mounted shooting, team sortings and barrel racing competitions are also being penciled into the Rancho Rio calendar.

Down in Casa Grande, anticipation for the winter flush is also taking place at the Walking N Arena. As facility co-owner Carrie Woolsey, finishes up the final touches around the facility, she explains what their program here is all about.

At the Walking N Arena in Casa Grande, ropings are underway almost every say of the week.

At the Walking N Arena in Casa Grande, ropings are underway almost every say of the week.

“My husband teaches and we all work on our roping,” explains Woolsey.

Over the past 12 years, Carrie’s husband, Rube – multiple National Finals Rodeo team roping qualifier, has been taking in student ropers, to help fine tune their skills to prep or the upcoming roping season.

“We have geared our camp as a winter roping camp. We have some barrel racers, but we generally have clients who come to really get better at their roping. We rope Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. We do a team roping jackpot Thursday starting at 10:00 o’clock in the morning. Then we go into a barrel racing jackpot Thursday nights.”

For the roping snowbird aiming to make some headway next season, the Woolsey’s arena is certainly one to check out.

“We tend to have people here that really want to get better with their roping. We have everything from the open roper to the guys who are just starting,” says Woolsey, and adds in the typical lingo of a down to earth roper, “but we all get done what we need to get done.”

"People came here (Arizona) 30-35 years ago, just because of the weather. When it is snowing everywhere else, you can lope a horse in a circle 310 days a year and be sure it's not going to rain. It's a mecca for horse people. Because of the weather, this is performance horse central," explains senior ranch instructor at Cowboy College, Rocco Wachman.

“People came here (Arizona) 30-35 years ago, just because of the weather. When it is snowing everywhere else, you can lope a horse in a circle 310 days a year and be sure it’s not going to rain. It’s a mecca for horse people. Because of the weather, this is performance horse central,” explains senior ranch instructor at Cowboy College, Rocco Wachman.

Cowboy U

You may want to put on your working gloves, before you show up at the Arizona Cowboy College. While some people arrive in Scottsdale, Arizona, to live out their cowboy fantasies, those who pull in here better expect whole lot more then a dude ranch vacation.

Lori Bridwell and her late husband Lloyd Bridwell came to the Scottsdale area in 1969, with an idea to “put people on horseback.” In 1986, the Bridwells created a curriculum, geared to transform any type of student into a real working cowboy.

The concept for this original idea came along while Lori’s husband Lloyd was sick with a fever from a blister beetle bite, while down in Mexico. To ease the time healing himself up, he read through the classifieds in a local newspaper.

“He picked up a paper there and it said “You too could be a truck driver,” and he thought about the idea of, “You too could be a cowboy,” explains senior ranch instructor Rocco Wachman and longtime friend of the Bridwells.

“He later put an advertisement in the paper and it kind of driveled along from there. In 1999, after we were on the cover of the Los Angeles Times, it went crazy.”

In 2003, the concept of the ranch was made even more famous via a popular reality television program called Cowboy U. Audiences tuned in weekly to Country Music Television, as senior ranch instructor Rocco Wachman, challenged cowboy wannabes to develop basic ranch handling skills. Cowboy U ultimately was a hit and the program aired for four seasons.

Today the facility is still in full operation, steadily putting people on horseback. Over the decades of operation the team has become a fixture in the Scottsdale community.

Located on the edge of the Tonto National Forest, the ranch also offers a unique experience for people to haul into their facility and take advantage of the vast Arizona landscape. With hundreds of trails to choose from, it may be smart to take a trail guide along for the ride. Unless you feel like you are up for a real cowboy adventure.

 

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