My hero’s have always been cowboys……………. A tribute to Bill Horn ….The Legend
I grew up a-dreamin’ of bein’ a cowboy
And Lovin’ the cowboy ways.
Pursuin’ the life of my high-ridin’ heroes
I burned up my childhood days.
Bill Horn, a member of the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Hall of Fame, the NRHA first Million Dollar rider, past president of the NRHA and Futurity, Derby and Super Stakes Champion and my own personal childhood hero… The Legend BH
“Bill had this quality about him that you just cant describe…Women loved him and men wanted to be him”.
“He made everyone around him, better, he was everybody’s hero.”
Since I got the call from a friend Saturday night that BH had passed I have had Willie Nelson songs stuck in my head… not just that one but, On The Road Again and Hello Walls.
“Like a band of gypsies we roll down the highway”
|BH & Carry Out|
In 1984, I was about 11 years old and I got to live a dream a in the back seat of a PIMPED out crew cab dually. My father and BH traveled the country hauling for the NRHA World Championships. My father was competing in the NRHA Novice (now the limited non-pro) and Bill for the Open. For a little back-story BH and my father were very close friends for quite some time and BH trained a large number of horses for my father from 1981 till about 1987, at which time dad focused more on Cutting horses. At one time dad had 13 Futurity prospects at Horn’s Together they had some great horses, Lady BH, Miss BH, Bright Enterprise, Great Barney Bars, Carry Out, who was the Super Stakes Open Champion and Reserve Futurity Champion, Velvet Enterprise.
Now about the Willie Nelson songs…. I don’t really know if it was Bill or my father who was the fan of the Red Headed Stranger but I think they only ever had one cassette tape in the truck… It was Willie Nelsons “Greatest hits… and some that will be” If I have a soundtrack to my life… it will include several songs off this tape.
Horn had this great stud horse B H Enterprise whose foals dominated the Reining world for a long time and Bill had these coats made for the crew…Bill, in those days always had a crew, a entourage, a following, I don’t really know what everyone did or why they were there … They were just always there…. People just wanted to be around him. Anyhow, Bill had these coats made those old satin coats that were so popular back then. They were embroidered with B H Enterprise’s name on the back and a horse in a sliding stop. Dad told the story of the Horn crew going to a Willie concert and someone threw his B H Enterprise jacket on stage and Willie picked it up and wore it… that was “BIG”.
BIG, that takes me to another note … BILL-ISIMS ….BH kinda came up with his own vocabulary that we had to learn… Sometimes it wasn’t what he said so much, but the way he said it….
BIG was sort of like Wow, Awesome, & Cool all rolled into one.
A-MUCK or RUNIN A-MUCK … I remember the first several times I heard it I thought is was a bad word that would get in trouble if I said it… A-MUCK, meant you were messing up, you weren’t tending to business… Often times his help or a customer or another trainer might be drinking a little too much might be spending to much time SHITFACED and they might get focused on women chasing and they would be RUNIN A-Muck. I think the word was used about my father quite often.
SHITFACED…Drunk …..Don’t know if that is exclusive to BH, but he sure said it a lot…..
HELLO WALLS… Now this was the name of a sad song that Willie sang about a guy who talks to things in his house because he’s lonely that his wife ran off and left him…. but to Bill it was all encompassing slang for anything really bad that could go wrong with showing your horse, but mostly running off pattern,
GUSTO ….. Well that one was simple; you were going for something “BIG”.
But BH Lingo to be more specific… You went for the GUSTO when you had half the horse of everyone else you were showing against, you were next to last to go and you know you’d be lucky to mark a 216 or 217 and you let it all hang out... throw caution to the wind and your going to either mark real high or something’s going to break… That was going for the GUSTO (if you were showing against him this was when BH was the most dangerous)
PRECEDENT… Ok so this may be a little different but I wanted to tell this story from around the kitchen table at the Horn house in Cable, Oh … BH, Sam Smith and my father were discussing a situation where Sam said that my father needed to set a precedent… Not know what that word meant I ask BH…. I will never forget his definition …”Well a precedent is something you do to let every Son-of-a-bitch down the road know not to F%#! with you.”
Ok … I got off track.. I do that sometimes… Back to Willie
The song “On The Road Again” that was like the BH anthem… I think the guys loved this song because they were always traveling…. Usually on an all night drive to the next horse show. Now these trips took place almost 30 years ago and I don’t remember many specifics, hell I was just a kid… but I remember very vividly leaning up from the back seat to stick my head between the captains chairs for hours so I could listen to those guys visit… I never wanted to sit back and sleep because I didn’t want to miss something.
Lets see what else do I remember…. I remember Sharon Davis who was about 18 and she was about the prettiest thing I had ever seen …She was the first girl I ever had a crush on…. She was from North Carolina and showed this big stout gelding named Banker Bar Leo that Bill had trained who was just destroying everyone in the Youth and Ladies classes. Well Sharon was in the back seat with me and she fell asleep holding her trophy like a small child would hold a stuffed animal. BH got the biggest kick out of that and told everyone he was going to start doing that.
BH had a affinity for guns… He had this special console in his truck that had a special place for a pistol…. Don’t now why he traveled with one but back then he always did Bill also for kicks one time bought a UZI… Yes a fully automatic UZI that shot 9mm rounds I remember he and I went to go shot it ….In his front yard of all places he was showing me how to use it by destroying this tree in his yard …. When he pulled the trigger and it started firing off multiple rounds, he just held the trigger down till he was out of Ammo … the look on his face was priceless, when it was done firing he looked at me and said “That was BIG”.
Bill and My father would tend to drink a little when they drove on those trips… Dad said it was just a “pull” from time-to-time to keep them awake on the trip… I think they may have had more then just a little “pull” from it a few times…. Like the time my father was looking at the gun and fired it off from inside the truck… while driving down the road, I know what your thinking…”he shot at something with the window rolled down” NO! He shot though the windshield … that’s right he fired the gun from the passenger seat while BH was driving and shot though the windshield….. Crazy right? Yeah I guess he could not believe it happened the first time so he fired the gun though the windshield a second time… Think they might have been Shitfaced?
Speaking of being SHITFACED … What ? You don’t think I can do a story on BH with out talking about CROWN ROYAL did you?
Now I was a kid and I am sure they didn’t drink as much as I remember them drinking…. But…then again they may have.
To me during the summer one of my biggest thrills was going with my dad to check on the progress BH was making on the Futurity prospects, at Horns place Something BIG always happened…I could go fishing in Bills pond, or hunt birds in woods, sometimes they would let me ride a few of the good broke aged horses and I got to play with Bills dog Sugar.
One time at BH’s Farm in Cable, Dad sent me to the truck to get a new bottle; on the way to the house I took the cap of and threw it into some tall grass by the barn on the way to Bill’s house. Now, those guys would let me have a little sip from the bottle when it was first was opened… I know some folks might think this was horrible but it was just a thing that when they got a new bottle they would let me open it and take the first swig, you know it wasn’t any big deal. When I got to the house I already had my swig and set the bottle on the table… When they ask me where the cap was I told them I threw it away…. When they ask why I did that, I told them “ Well whenever you guys open a bottle you finish it” so in my young mind they really would not need the cap. For the next few hours I crawled on my hands and knees till I found the cap.
When I became old enough to drink, I would then and still if I chose to have a drink today order a shot from that purple bag.
Texas Reining Futurity Classic 1986, was held in Fort Worth, sometime late August, I did not get to go to this show but it has a special memory to me. BH and crew used it as sort of a “Tune Up” before congress that year… Side note: Dad and BH did not always or really ever agreed on what Bill’s best Futurity horse was. I don’t think that Bill ever went to the Futurity thinking my father’s horse was his big hitter or one that could win but more times than not Dads horse did the best of all the ones Bill had ANYHOW… Dad had this gelding that was just OK at best ... but it was all they had that year... and they took him to this show…The horses name was Great Barney Bars, which is a little bit of a tongue twister.
BH wen't for the GUSTO that day and Barney won the Futurity, the local television station was on location covering the show. The TV reporters came back the stalls to interview Bill who was celebrating with a few adult beverages… Well, as the story was told, all was going well until the TV reporter ask Bill what the horses name was… that’s when it came apart…
Bill blurted out “ Great Barney Balls, um, no that’s not it, Great big balls um, no that’s not right either.”
Then BH looks away from the TV camera and yelled to my father” Ben, what the hells is this horses name?”
Now at this show, BH won a trophy saddle and a beautiful custom Gist buckle. BH had lots of saddles and buckles so he gave them to me. They are both still considered to be some of my prize possessions.
Those are some great memoires… I think about trips with them guys and being around the shows with them and the others Rick Weaver, Dr. Tim Bartlett, Steve Culver, Sam Smith, Jim Gibson, Richie Greenburg, Kenny Eppers, John Snowblen, Bill’s brother Paul, Butch Shaver, Butch and Penny Gardel, Whitey, Frankie, Becky Collins, Bill Waterman, Bob Anthony, John Rossi don’t know if I got some of those guys name right and others it was just like a big CRAZY Family.
But memoires aside I’ve thought a lot the last few days was just what was it about BH that was so darn special…
Now he was a humble and honest man…. He never needed to be boastful or brag on what he had done, or could do…. BH had a very impressive track record of wins … he just let his results do the talking…. He never seemed to be much of a salesman, when he told you something, that’s the way it was. I can remember him calling my dad and saying whatever horse he was riding at the time wasn’t going to cut it. He never milked him for a training bill, I’m sure that when one didn’t work out dad was disappointed but appreciated Bill allowing him to cut his losses…
They may have been better trainers, or guys with a sharper eye for selecting prospects, but I don’t think then, or now there has ever been or probably ever will be a better showman… When he had a good one under him it was pure poetry to watch him ride…. It really was a beautiful thing. If god has created a man more suited to sit on top of a horse, we haven’t seen him……
When Bill went for it, NO ONE was better, I can’t say it enough, it was beautiful to watch. His ride on Velvet Enterprises would bring a tear to your eye… those big stops on Trash would send chills up your spine. This was 25 years ago and I can still feel the emotions when I felt back then…..
I think... no I know, BH made everyone around him better… I think how many great trainers got their start in or around his camp Rick, Shawn, Mike, Sam, Pace and others and then I think about how well his Non-Pros and Novice got along… I can remember shows were BH’s crew and clients would win every bronze at the show…It was just a winning machine….
Everyone wanted to be part of it, be near it, to be like BH.
After Bill’s ride on Velvet at the futurity he tossed his hat in the stands …. The next year in the Bob Evans youth reining at the congress after I got done with my ride I tossed my hat into the stands to be just like BH…. Difference was Bill marked a 223 on Velvet and I over-spun. HELLO WALLS.
In my defense Bill had tuned on my horse for about 30 min before I showed him that day and had him in a little bigger gear that I was use to…. That blew my mind, how I had rode my horse (which btw was the same horse my dad had won the world on a few years earlier) for 90 days solid with no major incident or changes and Horn tunes on him for 30 Min and got his mind “rite” and it was like I was riding a rocket ship covered by hair and hide.
It meant a lot to me that Bill went out of his way to do that for me with out Dad or I asking… I never really knew if Bill liked kids or not, I think it just depended on the kid… I knew he was very good to me, he was nice to Molly, White’s daughter and Farley. I know I was older and Bill got in my ass about something I was doing wrong that I didn’t even know I was doing wrong… and I was just crushed… We all wanted his approval. We loved him.... and for us to do wrong was devastating.
I think back to the other great trainers of that time… Larry Rose and his Great Pine colts, Bob Loomis and his Top Sail Cody and Boss Nowata Stars offspring, Bob Mac and his Lad 50’s. The other trainers who were some of the guys Bill looked up to like Dale Wilkinson and Bob Anthony then his contemporaries like Rocky Dare, Terry Thompson, Dick Pieper, Doug Milholland, Guy Gauthier, and many others … those guys were the heart and soul of reining, they were great competitors in the ring and friends outside. Then you take the next generation of trainers like Tim McQuay, Craig Johnson Scott McCutcheon, Shawn Flarida I would bet all of those guys would admit that when it came to BH they all knew they better step up the game cause the pressure was on…. That added to and help built the excitement that has grown Reining into what it is today
If there is Reining in the after life I guarantee it just got a whole lot tougher for Paul, Stevie and Guy.
It has been 10 years since I had seen BH and the time before that was about 8 years but he was still my Hero…. We all learned a lot of lessons from BH… I am a grown man but the last few days as I’ve thought of Bill I’ve been the little clumsy, fat, toe-headed kid with a bowl hair cut, hanging on his every word hoping some day I would have that same quite underling confidence he had.
Thanks for everything
“My heroes have always been cowboys.And they still are, it seems.”