By Ranch Horse Journal editor Andrea Caudill
Dwight Bilyk misses his cows. He’s been involved with them his entire life.
“Born, raised and ranched in Arizona,” the cattleman says of his history. Early in his adult career, he was managing a ranch in the Grand Canyon State, when he and his wife, Mary Pat, decided it was time to take their three little boys and find a place of their own.
They ended up on a spread in northern Oklahoma, near Pawhuska.
“We bought a little place and spent 29 years there, got lucky, got to lease some big country and grew that place a little bit and raised those boys,” Dwight says.
Their boys have grown up, gone into agriculture, and have children of their own. So about six months ago, Dwight and Mary Pat moved to California and went into business with two of their sons.
“I’m a flower farmer now,” the rather dry-humored rancher says with a twinkle in his eye. “My grandkids are there, right close, and we’re liking that. As far as livestock, I sure miss cows, but right now we’re just being citrus farmers and playing with kids.”
Specifically, the family is growing crops like avocados and citrus fruit in the sunny California weather, cultured in the soil developed by their third son – who has an organic soil business in Arkansas.
“He’ll ship (soil) to them, because they feel like they can’t get better anywhere else,” Dwight says. “They all grew up on the ranch and learned a lot – they know what a cow can do on good grass when she’s run right, and when the grass is rested and grazed right - and it continued on in college. It’s a good combination."
A little over a decade ago, Dwight encountered a horse show with some ranch-type classes.
“So I thought I’d try it, and realized how much I didn’t know,” he says. “I thought, well, I’m going to see if I can’t learn some of this stuff. It’s been a long road. I didn’t have the time to really go somewhere and have someone who knew something teach me. So I just messed around, read what I could.”
He and Mary Pat started the Midwest Ranch Horse Association, which is focused in that northern Oklahoma area, and was developed as a way to show a horse, but more importantly to allow horsemen to exchange ideas and techniques to improve. The association continues today, with about 10-12 shows a year and a year-end finals.
“Doing that, watching and learning, sure helped,” he says.
He was drawn into Versatility because of the opportunity for a variety of events.
“There’s going to be someone really good at one thing,” he says. “I thought, as a rancher, I might have a chance if everyone’s gotta do everything.”
That’s where his horse, Jaw Smart Lena Steel, comes in. Dwight bought the 2012 gelding as a yearling. The horse was bred by Raymond Worley of Waverly, Kansas, and is by Smart Little Mister and out of the Annas Silver Sage mare Lone Wind Gator.
“We break them, use them on the ranch, and maybe once every two years you get that one (to show),” he says. “My main concern is, yeah, maybe he can come to something like this (show) and be decent at it, but also when I got through, he’ll be great for my grandkids. That’s been my angle all along.”
Turns out he’s got a show horse – competing in the amateur division at the Zoetis AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championships, this is Dwight’s first World Show experience. Turns out he’s also got a grandkid horse.
“He’s a sweetheart,” Dwight says of his horse. “My grandson started riding him before I left (for the World Show). I said, man I have to have a little flesh on him before I go, you can’t be running around on him all day! So he was a little perturbed.”
Fortunately they’ll be back home in a few days, with their first world show experience under their belts, and his grandson can get his horse back.
And Dwight can get back to sharing time and his horses with those grandkids, who range in age from 16 to “yearling.”
But Dwight does miss those cows.
“Maybe one of these days, I’ll get some,” he says. “But right now we’re sure enjoying those kids.”