Riding

Lifelong Scholar: Part 2

Hall of Famer Bill Collins rode the back of a horse to higher education.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Need to review Part 1?

The same family friend who hired a 10-year-old Bill Collins to gather cattle helped turn Bill – inadvertently – into a roper.

“In 1945, he and his wife were going to come down for the Calgary Stampede, and so they talked to my folks and asked if they could bring me along, because I was like one of their kids. They brought me down to Calgary here, and I had never been in the city before,” Bill says. “I would sneak across the racetrack to where these calf ropers were, because I had a lively interest in things. I’d watch what these guys were doing.”

Plus, the city-struck, lanky teen was fascinated with everything rodeo. He worked at the family ranch in between trips to the bright lights of Calgary, finding ways to justify the journey.

“I made a friend who was running a chuck wagon outfit. I’d been helping him with his horses. So the next year, I went back in 1946, I outrode for him and another friend in the wagon races, so I was outrider for two outfits, and that’s how I got started in that part of the business. It was several years later that I started rodeoing after I got to roping calves from this visit to the Stampede.

“I ended up getting a little stronger each year, and I ended up rodeoing steady, which wasn’t all that heavy in those years. We’d go to a rodeo for two or three days and then back home again.”

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Don Dodge

Cutting competition was mostly a rumor in the 1950s in Canada. If cutters decided they wanted to put on a demonstration at a fair or a rodeo, all five of them had to be present.

“They asked if I would help with this cutting (in Brooks, Alberta) to turn back,” Bill said. “A group from Edmonton that was down got interested in this and somehow or another got my name and that I would be able to work with them and help them. I didn’t know anything about teaching at that time.”

Bill decided if he was going to do something, he needed to do it well, and if he was going to teach, he needed a teacher to show him how. At a rodeo in Ely, Nevada, he found the best tutor he could have.

“At 6 o’clock in the morning, we were out there taking care of our horses, and I saddle up and I’m riding around the racetrack, and this guy is trotting his horse on the racetrack and just a-going,” Bill said. “And I didn’t know who it was, but I liked the looks of the horse and what he was doing, so I turned around, went the other way, and next time he come around the track, he met me, and he pulled up and we introduced ourselves. And it was Don Dodge.”

Don and Bill hit it off, and the next thing Bill knew, he was traveling from Edmonton to California to learn more about cutting.

“I talked to these guys in Edmonton that I was (working) with and I said ‘I’m going back to Dodge’s, and you guys can fly down if you want to ship your horses down and spend some time with him.’ So they did, and that’s how all of this got started.”

Don was married to the celebrated English trainer and rider Barbara Worth at the time, and Bill spent two months with them every winter for six years. Don worked with Bill’s clients in the mornings, giving them instructions and coincidentally showing Bill how to go about teaching them.

“He was a real meticulous person,” Bill said. “His horses – first-class in everything. He was just … we became very good friends. He treated me like I was one of his kids. I’d worked around horses and been around horses, so it was second nature, but he was giving me the details of all these things.”

In the afternoons, Bill got a different kind of instruction.

“Don and I worked cattle every morning,” he said. “Barbara started after lunch working with her jumping horses. I would be with Barbara in the afternoons and Don in the mornings.”

Bill became a jumper, too, in addition to being a cutter, roper and cattleman.

Back home in Edmonton, Bill opened a boarding stable with a partner, Leo Lemieux.

Stay tuned for the last part of this series.

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