Lifelong Scholar: Part 3
Hall of Famer Bill Collins rode the back of a horse to higher education.
May 23, 2010
This is the last of a three-part series. Need to review Part 1 or Part 2?
When Bill Collins opened a boarding stable, he had intended it to be focused on cutting, but that wasn’t financially feasible.
“When we started our stables in Edmonton (Alberta), I ended up having to be open to anybody who wanted to come there with a horse to start with,” Bill says. “We started out with 40 horses, and then pretty quick, some of the
kids were friends with other ones, and it just snowballed, and so I had to make another stable and then I had 65 head of horses. And then we had to build an indoor arena, and one thing led to another. So I (was) busy there year-round, and still rodeoing, not heavy like I did before, but working at it.
“It was a busy time, but when you’re young, you just go with things and get after it and do it.”
For 18 years, Leecoll Stables was a part of the Edmonton equine scene, with 70-75 horses in residence year-round. Leo Lemieux’s business experience and Bill’s horse experience were a winning combination.
“I was spreading myself too thin, but I was covering the field and getting the job done,” he says.
He didn’t have the time or the contacts to find horses for all his customers.
“That’s one of the things where Don Dodge really helped me immensely,” he says. “I’d call him and tell him, and he’d look around down there (in the United States). He knew the situations and didn’t want to overmount the customers to start.”
Because of Bill’s time with Don and his English-riding wife, Barbara, he was prepared to work with the jumping horses some of his clients preferred and ended up buying one for his own use.
“One of my cutting customers helped organize the Edmonton Rodeo and move it up several notches from where it was,” Bill says. “So part of the entertainment for people was to have jumping horses. And so they got me to work with them and help them along.”
At the 1966 rodeo, Bill agreed to ride his horse in the jumping. He also roped and cut. He won the 5-foot jumping class, was second in tie-down roping and third in cutting. It was a virtuoso display of horsemanship that would go a long way toward cementing Bill’s reputation as the go-to trainer in Alberta.
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“I had to be a fast-change artist, changing clothes and this and that, but there’s another one of those experiences you have in a lifetime.”
Off to Great Britain
In 1962, Prince Philip arrived in Canada. He had a previous business relationship with Chunky Woodard, owner of Douglas Lake Cattle Co. in British Columbia, and Chunky had a previous business relationship with Bill.
“So Chunky phoned me and he said, ‘I’d like you to haul two good cutting horses over here and work with Prince Philip while he’s here and let him ride them’ and so on and so forth. That was in 1962, and he got a permit for me to come over Rogers Pass – it wasn’t open yet – this new highway, but it was nearly finished and he got a permit for me to come over there to let me haul my horses over that pass and through the mountains.”
The prince was enthralled with the cutting horses.
“Prince Philip’s a good horseman. He couldn’t believe – two or three times he nearly come off when they were working these cows on the ranch there – he couldn’t believe a horse could do things like that underneath a person who didn’t know anything about it,” Bill says. “He said, ‘When they’ll carry a dummy like me and work a cow like that, that’s the greatest equine thrill that anybody could have.’ It was his opinion, and he just stated it loud and clear.”
About two weeks after the prince returned to England, he invited his new cutting buddies to cross the Atlantic for a three-month demonstration tour of Europe.
Bill flew with the horses across the ocean – an exotic adventure at the time – but he only stayed six weeks. He had customers – and horses – waiting back in Edmonton.
Time and Changes
Changes came in cutting and in life. After 18 years in Edmonton, Leecoll Stables shut down and Bill moved south to Calgary where he had more customers and could give clinics.
“I saw a lot of the trends and the changes that were taking place (in cutting) at that time along the way. And some of them were for the good and some were for the bad that have died and gone by the wayside since then. …but the basics never change: a cow and a horse.”
Bill, 85, is retired from active training but not from his lifelong quest toward understanding the horse. He knows how he wants to be remembered as a member of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame:
“That I had done a good job for the people that I worked with and have them remember me by it. That I was honest and helped them reach the success they wanted to reach in their endeavors with a horse.”
That’s exactly what a gentleman-scholar would say.
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