Pitzer Ranch Invitational

This annual competition in Nebraska rewards horses with sound conformation that are broke to use on a working ranch.

bar H Photography

A trail course tested Two Eyed Amber Doll and Riley Renner on their way to winning the reserve all-around title at the Pitzer Ranch Horse Invitational in Ericson, Nebraska. (Photo courtesy of bar H Photograph) For more photos, scroll to the slideshow below.

“I was reading an old book, actually written by a gladiator, on training horses,” started the explanation by Jim Brinkman for the creation of the Pitzer Ranch Horse Invitational. “It was his opinion that judging a competition simply makes us imitate the winner, to try to do what the last winner did. By competing against a clock, you remove that imitation factor.”

Boss at the AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder Pitzer Ranch in Ericson, Nebraska, Jim spent many years thinking and developing a competition for the get of Pitzer Ranch-bred sires and, in 2010, the Ranch Horse Invitational was born. The goal of the competition is to recognize and reward the ultimate ranch horse that epitomizes the type of horse that Pitzer Ranch strives to breed – sound conformation, well-broke to use on the working ranch during the week, that can “go to town” on the weekends to compete in a roping or barrel jackpot. How the competitors reach that reward is solely up to them – and that clock.

The Ranch Horse Invitational is limited to 4-6-year-old horses sired by stallions enrolled as paid-up sires each year. These stallions are either Pitzer Ranch-blood stallions that have proven themselves in the performance arena or stallions whose traits and accomplishments Jim admires enough to stand them as Pitzer Ranch outcross sires.

By making the competition exclusive to these foals, and tying it to the Pitzer Ranch Sales, the program works to create demand for these bloodlines and performance. Only weanlings by paid-up sires are accepted into the Annual Pitzer Ranch Fall Production and Consignment Sale. Older horses in the sales that are eligible for the invitational include that notation for prospective buyers.

The ultimate goal for the Pitzer Ranch is to create and continue the demand for the bloodlines they have believed in since 1945, with the Two Eyed Jack family line of horses.

“Numbers and volume are one of the unfair advantages most bloodlines can never obtain,” Jim says. The Ranch Horse Invitational is designed to promote the versatility, disposition, conformation and physical ability of the Pitzer blood athletes to keep them in high demand, which is good for the business, reaching higher prices for the prospects and broke horses the ranch sells.

The Ranch Horse Invitational takes place in September in conjunction with the ranch’s fall sale and includes five events. Beyond the mandatory conformation class (no entry fee, scored as pass or fail), eligible horses may be entered in any or all of the four performance events – cowboy trail, one-man ranch sorting, heading, heeling and barrel racing – for a $50 entry fee per event. Each event returns 100 percent of the entry fees, with placings in each event paid and the all-around placings at the end.

With all of the prizes and stock charges donated, 100 percent of stallion nominations and entry fees paid went into the purse, along with sponsor-added money. The 75 entrants sired by paid-up stallions in the 2014 Ranch Horse Invitational were riding for a total purse in excess of $68,000.

Each rider may only show two horses per event. In the jackpot team roping, ropers rated No. 5 or lower rope three times with two fastest times counted. Ropers rated No. 6 and higher rope twice with both times counted. Heading and heeling events are separate. Sorting requires one rider to remove the determined number of cows from the holding pen and move them to a separate pen within the three-minute time limit, pitting horse and rider skill against disagreeable bovine brains. The barrel racing is old-time rodeo rules, translating into large arena, rain or shine and no drags in between runs. Points are awarded to the top-20 finishers in each event to determine the all-around standings.

While all of the individual events test a ranch horse and rider skills, the cowboy trail is the one event that sparks the most attention. The approximate half-mile course offers river crossing, bridge crossings, logs and/or downed trees, animals and other scenarios one might encounter on a working ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills terrain. The course also provides dramatic images as riders push to beat that clock, while navigating the trail with a bit of safety and a lotof try.

Besting the trail competition was Bucks Hat Jack, a 2009 gelding sired by Two Eyed Red Buck, bred by Ben and Sally Hoepker  of Ericson, Nebraska, and owned by Ed Hagler of Berryville, Arkansas, guided by Shea Bailey through the course to the fast time.

At the end of the day, Rod Nelson showed Chics Cool Cash for owner-breeder David Jeffres of Upland, Nebraska, to win the all-round title, taking home $15,000 and a custom trophy saddle. The 2008 mare is by AQHA Champion Arizona Roanie, whom Nelson showed to earn 819.5 AQHA points and three Superior awards. The mare is out of Star Cash Hancock by First Across Theline. Chics Cool Cash finished third in heading and sixth in heeling when the win in the barrel racing put her over the top to score the victory with 52 points.

Not far behind her, with 50 points, 2013 all-around champion Riley Renner  rode Two Eyed Amber Doll, a 2009 mare sired by Two Eyed Red Buck and out of Baileys Amber Doll by Boss Solano for owner Hadley Heavin of Gretna, Nebraska. The buckskin mare was bred by Dennis Freitag of Lewisville, Minnesota.