The 38th Western Heritage Classic held May 11-14, 2023, in Abilene, Texas, saw some top-shelf talent — both in horses and cowboys. The WHC has been devoted to the ranching way of life since 1985 and this year was no exception. Held at the Taylor County Expo Center, the WHC features a variety of events throughout the week, including the Ranch Horse Association of America National Finals, and the WHC Ranch Horse Sale. The main highlight though, is the WHC Ranch Rodeo. Some of the best ranches in the area come together each year to put themselves and their horses to the test, all bidding for championship honors. Perhaps one of the most prestigious awards of the weekend is the Top Horse Award.
This year, Wagon Master, ridden by Clint Jones of Pitchfork Land and Cattle Co., took home that honor.
“I can’t say enough about him. He’s big and strong, he’s athletic, he tries. He trots good, carries you good. He’s a good horse,” Jones says. “I’m very blessed to have him.”
The 8-year-old gelding was raised on the Pitchfork by a ranch stallion Nasty CD, who’s by CD Olena and out of the Doc Quixote mare Lady Okie Quixote. Jones picked Wagon Master as a foal based on his looks and the big, stout horse has proven he’s athletic enough to stand up to the tough work on the ranch and in the rodeo arena. One of those key factors making him a Top Horse is his ability in a herd and prowess when cutting one out. Specifically, during Friday’s ranch rodeo performance in Abilene, Jones says the big sorrel gelding stepped up to the plate when it mattered.
“[Friday] them cattle were scattered out all through the middle of it, and he’s always been real settled in the herd, but whenever one gets cut out he wants to get pretty serious and I attribute [him winning Top Horse] to that the sorting,” Jones said. “He handled himself good in everything else. There’s a lot of good horses out there.”
Wagon Master isn’t new to the Top Hand Award, having won it in July 2022 at the Texas Ranch Roundup in Wichita Falls, Texas. Jones says his big personality and willingness to please are two of his biggest assets making him a winner both in the arena and at home on the ranch.
“He’s a class clown. He really is. He’s got a lot of personality,” Jones said. “He wants to be good. One of the biggest things I like about him — even when he was younger — whenever something came about that maybe he wasn’t as athletic as you would want one to be he wouldn’t want to get in trouble. He would try to help you. He would take his mistakes and learn from them and I think that’s what makes him as good as he is, for as big as he is.”
Jones has been with Pitchfork Land and Cattle Co., for 10 years and while Wagon Master, along with other great horses, have served him well over the years Jones is first and foremost thankful to God and his crew.
“It’s just a great blessing to get to have him. I thank my Lord and Savior for everything, every bit of it. I couldn’t do anything without him and I tell you it’s quite a blessing,” Jones said. “It’s hard to get this award for me, because my crew set me up for that, and they don’t get nothing out of it. That’s servanthood and I appreciate that, I really do.”
As with nearly every ranch rodeo competitor entered says Jones concurs that one of the attractions that draws cowboys and fans alike to Abilene each year for the Western Heritage Classic is the people.
“I tell you what — I remember the very first time I ever got to come to this rodeo and just to be in the arena is a huge blessing,” Jones said. “To get an award like this — and I’ve been fortunate enough to get to be on some teams that have won it in the past and this to me — this and Wichita [Falls] — are my two favorite rodeos. They are for the cowboy.
“There’s cowboys out there and you’re competing against good people, with good morals,” Jones continued. “It’s like Cheyenne I guess, it gets bigger and better every year. It’s a great deal. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone here. You can go to the horse races or the horse competitions; you can buy one. It’s got everything in it. It’s great and they’ve done a great job. Good facilities, good cattle, good everything. A good committee who try to make everything run as right and as smooth as they can. It’s a great rodeo.”