Buckaroo Bash

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The Great Basin Buckaroo Gathering spotlights the skills and traditions of some of the handiest horsemen in the West.

buckaroo horse roping
Shawn Judkins swings a big loop in the doctoring event. Ropers are required to use 60-foot ropes or reatas. Photo by Mary Williams Hyde

Three years ago, Trevor Ellis never set out to produce a roping event. A college student at the time, he had a full class schedule but in his spare time looked for ways to improve his horsemanship. Raised near Heber City, Utah, Ellis grew up riding on his family’s ranch. As he got older, however, he wanted to delve deeper into horsemanship. That led him to the philosophies of Tom and Bill Dorrance, Ray Hunt, and the horsemen who teach them today.

“I had a number of conversations with Jeff Sanders, Richard Caldwell, and others about the old-time buckaroos and their style of riding and gear, and I wanted to get to the root of it all,” Ellis says.

“There is a whole other level of horsemanship the buckaroos relish and thirst after, and that is what the bridle horse is all about. I learned there is a lot of intricacies to how you train your horse to efficiently work cows and set yourself up to perform a job on the ranch. The training is really practical. Once I experienced it I wanted to know everything about it.”

Ellis scheduled Sanders and Caldwell to do clinics in Utah. When Caldwell suddenly passed away, Matt Goodson filled in. There was also a roping and concert.

palomino horse in arena
Photos by Mary Williams Hyde

Matt Oman exhibits the traditional tack and low-stress stockmanship spotlighted at the Great Basin Buckaroo Gathering. The annual event brings together hard-working hands to showcase the horsemanship and stock-handling skills they use every day on ranches.

“The response to this type of event was overwhelming; we had ropers come from nine states,” Ellis recalls. “The first [Great Basin Buckaroo Gathering] really created itself.”

This year, the third-annual event will be held September 10-12 at the Golden Spike Event Center in Ogden, Utah.

Ellis has three goals for the event: to elevate horsemanship, honor buckaroo traditions and bring together the best ropers.

Twenty-five three-person teams will compete on Friday in a cow-doctoring competition. The top 12 teams from the preliminary round will advance to the finals on Saturday where they will compete in another round of cow doctoring. The top eight teams will then advance to the trailer-loading event, and from there, the top four teams will compete for the Top Hand award in the bull doctoring.

Cow bosses from ranches in a dozen states are expected bring their handiest crew members to showcase the skills they use every day.

“We are trying to recreate in an arena what [buckaroos] do each day outside on a ranch, and it’s not an easy task,” Ellis explains.

Three judges evaluate the skills of each team member and how efficiently the team does the job within a reasonable time limit.

“In the real world there is not a time clock, but we have a job to do,” Ellis says. “We have a time limit in the competition, so the teams have to work efficiently yet still handle the cattle quietly. The scores are cumulative, and include categories such as stockmanship, horsemanship, slack handling and teamwork so it is a tough competition with little room for error.”

Cowboy tailing a calf
Will Wakely tails a bovine to the ground.

On Friday evening, after the preliminary round of cow doctoring, the stock horse contest will be held. To be eligible to compete, the horse and contestant must both be entered in the roping competition. Each horse and rider will complete a series of five maneuvers for the dry work. Then they will demonstrate cow control while boxing a cow, taking it down the fence and then roping it.

“These are more than show horses,” Ellis points out. “They are working ranch horses. One day they will compete in a stock-horse competition and the next day they are required to rope a bull.”

The focus of the gathering is education. While watching the roping and stock-horse competition, the announcer will explain subtle techniques the buckaroos demonstrate. The gathering also offers a hands-on clinic on Thursday and Friday with respected horsemanship clinicians Joe Wolter of Aspermont, Texas, and Martin Black of Bruneau, Idaho. Limited space is available to ride in the clinic, but for $25 spectators can audit it.

“We are getting together two very talented, like-minded horsemen, and they are going to have a conversation about horsemanship,” Ellis says. “It’s very unique and personal. In the morning, half of the riders will go with Martin and the other half with Joe, and then they will switch in the afternoon. At the end of the day, everyone will get together and learn from both Martin and Joe for the last hour.”

High-quality, handmade gear is a hallmark of the buckaroo culture, so it is only natural the event will include a trade show with some of the best custom gear makers selling their wares.

New this year, Montana rawhide braider Nate Wald, a member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association, will teach a workshop and offer a lecture on his craft. Friday night wraps up with a concert featuring cowboy singers Mike Beck, Daron Little and Trinity Seely, and Saturday night features the awards presentation.

As the event evolves, Ellis stays true to buckaroo tradition, requiring traditional gear, but he also recognizes the contributions of the modern-day cowboy.

“I care about having the right people there,” Ellis says. “The event is about the competitors, and we are trying to create an atmosphere of a gathering of like-minded people who are within the inner circle of horsemanship and want to learn from each other. We also invite spectators to come and be a part of that inner circle. Each year it becomes more and more like a family reunion. One that you get excited to attend.”

Cost of admission to watch the roping, browse the trade show and attend the concert is $10 per person, per day. The clinic and gear-making workshop have separate pricing. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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