Cowboy Country

May 1, 2010 | By More

Cowboys on horseback once ruled cattle country in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and the western plains. These rough and tough wranglers kept livestock safe and the region’s economic wheels rolling into the early 20th century, when barbwire fences replaced the need for many cowboy skills.

Working cowboys today have swapped horses and saddles for four wheelers, cell phones and computers, but their legendary riding, roping, and shooting skills are still highly prized at rodeos, jackpots and futurities across the River Valley. Here, cowboys and cowgirls compete in everything from barrel racing, roping and bull riding to mounted shooter events.

Rodeos and related riding sports have spurred a multi-million dollar industry, with thousands of active participants. In the River Valley alone, competitive riding events occur almost weekly throughout the year, some with up to three hundred participants vying for the top spot in a single event.

While rodeos and related events are held in every state, Canada and Europe, the center of activity is “Rodeo country”, which includes Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and California, said 2008 Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame inductee, Bobby Hurley, whose family owns Hurley Ranch. Bobby Hurley retired from the professional rodeo circuit in 2002 after qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo 15 out of his 18 years as a pro and winning two World Championships in team roping.

“Cowboy glamour is all on the outside,” said Hurley with his signature laugh. “Everything about rodeo work is hard on the body. Cowboys have a lot of injuries. Most are lucky to still be walking when they get older. You break a lot of ankles and arms, get fingers cut off and things like that. There are a lot of wrecks, but that’s just part of rodeo,” said Hurley.

Many people think it is hard on the horses and cattle, but it’s a lot harder on the cowboys, said Hurley. “Your horse is your life. They are so well taken care of. Without them, you are nothing. Most of the time, they are more important than anything else we have.”

Besides injuries, the travel is the worst part, especially traveling with horses, said Hurley. “You just can’t pull over anywhere when you’re traveling with horses. Sometimes we had to travel 1000 miles in one day because there was no good place to stop along the way. Being away from family for months at a time was hard, too.”

Hurley, 45, who went to Clarksville High School and Arkansas Tech University Russellville, has ridden “practically all his life.” Hurley started roping when he was seven or eight years old, taught by his father, Bob Hurley and Dale Meek, who has worked for the Hurley family for 46 years.

By the early 1980’s, Hurley had found his niche and riding and roping became more of a job than a hobby. In 1982 the indoor arena was built so he could practice during bad weather. Like her brother, Hurley’s sister, Libby Hurley-Fogg rode competitively and was crowned Miss Rodeo Arkansas in 1981. Hurley’s other sister, Fenton Hurley-Little, has helped run the Western/Outdoor store located on the ranch at Hwy 64 in Clarksville for the last twenty years.

Today, Hurley’s, has one of the most popular indoor riding arenas in the River Valley, drawing cowboys and cowgirls from as far away as Colorado, Wyoming and California. With the arena closed for competitions in July and August due to the heat, the facility hosts events almost every weekend and spectators can usually get in for free.

Barrel racing, a popular cowgirl sport, and mounted shooting competitions are always popular events at the Hurley arena. While barrel racers ride their horses around a set of barrels for the fastest time, mounted shooters race their horses around 10 balloon targets which they shoot at with 45 pistols using “wads” or blanks for the safety of spectators and participants. Timing and accuracy are both counted.

With over 5,000 acres owned by the Hurley family in Johnson County, the Hurley’s have been breeding Foundation Quarter Horses since the 1960’s for use in competition. Two of the family bred and trained horses were voted Pro Rodeo Cowboy’s Association “Heading Horse of the Year” in the 1990’s and their breeding stock still carries the lineage of the family’s original horses.

The operation also keeps a large herd of specially bred roping “steers” whose horns grow earlier and more quickly, as steers are roped by the horns, explained Hurley.

Hurley’s grandfather, Sterlin Hurley, moved to Johnson County from Harrison in the 1950’s and started Farmer’s National Bank in Clarksville. The family also runs a real estate and development office in downtown Clarksville to manage their various properties.

Besides the land, horses, cattle and event arena, the Hurley family built a retail store in 1990 stocking cowboy equipment and western wear, and have since expanded to include a wide assortment of fishing equipment and supplies, an archery department with an indoor archery range and a taxidermy operation.

Bow hunting in Arkansas is really big, said Hurley employee Greg Arnold. “Bows have become so precise; they probably shoot better than some guns. Technology in the past 10 years has changed the sport dramatically. Bows used to shoot 150 ft. per second, but today they can shoot up to 350 ft. per second.” The indoor archery range also hosts competitions, Arnold added.

Fishing technology has also changed the way people fish, said Arnold. With all the new reels, poles and different baits, like “hard baits and plastic baits”, fishing is becoming more high tech, but many fishermen still prefer “live bait” like crickets, brim, worms, minnows, and gold fish. Frozen bait, like shad and chicken livers, are also popular and the store carries them all.

Full-time Taxidermists, Brian Sevier and his partner Adam Sage, also bring in a lot of business to the store. “Taxidermy is an art and a science,” said Sevier. Taxidermy, in Latin, means to move the skin. “Taxi “means move and “dermi” is skin, he explained.

“The first things we do are skin the animal and tan the skin. Then we freeze the skins until we can get them ready to mount over foam mannequins,” said Sevier, who said mounting can take up to two weeks depending on how long the skin needs to dry.

Although the taxidermy operation annually mounts up to 140 deer “capes” (from nose to back of shoulder) per year, we also do a lot of smaller animals, birds and fish, said Sevier. Occasionally we get an unusual project, he added. “One client had us stuff a local domestic cat that had been born hairless.”

For further information on upcoming events, contact the Hurley Ranch at (479) 754-5555 or go to the Hurley website at www.hurleyranch.com.

 

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