After-school routine gives Trail Townsend a competitive edge at ranch horse shows.
Interview and photograph by ROSS HECOX
August 7, 2017
At home, Trail Townsend can find plenty of places to practice for a ranch horse competition. His family co-owns and operates Sandhill Cattle Company, a business that runs yearling calves in a feedlot and on wheat pastures in the area surrounding Earth, Texas.
After school, the 14-year-old often spends the afternoon riding and helping the Sandhill crew ride through the feedlot pens, sort cattle and doctor yearlings in irrigated pastures. The work involves roping, cutting, driving cows through alleyways, opening and closing gates and keeping a close eye on the health of the livestock.
“You learn how to be a better horseman, and you learn how to rope and be a better cowboy here on the ranch, in the feedyard, anywhere,” Trail says. “It’s all challenging, but once you learn it and practice at it, it sticks.”
All his work paid off this past May at the Ranch Horse Association of America National Finals in Abilene, Texas. There, competing against seasoned cowboys twice his age, he won the association’s National Championship in the Ranch Hand class.
Trail says a key contributor was his horse, TRR Lucky Playgun. His dad, Tripp, has shown “Motown” to two national championships in the RHAA junior class. Trail began showing the 2009 gray gelding unexpectedly last June at an RHAA show in Hugo, Colorado. Another entry was needed to fill the ranch hand class, so Tripp handed Motown’s reins to Trail.
“There wasn’t going to be enough people in the class, so Dad had me show him,” Trail says. “We won the class, and I’ve shown him ever since.”
Trail has shown other horses, but he and Motown have clicked. In August he and Motown won the Cowboy class at an RHAA show in Roaring Springs, Texas. Although the two work well together, Trail understands that the gray gelding is far from your typical kid horse.
“He doesn’t love people,” he says. “With some horses, you can go up to the fence and they come up so you can pet on them. Motown has never done that. He’s real funny on the ground—just real watchy and not wanting to be touched. The best place to be around Motown is on his back. Then he’s fine.”
Trail is also starting his first colt under saddle this year, with his sites set on the 2018 Clovis-Cactus Cow Horse Futurity in Clovis, New Mexico. He also has figured out what he’d like to do once he’s ready to begin a career.
“I’d like to work for either a reining horse trainer or a cow horse trainer, and then maybe train reining horses and cow horses at the same time.”