DOUGLAS — Nestled near a now-dry fork of the Cheyenne River some 40 miles and northwest of Douglas sits 88 Ranch, a 100,000-acre mix of private and leased public lands. The ranch spans the foothills of the Bighorns and the high scrub desert of the Wyoming plains.
For six generations, the Henry family has run cattle on the 88, all of it from the back of a horse.
“It’s really important to me that we continue that tradition, because I think the ranching and cowboy tradition is dying at a rapid rate,” said ranch runner Garrett Henry.
Henry will never knock the ranchers who drive their cattle with an ATV — after all, it’s still a tough job no matter the steed — but to him, it doesn’t make the rancher a cowboy. And with the next generation of ranchers becoming enamored with life and work in the cities, away from the biting winds of winter and the blazing sun of summer, he sees having a bond with an animal as another way to try to keep the Wyoming cowboy legacy alive.
“I want my kids to be able to wear that name of being a cowboy with pride,” the 37-year-old rancher said. “In the end, I want them to come back to the ranch and enjoy this. I think doing your work from a horse is part of that.”
Of course, working like a traditional cowboy requires a traditional mount, so the ranch made an equine addition to its business operations in the 1990s. Henry’s father purchased a stallion and a few mares and began a breeding operation to give his sons good stock to ride.
From there, like so many other cowboys, Henry got into rodeo, and he and his father added another goal to their list: bringing one of their horses to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
A team roper and steer wrestler, Henry never did qualify for the NFR, but as he wound down his rodeo days, he found a mare that let him achieve his other goal, that of bringing one of 88 Ranch’s performance stock to Vegas.
At the end of their careers, racehorses don’t typically spend their golden years in a broadcast booth. Some are used as breeding stock for the next generation of racehorses. Many are sold to slaughterhouses, used as trail horses, or keep running in illegal races around the globe.
But a lucky few get the chance to shine on the silver screen, if they get the right buyer. And the right rider.
Mable, a quarter horse with a rich brown coat and white flashes on her face, had the right luck.
“I could tell there was something special about her, just from looking at her,” Henry said.
He trained her as a haze horse, the horse that runs alongside a steer to keep it going straight so a cowboy can wrestle it to the ground, but after selling his wrestling horse, he brought Mable to the other side chute midway through the rodeo season.
“She just really took to it,” Henry said. “She was naturally kind of gifted.”
But Henry wasn’t the rider to get Mable back in front of the cameras. He offered the still-green horse up to a longtime friend of his, Stetson Jorgensen.
The Blackfoot, Idaho-based cowboy and Henry got to know each other while the former was attending Central Wyoming College. Jorgensen came to work at 88 Ranch, birthing calves and working cattle, and continued to hone his craft. Rodeo fans and steer wrestling aficionados might know of Jorgensen. He’s now qualified for the NFR twice and sits at 8th in the world rankings and is all but guaranteed a spot in Vegas for the third straight year next month.
It all started with a little horse named Mable.
“His goal was to make it to the NFR and he had the talent to do that, he just needed the horse,” Henry said.
A broken leg and a broken wrist suffered in high school nearly derailed Jorgensen’s career before it ever got started. He got back in the saddle while going to college in Riverton and his career took off from there.
Mable was the final piece of the puzzle.
“Friendship goes a long way, and Garrett was a true friend before he even offered me Mable,” the 28-year-old steer wrestler said. “I can’t thank Garrett enough for believing in me and working with me and for Mable.”
The racehorse-turned-haze-horse-turned-wrestling-horse is now regarded as one of the best in the world, but Henry is not satisfied. Like his father before him, he takes too much pride in his work to sit on his laurels.
“Now let’s get another one to the NFR,” he said. “I want to prove it wasn’t a one-time deal, that it wasn’t a fluke.”