Horns N' Heroes

2023 Horns N’ Heroes Winners Awarded at the American Hero Celebration with Charly Crawford
On Thursday, Nov. 9, Charly Crawford's annual two-day roping clinic that's free for military members and first responders culminated with Top Hand, Most Improved and Heading & Heeling championship buckles.
American Hero Celebration with Charly Crawford
Past the arena gates, AHC 2023 participants get horsemanship instruction from Charly Crawford in heading and, in the heeling, from Trey Johnson. | TRJ File Photo

At what has become one of the team roping industry’s most beloved events, members of the Armed Forces and First Responders were awarded Most Improved, Top Hand, and Champion Header and Champion Heeler trophy buckles when the two-day Horns N’ Heroes Roping Clinic culminated on Nov. 9, 2023.

The Quanta-sponsored clinic is part of the ever growing Hillwood Land & Cattle American Hero Celebration (formerly the American Military Celebration) with Charly Crawford, presented by J.P.Morgan | Chase.

In 2023, the clinic was limited to eight headers and eight heelers, which allowed for more one-on-one instruction from 10-time NFR header and host Charly Crawford and his longtime teaching partner and friend, PRCA heeler and minister Trey Johnson.

“It’s been really interesting to watch,” said retired police officer Greg Ziel, who participated in the clinic in 2022 and returned this year as a volunteer. “I know what my experience was when there was 15 of us [on each side,] and it seems to be working really well with eight.”

“We used to take 15 because only 10 would show up,” Crawford revealed. “Then, when this thing started getting so big, no one missed it. So everyone came. And at 15 it’s hard. We can get through it, but it’s hard because you’re trying to get everybody as much information as you can. We figured eight would be more intimate. We get to know them a lot better, and we’re able to take our time better with them and they get more out of it.”

The clinic is a “one-and-done” operation, so to speak: as in, once a person is accepted into the school and participates, he or she is not permitted to apply to participate again. However, it’s not uncommon for past participants to come back as volunteers, like Ziel, to ensure the new participants have a successful experience. There’s even a crew that Crawford refers to as his “OG” members, like Mike Hall, Travis Beck and Shawn Day, who have been returning since the first iterations of the celebration, which has its decade-plus roots in Crawford’s backyard.

2023 Horns N’ Heroes Winners

Most-Improved: Jake Greenlief

Jake Greenlief served in the Marine Corps between 2008 and 2017, and he plays a significant role in the operations at War Horses for Veterans as their Director of Equine Management.

“Coming in here, I knew I had a lot to learn, and I was just trying to be humble about it, to be honest,” said Greenlief, who has been more focused in the cow horse arena in recent years. “I get to ride a lot more, but I don’t get to rope as much as other people. I don’t think I really did that good to make the jump to most improved, but it’s nice to know that they were noticing that maybe, every day, I was just trying to put all the effort I could into it, and practicing and practicing and practicing.”

“His heart to be here,” Johnson said of why his heeling student was worthy of the recognition. “When he came here, he hadn’t swung a rope a whole lot. He had worked at cow horses quite a bit and reiners quite a bit, and to see the transformation of how he rides his horse and position and his approach to the steer, compared to the working cow horse, you know, he was just willing. He was willing to keep working at it and he worked through all the frustration, and it was really neat to see him catching really consistently by [the end of the clinic].”

Top Hand: Darrel Pino

Horns N’ Heroes Top Hand Darrell Pino, with his wife, Anita. | Tammy St. Denis photo.

Darrell Pino is a member of the Navajo Nation, a Marine Veteran and an architectural designer in the Albuquerque area. He’s also a veteran bull rider. When Pinot’s body aged out of bull riding in the senior pro circuit at 55, he traded in his bull rope for a head rope.

“I wasn’t really expecting that,” said Pino, whose children also served. “You know, I’m the kind of an individual that it’s hard to talk about myself. I’d rather be in the background. And I’d rather be helping people to be better.

“So I wasn’t expecting that,” Pino continued, “but I was trying hard to learn and trying to remember everything that Charly was teaching us. So every time he encouraged me and asked me to make a change, I would just really try to apply myself the best I could. So, to receive that Top Hand Award from him, it’s an honor and it means a lot.”

“I really enjoy this award because there’s always someone that just stands out that has something special to them,” Crawford said. “Somebody who stands out and does a lot to help with the clinic; somebody who stands out and helps a lot of other people. And there’s just times, sometimes, you just see somebody that tries so darn hard and just has such a good attitude.

“And, you know,” Crawford added, “he didn’t maybe let some of the gray hair that we sometimes have in our hair right there or the age right there bother him. He tried hard and did everything we talked about and had such a great attitude. He just stood out to me so much and he was my top hand. I got to visit with him later, and he’s a great man.”

Horns N’ Heroes Jackpot Champions

Trey Johnson, Keith Muir, Tommy Sizemore and Charly Crawford at the Horns N’ Heroes award ceremony, where Muir and Sizemore were given championship buckles from Legend Tack and Silver. | Click Thompson photo.

At the end of two days of ground work, horsemanship drills and practice runs, the Horns N’ Heroes clinic concludes with a jackpot.

Champion Header: Tommy Sizemore

“Tommy did great,” Crawford noted. “Sometimes you hear the term position so much, but it’s very generic, how a lot of people explain it. And so, when I was able to explain where you rate that position off of your horse to be able to match up the same speed of the steer, if the steer’s horn is in front of you, it’s an easier shot, that was just something that really resonated with him. And then his catch percentage just bloomed. And during the roping, he was able to do exactly what we practiced and he finished up being the winner.”

Champion Heeler: Keith Muir

“Keith was the only healer to catch all four steers,” Johnson said. “He caught three of them by two feet and roped a leg on one of them, but he’s only been riding a year. And he just had such a great attitude and is just so willing and eager and positive and encouraging to everybody. And so it was fun to see.”

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