Down to Earth: Tripp Townsend
In an era of specialization in equine competition, rancher, roper and reined cow horse trainer Tripp Townsend has experienced success by diversifying.
[Originally published in the March 2020 issue of The Team Roping Journal]

A rancher by trade, Tripp Townsend also has a strong knack for winning in team roping, ranch rodeo and, most recently, cracking into the elite ranks of the National Reined Cow Horse Association. Townsend and his wife, Hope, have built their Sandhill Cattle Co. in tiny Earth, Texas, on the backs of the good horses it takes to perform daily ranch tasks—horses that also transition quite nicely to the competition arena. 

Ranching Roots

In the mid-80s, the Townsend family lived in Colorado on the Butler Ranch near Fowler, which gave Tripp early exposure to good roping partners—a couple of legends, in fact.

“There was an older gentleman there by the name of Gus Webb who had an arena and liked to rope,” Townsend said. “So I was fortunate enough that me and Randy Knight would get to go over there to rope. J.D. and Dick Yates would come over there sometimes, too. J.D. actually gave me my first heel horse, an old horse that he just let me keep till the horse died. That was in about 1984; we lived there for four years.”

Hubbell Rodeo Photo

Tripp and Hope were high school sweethearts before marrying and starting their family, which includes daughters Summer (McMillen) and Autumn, and son Trail. They settled in Earth, which—if you’re wondering where on earth it is—is about 90 miles southwest of Amarillo.

“That’s where my mom’s family was from,” Townsend said. “My dad was wanting to have something of his own instead of working for other people, so we made the decision to move back and work there at Earth.”

In the process of establishing their operation, the Townsends also built a reputation for good using horses that eventually led them to prepare sale horses for major ranch horse sales, as well as showcase their ranch horses in competition.

“We used horses every day there on the ranch doctoring wheat pasture cattle and whatnot. I read in a magazine that they were having a ranch horse sale in San Antonio, so we put a couple horses in it,” Townsend said. “We didn’t set the world on fire with them that first year, but that was my first exposure to selling horses at an auction like that and to showing in ranch horse competition. That experience sparked a fire to keep doing it and keep trying to take better and better horses back there to San Antonio. So, it really just progressed to keep showing horses, team roping and ranch rodeoing too.”

Townsend earned his first of many Ranch Horse Association of America championships in 2005 riding a horse by the name of Alottabull. Along with sales and showing, the Sandhill Cattle Co. is a regular at the World Championship Ranch Rodeo in Amarillo, where the Townsend kids have all competed alongside their dad at one time or another in the ranch rodeo, as well as excelling in the RHAA shows.

“They all have shown in the ranch horse, but none of them have caught the roping bug I guess quite like I have,” Townsend said.

Years of experience at picking horses that can handle the demands of everything Townsend asks of them has helped him refine his selection criteria. The bloodlines he leans toward tend to be the cow horse and cutting pedigrees. Townsend is, however, quick to add, “I’m not stuck on only that because a good horse is a good horse, but it’s what I’ve had the best luck with. The Pepcids, they’ve really worked for me.”

Natural Progression

The Townsends have 3,000 head of cattle on wheat pasture in the winter, 3,500 head in the feedyard to take care of and another 300 cows on a grass lease. Their horses see plenty of outside miles, a fact Townsend says helps him transition prospects seamlessly from ranch work to the arena.

“We start out and ride them for a couple months and then, as soon as they kind of tell us they’re ready, then we immediately go to using them—riding pens, using them outside,” Townsend said. “Before you know it, you’re roping and doctoring on a 2-year-old, which sounds like a lot to some people, but it’s sort of a natural progression for us.”

Townsend says he’ll keep 10 horses, 15 max, at a time. “That’s with Trail and the guys that work for me helping me, too. We can’t ride many more than that.”

His criteria for selecting prospects is centered on the various jobs and show situations that a horse at Sandhill Cattle Co. will encounter.

“When I go to buy a colt now, the first thing I have to evaluate is if he’s good enough to go cow horse on and strong enough and athletic enough to do the three events,” Townsend said. “Then, is he big and strong enough to rope on later. That’s the next big thing. It’s tough, but it can be done to find those kind of horses to excel in both.”

Roping and cow horse, though very specialized, complement each other well and help Townsend develop well-rounded horses.

“Even the cow horses we sell now, we sell most of them as rope horses. Our involvement in the reined cow horse has probably helped me as far as selling horses because people like a really broke horse and one that they can put it where they want it—where they’re able to control the horse instead of the horse controlling them. People like it when they’re broke.”

Daily ranching and how each horse handles the job will dictate how fast each one progresses and whether it’s best suited to team roping or horse showing, or both.

“We let the horse tell us when they’re ready. You might have one you’re heeling on in the pasture and something happens, somebody misses and, the next thing you know, you’re roping one around the neck. It’s just day-to-day working and riding,” Townsend said. “You have a colt you ride all day just working. Then, you get done at the end of the day and say, ‘Lets run a few.’ Before you know it all those outside jobs you did are helping you ease into roping out of the box. We’re selling quite a few 3- and 4-year-olds with that type of background. They’re not finished by any means, but even though they’re young horses, they’re broke and the guys that buy them can take them and finish them how they want.”

Roping Rewards

Most recently, Townsend heeled for Kent Youngblood of Lamesa, Texas, in the #9.5 Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale, where the team put up a solid 9.57-second run from the 14 callback position to finish eighth overall and split $72,000, thanks to their cumulative time of 39.90 seconds on four runs.

Understandably, the Ariat World Series of Team Roping Finale is one Townsend looks forward to entering each year.

“My favorite roping without a doubt is the World Series Finale in Vegas,” Townsend said. “I just love it. I don’t think that it’s really much harder than winning your local jackpot, it’s just that if you can put four runs together, you know you’re going to get paid really good for it.”

Townsend tries to practice a couple times a week at the house, adding that, “There’s really good World Series ropings in close proximity, like at Clovis, Amarillo, Lleveland and others.”

In 2019 in Vegas, Townsend, a 6 header and 5 heeler, roped for Steve Purcella in the #14, headed for Randy Knight in the #13 and had the greatest success heeling for Youngblood in the #9.5.

Townsend finished the 2019 season on a high note in Vegas, riding out a string of solid performances in various high profile events throughout the year. In Guthrie, Oklahoma, last June, he earned the prestigious AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse Open Senior World Championship riding the Tongue River Ranch-bred TRR Lucky Playgun (Pepcid x TRR Ms Lucky Gun x Playgun). The Sandhill Cattle Co. team qualified for their 18 consecutive World Championship Ranch Rodeo (WCRR). Then, in October, Townsend topped the Limited Open Futurity Championship at the 50 running of the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. Townsend rode TRR Lucky Brazos, aka “Hiptown,” to earnings of $17,534 thanks to a massive fence score of 223 for a 653 composite (214 herd/ 216 rein). Townsend owns the gray stallion in partnership with Kyle Brewer, who purchased him as a yearling at the 6666’s Return to the Remuda Sale from Tongue River. Incidentally, his mount in Vegas was another Tongue River horse—“Camptown,” registered as TRR Pepto Gin (Pepcid x TRR Sweet Gin x Tanquery Gin).

Sired by Pepcid and out of the Playgun daughter TRR Ms Lucky Gun, Hiptown might be destined for more time in the roping arena—specifically, the high profile American Roping Horse Futurity Association World Championship Futurity.

“I’m really thinking hard about starting to heel on [Hiptown] more seriously and trying to get one of those pro guys to show him next year in the rope horse futurity,” Townsend said. The addition of the rope horse futurity to NRCHA’s Snaffle Bit Futurity schedule makes the event a natural fit for Townsend’s diversified program.

“I’ve never entered the roping futurity yet, but I’ve had several horses that I’ve sold in it. The first year they had the rope horse futurity, I had a horse that I had sold to Bert McGill from California who won third in the heading,” he said. “I think J.D. [Yates] won first and second and that horse was third, so that was pretty neat. Then, this last year, I had one that I’d sold that ended up in the short go, but the guy lost his rope.”

A Work in Progress

Townsend has a hard time whittling down the list of folks who’ve influenced him most over the years, but says the chance to rope with good partners and watch great horsemen and horsewomen is what helps him most.

“It’s always a work in progress,” he said. “I’m trying all the time to get better and figure stuff out from watching other guys rope, or how they ride their horses. I’d have to say most everybody I’ve worked with has influenced me, but there was one guy by the name of Jesse Valdez who worked for me and heeled so good. He headed steers good, too, but just working with good ropers, you learn all the time.”

The Townsend family plans to stay the course in 2020 with more roping, reined cow horse and ranch rodeo on their agenda.

“There’s a versatility show in Fort Worth in January that we go to and then the [NRCHA] World’s Greatest Horseman in February. Then we go to the ranch rodeos all summer and rope whenever we can,” Townsend said.

As for if he gravitates to one event over another, Townsend says he doesn’t play favorites. “I love ‘em all. Anything cowboy with a rope involved, I’m a sucker for it! Trail gets mad at me because he wishes sometimes that I’d pick one thing and do it, but I can’t seem to do that.”

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