Good JuJu

Teams Ropers Rally for U.S. Marine John Tidwell
Only just a few months after finding a horse to head and heal on, Marine Corps veteran John Tidwell’s horse succumbed to a severe colic case. We asked the roping community for help, and he came in the form of “Johnny Ringo.”
John Tidwell and Johnny Ringo
On his first official day of ownership, John Tidwell ropes live steers on his new horse, Johnny Ringo.

John Tidwell, a USMC veteran, was featured in a story in the October 2023 print issue of The Team Roping Journal after learning of his story from Charlie Five founder Jeremy Svejcar. Through phone interviews with Tidwell and Svejcar in the first half of August, Svejcar revealed that Tidwell, a header who had recently returned to team roping, had gone through Charlie Five’s thorough application process to be considered a potential recipient for a horse.

With additional support from The Charlie Daniels Journey Home Project, it didn’t take long for the men to find a good fit in “Gunner,” a solid head horse that could help Tidwell tackle his team roping goals.

The story was sent to the printer with the rest of the October 2023 issue at the end of August and, in the first days of September, we learned Gunner had died as a result of a severe colic case.

The rallying cry to ropers

 In the brief weeks between the news and the issue arriving in mailboxes, a consensus was formed between Tidwell, Charlie Five and the Journey Home Project that efforts would be made to find Tidwell another horse. No one exactly knew how they would be able to pay for a second rope horse but calls were made, people went to work and the TRJ team was given the go-ahead to inform ropers of the tragic news and to let them know that help was ready to be received if they were in a position to give it.

Prior to Gunner’s passing, Tidwell had been accepted to participate in the annual Horns N Heroes roping school at the Liberty & Loyalty Foundation‘s American Heroes Celebration with Charly Crawford (formerly the American Military Celebration). As the hunt for a new horse intensified—with each phone call and social media share casting a larger loop than the one before—Charlie Five developed a game plan to get potential horses to the NRS Arena in Decatur, Texas, where the roping school is held. There, Tidwell would have access to the best resources in the form of industry pros and world champions to help him choose well.

Before Tidwell left his home state of Georgia to jump in the rig and haul west with fellow Charlie Fiver and AHC roper Kelsey Willis, news came that The Journey Home Project had pulled together $10,000 to put toward a horse for Tidwell. Considering the organization’s investment in Gunner, the first horse, that kind of second-round funding is no small wonder but, as those of us well-versed in the rope horse market know, $10K doesn’t paint a sky’s-the-limit portrait.

What ropers also know—especially those who aren’t in the market for headline-making high-sellers—is that the horse market is alive and well at every level and, sure enough, not only did Tidwell have prospects to try in Decatur, he’d found a match by day two of the roping school.

Roping on ‘Johnny Ringo’

Tidwell led the way to the roping chute end of the arena where horses were tied and quietly waiting for the next rounds of sled practice, horsemanship drills and roping live cattle.

“This is him,” he said, pointing to an unassuming brown gelding. “His name is Johnny Ringo.”

The 15-year-old working horse was owned by Decatur’s own David Hastings, who invited Tidwell to his buddy’s house to make some runs. Seeing how well the two were getting along, Hastings sent the horse with Tidwell to ride in the clinic before any official exchanges were made.

“I saw [the post], and I told them I live right here in Decatur,” said Hastings, a sales rep for an equipment rental company. “If you wanna try him out, I’d be happy to bring him up there.”

Hastings bought the grade gelding before COVID, and partnered with the horse on frequent heading endeavors, regularly hitting up the Cowboy Church jackpots, Ariat WSTR Qualifiers and ropings at the NRS Arena. When possible, he’d also haul the horse to a friend’s ranch a few miles north in Bowie to assist with brandings, riding health and the like.

“He’s more at home in the arena,” Hastings affirmed, “I actually tied down some calves in the pasture on him and doctored them. And I didn’t know how it was gonna go when I stepped off of him, but he acted like he had done it before.”

Hastings suggested that Johnny Ringo preferred the NRS arena for whatever reason, and the horse certainly seemed to shine there. The more Tidwell and Johnny Ringo went, the better they got. When Johnny Ringo demonstrated a tendency to tap the brakes as Tidwell threw a loop at the horns on the sled, he pushed the horse through the corner and, by the time the two took after a few live ones, the 15-ish-hand gelding demonstrated a best-in-class ability to rate and to keep one in tow.

Attaining ownership and open hearts

Svejcar handled the official paperwork on behalf of Charlie Five and, in an impromptu arena-side award ceremony, he presented Tidwell with the Charlie Five trophy belt buckle that is presented to members of the organization upon completion of their first year of successfully demonstrating a commitment to horses and to healing, as well as the formal documentation for ownership of Johnny Ringo. Then, that night at the AHC’s roping school award ceremony, Tidwell also received a halter with a tooled leather noseband to outfit his new horse.

Trey Johnson, John Tidwell, Charly Crawford and Jeremy Svejcar. | Click Thompson

A gift Tidwell sought out though, was a blessing for Johnny Ringo.

“I think my favorite person I met there the whole time was Trey Johnson,” Tidwell said of Crawford’s longtime friend and roping school partner. “I backed in the box on the head side, and I’d seen him backing in on the heel side, and I got so nervous. And then I ended up catching my steer, and we ended up turning it.

“He caught, and it was a pretty humbling moment,” Tidwell remembered of roping with the 2000 PRCA Resistol Rookie of the Year who left professional rodeo to follow his calling ministering. “He was praising me, telling me how good I did, how good I was doing on a brand new horse, and I kinda told him the backstory about Gunner.

“I said, ‘I know you’re a minister. Would you mind praying over my horse for me?’

Johnson didn’t blink. The men dismounted their horses and, joined by Svejcar, removed cover and laid their hands on Johnny Ringo and prayed.

Trey Johnson, center, takes a moment to pray over John Tidwell’s new horse Johnny Ringo, with Charlie Five founder Jeremy Svejcar (right). Courtesy CC Greenlief

For Johnson, the moment meant no less than it did to Tidwell.

“I heeled [our] steer by two feet and he was just lit up,” Johnson remembered. “He’s like, ‘That’s a dream come true. On the way here, I was hoping I’d get to rope with you.’ Well, come to find out, he’d got [shrapnel wounds and a brain injury] and didn’t know if he would remember everything again, but he was able to remember, you know, what he was being taught here.

“And then Charlie Five and them gave him a horse, and he came and asked me if I’d pray over his horse, just to help him with the rehab and the connection and get back into it,” Johnson said, pausing to give his emotions a moment. “So, when you see what they’ve gone through for us, it’s very moving,  you know, and they’re so excited to be here. They’re excited to rope with us, but they have no idea what it does to Charly and I to get to spend a couple of days with them and just love on them, and to tell them thank you.”

Bound for Georgia and beyond

Before the event was over, Tidwell backed into the box to head for another Resistol Rookie Heeler of the Year, 2020 NFR Average Champion Paden Bray in the AHC’s Mil/1st Pro Am Roping. Each year, the Liberty & Loyalty Foundation host the roping in which military and first responders are paired with the Top 15 PRCA team ropers who have qualified to compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

“The first steer we roped, my hand got caught in my dally, so I just let my rope go because I didn’t want to lose any fingers,” Tidwell explained. “And he was such a nice guy. He complimented me. He was like, ‘Man, that was such a pretty loop.’ And then he said, ‘We got another one. Don’t worry about it.’

That second steer was worth the wait.

USMC veteran John Tidwell nails his dally on an American Hero Celebration steer for Paden Bray. | Click Thompson photo, courtesy John Tidwell.

“I roped my second one and turned it, and he said that that was the best steer he had turned for him all day,’” Tidwell remembered. “And we made an 8-second run on the steer, and it was pretty cool.”

A month a later, and on the eve of the 10th Round of the Wrangler NFR no less, Bray also remembered the run.

“He spun me a really good steer,” said Bray, who’s watched the AHC grow from Crawford’s backyard into a roping with hundreds of teams. “We made a really good run. He was pumped, and it was pretty cool.”

It was a great day of roping for Tidwell and, since returning home and getting in more practice with Johnny Ringo, he’s ready to take his roping to the next level.

“I think I’m gonna get the IPRA card, and do the local rodeos for now,” Tidwell said. “And, I’m going to try to do a full year in the regional circuit. I really wanna try out for Rookie of the Year. I feel like Johnny Ringo has the untapped potential to take me to the next level of where I need to be.”

Safetying up in support

At the very top of Tidwell’s priority list, however, is getting Johnny Ringo insured.

“I can’t and I won’t ask for anybody else to put any more money into a horse for me. I’ve been so blessed so far with Jeremy and Charlie Five and the Journey Home Project, but I’ve got to take better precautions in case something happens because you never know what could happen.”

Preparing for the inevitable risks of horse ownership is one more lesson in Tidwell’s journey in healing through horses—and a valuable one—but it’s not all that came from Gunner’s untimely death.

Since Gunner’s news was shared back in September, a wave of support developed around it. Not only did it generate the opportunity for Tidwell to find Johnny Ringo, but in the process of looking for him, it also developed better recognition for Charlie Five and its mission, so much so that the organization behind Crawford’s Texas event, the Liberty & Loyalty Foundation, took note of Charlie’s Five’s good work and threw down in support of it.

Members of the Liberty & Loyalty Foundation’s board present a check for $25,000 to Team Charlie Five, along with a hug from Charly Crawford for Charlie Five founder Jeremy Svejcar. | Click Thompson
AHC 2023 Team Charlie Five. | Rose Garcia

In a Cowboy-Channel-aired presentation in front of Fort Worth’s Cowtown Coliseum bucking shoots on Veterans Day—the final day of the 2023 American Hero Celebration—the Liberty & Loyalty Foundation board called the attending members of Charlie Five—USMC veteran Jake Greenlief, retired police officer Greg Ziel, U.S. Army veteran Jeremy Svejcar and his wife Rose, USMC veteran John Tidwell, and paramedic Kelsey Willis and his son, Reece—to the arena to reveal to them a donation of $25,000.

Gunner’s gifts

After catching up with Tidwell about a month after the event, the chain of events that had taken place since Gunner’s passing took a purposeful shape.

“I was thinking about our conversation, the part where you mentioned you don’t want to have to ask for that kind of help again,” I sent Tidwell in a text. “It occurred to me, though, that if you and Gunner hadn’t gone the way you did, a lot of people who’ve learned about Charlie Five and the other programs may have never gotten that opportunity. I think CF has received some really exciting support in the past few months and I think it’s because of you and Gunner. Maybe that was the gift Gunner was actually designed to give.”

Tidwell took a moment before responding.

“You are right. I am a firm believer in ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ no matter how painful it is. But Gunner was definitely a gift to my soul—he taught me how to feel emotions again. … Johnny Ringo has some big shoes to fill.”

— TRJ —

More team roping stories about Team Charlie Five:

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