Arizona is the snowbird capital of the team roping world, with tens of thousands of ropers flocking to the Valley of the Sun annually to enjoy the spoils. Retirees, from real estate brokers to ranchers to school teachers and everyone in between, make up a large portion of the crowd. In fact, Cave Creek’s legendary Dynamite Arena saw some 7,000 teams in its Over 60 Masters ropings in just three short months last winter. And Rancho Rio’s Legends Only Tuesdays, for ropers over 50, draw huge numbers every week.
Whether they come from the nearby states of New Mexico and California or as far away as Canada and New England, snowbirds feel at home in the Arizona sun. But just how and why did they end up there? The Team Roping Journal decided it couldn’t hurt to ask.
Bill Phillips, 77; Cody, Wyoming
We bought a place in Wittmann, Arizona, in 2004. Before that, I came down for ProRodeos in the 1980s and 1990s and then the Senior Pro Rodeos and some jackpots. There are just so many more people coming these days, and the wind doesn’t blow here like it does in Wyoming. I was a right-of-way appraiser for the state of Wyoming, and I have a ranch there. But now I lease my ranch out, because I need money for entry fees all winter!
Bob Grieve, 66, Buffalo; Wyoming
The high point for me is being able to ride your horses in short sleeves in the middle of winter. It’s a longer light cycle in the winter, and of course, you know, part of the team roping is the professionalism of the jackpots. You get to reconnect with friends from all around the country who are there for the winter, too. At least where we live, in the foothills, there are so many other opportunities beyond team roping. I’ve gotten into reined cow horse, hiking, fishing, and of course the fabulous restaurants. And it’s a great travel hub, so I can do a little work, too.
Bruce Northrop, 85; Medora, North Dakota
I’ve spent 24 winters in Arizona. My wife passed away, and I retired from the National Park Service when I was 60. I stayed in Medora, North Dakota, and I thought I had nothing to do but look out the window. I got in my pickup and drove down to Arizona. Friends had been going down there, and they bought a place in Surprise. They had a trailer house, and I stayed there for 12 winters before I bought a place up in Congress. I take two to three horses down there by myself every year. It’s about 1,400 miles, and I usually make it in three days. I’m used to the drive now! It’s worth it—the weather, the community of people, it’s really something. It’s been a great life.
Cary Cook, 74; Elko, Nevada
I’ve been going for about a decade, mostly since I retired from being a real estate broker. We started going for a couple weeks the first time, and after that, three weeks or a month. When I retired, we started going four months; now it’s six months. We stay at Simpson Ranch. Of course, we go for the weather and the team roping and the camaraderie between the team ropers. I’m originally from Salmon, Idaho, and Wickenburg reminds me of my hometown. My wife ropes and barrel races and rides almost every day down there.
Malcolm Davis, 73; Newcastle, Oklahoma
We spend from November until April in Arizona. We’ve been going to get out of the cold weather and to rope against people of my own abilities—40-year-old and over ropers—for 15 years. We stay in Wickenburg, and it’s a very low-key place. The average age is 50 years old. It’s a nice, friendly atmosphere. I run a business called Magic Linen Services, but I can do it from Wickenburg in the winter.
Ray Nebergall, 77; Cave Creek, Arizona
I was a building contractor, but I’ve been retired for a long time now. My wife and I started coming to Arizona for the Senior Pro Rodeos. Like so many, we came for a week, then two weeks, then a month, then three months. Finally, I said, ‘The hell with it. I’m buying a place.’ That was 15 years ago. Up until a year ago, I kept our summer place in California. But now we have a place in Flagstaff, so technically, I’m not a snowbird anymore! Most of our friends rope and are in Arizona now, too. In the summer, we can travel to our friends’ summer places, like Oregon.
Donna Shedeed, 81; Hermosa, South Dakota
My husband, Bob, and I have been in Arizona in the winter months since 1992. We were down there, 15 miles west of Wickenburg, and some of our friends from California had bought a place. We helped them fix it up, helped fix the septic tanks, electricity, and all that. We heard the property was for sale and we joked that we went with the property. Somebody told [Rancho Rio and Dynamite Arena Owner] Ty Yost that, and he had heard Bob was a good worker so, he let us stay, and we’ve been there ever since!
[Read More: Queen of the Tie-On: Donna Shedeed]