The Pitzer Legacy: Jim Brinkman and the Family Tradition That Helped Shape the Horse Market

Jim Brinkman and his wife, Tana, are living the Pitzer Ranch legacy started by Jim’s grandfather Howard Pitzer in the Sandhills of north central Nebraska in Ericson. They work alongside their grown children—son Sam and his wife, Kendra; and daughter Sarah and her husband, Lane Larreau—and run horses and cattle per family tradition. Plenty of team roping time is built into the Pitzer Ranch work schedule.

Q: What’s the Pitzer Ranch all about?

A: My Granddad Howard started the ranch, and we run about 400 broodmares and cattle on the south half of the ranch. Howard’s daughter is my mom, Kay. My sister, Jane, and her husband, Joel Qualm, run a set of cows on the north half of the ranch. Our kids work here, too, and we potentially have grandkids that will go on with the ranch. It’s all about history and heritage at the Pitzer Ranch.

Q: What are Pitzer Ranch-raised horses—which are often described as “good looking using horses”—known for?

A: My family started a line of horses in the 1960s that we’re continuing. The horses raised on the Pitzer Ranch are descendants of the legendary Two Eyed Jack, and they make great ranch and rope horses.

Q: Do the same traits apply to both types of horses?

A: A true ranch needs a horse that’s sound, has a good disposition and is big enough to do the job. A rope horse needs to be sound, have a good disposition and be big and physical enough to do the job. We raise ranch horses, and the roping industry came to us, because we just happen to raise the right kind of horses for roping. Denny Gentry made the market for the rope-horse industry, and we have good horses to fit that market.

Q: How has team roping fit into your life?

A: I started showing Quarter Horses at the horse shows when I was 13. When I was 16, I won the open world championship at the World Show in the heading against the men. The next year, I won the youth. So from about 16 on, I’ve been a team roper. They made me show halter and pleasure before that, but I just couldn’t hardly stand to go that slow. I was one of the first 5,000 people to get a USTRC card—#4,876, to be exact.

Q: Who else in your family ropes?

A: Our whole family has roped, including my (Miss Rodeo Nebraska) wife. I rope four or five days a week—basically every afternoon when we’re home. Gralyn Elkins from New Mexico works for us, and trains horses at the ranch. So we rope a lot (Jim and Gralyn won the #14.5 World Series Big Daddy roping in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 2020). I aggravate all the boys around here, because they think I score too many.

Lifelong rancher and horseman Brinkman was recently elected to serve on the AQHA Executive Committee.
Jennings Photography

Q: Header or heeler?

A: I’ve always headed, heeled and roped a lot of calves. My core business is showing horses, and when you show, you head, heel and rope calves on them—a lot of the time on the same horse. When I was a high school kid and didn’t know anything, Paul Tierney was at our barn a couple days a week roping in the wintertime in the 1970s. All we had on the ranch was ranch cowboys, so he’s the guy who was around all the time who really roped. Then on the weekends, we went to the Quarter Horse shows.

Q: How much have you roped competitively over the years?

A: We would probably go to 60-80 horse shows a year from when I was 13 to two or three years ago, when I quit being the main show guy (Jim will be 63 on April 25). Gralyn and his wife, Lakota, show our horses now. When I was home, we’d go team rope at the little local jackpots. When they started up the USTRC, I was all-in. There was real money at those. I went to the very first USTRC Finals at the Lazy E, and headed in the open for another local Nebraska boy, Warren Horner.

Q: Who are a few of your all-time favorite partners?

A: Dick Yates has a special spot in my heart. It’s fun to rope with one of your heroes, and we roped together at the Perry Di Loreto roping in Reno several years. Roping with Dick is like roping with the mayor. Everyone stops and talks to him, and he’s a great partner and a great guy. I’ve also roped a lot with Mark Wray, who’s a great neighbor and won the world heading in the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) a few years ago. I rope a lot now with John Pudwill, who came to work for us right out of school, married the neighbor girl and trains horses. He’s adopted the ranch, and is kind of like having another son. I head for him at all the big ropings now, including the World Series Finale in Vegas.

Q: Is there one most memorable run?

A: No, not really. What gets me as excited as anything is when I have a really good horse and he really works. It might be a practice-pen run, but when it’s, “Wow, that was cool, he really tried today,” that’s about as good as it gets for me. TRJ