There are all kinds of cowboys but there are only a few real ones. Cowboy skills are developed from years of experience with ranch life, stock and the range. A cowboy must know how ride, pack, gather cattle, doctor animals, repair tack, shoe, brand, dehorn, be a mechanic, be a welder, and the lists go on and on.
Howard Horinek, the ranch manager at the Quarter Circle U Ranch, is a good example of a real cowboy with many of these extra skills. Cowboys like Howard are far and few between these days. Old Arizona cattle ranches are rapidly becoming something of the past and obsolete. Feeder pens have replaced these old family ranches throughout much of Arizona, making real cowboys quite rare.
Howard lives a somewhat isolated life on the Quarter Circle U Ranch eight miles east of Highway 60 adjacent to the Superstition Mountains. He lives on this ranch just at the edge of modern society and urbanization. He lives his life in surroundings he is familiar with and well adjusted to.
When he is riding, working cattle, mending fence, working on water holes or packing salt he feels at home. His two stock dogs are always his companions. He knows, like any real cowboy knows, a good cow dog is better then a half of a dozen cowboys in the brush. Howard’s dogs work cattle at his command.
Howard was born in Stratton, Nebraska, on July 8, 1948. His dream as a youngster was to become a cowboy. Howard has worked with horses and stock since his high school days in Atwood, Kansas, where he trained colts. Howard’s father owned a farm in Atwood. He was a veterinarian as well as a farmer. Howard grew up caring and working with animals. His father taught him many skills needed to train horses and deal with sick or injured animals.
Howard joined the United States Marine Corps in 1967. He had been in Viet Nam just nine days before he reached his nineteenth birthday. He spent most of his time driving a truck which was no easy task. He spent two tours of duty in Viet Nam. He returned to the United States and entered his first rodeo.
Howard attended Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas. He participated with the College Rodeo Club. He also attended classes to learn how to make boots and saddles, and he is an accomplished saddle maker and boot cobbler.
After college he thought he would try to be a feed salesman, but found no real future in sales. He then decided in 1973 to try his luck at being a feed lot cowboy in Yates, Kansas. He worked for the Flint Hills Beef Feeders for about six months when he decided it was just too cold working outdoors in the winter for him. Howard hired out in the summer months to the Cross Mill Iron Guest & Cattle Ranch in Wyoming. He worked eight years wrangling dudes and breaking horses in the summer months in Wyoming. He broke over 600 head of horses in seven summers while working for Lonnie Mantle. He guided dudes in his spare time taking them into the Wind River Mountains.
In 1983 Howard moved to Arizona and found employment on the Hat Ranch, working for Mick Holder north of Globe, Arizona. In August of that year he was working for Lee Woods near Chama, New Mexico when he broke his hip while on horseback. While recuperating from his broken hip Howard started thinking seriously about what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
He was offered a job managing the JH6 Ranch (Old Horrell Ranch) west of Globe. The ranch belonged to L.R. Layton. He put his life on hold again because being a cowboy was his calling.
Howard worked on this ranch from 1985-1996. He spent eleven years gaining more valuable knowledge about cattle ranching in the desert environment of Arizona. After working for Layton for eleven years Howard finally decided he needed to settle down. He bought a house in Superior, Arizona and started a horse shoeing business. He shod horses from 1992-1999 for ranchers and horse owners in the Superior area.
The call of the range brought Howard back to a cattle ranch in 1999. Judy and Chuck Backus were looking for someone to manage their Quarter Circle U Ranch. Howard had finally found an ideal ranch to work on. Chuck and Judy were really happy to find Howard; especially a man of his expertise with stock.
Howard Horinek is still working cattle, shoeing horses, doctoring cows, making boots, building saddles, packing salt, repairing water holes and windmills. Howard has found his niche in life because he is a real American cowboy. He is doing what he loves most.
Howard doesn’t have the pressures of modern society to deal with and enjoys Chuck Backus’ environmental methods of cattle ranching. Occasionally he may have an arrogant cow or horse to deal with but those days are for the most part over. Most of the cattle on the U Ranch are gentle compared to average old time range cattle.
There was a day when Apache Junction was known for its cowboys, prospectors and miners. If we look hard enough we can still find a few real cowboys living near Apache Junction.
Howard certainly epitomizes the spirit of the American West and the cowboy. You can find Howard attending mass just about every Sunday at St. George’s in Apache Junction.
Here is a poem that Howard might enjoy….
Riding my horse till the sun goes down
In deep canyons and over rough ground
Far from cars, trucks, planes
And those noisy trains
Until my heart becomes free
Now with this you may see
Why riding my horse is so dear to me.
© Tom Kollenborn 1963