#AgLife: Wyoming Horses – A Western Legacy

    There may be life off the ranch, but any Fremont County farmer or rancher will tell you – The #aglife is “the good life!” #Aglife is a County 10 series, brought to you by Wyoming Community Bank, that pulls the curtain back on farm and ranch life in Fremont County.

    The views are spectacular from their home at the top of the hill, with the Wind River Range to the west, the Owl Creeks to the north, and the expanse of the valley to the east. Wyoming Horses, the ranch owned and operated by Bob and Dar Vogel carries a long, storied tradition of a classic ranching family.

    Bob, Dar, and Kage Vogel with a couple of the four-legged bosses of the ranch – {h/t Randy Tucker}

    Dar’s parents, Lonnie and Grace Mantle were in the horse business in a big way. They started with just 7/10ths of an acre of land on a place between Hudson and Riverton with 500 horses. Lonnie had horses spread across Fremont County from the Wind River Reservation to Pavillion.

    In 1972 they purchased a 500-acre farm from Jim Barquin on Five Mile Creek near Pavillion. In a true tradition of the honesty of the Old West, Lonnie sealed the deal with a handshake but didn’t have the money for the land yet. He had to wait until his spring horse lease money arrived to pay Jim, but Jim was in agreement and waited until the spring.

    That 500 acres remain the center of the ranch operated by Bob and Dar, and now their son Kage brings a third generation to the operation his grandfather started.

    Bob is also from an agricultural background. His grandfather was a rancher, implement dealer and ran a sawmill in tiny Rock River, just a few dozen miles northwest of Laramie.

    “My dad’s dad started the first International Harvester dealership in southeast Wyoming. He’d trade tractors and equipment for horses, and wagons,” Bob said. “They were still cutting hay with horses when I was a little kid.”

    The sign above the gate entering Wyoming Horses on North Pavillion Road – {h/t Randy Tucker}

    The memories of watching his father and grandfather work the land in similar fashion to the early pioneers of the 19th century stuck with Bob. He still trains horses to drive and pull equipment, and the ranch is dotted with old horse drawn implements.

    “Grandpa sold the ranch and we moved to Lander,” Bob said. “I went to school in Lander until 8th grade, then we moved to Riverton.”

    Bob played sports for the junior high Tigers and transferred to their biggest rival as a freshman.

    “I knew all those guys when I played against them, it took a little adjusting,” Bob said.

    He graduated from Riverton High School in 1977.

    Dar started school at Arapahoe but moved to Wind River when her parents bought the original ranch property.

    Dar Vogel getting the attention of one of the horses in the barn – {h/t Randy Tucker}

    She graduated in 1985, then competed in rodeo at Northwest Community College in Powell, and for the University of Wyoming. She majored in math education, and completed student teaching, but didn’t get her degree.

    Bob went to Central Wyoming College for a year, then headed to the oil field.

    “There were so many jobs for kids in those days,” Bob said. “I bought a place on Buckhorn Flats and started a well service business.”

    But Wyoming’s economy is fickle and the boom followed by the bust came once again.

    “It was a little slow in 1990-91,” Bob said. “I was working a lot with Amoco and sold them the business.”

    In 1991 the couple met at a regional basketball tournament in Riverton. Dar was the assistant girls’ basketball coach with Randy Roden at Wind River, a position she held for seven years.

    “I was wearing a dress with pink high heels,” Dar said.

    The couple married later that year. “We had to wait until hunting season was over,” Dar said.

    The ranch expanded earlier with Lonnie purchasing adjacent land from the Walt Disney Corporation in 1981.

    The path to Wyoming Horses on a steel post slightly bent by a road grader – {h/t Randy Tucker}

    The signs of the change are subtle, but easily viewable if you look. Part of Wyoming Horses is connected by Disneyland Road, and the mailbox in front of the house still has the hand-painted name, “Mantle” on the bottom.

    “Bob and I bought the Wempen place in 1992,” Dar said. “We bought out Mom and Dad in 2000.”

    At its peak, they managed 1,200 horses, destined for dude ranches and hunting camps across the region.

    Six years ago, they decided to slow down. They sold 1,000 acres in 2021 and now have approximately 1,000 remaining, with 700 of those irrigated.

    “It took us four years to sell the horses,” Dar said.

    The change in ownership and management of dude ranches was one of the big reasons they changed the direction of their ranching operation.

    “The guest ranches are managed by dudes, and they have dudes working for them. There aren’t many real wranglers left,” Bob said. “They have equestrian majors from Vermont running the operation and no cowboys. It was real easy to pick and choose who we wanted to work with after a while.”

    Bob kept the road hot delivering horses to guest ranches, and outfitters across the west, from the Dakotas to Arizona and most places in between.

    Now they have fewer than 100 horses on the place, and the target isn’t to supply “bomb proof” animals to outfitters and guest ranches, but instead to raise draft cross horses.

    The king of the Wyoming Horses cattle dogs – {h/t Randy Tucker}

    “Draft crosses are the hottest thing in the equine world today,” Bob said.

    These are huge animals, much larger than a traditional thoroughbred or quarter horse. They have mixed breed Percherons, Belgians, and Clydesdales bred to standard size mares.

    Canada has a heavy population of draft horses, but not for the traditional heavy field work they were initially bred to do.

    “Canadian pharmacies use mare urine to extract estrogen for medicinal products,” Dar said. “The larger the mare, the more urine they’ll produce. It occurred to them that breeding them to thoroughbreds or quarter horses would produce a strong, sturdy horse for packing or use in the mountains.”

    For a while, they took semi-loads of draft cross horses from Canada to Pavillion. “We bought three semi-loads a year,” Dar said.

    “They stand up to the work better,” Bob said. “But it’s a tough business to be in right now.”

    The process at present is to buy young draft crosses and break them into riding or harness. It’s a process that can return 10 times the initial investment, but only after a lot of hard work, and occasionally a few injuries have taken place.

    Bob is an example of what breaking horses can do to a man over time. He’s had multiple surgeries for neck, back, and knee injuries and is just now recovering from being thrown three years ago and breaking his neck and lower back.

    “The next surgery I have is going to be the embalmer,” Bob said.

    The hard riding now goes to their 22-year-old son Kage. Kage is the youngest of their three children, with two older sisters Kit and Josee.

    The Vogel family, Josee, Kit, Bob, Dar, and Kage – {Wyoming Horses)

    Dar’s brother Kail Mantle lives in Piedmont, South Dakota, and her sister Mickie is in Three Forks, Montana.

    Like his mom, Kage stayed on the ranch while his siblings sought their fortune elsewhere.

    Kit earned an associate degree in business management from Casper College, but after working in finance for several years, switched careers and is now a baker in Idaho Falls with her fiancé.

    Josee is a registered nurse living in Sulfur, Louisiana with her husband Tristan Martin, and their two-year-old son Boudreaux, the only grandchild so far. Tristan is a two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Qualifier in steer wrestling and is currently ranked in the top 10 in the world standings. Josee is a home health nurse specializing in IV therapy.

    Tristan, Josee and Boudreaux {h/t Josee Martin}

    Family connections run deep with the Wyoming Horses Ranch.

    “The best times are the ones we had with the kids all here working with us,” Bob said.

    He related a story of moving 900 head of horses off 15,000 acres of BLM land near Hell’s Half Acre.

    “The BLM told us we had to get the horses off now,” Bob said.

    So, the family loaded the horses and headed to Natrona County. Kage was just six years old, and the girls were only a few years older.

    “It was the first time I was out by myself,” Kage said. “They put me on a bulletproof horse, that wasn’t quite bulletproof, it bolted when a fox spooked him.”

    “Kage had a big grin on his face all day,” Bob said.

    Meanwhile, Josee was alone on horseback and not happy herding about 100 head back toward the collection area.

    “We didn’t know where she was,” Bob said. “But, then about three hours later, here she came with a hundred head.”

    Sometimes there is plenty of action without ever leaving home.

    One of their prize draft cross horses is a big black, three-quarter Percheron, one-quarter Belgian stud named Tucker.

    Tucker – the Percheron / Belgian cross – {h/t Randy Tucker}

    He hangs out in the corral by himself a lot of the time and had an unexpected mean streak last year when Tristan brought his nieces and nephews to visit Wyoming.

    Josee had Boudreaux in the side-by-side, with Kage on horseback and the nieces and nephews all riding as well.

    Tucker began grabbing colts and tossing them in the air as stud horses will sometimes do. Kage threw a loop around the neck of the big stallion, but his rope pulled under his horse’s tail, and he had to let go. Josee put Boudreaux on the floor of the side-by-side and jumped out, whipping the black stud to keep it away from the kids.

    Kage grabbed a shorter 20-foot rope from one of the kid’s saddles and roped the big horse again. This time he choked the stud until it calmed down and the impromptu rodeo was over. It is all in a day’s work at the ranch. Still, it was a tense and exciting glimpse of how fast things can go wrong when something blows up with horses.

    It’s much calmer on normal workdays.

    Kage Vogel in action at a local rodeo – {h/t Kage Vogel}

    Bob and Kage were working on an International tractor in one of their shops during one of the windy days that hasten the arrival of spring last week, a fitting connection to his grandfather who worked with and sold much smaller versions of the same company’s tractors two generations ago.

    One of the biggest changes Bob and Dar made on the ranch was replacing the wood corrals and posts in the old one with a new system of instant latch gates and an all-steel facility built of drill stem. Bob welded the rails, set the posts, hung the gates, and reconfigured the corral, including a crow’s nest that made reading and recording brands on horses as they passed through a much simpler process.

    Brands are a way of life for the Vogel’s as well, with each of the three kids having their own brand, another used by the ranch, and Lonnie’s original brand.

    Each of the three Vogel children has their own brand.

    “We used to start as soon as you could read the brands in the morning and usually finished late at night under the headlights of the pickups,” Dar said. “Dad wasn’t sure about it since we were without corrals until Bob finished. The first time we used the new one it cut three to four hours off the process.”

    Part of that process had Grace working with notebooks, writing everything down by hand as the horses passed through. Many times, she had to keep the notebooks inside plastic bags to keep off the rain and snow.

    Sisters Kit Vogel and Josee Martin – {h/t Josee Martin}

    Bob’s new design had a window on the crow’s nest directly above the chute where the horses passed with a table, and a warm dry area to work. It was a vast improvement.

    The process of converting young raw draft crosses into premium mounts takes a while and goes in steps.

    Kage is breaking 10 to 15 at a time, then riding them until they’re ready to sell.

    The ranch gets a lot of interest from outside the region as well.

    “We’ve had some great young guys come out to work,” Bob said. “We had a kid from Montana that could ride anything.”

    “When I was a kid the drifters would come through and work for us,” Dar said. “Some of them came back the next year.”

    As with every industry, good workers are getting harder to find.

    “The guys that are good end up on big ranches and ride,” Kage said.

    “The good ones are pricey too,” Bob said.

    Sometimes business connections come from strange directions.

    “We had an Amish guy read a story about us in Western Horsemen and he called us,” Bob said. “He had draft crosses, and we went to Missouri and bought a load.”

    Ranching is an uncertain business even in good times. The weather, market prices set far away, and the gambling aspect of any type of agriculture make it a business based on tradition, faith, and hard work.

    All three of those attributes are in good supply at Wyoming Horses as the ranch enters its third generation.

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