The hills were alive on April 30, 2016. Silver lace of grass just turning to seed, rippled across the plush green and gold carpet covering the hills as far as the eye could see as gusts up to 40 miles per hour threatened to blow tents, tables, and décor into Butte County. Thanks to an incredible facility with an army of volunteers and dedicated supporters who converged seamlessly to pull this event off, A Western Affair 2016 at the Wood Ranch in Orland was a showpiece for California ranching despite the potentially adverse conditions.
Trailers began lining the wide gravel ranch roads early Saturday morning and horses were unloaded and warmed up in preparation for the ranch horse events scheduled for the day. The premiere horse training facility on Wood Ranch is no stranger to ranch horse events. It is home to Crooked River Ranch Horses where Bubba Kelly and Brett Behlen host clinics, sortings, and schooling shows throughout the year. They and their crew were instrumental in carrying out the two sorting competitions – the 2-Man In and By and the 3-Man Sort and Doctor. Austin Prince of Prince Ranch Horses operates out of the same facility and was also heavily involved in making the day’s events a success.
In the meantime, a group of trail riders assembled to ride the hills dotted with purple and yellow wildflowers. The wind blew their horses’ tails sideways as they climbed their way to altitudes offering views of Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and the Sutter Buttes across the Sacramento Valley.
By 3:30 P.M. guests were checking in to the main event located in the huge covered arena. String lights, succulents, sunflowers, and wooden planters transformed the venue while the Texas imported mesquite posts lining the arena that make it perfect for working cattle, also provided the perfect backdrop for a magical evening. Thanks to the hard work of local middle school, 4-H, Chico Alpha Gamma Rho, and Cal Poly YCA volunteers, everything was ready to go.
A Western Affair 2016 host and California Rangeland Trust emeritus director Darrell Wood welcomed the crowd and introduced Congressman Doug LaMalfa, who reassured guests in attendance that in this uncertain political climate, they have a friend in Washington. He indicated that as a 4th generation production agriculturist, he understands the struggles ranchers face and is well equipped to represent California’s vast and underpopulated 1st District.
After everyone was seated, the program commenced with California Rangeland Trust board chairman Jack Hanson as emcee. First, Karen and emeritus director Scott Stone presented the colors while local talent Chad Bushnell sang the national anthem. Then, Tim Koopmann, a past CRT director, gave the invocation.
The centerpiece of the locally sourced dinner was fork tender ribeye steaks donated by Panorama Grass-Fed Meats. Light seasoning served to highlight the natural flavor of this product of expert management and California sunshine and it handled the limelight with ease.
Then came the moment many were waiting for as Bubba Kelly took the stage to announce the winners of the day’s sorting events. Danielle Wood and Dallice Nuttall showed us that “sometimes the best cowboys ain’t cowboys at all” by winning the 2-Man In and By Sorting champion buckles. But the next event went to the cowboys with Austin Prince, Bubba Kelly, and Logan Nutall named the 3-Man Sort and Doctor champions.
As dinner wound down, California Rangeland Trust CEO Nita Vail prefaced the announcement of the 2016 Conservationist of the Year recipient with a brief introduction. After a short video, Jack and Zera Varian of the V6 Ranch in Monterey and Fresno Counties were asked to come to the stage to receive the award. Even the wind was silent when Jack began speaking of how he came to realize that the land is a living thing and must be protected. In just a few impassioned words he reminded the audience of why they attended and what unites them – a fierce and fervent love for the land.
At the conclusion of the award presentation, Celeste Settrini introduced an exciting lineup of all-new and signature items and experiences for the live auction. 1986 world champion auctioneer John Rodgers kept the action going while ringmen Brad Peek, Justin Niesen, and JC Niesen spotted bids.
Thanks to sponsors Tyler and Patti Martinez, Chad Bushnell was the final act of the perfect evening. A top ten American Country Star finalist and opening act for some of the biggest names in Nashville, Chad gave an all-star performance, and even managed to keep the dance floor at capacity throughout the night despite the bar being located across the arena.
By the time the night was over, the wind was just a memory, but the impact of A Western Affair 2016 lives on.
First published in the June 2016 issue of California Cattlemen’s Magazine