Wabaunsee County ranch heritage remains strong as young cowboys rope to win rodeos

“Our boys have done well in rodeo. They like to rope and practice, but they’re in other sports and school activities. We want them to be well rounded.

“The main thing is for our sons to know about and have an appreciation for horses, cattle and ranch life. There will be an opportunity here, if they want to be cowboys and ranchers, but they’ll make their own decisions. We aren’t pushing them in any direction.”

Stephanie Imthurn is most appreciative of those who helped her improve her riding and rodeo skills while growing up, and is emphatic in providing that same knowledge to family and all who seek such assistance.

A successful youth rodeo rider who continued an impressive arena career as an adult, Imthurn is the wife of third generation Wabaunsee County rancher Dan Imthurn.

They have a diversified cow-calf, yearling grazing, feedlot and farming operation near Maple Hill and are the parents of Cooper, 13, and Tanner, 12.

“The boys learned to be soft-handed riders and improved their horsemanship skills barrel racing, while I was competing,” Imthurn said. “Now, they calf rope and team rope. I spend my evenings and weekends legging up horses, pushing cattle through the chute, and hauling the boys to rodeos.”

Remembering her youth, Imthurn said, “I grew up on a ranch at Eskridge, my dad, Bob Warren, looked after Flint Hills grazing cattle, and Mom  (Ramona) helped me and our neighbors, Tim Widau and the VanPetten boys, improve our rodeo skills by hauling us to rodeos.

“It was a family sport then, and it is a family sport today,” Imthurn recognized.

“I appreciate my Mom pulling that stock trailer all over the country taking us to rodeos, and I really have to credit Merle and Steve Flinn of St. George for helping me learn to rope,” Imthurn commented.

Her own career was highlighted by qualifying for the National High School Rodeo Finals four years, winning third in the pole bending and queen contest there one year. Teamed with Steve Flinn, Imthurn won the ribbon roping at the National Finals Little Britches Rodeo another year.

Imthurn competed on the Fort Scott Community College Rodeo Team for one year, before transferring to Kansas State University to concentrate on completing a degree in the next three years.”

However, rodeo adrenalin still flowed, as Imthurn continued barrel racing on a limited basis. “Then, when I was 30-years-old, situated in my career, I had nice barrel horses and followed state and national barrel circuits for several years,” tallied Imthurn, a BlueCross BlueShield of Kansas manager .

“Unlike rodeos, barrel races have good ground to compete on, and the hours are better when you work, and have kids,” Imthurn noted. Among her many awards are three trophy saddles won in the National Barrel Horse Association.

“Our boys learned to barrel race and competed successfully, but they wanted to rope. So, two years ago, I sold my horses, and now have more time to help our sons and others improve their

rodeo and horsemanship ability,” said Imthurn.

In this endeavor, Imthurn has served as the Wabaunsee County 4-H Horse Project leader and on the board of directors for both the Kansas Junior Rodeo Association and the Kansas Junior High School Rodeo Association.

Meeting her husband, Dan, on a ski trip to Colorado, there was a natural infatuation of the two from longtime Wabaunsee ranch families. After  marrying, the couple moved to the ranch where Dan grew up helping his dad, Charles, and his mother, Rachel, daughter of known stockman A.G. Pickett of Emporia.

“Dan has managed the ranch very successfully for 15 years,” Imthurn credited. “He was on the K-State Livestock Judging Team like his dad, and is a top cattleman. Dan had two ranch horses when we were married, and now we probably have close to 20 horses.”

There aren’t any 4-wheelers on this ranch. “We all ride horses to do the cattle work. It’s important to continue the ranch heritage and love of animals to another generation,” Imthurn reiterated.

Competing in KJRA and KJHSRA competitions, Tanner and Cooper Imthurn already have successful careers in calf roping and team roping.

Cooper Imthurn, 13, Maple Hill, shows his breakaway roping form that has won him top awards including all-around titles in state junior rodeo associations. Frank J. Buchman
Cooper Imthurn, 13, Maple Hill, shows his breakaway roping form that has won him top awards including all-around titles in state junior rodeo associations. Frank J. Buchman

This wouldn’t be possible without lots of help from others, the first, of course, being their mother. However, she emphasized, “Dan never competed in rodeos, but he’s an excellent stockman, and has been the best coach for our boys to improve their riding and roping. He’s very quiet, and the boys listen to their dad when he offers advice.”

Additionally, Imthurn credited Keith and Brant Mahanay. “They have been great mentors for our boys. Rodeo contestants are the most generous people I know to help, even when they are competing against each other,” Imthurn stated.

In the KJRA, Tanner was the reserve champion all-around cowboy in 2011, and Cooper was the all-around champion in 2012.

At the Kansas State Fair, Cooper won the 4-H team roping and breakaway roping in 2011, and was last year’s reserve champion in tie-down and team roping. Tanner was the 2012 state fair reserve champion in breakaway roping

In the KJRA, kids are allowed to  team rope with an adult, and Cooper has often  roped with Rick Anderson, Jeff Boos or Keith Mahanay.

“He’s very fortunate to have such good cowboys and horsemen to compete with and help improve his skills,” Imthurn noted.

Horses are key to any cowboy or cowgirl’s rodeo achievements.

“I was the youngest of the kids my Mom hauled, so I got the good old reliable hand-me-down horses, which contributed to my success,” Imthurn claimed.  “However, when it came time to mount our boys, we called the cowboys we respected, and bought horses that already had successful careers, to help teach our boys proper position.”

Cooper is currently riding Popsicle, J.D. Holland’s world champion heeling horse, and Ben, Ryan Domer’s top calf roping horse.

Imthurn’s cousin, Dr. Jeff VanPetten of Meriden, was credited with keeping both aged geldings in rodeo condition. “That requires injections in their hocks, arthritis medicine and supplements, but it’s worth it,” Imthurn said.

Tanner’s main mount is a Paint pony named Chunky that came from Texas. “Those two are quite a pair,” Mom admitted. “Chunky is a great roping pony, ranch pony, and last year the two started competing in Cowboy Mounted Shooting competitions.”

Cooper also competes in local team roping jackpots and U.S. Team Roping Championship events. “There aren’t that many calf roping jackpots locally for youth, but the boys have done well in the Rising Stars and Roy Cooper youth calf roping events, which are conducted similar to jackpots,” Imthurn noted.

Recognizing that rodeo initially involved mostly ranchers, Imthurn said, “Today, expense of rodeo has gotten a little on the outrageous side with elaborate rigs, high priced horses and the cost to haul. Most of the competitors don’t have a tie to the rural way of life. It’s hard to run a ranch and be on the road at the same time.

“Whatever our boys do, they’ll know what it’s like to live and work with livestock on a Flint Hills ranch and have an appreciation for that lifestyle,” Imthurn summarized.