Tilletts hold horse-racing event

Ryan Fitzmaurice

Randi Tillett Weaver is bringing back an old tradition.

She well remembers moving cows out of the Dryhead when she was younger. The Tilletts didn’t have horse trailers. They rode horses to the Dryhead, chased down and rounded up cattle and escorted the cows back down. It was just hard work. 

Growing up on a Tillett ranch was a hard upbringing but one filled with family and community. In horse racing, that rugged lifestyle and community was embodied in one event.

“This is just a reflection of the background of a lot of people around Lovell,” Tillett said. “It’s an extension of the ranching community. The Bassetts, the Snells, our family, all of us did this growing up.”

At least in the way Weaver tells it, back in the day, she was the one who came out on top.

“I had a horse that won everything,” Weaver said. “I won all the time. I describe this particular horse as worthless but he was fast. I would always win.”

Five years ago, upon hitting 63, after many decades, Weaver had the itch again. 

So, Crooked Creek old-fashioned racing was born. 

Directly across from the turnoff into Horseshoe Bend, in a wide open ungroomed field just off of Highway 37, passersby with a keen eye would have seen a plume of dust on August 27, and then they would have seen five to six horses breaking out of it at breakneck speed.

Twenty horses and as many competitors came out to compete, while roughly 30 spectators sat in the shade to take it all in. 

The event isn’t advertised. Weaver doesn’t believe such promotion is fitting for the event. Those there came in because they were a part of the ranching community, or had been invited through word of mouth. 

Throughout the day, children as young as 4 competed in the youngsters race, while adults over 60 competed in the old ladies race. Horses competed at languid speeds in the walking  and trotting race, and screamed across the field in the short and long running races. 

Saddle blankets, halter, gun scabbards, belt buckles and all kinds of prizes were rewarded to the winners. Afterwards, spectators and competitors sat on the ground, underneath the shade, and visited while eating a barbecue potluck meal. 

“It’s kind of just like an old-fashioned branding,” Weaver said. “Everyone is coming, and everyone is enjoying.”

Weaver no longer races in the event. She got her fix the first year back, when in 2017 she went against just five competitors and found she no longer dominated the competition.

“I have my slow horse now,” she said.

She now plays the task manager, managing the event, making sure everyone is in place for the races, manning the walkie talkies, determining the rules and settling the conflicts. 

It’s a busy day. Word-of-mouth has been effective. It’s no longer such a small event.

One still needs to be tough. In the family race, only Tilletts met at the starting line.

Zenaena Tryon has only been seriously riding horses for a month, according to Tillett. But on Saturday, she found herself leading the Tillett pack, beating Jim Tillett by only a spare second or two. It
didn’t come cheap, upon her horse coming to a jarring stop, she was flung off the back and collided hard into the ground. 

She left that day with a bruised knee, a limp and bragging rights for the year. 

“That’s just the chance you take,” Weaver said. 

Rubbing some dirt on it is also the tradition. Under the shade, those watching talked about how they used to put rocks in their mouth in place of chewing gum growing up. Rocks still activated saliva and therefore prevented dry mouth, Weaver explained.

Later on, during a race between horses off of the Pryor Horse Range, another racer found his horse veering off the course, resulting in him being flung off right into the side of a pickup truck. He, too, ended up, mostly, in one piece. 

“This ain’t no place for fancy horses,” Weaver said Saturday, describing the nature of the event. 

This year’s event was held in honor of an old Tillett horse, known as Dusty Dirty Dog. Weaver said her father took him out of the Pryors and broke him. It was no easy task, resulting in the name. He’s a fitting choice to honor in the event. 

“That horse was tough and athletic,” Weaver said. “There was no quit in that horse.”

Augie Lemke got all-around woman competitor and “all-around, all-around” competitor, as well. Only a teenager, the high schooler came out on top of the field. Second place for the day was Mark Ringler, who won all-around male racer.

“This is something different,” Weaver concluded. “You just come out and have fun. It’s totally family centered.”

There is every plan for the event to come back for a sixth year next summer, but one will probably have to ask a Tillett in order to figure out when.