Johnson Stables is located on the Johnson Ranch, 20 miles southwest of Lemmon SD, nestled in the rolling hills along the North Grand River. Johnson Stables currently stands two stallions, No Brakes Now and Hasta Be Fast, and runs approximately 30 broodmares. Our marketing strategy consists mainly of selling yearling as race and barrel racing prospects.
Johnson Racing Stables Four-generation familyfound a way to make their ranch pay
Article by Beth Hulm, Bison Courier (March 2008)
Value-added agriculture is a relatively new term in South Dakota – it’s a way for farmers and ranchers to market their products and their talents while staying on the land that they love. It’s something that four generations that the Johnson family has been doing successfully for years, long before “value added” became a popular buzz word. The current Johnsons – including John and his sons Gary and Bob – have a ranch, scenically located on the North Grand River, south of White Butte. Because of their ingenuity that ranch successfully supports three families. The Johnson Ranch has a large cattle operation but also trains horses for racing and the rodeo arena. Station headquarters is home to John and his wife Shirley and includes the stables, a horse barn, indoor arena, office and an outdoor race track. The west unit of the ranch is home to sons Bob & Gary and his wife Jodi and daughter Lexi. The Johnson men work as a team to manage their big spread and they each bring to the partnership their own expertise. Gary is the prime cattleman, watching over a 300 head herd; in addition to the broodmares and the breeding operation. The foaling barn has been a busy place for a month already. TV screens in Gary and Jodi’s house, and also in Bob's house, serve as monitors to watch what goes on in the foaling barn. The Johnsons believe that “the earlier they’re born, the better”. Most of the colts are sold as yearlings to rodeo competitors, ropers, barrel racers and race horse owners. Horse trainer Bob, spends about as much time away from home during the year as he does on the ranch. A new racing season get underway in early spring and he’ll be gone until September at the races. John downplays his own integral part of the operation. “My main job anymore is talking on the phone and making coffee,” he said. Shirley is queen of the house and the dinner table. John credits her for being the one who raised their three boys (including a son Mike that lives and works in Hettinger) and took care of the house and business when he was the one out on the road. She “made it work”, according to her proud husband of 54 years. John says that his daughter-in-law Jodi is “a very accomplished horse-woman” and barrel racer who grew up around horses and is an asset to Johnson Stables. Together they make it work! It was John’s Grandpa Andrew Sandwick, his mother’s dad, who left his job in the gold mines of Deadwood to stake a claim on the North Grand River in 1894. In 1896 he moved his family up from Deadwood. Throughout the years more acres were added.Grandpa’s original place was flooded out to accommodate the building of Shadehill Reservoir and “it’s in the middle of the lake” now, John said. Always, the family has lived somewhere on the ranch, however, and they were recipients of a Century Farm Award in 1994. That ranch has now been in the same family, continuously, for 114 years and is one of the oldest established, one-family ranches in the county. Born on the place in 1931 - on a 110 degree, July day - John joined a family who liked horses. His dad came to the area, when he was just 14 years old, as part of a cattle drive from northwest of Grand Forks, ND. Oscar raised and sold horses to the army during WWII; he and John’s older brother Andrew later raised thoroughbreds. “He was the horseman – really the one who started the whole thing,” Johnny says about his brother. “I just raised them and rode them for fun.”Andrew and Johnny were in partnership until Andrew passed away. John and his two boys bought out Andrew’s interests in the ranch. John acquired his first thoroughbred from Nels and Hans Fogh, who ranched south of Bison, and became a jockey who did some jackpot riding and competed in fairs around the countryside. It didn’t take long for others to notice that he had an innate sense with horses and they began bringing their horses to him for training. His accidental business “grew and grew” until today Johnson Racing Stables has 56 horses – some thoroughbreds but mostly quarter horses, all of which are in training. John had the distinction of being High-Point Quarter Horse Trainer at three tracks in three states in 1974 – in Belle Fourche, SD; Miles City, MT and Casper, WY. Those trophies and photos are just a few of the many that are proudly displayed around the Johnson’s home and in the barn. Two years ago, after 45 years in the business, John received an award from AQHA, the American Quarter Horse Association. In three more years, at the 50-year milestone, he’ll be eligible for AQHA’s legacy award. Both Bob and Gary inherited Johnny’s inborn sixth sense about horses and they just know which horses will be great race horses and which should compete in the arena. From a young age they could “feel it”, according to their dad. Bob has been training horses for 31 years and has been the leading quarter horse trainer in the region for the past 18 of them! The horses are all broke to ride first and then the race horses are culled out. Arena horses can be made from racehorses, Bob said. His philosophy is, “You can always ride a fast horse slow but you can’t ride a slow horse fast.” Bob’s days are spent mainly in the ranch’s outdoor race track and the indoor arena, along with resident jockeys, training during the off-racing season.Although there are races year- round (if they want to go to California) the Johnson’s seven-month season usually begins in April.He’ll spend every week in April and May in Ft.Pierre and Aberdeen and from Memorial Day through September at Canterbury in Minneapolis. His horses will race in Fargo, Billings and at Woodland in Kansas City before the final race in October. On some weekends both jockeys – Terry Bennett, OK and Jake Olesiak, Duluth, MN - ride at more than one racetrack. They and Bob fly between locales.Races range from 220 yards to 870 yards and are completed in a minute or two - or less. In 1963 John watched a match race in Pierre between a mare called “Miss Dakota Gal” and a stud from Oklahoma named “Golly Whiz”. The stud surprisingly beat the mare, which was “in season”, and the owners made arrangements to breed the two of them. Later, in a horse sale at TimberLake, Johnny saw the result of that union when their palomino colt came up for auction. “It was the nicest yearling I’ve ever looked at,” he said, and he bought him for $525. He now calls it a “fluke accident” that he was in the right place at the right time to know about that horse. Named “GoGo Dakota”, the palomino won 10 races and was the horse responsible for getting John into horseracing. “He just would not get beat,” John said. GoGo once won the Class A Halter Show in the morning in Belle Fourche and the Stake’s Race in the afternoon, setting a yet-unbroken record. “That’s the horse that built the barn,” John bragged. Another stand-out horse, trained at Johnson’s Racing Stables, was “Patrick Rumbo”, who amassed $156,000 in winnings during his career. “Muscle Machine” once held the third fastest World Record in 300 yards, finishing in 15.32 seconds. Then there’s “Le Bird” who ran for 10 years and was just seconds off from the track record in a six furlough run. There is no science to naming racehorses. Bob said that some owners use pedigree names, some “lay awake nights” trying to come up with a name and others just write something down and the horse has a name.Naming horses may not be a science but training them is and the Johnsons have that part down pat.