Riding facility opens opportunity in Watford City

Farm Forum

WATFORD CITY, N.D. (AP) — He came for oil but stayed for rodeo.

Jason Gillen grew up on a ranch in Utah running 450 head of cattle and about 30 horses. He team roped through college and occasionally rode bulls.

The family ranch is gone now, but Gillen is carving out his own piece of rodeo and ranch life in western North Dakota — and making a difference for other equestrians in the area.

Gillen, a computer science and business major, came to North Dakota to act as housing director for an oil service company. In November, he quit the oil business to open Roughrider Stables, an indoor equine training facility near Watford City.

In addition to a 30,000-square-foot indoor riding arena, complete with roping and roughstock chutes, the facility has paddocks, stalls and 118 acres of pasture land.

“It definitely helps,” former North Dakota Rodeo Association president Scott Kleemann told the Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1GEAzuM ).

Mary Carlson, of the Roughriders Rodeo Association, said she had not heard about the arena but agreed it would be a good thing for participants.

Kleemann said rodeo and horse show participants have about six months of the year when the weather makes it hard to condition horses and practice. He said there are a few privately owned arenas and a couple owned by fair boards in the western half of the state, but Roughriders offers another option.

“It would definitely be nice for people in the Watford City area,” he said. “Because of the lack of opportunity to ride, people travel a long ways. Some people drive an hour or two to get to ride horses throughout the winter and spring.”

Gillen said he purchased the land and arena from a family who used to compete in rodeos. Sponsors, including Tractor Supply Company in Watford City, Williston Saddlery and Korral supply near Minot, helped him purchase the equipment to operate.

“Next thing I know I’m having roping and riding clinics,” he said. “It hit the ground and just picked up.”

Gillen has stayed in Watford City because he likes the openness and being 2 miles or more from his nearest neighbor.

“It feels like home to me,” he said.

Gillen said he welcomes riders of all levels, from kids to adults who have never ridden before to someone more experienced trying to train a young colt. He also invites all disciplines, from dressage to bull riding.

“We can do it all,” he said.

Gillen offers full-service boarding in addition to space to ride and clinics to teach riders. He said he knows it is a lot of work, but it reminds him of home.

“I miss it,” he said. “Now that I have a facility, I want to offer it to others. It’s exciting to me to see people from all over get better at what they do.”

Gillen said he has had clients tell him they lose their first four or five rodeos because they usually have nowhere to get their horse ready. Riding at Roughrider, they already see the difference it could make.

Kleemann said it will especially help younger participants get started, stay consistent and it may lead to more participation at the state level. More access to riding clinics, such as the Gary Leffew Bull Riding School that came to Roughrider on Feb. 20, will make them better.