John Hovde

John Hovde

Born to ride and teach others may best describe BHSS Horse Person of the Year

Black Hills Stock Show - February 3, 2020

RAPID CITY, SD - The 2020 Black Hills Stock Show Horse Person of the Year feels the honor isn’t his alone but represents four generations of a family that is dedicated to understanding horses and training them to be the best they can be. 

John was born in Williston, North Dakota on a cold stormy morning. He was raised with three brothers: Doug, Dave and Jim, and one sister, Jean, on a ranch near the big bend of the Missouri River southeast of Williston. 

The love of horses began with John’s dad, Martin. His family homesteaded and scraped out a living in the same area where John currently lives. When things got tough in the 1930s, only Martin stuck it out to keep the land and managed to acquire a little more. 

The elder Hovde raised cattle and always had a band of mares and a stud or two, so the family naturally grew up with horses. John remembers his dad would fix horses that people made bad. John said his dad had a true understanding of a horse’s mind, but more importantly horses understood him. His dad could change a horse in such a way that they would do everything asked of them willingly. 

Horses were used frequently in the winter to pull sleighs of hay out to feed the cattle. And the kids were always starting young horses as they rode herd on the cattle during the summer.

When the Corps of Engineers flooded all of the river bottoms in order to make the largest man-made dam in the nation, the Hovde family could no longer make a living on the ranch. The family moved to another place that Martin leased. They still owned the hill pastures, so the Hovdes ran cattle down there in the summer.

Beginning in junior high and continuing through three years of college, John spent his summers at the ranch breaking horses. During high school, John started riding and showing horses for Ray Walton, an attorney in Williston. Dorvan Solberg also rode for him and the duo went to a lot of American Quarter Horse Association shows all through high school and college.

John started college at Minot State and earned a biology major and a business minor. It was there he met the love of his live, Kathleen Johnson. Kathi and John were married October 7, 1967 in Minot. After three years at Minot, John transferred to North Dakota State University in Fargo to pursue a degree in animal science and Kathi transferred to Morehead State to finish her music degree. 

While going to school at North Dakota State, John worked for Lynn Laske (lass-KEY) in Leonard, starting colts during the summer months and for Don Taylor of Kindred during the winter months.

Soon after the young couple graduated from their respective colleges, John was drafted into the U.S. Army. John served as a squad leader during the Viet Nam war, leaving at home a young wife and two very young children. 

Upon his discharge from the Army, John and Kathi lived on the place his parents leased near Williston. John helped his dad and went back to work riding horses for the public.  John was soon offered a job at a commercial feedlot near Fairview, Montana, eventually working his way up to manager.  

While in Fairview, John had attended a couple of Ray Hunt clinics. John felt strongly that he should pass some of Ray's knowledge on, so the seed was planted for the horsemanship clinics he would later begin.

In 1983, when the ranch near Williston became available, John and Kathi packed up and moved back to North Dakota. This is the place that John and Kathi, along with their children, J.J. and Kristy, called home. 

John started 4-H horse clinics at the ranch, eventually moving them to the Williams County Fairgrounds. For many years, every Tuesday evening all summer long, until County Fair, there was a 4-H horse clinic.

Soon, someone asked John if he would do a clinic that was open to anybody, and his little "teaching horsemanship" occupation started.  

John has presented 4-H, horsemanship and cattle working clinics throughout the state, including demonstrations at the NDSU Horse Fair, the Agri International in Bismarck and Horsefest in Minot. These days, John splits his time between North Dakota and Arizona. He invites people to come to him to work on horsemanship skills so he could slow down his travel.

John is quick to admit that most of the off-ranch things he has done could not have happened without his brother Jim's help to keep the ranch going.

John learned cutting horse basics when he worked for Don Taylor. He got more into cutting when his son J.J. wanted to do cattle cutting in high school.  J.J. qualified four times for the National High School Rodeo finals in the cattle cutting event. John and JJ also participated in National Cutting Horse Association events in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Canada. 

John fell into helping some people get started in cattle cutting and helping fix a horse now and then but does not claim to be a cutting horse trainer. J.J. graduated and went to veterinary school, and now provides ultrasound services based out of Sidney, Montana. However, John still dabbles in cattle cutting.

John started the North Dakota AQHA Trail Ride in 2005 and has hosted it on the ranch ever since. The Montana-Dakota Quarter Horse Association started helping sponsor the ride in later years. The event has hosted riders from across North Dakota and from as far away as Oklahoma and Texas.

John was asked to represent North Dakota Quarter Horse Association as a National Director in 2010. He served on the Recreational Riding committee which regulates and serves the largest group of AQHA members with more than 70 percent of members falling into the recreational category.

John now serves on the AQHA Ranching Council which has the duties of managing all ranch horse type events and the newly formed AQHA Heritage Breeders. This committee is a busy one that has conference calls almost every month and occasional trips to Amarillo for meetings. 

The next generation of the Hovde family is now actively participating in reined cow horse and cattle cutting. JJ’s daughter, Trista competes in High School Rodeo events. Her two younger siblings are also showing interest, so John sees great future for family involvement with the equine industry. 

John’s daughter, Kristi, lives in Georgia with her husband and family. Kristi and her family love to ride when they visit the family ranch. 

The family grieved the loss of Kathi to an accident in May 2016 but memorialized her love of teaching and music by purchasing a piano and other music equipment for the elementary school where Kathi was teaching at the time of her death. 

John appreciates good horses and the improving level of horsemanship he sees at the events. He admits a rider with great horsemanship skills used to be able to win, but now the rider skill levels are very equal. The winning edge goes to those who truly develop a partnership with the horse.  


Phone number: 605-347-4455
E-mail: [email protected]
Address: 1612 Junction Avenue, Suite #1
Sturgis, SD 57785