Minnesota Horse Council Announces 2014 Horseperson of the Year
Dick Ames and his wife Lollie along with MHC president Tracy Turner
On Saturday, January 17, 2015 the Minnesota Horse Council announced their 2014 Horseperson of the Year recipient. Criteria for the award includes:
- Long term, serious commitment to equine activity in the Midwest
- May be professional or amateur.
- Should have contributed in many areas, i.e., Western shows, English shows, 4-H, Little Britches and High School Rodeo, trails, legislation, clinics and other equine related activities.
- Usually the individual will have been a horse owner for many years although it certainly is not a requirement. The person could have worked “behind the lines” to great achievement.
- A mature individual, “long term commitment.”
- The individual should have excellent character.
- The individual will likely be recognized by members of many horse-related groups and perhaps by the general population.
The Minnesota Horse Council takes great pride in awarding this honor to Dick Ames of Jordan, Minnesota. Ames meets or exceeds the above criteria in many categories and is very deserving of the award. Nomination letters were submitted from multiple organizations and individuals to help solidify the decision. He is one of those individuals that “has given so much of himself for many years without expecting any recognition” as was written in the nomination letter from 2013 HPOY Gary Raak. This seemed to be the consensus among the attendees at the banquet Saturday night when they found out he was being honored.
Dick Ames is a lifelong horseman who carries on a family tradition in Percheron draft horses that began around the turn of the 20th century. It was not until the early 1990s, though, that he started showing his own horses, and now fields one of the few hitches to have lasted more than 15 years in the competitive, labor-intensive industry. “We show, do parades, make appearances at community fundraisers and for charity, and we compete,” says Travis Shaw, who manages the program, which requires three full-time employees and averages a dozen shows a year. “Dick is involved; he’s very competitive. He drives the amateur fork in competitions and parades, and drives the hitch too.” The public is intrigued by the Percherons’ size, he adds, but the really important promotional connection between people and horses comes when audiences observe the horses working together as a team, an impressive achievement considering that it involves six or eight live animals, not easily-manipulated machines.
Ames’ commitment to draft horses extends well beyond his own operation. He supports shows across the country, but his personal dedication to Minnesota county fairs has raised their profile and attracted more people to the events. “My dad just loves fairs,” says daughter Lara Ames. “He’s hands on—he drives the water truck, the dirt truck; he doesn’t just pay others to do it. He goes out of his way to make everyone feel welcome.” Ames has been particularly supportive of the fairs in Dakota County, where he built an arena, and Scott County, where he has been a longtime member of the board of directors. There, he built a second large draft horse barn, moved the pleasure horse arena, and has been instrumental in the care and maintenance of the facilities.
“He was behind expanding the draft horse show to many times what it was, with more hitches, more classes and more accommodations,” says Jim Luce, who managed the Scott County Fair from 1996 through 2012. “And he knew how to advertise in the best possible way to get people to come to the show. Over the years, we documented how many people came in, paid to park and just walked over to the ring to where the shows were on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was always a huge draw and he was the guiding force behind it, no question.” One asset to the fair was that Ames committed his top Percheron division employee to running the draft horse show, because the fair didn’t have anyone with the experience to do it. The efforts paid off: now a point competition for the North American Classic Series, the show hosts top hitches from as many as three or four provinces of Canada and eight or more U.S. states. The show typically draws 20 to 26 six-horse hitches and has one of the largest eight-horse hitch classes anywhere due primarily to the efforts of Ames.
Ames’ “structural” contributions have not been limited to county fairs. In 2012, Ames Construction was the Minnesota State Fair’s contracting partner in building the AgStar Arena, a 27,000 square foot facility for horses and livestock. Used during the State Fair by 4-H, FFA and State Fair open class exhibitors, it is also available for extended seasonal use by other groups. “As we selected various materials and design for the building, Dick’s horse knowledge, as well as his extended contacts in the horse world, were extremely helpful,” says Kay Cady, Executive Director of the Minnesota State Fair Foundation. “From an overall building design and development perspective, partnering with Ames Construction was an excellent choice.”
In addition to Percherons, Dick Ames also loves Arabians. For more than 40 years, he, his wife Lollie and daughter Lara have bred the exotic horses at their Cedar Ridge Farm in Jordan, and he has been an ardent supporter of that breed and its various organizations as well. Ames was a founding member of the Minnesota Arabian Horse Breeders Association, and in the late 1970s, was also a founding member of its very successful futurity. “He continues to be a tremendous contributor, not just with financial backing but with direction and enthusiasm,” says Greg Brown, MAHBA Presdent. “He’s always at the [Fall Festival, home of the futurity] show. We can always count on him to give support where we need it—and obviously it’s a generational thing, because he brought Lara in and she remains very vital in the operation of our club. It’s fair to say that there wouldn’t be a Minnesota Breeders without Dick Ames.”
Ames also was one of three founding sponsors of the Arabian Reining Futurity, which took the breed by storm 10 years ago. He and his associates put up the original funds to launch the futurity’s prize money system, and he has supported it with entries ever since. He even has taken up riding and showing reiners himself, proving to crowds at major shows that anyone, at any age, can enjoy participating in the sport. He still advises the futurity, suggesting improvements as it has matured into a showpiece of the industry.
Ames also tries to grow the horse industry “from the ground up.” Cedar Ridge offers an extensive program of activities for young riders, including affordably-priced lessons, and contributes to an array of scholarships. “My dad wants the horse industry to grow,” says Lara Ames. “Any way that gets young people involved, he’s all about it.”
“Dick’s the kind of guy who’s always there for a friend, for the horses and for ideas,” LaCroix says. “When I was down and out [with health problems], he called and said, ‘Just say the word, and I’ll have you in Mayo.’ I know he’s done that kind of thing for other people.” He’s so good hearted and always willing to listen to good ideas and help implement them. Dick is one of those people that gets everything on his ever-escalating to-do list done. He starts early, lasts late, and moves so fast that when the time comes, he’ll be in heaven for hours before the devil knows he’s gone.
There are many ways that Dick Ames has been important to the horse industry in Minnesota, and most who know him would argue that he has made a national impact in two equine breeds. However, while the gregarious Ames is well known in his business, in horses and around his beloved Minnesota county fairs, his contributions to the horse world often fly under the radar. For nearly half a century, he has simply “been there” for numerous causes, organizations and people in the equine community without asking for personal recognition. He has touched so many lives, young and old in this industry and never asks for anything in return. It’s because of this that he deserves the honor of being named Minnesota Horseperson of the Year.