The Midwest has always had a love affair with the cowboy. Although the area likely has a more practical view of the profession than do other areas of the country, it still holds a certain degree of romantic mystique. From the exploits of Teddy Roosevelt to the Western stories immortalized by prolific author Louis L’Amur, North Dakotans have always revered the cowboy.Modern-day cowboys are alive and well all over the state. The Fargo/Moorhead area may not be thought of as a cowboy destination, but that doesn’t mean they don’t live among us. Take Darren Buckle from Buckle Performance Horses, for example. Darren has been boarding and training horses since high school, and he’s just as comfortable in stirrups as he is on land — maybe even more so.
Darren grew up around horses and was active in horse showing, team penning, FFA, and 4-H as a kid. It seemed natural to pursue a similar career, which began when he and a good friend, Andrea Hoff, were looking for a summer job. “As young horse enthusiasts, we started a summer business called Double D training where we mostly broke horses out for people,” he explained. “We trained horses out of her grandpa’s ranch for about five summers as we were attending high school and our first year of college.”
After graduating from the University of Minnesota Crookston with equine management and business degrees, Darren rented stalls out at Burkhart Stables in Ulen, Minnesota, and started Buckle Performance Horses. After a successful year of training and showing horses, he was approached to train privately for a family that was building a new horse facility. “This family had two children and I taught them the basics of riding and how to be successful showers themselves,” he explained. “It was a fun opportunity to go to a new area and get to go to some big shows as a private trainer for their two kids.”
Darren subsequently worked for Vatnsdal Stables in Roseau, Minnesota, where he met his wife, Alisha. During that time, Darren traveled the country showing Quarter and Appaloosa Horses. After three years in Roseau, Darren and Alisha decided to branch out on their own and move closer to home. Darren once again found himself back in Ulen, this time as the owner of the Burkhart Stables.
After training horses for the AQHA, APHA, Pinto, and Arabian show circuits, the opportunity to purchase stables in North Moorhead arose. “Thinking of our future and the possibility of having kids, we decided to sell our Ulen location,” Darren explained. The Buckles then purchased what was Kemmer Quarter Horses in 2009 and renamed it Buckle Performance Horses. The facility has 25 heated box stalls, an indoor arena, and two tack rooms.
Darren and Alisha continue to board and train horses in North Moorhead. “The majority of our clients are here to become better riders, better horsemen, and to enjoy their horses to their fullest potential,” Darren explained. “We are coaches to children as young as four years old and to people in their 70s.” The Buckles normally travel to horse shows with anywhere from 4 to 20 clients and their horses. “It is such a rewarding job to see progress made with not only their horses, but also to see these riders connect with an animal and become a team,” Darren said.
Darren and Alisha travel to shows from Canada to Ohio and Oklahoma to Las Vegas to Texas. They train horses to show in categories including Western Pleasure, Western Horsemanship, Trail, Showmanship, Halter, Western Riding, Hunter Under Saddle, and Equitation. The pair also breaks horses to ride and trail ride as well. During the winter months, they sell horses for their clients. “The best part of my job is that it is fast paced and I love what I do every day,” Darren said.
Buckle Performance Horses offers all types of lessons, from beginners just starting out to advanced showers at the biggest shows. “Lessons are a great way to meet people that have the same interests,” Darren said. “We have had many clients that have made some of their lifelong friends here.” Even better, you’ll get to meet a real cowboy.
For more information on Buckle Performance Horses, visit buckleperformancehorses.com.
By Jamee Larson