The Gallop Report

“Last American Cowboy”

July 13, 2010

American public, meet the ranchers!

Bill Galt. Photo courtesy of Animal Planet/Audrey Hall

It’s pretty cool when legitimate ranchers and their western lifestyle are spotlighted on the Animal Planet channel, giving the American public an insight into what it takes to put that hamburger or steak on the table. And it’s even better when two AQHA life members are involved, so they can give us a look behind the scenes.

Here, Lisa Tanzer, a co-executive producer, and Bill Galt, one of the featured ranchers, talk about what it was like to make “Last American Cowboy,” which airs Monday nights (8 p.m. Eastern) on Animal Planet.

Lisa, who has ridden since she was 5 and has shown reining horses for the past several years, says she loved being able to visit the three Montana ranches, and she even got to do some camera work from horseback. She also spent time in the edit bay in Los Angeles, going through the 5,000 hours of film that were recorded from calving season in March through October, when the calves were sold.

“I thought it was an amazing glimpse into ranching,” she says. “I’ve had so many people say, ‘I can’t believe that even happens.’ ”

Ranchers tend to labor in the background, with many city folks completely unaware of their hard work and struggles. That’s one reason Bill and his wife, Jill, agreed to have a camera crew live on their ranch for eight months.

“I was hoping that the American public would see what it takes to produce the food they eat and how hard it is to make it work,” Bill says. “I think people are losing touch with food on the hoof. Kids today are raised believing it comes from the store.”

The filming was an education for the camera crews, as well. There were two crew members on each of the three ranches, and Lisa had to give them an introduction to the cowboy way.

“I had to teach them how to work around cattle, how to move around cattle and horses, to be aware of where the animals are,” she says. “When you’re looking through a camera, looking at an LCD screen, you focus on that and not on what’s around you. That can get you into trouble when you’re dealing with 800 thousand-pound animals.”

A few of the cameramen did mount up on horseback to shoot footage in places four-wheelers wouldn’t reach. And they won Bill’s respect.

One of his assigned crew members had been a cameraman for six seasons on “Deadliest Catch,” which shows the mettle of crab fishermen on the Bering Sea. (Fun sidenote: Andy Hillstrand, captain of the Time Bandit ship and a Quarter Horse owner, was featured in the July 2009 issue of America’s Horse magazine.)

That seafaring cameraman “was tough,” Bill says. “He said, ‘Don’t be afraid to shove us out of the way. We just want to shoot what’s here.’ They were very disciplined and very good.”

Part of “what’s here,” of course, was the ranch horses. For Bill, that means good, stout American Quarter Horses. He’s a third-generation Montana rancher and a third-generation Quarter Horse breeder.

Here’s an excerpt from his Web site: “Bill started his own Quarter Horse breeding program in the 1970s with the purchase of two stallions bred for the specific qualities that ranchers value. The rugged mountains of Montana require a horse to be tough, surefooted and have a good bone structure under him. A good ranch horse must also be cowy, intelligent and athletic to do his job well. Disposition is of the utmost importance, as the Galts believe that the most athletic horse in the world is of no use if he’s too tough to get along with.”

The Galt Ranch stallions are Barons Red Rock, a son of Mr Baron Red; Birch Creek Red Buck, by Two Eyed Red Buck; and GR Medicine Man, by Peptoboonsmal. The ranch breeds about 30 mares a year, and the horses that aren’t kept for ranch use are sold at auction. The Galts were named the Montana Quarter Horse Association’s ranch of the year in 2008.

“They raise really nice all-around good ranch horses,” Lisa says.

But because “Last American Cowboy” is a TV show that has to have a storyline, the Galt Ranch has been cast as the mechanized, modern ranch – even though horses still play a major role on the ranch.

Here’s an excerpt from an Animal Planet press release: “The Galt Ranch is one of the largest cattle ranches in Montana with over 100,000 acres, 5,500 cattle and 100 horses. It is so vast that owner Bill Galt manages it from the sky in his own helicopter. Bill and the rest of the Galt family believe technology is the future of ranching and necessary to efficiently run a ranch of this size and caliber.”

The other two ranches are the Stucky ranch, which is a smaller operation that does all its work horseback, and the Hughes ranch, run solely by a husband-and-wife team, with their two young children.

For all of the ranches’ sake, Lisa tried very hard to keep everything accurate – and not let the storylines run rampant over the facts.

“It’s hard, because there has to be that element of drama that you need for television,” she says. “Certainly, there was drama out there. When the calf doesn’t make it or something terrible happens, that’s part of what television shows.”

But we’ve all seen TV shows or movies that feature random whinnies or moos – at times and places they’d never be appropriate. Lisa says you won’t hear that happening on this show, which she hopes is just as real and authentic as the ranches that are being portrayed.

Visit http://animal.discovery.com/tv/last-american-cowboy/ to learn more about the show.

Happy viewing!

P.S. Speaking of AQHA members on TV, cowboy mounted shooter Denny Chapman is still in the running to be History’s “Top Shot.” He’s in a reality-show competition on the History Channel and has escaped elimination thus far.

Holly Clanahan

Holly Clanahan
Editor, America's Horse magazine