Horses, Cowboys, Veterans & Family Ties

The 36th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering delivers again with a line-up of exciting, thought provoking, and educational special discussions and compelling speakers. There will be something for everyone in the scope and number of discussions and special sessions presented January 26-February 1, 2020.

Not to be missed on Thursday, January 30 is the Gathering’s opening Keynote Address, a conversation that will explore the value and growing relevance of horses in contemporary society and how we might regain the important connection horses once represented between rural and urban communities. Ghuan Featherstone, South Central Los Angeles native and founder of Urban Saddles (above, lower left); Derek Knapp, executive director of the ground-breaking Restoration Ranch (above on right, second from bottom); and Bryan Neubert, horseman/buckaroo, and colt starting, horsemanship, and cow-working expert (above on right, second from top); will come together to share their different everyday experiences with horses and their communities.

The Gathering sessions continue to honor the horse and celebrate the horse-rider connection by offering Conversations: Horses and Riders I and II. Join Pete Taylor (above, top left), Ghuan Featherstone, Derek Knapp, Mike Beck, Maria Lisa Eastman (above, top right), Maddy Butcher (above, middle left), Bryan Neubert, and Randy Rieman (above, bottom right) in these discussions and learn from their variety of backgrounds of the use of science as well as tradition to optimize outcomes for horses, in rural or urban settings, contemporary therapeutic centers and working ranches.

In exploring this year’s theme honoring and celebrating the historic contributions and contemporary culture of Black Cowboys, the Gathering will feature many illustrated talks and conversations.

Myrtis Dightman, Sr.

Historian Les Sweeney explores the legendary buckaroo and National Cowboys of Color Hall of Famer Henry Harris. And Myrtis Dightman, Sr., who in 1964 became the first Black cowboy to compete at the National Finals Rodeo, will make the trek to Elko from his Texas home to share some of his amazing life stories. Mr. Dightman will also participate in a Rodeo Stories session along with rodeo veterans Luke McKay, Gabe McKay, Jim Brooks, Rodney Nelson, and Cat Clifford as they take listeners behind the chutes, into the arena, and down the road, through hearty stories of the ins and outs and ups and downs of rodeo life.

The McKay family of Juntura, Oregon

And in Stories & Film: The McKay Family, we invite you to get better acquainted with an eastern Oregon ranch family that includes six adoptive children from Haiti with a rich exchange of stories, music-making, and more from father Joe McKay and Gabe, Clare, Luke, and Anna Rose – including the additional treat of a short sneak preview of daughter Clare McKay’s film-in-progress about their family and her two rodeo-chasing brothers.

Additional talks that you’ll experience at the 36th Gathering include:

Delta Hill Riders, by Rory Doyle

Southern Riders, a visual presentation by Gathering featured photographer Rory Doyle introducing some of the communities he met in his three-year journey to document Black cowboys, and horsemen and women from Georgia to the Mississippi Delta;


Myrtis Dightman, Jr.

Community, Continuity, Conviviality: Trail Rides in the South Central U.S. sessions. In these sessions Rory Doyle will be joined by Myrtis Dightman Jr. and Geno Delafose and others, as they all share tales of the Black cowboying tradition of trail riding groups and rides from Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta to Texas;


GatheringVeterans’  Stories, Songs,
and Poetry
. Hosted by Karen Lloyd of the Veterans History Project, this talk will include those involved in the Writers Project and veterans presenting and sharing stories they have been collecting, as well as writing, related to their service. The panel will feature Jennifer Koopman (Great Basin College), Dave Richmond, Bill Jones, Ghuan Featherstone, Joel Nelson, Derek Knapp, and Ted Howard. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is honored to continue its collaboration with the Veterans Resource Center at Great Basin College and the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress;

Spencer Smith, in the field

Managing for Abundance: How Ranchers are Stewarding the Land for Increased Biological Outcomes. Spencer Smith, owner and operator of the Jefferson Center for Holisitic Management, and an accredited Savory Field Professional, will connect the dots between ecosystem function and livestock movements, healthy soil and human nutrition. This discussion will celebrate the great stewards of our Western landscapes while looking at new, innovative ways that producers and land managers are building soil, habitat, and improving water resources. Presented in collaboration with the Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group.

Read biographical information on our special guests and visit


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