If you didn't attend the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association banquet last Friday, January 24, then you wouldn't have heard the words spoken over Royal Vista Ranches partners Vaughn and Jill Cook as they were inducted into the RMQHA Hall of Fame. Below are the words shared from long-time friend, colleague and business partner, Laura Erickson.
My name is Laura Erickson and I have managed Royal Vista Ranches in Wayne, Oklahoma in partnership with Vaugh and Jill Cook for the past 15 years. I am however, a Colorado native, CSU Alumni and still consider the Rocky Mountains my home. I first met Vaughn and Jill all the way back in the early 1990’s. I actually met Vaughn first as an Equine Science student at Colorado State University when he was still helping BW Pickett at the Equine Reproduction Laboratory while establishing Royal Vista Equine in Ft. Collins with his wife Jill. I can remember being a wide-eyed student in awe, sitting through lectures that included slide shows of Vaughn demonstrating proper stallion handling techniques, reproductive management and numerous other topics pertinent to young equine science students aspiring to find their future somewhere in the horse industry. He left such an indelible impression on me at that time as we considered him to be the “guru” of equine repro. His presence was almost intimidating and my fellow students and I looked up to him as one of the pioneers in advanced reproductive technology.
I graduated from CSU with a degree in Equine Science and had placed a great deal of emphasis on reproductive technology as my coursework had piqued my interest in this area of the equine industry. Much to my delight Vaughn, and his wife Jill, who was a veterinarian and had also been working at CSU, had ventured out on their own to establish Royal Vista Equine, Inc. an equine breeding facility, which was quickly gaining national prominence as a premier commercial embryo transfer facility. Now keep in mind that back in the early 90’s, there were not very many facilities offering these services and Royal Vista Equine was one of the first outside of the academic setting. So naturally, living in Ft. Collins with Royal Vista operating in my back yard, I knew that I must, without a doubt, under ANY circumstance convince Vaughn and Jill to hire me. Now Vaughn and I have slightly different versions of the next part of this story. I scheduled an interview and set out for Royal Vista with a resume and a dream. Vaughn seems to remember me showing up in a dress and high heels, which is hardly practical attire for working on a horse farm. While this may be true, my recollection is more along the lines of boots and jeans, but I suppose either is possible as my nerves certainly had the best of me that day, leaving my memory a little hazy. I completed my interview and unfortunately for me, Jill and Vaughn both agreed and explained as kindly as possible that I wasn’t quite what they were looking for at the time and wished me luck as I continued on my job quest. Two things happened after that devastating news. One, Nona Thayer (Jill’s mother) was sitting in the office and listening to the interview and she spoke up to give her 2 cents on the matter. Now in the early days of Royal Vista, Nona ran the office, handling the billing, the books and acted as the secretary, accountant, gardener, manager and basically jack of all trades. It just so happened that Nona was looking for a little help to allow her more free time with her husband Sandy in order to partake in more of their cross country and in some cases cross-continental bicycle trips. The 2nd thing that happened was I told Vaughn that if he would just give me a chance I would work for him for free for 1 week, and if at the end of that week he still didn’t want to hire me then I would accept that and be on my way. Long story short, I started my pro bono position helping Nona in the office at Royal Vista Equine on a 1-week trial basis. So clearly, things went well because that was over 25 years ago!!!!
Whoever’s recollection of the story is more correct, whether it’s mine in boots and jeans or Vaughn’s in a dress and heels, the point speaks to the kind of people that Vaughn and Jill are, and how they have dedicated their careers to helping young people in the industry by trying to involve them early and help create future ambassadors for the American Quarter Horse. I was just a kid out of college with a dream and looking for a direction to take that dream. Vaughn and Jill were role models to look up to and admire. I was not the first person they helped guide along a career path in the horse industry and I am certainly not the last. I can look out among this crowd right now and still see 20 somethings looking to make their start under the wings of Vaughn and Jill. And after all, that is what we have to do, keep our youth involved in the horse industry whether it’s racing, showing or any number of horse activities in order to continue the legacy of the American Quarter Horse. So while Jill and Vaughn have spent their careers building a hugely successful breeding operation, standing some of the finest racing Quarter Horse stallions, breeding and raising many successful race horses and providing state of the art reproductive services to the horse men and women in the Rocky Mountain region as well as embryo transfer services to clients across the country, they have also sought to nurture and mentor young partners along the way.
It is therefore no coincidence that Vaughn and Jill were honored in 2016 by Colorado State University as the 2016 Livestock Leaders. As stated by Kevin Pond, head of the Department of Animal Sciences at CSU “the fact that the Cooks were and are so committed to hiring our graduates has further positioned our Equine Sciences program as one of the leading equine programs in the country. A hallmark of an outstanding program is not just cutting-edge research and innovative teaching – it is our ability to place graduates in jobs beyond CSU, and the Cooks have been instrumental in helping us do that.”
I would not be able to count how many of us Colorado State University grads got our start with Vaughn and Jill Cook. They have placed countless individuals on the path to making a career in the Quarter Horse industry here in Colorado and across the entire United States. Such a positive influence on the industry, from both the racing side and show and performance side is admirable. Engaging our youth and shaping careers of those who go on to advocate for the horse only serves to preserve and promote our industry. Vaughn has also been recognized as the Colorado Horse Council’s Horseman of the Year in 2010 and he also received the Industry Partner Award from the CSU Animal Science Department in 2012.
It could not be more evident that the Cooks have dedicated themselves to improving and protecting the horse industry. Vaughn and Jill have given so much of themselves to it as a whole. Breeding and racing Quarter Horses has been a personal passion for them, and more recently showing Quarter Horses with their girls and riding reining horses for Jill. Vaughn has been quoted as saying “horseracing is at the core of my life and I love it.” They have both been committed to shaping the horse industry and involving themselves professionally in the horse industry at the state and national level. Vaughn has served as a RMQHA Race Director for over 25 consecutive years and as a past president, a director with the Colorado Horseman’s Association as well as an AQHA national director and has also served on multiple AQHA national committees such as AQHA’s stud book and registration committee, public policy committee, racing committee and the equine research committee just to name a few. Jill, who served for many many years as the only attending veterinarian at Royal Vista Equine has also served as the President of the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association Foundation, as a director on the RMQHA youth committee and also as a member of the Colorado Horse Development Authority. Together they have served over 50 combined years as members of the Rocky Mountain Quarter Horse Association which is testament to their dedication to this organization.
Both Cooks will credit the other for their success, truly making them a special team. They are also proud parents of 4 lovely young ladies that have each given them so many reasons to be thankful.&