Old Bits: A Legend Appears at Rhodes River Ranch

By Jack Kintner

The Rhodes River Ranch sits way back in the Cascade foothills in the Stillaguamish River’s North Fork Valley, a place of enduring legends. Like Western writer Zane Grey, who pursued steelhead here, leaving his name on at least one famous fishing hole. Not as many fishermen show up these days because catching steelhead is hard work.

Hard work appeals to Bob Avila, an much an enduring legend as anyone who makes his living on or off horses. He’s personally trained and showed over 30 world champions.

He was interviewed this last February (2003)  just before he took center stage in the large (45,000 sq. feet) and new arena at Jean and Carrie Rhodes’s ranch in the valley, a half hour east of Arlington, WA. The Rhodes hired Avila to bring one of the half-dozen or so clinics he puts on each year to their ranch as the first such event they’ve hosted. Jean Rhodes verdict: “It went really well. We were quite pleased with the whole thing.”

Avila seemed to be having fun as well and allowed that his career stopped being “work” a long time ago. “I get to do what I want to do,” he said, “riding and training. It’s great.” Avila has trained and shown over 30 world champions. Make no mistake, though – like most active professional athletes, he thrives on hard work and discipline, even if he does manage to enjoy it at the same time.

Asked to name his mentors, the people who taught him to pattern his life so well he’s the best in the world at what he does, he named two men, his father Don and the late California trainer Tony Amaral with whom he apprenticed.

Avila is not only talented. The 51-yearold California native’s work ethic keeps him physically competitive at an age when other professional athletes are mostly to be found at ESPN. The only other rider to have won both the National Reining Horse Association Futurity and the National Reined Cow Horse Association Futurity, which Avila won twice, is a man Avila trained, Todd Bergen of Eagle Point, Oregon.

Woodinville, WA-based trainer Matt McAuslan apprenticed with Avila in Oregon from 1991 to 1995. “During that time he won one of the national futurities, earning a $100,000 prize. Now, normally he’d get to the barn by 7:25 or so, just to beat us younger guys there, but the week after he won this prize, he began coming in at 7, as if to say he was going to apply himself, work even harder to not let that award go to his head.

An only child of a dedicated trainer like his father before him, Bob’s son B.J., a world class competitor in his own right, will be the third generation of Avilas to go into professional horsemanship. He graduated from high school last year in tiny (pop. 900) Yamhill, nestled in the coast range foothills of Oregon’s picturesque wine country. With that, the Avila’s sold their nearby ranch where they’ve been training horses for almost 30 years, and relocated to Southern California. He’ll continue much the same kind of operation in Temecula, on Alan and Kay Needle’s Tucalota Creek Ranch in the foothills between Los Angeles and San Diego.

As Avila waited for the 6-year-old stallion Chics Peppy Pistol, a local Rhodes River Ranch horse he was borrowing for demonstration rides at the clinic, he commented on what he looks for in a cowhorse. “It’s not just compactness and athletic ability,” he said, “because lots of horses have that. They should also be curious, inquisitive, like to look around the corner,” he said. For bloodlines, he mentioned liking Little Peppy, King Fritz and Doc.

Of all the things that people mention about Avila, many speak of his simple, direct, what-you-see-is-what-you-get character. He’s not given himself over to a role. To illustrate with a story, one of Avila’s favorite competition show horses, Shine By The Bay, was purchased by Rhodes River Ranch just after Avila won the NRCHA Stallion Stakes with him a year ago in Arizona. But instead of switching him to that horse part way through the clinic, Avila suddenly found that the people running the show had put him astride a very small pony. He looked like he was riding a footstool with legs, but true to form, he’s a working man and he began working the little horse, just a bit. When he almost began his patter of constant clinical advice while still looking like he was riding a runaway rat, it brought down the house. NWHS

From February 2003 Issue

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