The Cowboy Way
Nick Dowers is confident in his identity and no title is going to change that.
Steeped in tradition and shaped by the terrain of Fish Lake Valley in Dyer, Nev., Nick dowers exudes an aura of authenticity. He is a rancher, a showman and a National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Snaffle Bit Futurity Open Champion, but above all, he is a horseman.
For the 31-year-old, staying true to his character is paramount. Family comes first. Loving horses means using successful communication to help bring out their best. Hard work is the best way to get what you want, don’t ever stop learning and always look a challenge square in the eye.
Living in the Great Basin’s arid climate does not lend itself to training performance horses. January’s typical high temperature is around 45 degrees, with winter snowfall averaging 11 1/2 inches. In the summer, 95-degree heat rarely meets more than five inches of precipitation a year, and powerful winds produce unbearable dust storms. But the 450-resident valley is home to Triple D Ranches, and that is home sweet home to Dowers.
“Where I come from is who I am,” he said. “[Triple D Ranches] wasn’t something that my great-grandpa had that we just fell into. It’s like an American dream.”
Where the heart is
Triple D Ranches is a 5,000-acre spread, with miles of alfalfa fields, approximately 400 head of range-fed beef cattle, several feedlots and the Colt 76 training program. Dowers runs the training and cattle outfit, while his sister, Valerie, and brother-in-law, John Maurer, do the farming. His brother, Robert, is responsible for the ranch’s irrigation system.
“When I was young, we moved from Oregon to Nevada. I remember we worked on a ranch when we moved, then we were able to get a little place bought,” Dowers said. “It just grew bigger and bigger every year. My dad’s a really awesome businessman. He was able to go from working on a ranch to farming half the valley.”
Dowers’ parents, Rod and Maria, oversee all of Triple D’s operations and double as a moral support system for their children. Rod’s keen mind for business keeps everything running as smoothly and suc- cessfully as possible.
“He always says it’s the art of the deal,” Dowers explained. “It’s pretty unique; a lot of the family deals don’t work. This one works because I’m real passionate about my end of it, just like my brother-in-law is real passionate about farming. I’m not stuck on a baler, thinking about horses; he’s not stuck on a horse, thinking about a baler.”
Dowers spent his second-to-eighth-grade years as a Dyer Elementary Bobcat in Nevada’s smallest school district. Each grade level held between five and eight kids, with a total student body of around 40. Dowers’ parents cheered him on as he played Bobcat basketball, but there was still work to be done at home.
“I drove a lot of tractors and started riding horses when I was pretty young,” Dowers said. “I rode any day I could, just to get out of driving tractors.”
It was a 90-mile journey, one way, from Triple D Ranches to Tonopah High School, but Dowers took advantage of the opportunities that came with being a Mucker. He added football and baseball to his repertoire, quickly proving his competitive spirit an asset to his teams.
“In football, I never sat out. I played the whole game,” recalled the tall, slender horseman. “I was a swap between a running back and receiver on offense, then on defense, I was an outside linebacker.
“In baseball, I played center field, but I was the lead-off [batter] because I was fast,” he added with a laugh. “I was real passionate about getting on base which ever way I could, because then I could steal second and third. If that meant getting beaned, it didn’t matter to me. I was fearless.”
Dowers had fewer ranching responsibilities as a teenager, because the school bus picked him up at 5:30 in the morning and practices kept him out until 8 at night. The extra time in Tonopah also gave him the chance to become good friends with Jackie Merlino, a girl he liked so much he just had to ask her out.
In the summers, Dowers took on a larger role at Triple D and his new girlfriend worked on the ranch cutting hay. After graduating, Jackie left for the University of Nevada, Reno in pursuit of a nursing degree and Dowers headed to Feather River College, in Quincy, Calif., hoping to play Golden Eagles baseball.
“The baseball team is top notch and they have a great horse program,” Dowers explained about Feather River. “I thought I could tie them both together. When I showed up, they said I couldn’t. The schedules were too conflicting.
“I had to decide which one to go with,” he said. “I went with the horses because I was smart enough at the time to know it was something I was going to go on with for the rest of my life.”
Despite the culture shock that came with being five minutes from the grocery store and gas station, Dowers blended into the college lifestyle. Nothing could derail his purpose – he wanted to learn.
“He was not only interested in projects that pertained to his horse, but he was watching pretty careful when I’d help anybody,” said horseman Bryan Neubert, a frequent guest clinician at the college. “He was pretty eager and not afraid to ask a stupid question. If I said I needed a volunteer, his hand would be up before he even found out what we were going to do.”
Dowers absorbed all Feather River offered, enrolling in every horse class available. He elected to work toward cer- tificates instead of a degree, deciding he “didn’t have time for the whole academic part of it.”
The equine studies classes followed a balanced structure of discussions, training videos, anatomy education and handson riding. Respected horsemen conducted clinics to teach students the theories of horse training.
“It’s a really good school for a base. I didn’t train horses at all until I got there, I just used and enjoyed them,” Dowers said. “I knew nothing about training horses; I didn’t even pretend to train them. Russell Reid was really instrumental in getting me open-minded to unlock a horse’s mind and channel everything through that.”
When the ranch back home needed extra hands, Dowers loaded up his classmates and drove them five hours to Triple D for calf-branding field trips. And since Reno was only about an hour away, he spent his free time building a serious relationship with Jackie.
As Dowers progressed through his two-year education, Reid, Feather River’s equine studies program director, allowed him to bring outside horses to school. That gave Dowers the unique opportunity to begin developing as a trainer and understanding each horse as an individual.
“I rented a pasture in town from a local guy and I borrowed some panels from my instructor,” Dowers said. “When people sent me some outside horses, I’d go and catch like seven or eight and then haul them to school with my stock trailer every day.”
“He challenged me as a teacher to keep him busy with horse information; therefore, he forced me to become a better teacher,” Reid remembered. “He would take an idea and build on it, and then come back for more. You just could not overload him with horse information or challenges.”
Following the techniques he studied from videos of Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance, Dowers continued to impress his instructors and mentors. He built friendships with Reid, Neubert and Gene Armstrong, constantly turning to them for more knowledge. On spring breaks and long weekends, he would drive three hours to Neubert’s ranch in Modoc County for extra help.
“He’s a master, he really is,” Dowers said. “I was bugging him all the time. He taught me to present myself in a way that’s not demanding or dominating, but just working with the horse.”
“All I did is get him thinking a little different,” Neubert said, humbly. “He grew up with a work ethic and he was not afraid to fail. He didn’t let pride get in the way of his horsemanship.
“It’s just been fun to really become a friend,” Neubert added. “There’ve been a few people in my life that have not only passed me up [as a horseman], but left me in the dust. I look forward to working with him and him helping me. I’m happy for him, but if he hadn’t won the [NRCHA Snaffle Bit] Futurity, he’s a darn good hand anyway.”
Dowers finished school in 2003 and set out to complete his version of a well- rounded education. Neubert helped him find clients and he began working at various ranches.
“That’s when I went into the cowboy/ traveling colt starter thing,” Dowers recalled. “I would go somewhere and start 10 or 15 [babies] in a month or two, then go on and start the next bunch or do work on a ranch. I just kind of bounced around.”
In the off-season, Dowers spent most of his time working at big ranches, where he would go out on the branding wagon for a month at a time.
“It’s real,” he said with conviction. “It’s a way of life – it’s not a job. It’s not something you turn off. It’s who you are, and I really like that.
“As a cowboy, you have to get by with what you’re riding that day,” he continued. “Every horse has to cut a cow and every horse has to be roped off of. You learn to get by with what you’ve got. I’m always in for the challenge.”
Along the way, Dowers formed a valuable relationship with renowned horseman and clinician Joe Wolter, which resulted in several trips to Wolter’s Aspermont, Texas, ranch. Today, Dowers credits Wolter for shaping him into the trainer he’s become.
“Nick had tons of talent; I had nothing to do with it,” Wolter said. “He had a lot of practical experience – he could ride any kind of horse and get the job done too. He had a confidence about him and he believed in himself, but he was humble. He doesn’t lose himself doing it – it’s still Nick. I’m just pleased to know him.”
Between sessions at Wolter’s facility, Equi-Stat Elite $3 Million Reining Rider Andrea Fappani called Dowers with an offer. He had recently moved to Arizona and needed someone to come help him start a large number of young horses.
“He came down just for that, and the thought was that he would spend 30 to 60 days just getting those colts started and move on,” Fappani explained. “I noticed right away that he had way more talent. He was pretty much amazing around a horse. Within just a few days of being around him, the babies that had never been touched wanted to do everything he asked them to do.”
And, Dowers’ love of a challenge prompted an interest in learning more about reining, so Fappani reached out to help.
“I always credit Andrea for teaching me to get one to stop and turn,” Dowers said. “It was a whole different atmosphere from the ranches and that kind of lifestyle, but it was really good and I got a lot out of it.”
“It definitely was a good experience for both of us,” Fappani assured, praising Dowers for building a training program his own way. “I learned quite a bit from him, and things I’m still teaching my guys now. The reining, for him, was a piece of cake. I think that kid could have gone any direction he wanted with horses and he’d be successful.”
Building a family
Despite the nomadic nature of Dowers’ journey to reap an education from the greatest horsemen he could find, his and Jackie’s relationship grew stronger.
“Nick traveled a lot after he got out of school and I stayed busy in nursing school,” Jackie said. “For a couple years it was a long-distance relationship, but I knew how important it was for him. He was getting a lot of great experience.”
In 2006, Jackie graduated from college, and by November of that year, she and Dowers were married. Jackie got a job as a registered nurse at Northern Inyo Hospital in Bishop, Calif., and Dowers began starting 2-year-olds and rehabilitating problem horses out of Triple D. After working his way through several programs, often cleaning stalls and trading compensation-free work for priceless instruction, he was ready to settle down.
A year later, the couple welcomed daughter Tuli. She was born with congenital limb deficiency, meaning parts of her arms did not develop normally in the womb.
“It just made us stronger. The way we look at it is, God wouldn’t give a child like that to just anybody, so we feel privileged to have her,” Dowers said of his daughter, who is now 5 and already riding horses. “It’s really fun to watch her figure out how to do things; she’s really intelligent. We let her be independent and strong.”
The Dowers family was blessed with a son, Crue, in 2010. His obvious love for animals and fanatical attraction to horses has the now 3-year-old showing signs of following his father, proving what Jackie calls “The Dowers Gene” strong.
“Crue is a sweetheart and he really loves being around the animals like Nick does,” Jackie said. “Tuli is very competitive and very determined in everything she does. There’s no stopping that girl.”
When Dowers returned to Nevada, he worked with the late Bill Van Norman in Tuscarora, where he was introduced to reined cow horses and got his initial taste of show pen competition.
“Bill was the man,” Dowers said. “He showed at a local level, and I was always admiring his horses. We would use them on the ranch and do everyday ranch stuff, then he’d go to town and beat the local trainers at the cow horse stuff. He was the bridle horse authority around Elko, [Nev.]”
In 2009, Triple D Ranches purchased JP Royal Boon (Showstoppin Boon x Royal Jody Chex x Bueno Chex Jr) from Van Norman Quarter Horses. Over the next two years, the 2006 gelding earned $9,950 under Dowers’ saddle. Their strong showing at the 2010 NRCHA Hackamore Classic made JP Royal Boon his rider’s first true show horse.
Dowers fell in love with the feel of an arena performance. He liked the idea of working hard, using his horses at home and then testing them, as well as himself, at events. To develop a skill set fit for the performance world, he turned to seven-time NRCHA Futurity Non-Pro Champion Annie Reynolds.
“That’s where I really got the show experience that I desperately wanted,” he said. “My bread and butter was the colts, and probably always will be, but I like to be pushed.”
With the unwavering support of his wife, Dowers packed up his family of four and traveled to Reynolds’ Why Worry Ranch in King Hill, Idaho.
“It was a nice break from work and it gave me time with the kids,” Jackie said, declaring the trip a blessing, not a sacrifice. “We tagged along to the horse shows and just enjoyed Nick getting so much show experience. It was a year of growth and learning for him.”
Dowers immersed himself in the preparation that went into Reynolds’ leading program. They had agreed on a one-year contract, so making good use of the time they had was essential. He learned how to get a horse ready for competition and took his showmanship abilities to the next level.
“He has a tremendous amount of feel,” Reynolds said. “He’s got a lot of patience, and obviously he’s a great athlete and an excellent rider. He has a different background than most trainers. I think that he’s driven to do the best he can with what he’s got. It’s a matter of pride for him.”
While working for Reynolds, Dowers got firsthand experience showing first-class reined cow horses. He piloted Shiney And Verysmart (Very Smart Remedy x Shirley Shine x Shining Spark) to $24,113, including Intermediate and Limited Open titles at the 2011 NRCHA Stakes, where he finished fourth in the Open.
Dowers was also granted the opportunity to show Smarter Image (Very Smart Remedy x Teena Cash Flo x Nu Cash). Equi-Stat Elite $3 Million Rider Todd Bergen handpicked Dowers to catch ride the horse, and the duo went on to win the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Limited Open.
Dowers’ Equi-Stat record soared from $14,478 to $71,287 in a single year. He returned to Fish Lake Valley with the essential tools for success – it was just a matter of time.
Dowers happily adjusted back to the rancher-with-a-dream lifestyle. In the summer, Jackie gave birth to their third child, daughter Jovi. While his blossoming family lifted his spirits, he was still a man equipped with the knowledge to train top-notch performers, but lacking the horse- power to do so.
“It was tough [in 2012],” Dowers admitted. “I think I only won $260 the whole year. But I was able to get through it. Once I got home, I still wanted to stick to what I do, putting that day-to-day work ethic into my horses and not being tied to the arena.”
Dowers knew his ticket to the top was to find the right horse. At a Snaffle Bit Futurity sale in Reno, his family lucked into an affordable One Time Pepto colt named Time For The Diamond, out of the Playin Stylish mare Diamonds With Style. Tuli nicknamed the horse “Cactapuss” and Dowers did what he does best.
“Cactapuss is the best horse I’ve ever trained. He is so selfless. I’ve never had a horse try so hard, day in and day out,” he said of the stallion who carried him pack hunting in the mountains as a 2-year-old, and then to the 2013 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open title a year later. “My parents have been real supportive all along. My dad is at the mercy of the show season more than the market on when we sell our calves, because I need my cattle to work. He’s willing to sacrifice selling his calves at the best time to help me be successful.”
A mob of inspired fans swarmed the arena after Dowers clinched his first Futurity Open Championship in Reno. The hometown cowboy’s integrity and style made him an audience favorite, and among the multitude of people celebrating was the Dowers family.
“It’s been so cool, and the best part about it is Nick hasn’t changed personally,” Jackie said, proud of her husband’s accomplishments. “He’s always pushed himself to get better and gain as much knowledge as he could, and he strived for what he wanted.”
Remaining true to himself is a vital part of Dowers’ program. For him, how he does things is just as important as the result.
How & why
Dowers’ program, which revolves around getting into the horse’s mind, focuses on the “how and why” in everything. This unique approach helps him to understand and communicate with all types of horses.
“I want to be able to train my horses to the highest level, but not lose my horsemanship integrity to do it. Keeping the horse in mind is a big part of what I do,” he said. “I need to know what to do, when to do it and why to do it. That’s everything.”
In the interest of helping fellow riders, Dowers has started teaching clinics. It all began when Reid asked him to come back to Feather River College.
“The students really relate to him and look up to him. He is a great teacher, breaking lessons into small pieces so both the horse and student can understand,” Reid said. “With Nick, it is all about the ‘soft skills,’ such as showing up to work, working hard, paying attention and asking questions. Each year, he offers some of our top students a summer internship.
“I have never experienced so many folks in our industry so excited for one person to win [the Snaffle Bit Futurity],” continued Reid. “Nick represents all the original values of the NRCHA.”
But for Dowers, his life is a normal one. He wakes up every morning, heads out to work his horses and doesn’t realize the impact his story has on those around him. In his mind, there is still much to learn.
“The challenge is to stay true – not lose sight of who I am and what got me here,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys in the industry that I really look up to. It’s pretty cliché, but I just want to get better. If you’re green, you’re growing; if you’re ripe, you’re rotting.”