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Hoosier ties are everywhere — even in Oklahoma

Photos by Tom J. Bechman Tank Elmore pets horse at Express Ranch near Yukon, Oklahoma
BIG HORSE: Tank Elmore learned horses can get frisky while petting this horse at Express Ranch near Yukon, Okla.
A tour of an exclusive horse ranch turns up a connection to Indiana.

A favorite destination for Hoosiers visiting Oklahoma City is Yukon, about 20 miles west of Oklahoma’s capital city. It’s the home of country music singer Garth Brooks, but that’s not why Hoosiers tied to agriculture like to visit the area. They’re attracted by Express Ranch, home to nationally known cattle and horse operations. The cattle farm’s blue-roofed barns dot the countryside near Yukon. But the majestic, older horse barn is what piqued our interest on a recent visit.

My wife, Carla, and I accompanied Alicia Geesey, Franklin FFA advisor, and four members of the Franklin FFA soils judging team to Oklahoma for the national soils judging contest in May. During one rainy morning, we toured the horse barn at Express Ranch.

Our high school students — Jasper Carter, Tank Elmore, Norman Tuholski and Connor Williams — learned several things that morning. First, they discovered that Express Clydesdales compete in horse hitch competitions, parades and major events all across North America. They even met one of the farm’s favorites, Topper, up close and personal. While he’s not the largest Clydesdale on the ranch, he’s perhaps the most personable. He’s often part of the lead team on the six-horse hitch.

Just a few years ago, Express added Percheron horses as well. Their Percheron six-horse hitch competes regularly for the world six-horse hitch championship.

A Hoosier connection

The soil judgers also learned about a Hoosier connection to the barn where they stood and admired Topper. Apparently, the two-story barn, dating back to the early 1900s, was in disrepair when the current owner, Bob Funk, an Oklahoma businessman, took over the ranch more than three decades ago. In fact, ranch spokespeople say the rear wall had a 4-foot lean from bottom to top, nearly ready to topple over.

Who came to the rescue? Craftsmen from Indiana! Amish carpenters from Shipshewana repaired the barn and made the structure stable again. Then after a new barn for training was built behind it a few years ago, the original barn was remodeled to fit the decor of the new barn. It houses horses, including Topper, and hosts various weddings and events in the spacious loft. A view from upstairs shows the horse pasture to one side and cattle barns and cattle pastures in the other direction.

barn at Express Ranch near Yukon, Oklahoma

BIG BARN: Amish craftsmen from Shipshewana, Ind., helped restore structural soundness to this iconic barn at Express Ranch.

Tank also learned another important lesson: Horses can bite! Horses in the newer barn like to stick their heads out the open front Dutch door so visitors can pet them. But they can get frisky, too. Tank found that out when one of the horses wasn’t too happy Tank was trying to shut his door.

There’s a reason signs are clearly posted saying the ranch is not responsible for injury. Fortunately, the horse’s nip on Tank’s arm was only a minor irritation. Hoosiers have left their mark on Oklahoma. In this case, an Oklahoma horse left its mark on a Hoosier!

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