Sanford men hope to turn Eleven Bar East into region’s premier horse breeding, training facility
By David Anderson Jr.
Published August 8, 2009
When Chad Shepherd walked into the office of a local rodeo near his family’s home in Florida, he didn’t know anything about horses and he certainly wasn’t making plans for the future. The 15-year-old just wanted a summer job.
By the time he got in the saddle of his first horse, though, he was hooked. Shepherd set off on a ride that would eventually bring him to Sanford, grabbing a world title along the way.
Shepherd, now 29, won his first world title this summer when he took the top honor in the heeling event of the Palomino World Championship in Tulsa, Okla. July 25.
As he travels to different shows around the country, Shepherd is often asked what kind of career he would have done if he hadn’t gotten involved in the rodeo scene.
“This is all I’ve done so I don’t know what I would do. I really don’t,” he said. “I love to ride horses, I love to rope. It was a way I could do both and get paid to do it.”
In March of 2008, Shepherd moved to Sanford to manage the 150 horses and cattle at the Eleven Bar East Ranch on Lower Moncure Road.
Ranch owner Bob Helms has spent the past year building up his facility, adding a competition size covered arena, new stables and a lab room for horse care. Helms hopes to turn Eleven Bar East into one of the region’s premier breeding and training operations.
“That’s why we compete with these studs,” Shepherd said. “We travel the country and we show them basically to show that they’re winners, and then we’ll turn around and do the same thing with their foals.”
While Shepherd has competed in national events sponsored by the American Quarter Horse Association and won titles at regional events in Florida and South Carolina, his win in Oklahoma represents a new career high.
In the heeling event, Shepherd’s partner, Steve Orth, roped a steer by the head from atop a workhorse while Shepherd caught the steers rear legs with his lasso. Both riders had to successfully rope the steer, but judges only scored the heeling rider.
Shepherd rode Heat N Glo, a 7-year-old palomino stallion, in the competition.
“This is his first year competing, so it’s kind of a big year for him,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd says competition judges focus much more on the behavior, skills and performance of the horse than on the rider, but it takes a partnership between the two to succeed.
“They basically want to see that horse run on it’s own,” he said. “The rider has to be able to get along with that horse. Not anybody can show a horse, but you have to have a good horse to make the rider look good.”
His win in Tulsa didn’t do anything to quench Shepherd’s thirst for glory though.
“It makes you want to compete even more,” he said. “It’s a boost of confidence to a rider because that’s something every guy wants to do is win a world title.”
Shepherd plans to compete in the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship in November.
“That means more than all the other titles, that’s the one,” Shepherd said. “I’m pretty excited this year. I’m taking four horses out there and this is the most I’ve ever taken. My chances of making the finals are pretty good this year. I feel pretty confident in my horses.”
Shepherd says he can’t take the credit for any wins because they’re the result of teamwork between himself, his horse, Helms and his staff of trainers.
“It’s kind of our win,” Shepherd said. “It’s not mine. I didn’t win it. It’s everybody’s.”
Another win would be good news for Helms, who hopes to see his ranch in Sanford continue to grow as his herd of horses attract more national attention.
Helms, 67, was raised in Arkansas where his father ran a cattle ranch. Helms first moved to North Carolina in 1977 when he was in the military. When he retired in 1990, he decided to lay down roots in Sanford.
In 1994 Helms started Eleven Bar East as a cattle ranch, bringing a herd of steers from his father’s ranch in Arkansas. In 2001, he shifted the ranch’s focus towards breeding and training horses.
His massive facility, spread out over about 100 acres north of Sanford, has already attracted attention from other enthusiasts in the area. When the North Carolina Quarter Horse Association hosted a competition in Raleigh this summer, they looked to Helms to provide a venue for their cattle events. Another competition is scheduled in September.
Over the years, Helms has seen generations of horses roam in his pastures. He takes pride in the fact that potential buyers can come to his ranch and see not just the horse they’re interested in, but the horse’s parents, grandparents, siblings and offspring.
“We don’t buy and sell, and that distinguishes us from a lot of operations that move horses,” Helms said.
Helms said he tried to spend his retirement years playing golf and fishing, but he decided there were only so many times he could play the same course or go fishing in the pond near his home and keep himself entertained.
“I got bored, and I said ‘I’m going to go back to my roots,'” Helms said. “This is a lot of fun.”
Text and images copyright 2009 by The Sanford Herald/Paxton Media Group.
Used with permission.