Legendary horse trainer and western showman Bobby Kerr got his start in Ridgeville
Among the many events cancelled during the pandemic last year was the CanAm Horse Expo in Markham, which was to have featured legendary horse trainer and western rider, Bobby “Mustang Man” Kerr, of Hico, Texas. Kerr has performed across North America with his trained mustangs, wild horses rescued from their destinations as dog food and adopted to star in his shows.
Called “a household name in the rodeo world,” by Cowgirl Magazine (yes, that’s a thing) for his “passion for the western way of life” and “his innate ability to communicate with and train mustangs that has earned him many prestigious honors,” including being named the 2017 PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) Specialty Act of the Year, Kerr has a schedule of performances that would dizzy a rock band. He is founder of the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas and in January beat 50 other trainers to take home the $50,000 first prize at the Mustang Makeover Championship in Fort Worth.
Bobby Kerr may be the consummate western horse trainer and cowboy, but he got his start not in Texas or Oklahoma or Wyoming, but growing up at the intersection of Effingham and Canboro in Ridgeville.
Kerr credits the Bishop Family, of 4B Ranch on Roland Road in Pelham, with giving him his start in the cowboy arts. The Bishops trace the origin of their nine decades of Western shows back to the late 1800s when a young Tom Bishop, the grandfather of the current Tom Bishop Jr., saw the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in London, England. He was inspired, and eventually emigrated to Canada, where he and his brother founded the 4B Ranch and began touring a Wild West Show of their own.
The family business of western entertainment continued into the ‘60s with Tom senior and wife Jan, along with his sister Lorna and her husband Chuck Aylett performing their trick riding, roping, and cowboy lore for audiences across Canada and the United States. Now Tom junior has taken the reins and continues the family tradition with Wild West shows at fairs and rodeos, but a major part of the work is wrangling for TV shows and motion pictures, including Murdoch Mysteries, Salem Witch Trials, and dozens of commercials.
Bobby Kerr says his interest in horses and shows started “down the road at the Bishops,” where he watched the family practice with horses getting ready to go out on the road to perform. Jan Bishop remembers young Bobby’s fascination with the Bishops’ skills.
“Chuck and Lorna taught him to ride and helped him get his first horse. Lorna was also his school teacher,” Jan recalls. At 14, badly bitten by the cowboy bug, Bobby learned of a mammoth horse training and sales operation in Smithton, Illinois and decided to run away from home to get work with Cletis Hollings as a horse trainer. Finally tracked down by his worried parents, Bobby was hauled back to Ridgeville, where his mother enlisted his school principal, Mr. Hoag, to lecture him on staying home and going to school. However, after talking with the boy, Hoag told the parents that Bobby knew exactly what he wanted to do, unlike most kids his age, and maybe they should let him do it. His parents took him to Buffalo the next day and put him on the Greyhound bus to Illinois.
He worked for Hollings for several years, then split his time between winters in the US and summers working for horse trainer Dale Purdy in Ontario, until Purdy moved to Hico, Texas. Bobby followed and has never left Hico, where his training and show operation is still based while he travels across North America to more than 100 shows a year. Kerr still stops by Pelham and checks in with the Bishops while visiting his mother, who now lives in Niagara Falls.
While he says that Ridgeville was “not what you would call cowboy country,” he fondly remembers his first contact with the Bishop family. “I was a little kid delivering TV Guides and I’d ride my bike past their place and see them between rodeos… and I just loved it. Chuck Aylet was my Roy Rogers.” From that beginning in Pelham, Bobby Kerr has become a Texas cowboy legend.
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