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Lepard takes his ‘ghost riders’ to the Elkhart County Fair

Jul 30 – GOSHEN – Tim Lepard is a rodeo junkie through and through.

Ever since he was a kid growing up in Pontotoc, Mississippi, the only thing he really knew was horseback riding.

As he neared high school, he was already conquering broncos and bulls.

“I think it all started at the bottom,” Lepard said of his love of rodeo. “I mean, I started out riding horses, then I started bull riding, and I ended up clowning around, because I wanted more of those bulls. They called me ‘Wild Thang’ because I wasn’t scared. I ran at them.” bulls, hook me up and throw me. I loved the adrenaline rush of the people and their reactions.”

Being involved in the rodeo lifestyle is not for the faint of heart and Lepard quickly discovered this after racking up numerous bumps and bruises during his early days, whether as a cowboy or a rodeo clown.

“A guy approached me once,” Lepard said. “This was in 1977, he told me ‘you’re not going to last long doing this. You’d better find something else.'”

So instead of going through the grind of being a rodeo clown all his life, Lepard started thinking.

From a young age, Lepard had a fascination with monkeys. He had always wanted one, and ended up getting his first capuchin monkey during his high school days.

“Reading Curious George books, playing with sock monkeys and all that as a kid,” Lepard said. “That was my dream. My dream was to one day have a monkey.”

After a little time, knowing the ins and outs of what it is like to have a monkey as a companion, he discovered something that caught his attention.

From time to time, the monkey would climb on the back of his dog at that time. It was a fun show to watch, entertaining even, and from there an idea was born.

After doing some research on various dog breeds, Lepard discovered that one of the most intelligent breeds was a Border Collie. He knew that if this ‘Cowboy Monkey Rodeo’ idea was going to get off the ground, he would need not only a pack of smart dogs, but also a pack of very well-trained smart dogs.

“I wanted to learn as much as I could about the Border Collie,” Lepard said. “I went to England, Scotland and Wales to learn how to work with Border Collies. I kept working with these dogs and learning everything I could about them.”

“Monkeys don’t tolerate growls or anything like that from dogs, so it was important to get the right ones for this to work.”

Well, eventually, it worked.

Since the late ’80s, Lepard and his crew of “ghost riders” have toured both nationally and internationally, performing anywhere from local rodeos to sold-out arenas.

On Friday, the spectacle was on view to those at the Elkhart County Fair booths.

“We’ve worked on any sporting event,” Lepard said. “Baseball, football, the NFL. You can look us up on YouTube and you’ll find videos of us everywhere. I’ve been averaging about 30 minor league baseball games over the last 13 years, and there are thousands of videos out there calling us the cowboy monkey rodeo. I prefer to call them the ghost riders, after a little old lady who came up to me once and said the monkeys looked like little ghosts riding on the backs of dogs. From then on, to me, they were the ghost riders “.

Lepard and his pack of ram-hunting monkeys and dogs have been to countless places both in the United States and abroad over the last four decades, but when asked which is perhaps the place that left the biggest impression, Lepard mentioned one of NASCAR’s largest race tracks.

“Charlotte Motor Speedway,” Lepard said. ‚ÄúThere are 115,000 people there. I mean, the ground was vibrating and I was like, ‘man, this is crazy.’ I honestly couldn’t understand how all those people up in the stands were freaking out, but when I turned around, the screen we were on was huge. It really made those monkeys look huge.”

Even with all the success he’s seen with his act over the years, having won multiple rodeo championships within the ‘specialty act’ category, there have been some major bumps in the road.

In 2000, a failed generator on his trailer killed all of his animals, forcing Lepard to start from scratch. And in 2020, due to COVID, he stopped being able to work for more than a year. Because of that, he had to sell some of his monkeys and dogs to survive.

Factor in the fact that he basically lives on the road year-round, and one soon realizes how much Lepard pours into his act and his animals.

All obstacles aside, ‘Wild Thang’ considers himself blessed to have done all he could in his life.

As for when you’re going to retire? At 63, Lepard has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

“I have been asked many times when I think I will retire,” Lepard said. “And you never really think about it. This has been my life for so long. I didn’t choose to be in this life, it just happened, and I went with it. As far as deciding on retirement, I honestly hope the night before I died I was performing in a rodeo. I don’t want to be in a nursing home. I don’t want to go out suffering.”

Evan Lepak can be reached at evan.lepak@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240326. Follow him on Twitter

@EvanMPLepak.

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