“Horseman's horseman” Bill Casner is set to be inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame on Thursday, Jan. 12. The Cowboy Hall of Fame “honors those men and women who have excelled in the sport and business of rodeo, and the western lifestyle in Texas.” Perhaps best-known as the co-founder of WinStar Farm, Casner has enjoyed a great amount of success in the horse racing industry, from Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver to Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed. However, the Texas native hasn't strayed too far from his childhood dreams of being a cowboy; Casner still competes in team roping at rodeos across the state.
“It all came from getting on horses as a kid and wanting to be a cowboy,” Casner said, explaining that he spent summers during his childhood riding and roping at a cousin's ranch. “I rode my first horse at 4 years old. That was the day I fell in love with horses, and it charted the course for the rest of my life. From that point forward, I was addicted to them. All I wanted to do was be around horses.”
Introduced to the racetrack at 15, it took some time for Casner to be accepted amongst the backside regulars. It took him three days of walking the shed rows at Sunland Park before he convinced a trainer to let him gallop his first racehorse.
“It was because all of the riders had those real nice jockey's helmets,” Casner said with a laugh. “What I had was a motorcycle helmet that I'd bought at the pawn shop for five dollars. I tell you what, I was pretty goofy-looking.”
Despite those early misconceptions, Casner constructed a successful life on the backside of racetracks around the country for the next 16 years, exercising racehorses and living in a tack room to put himself through college. He briefly tried his hand at training, but a wife and two young daughters had him re-evaluating his priorities.
“The racetrack gave me opportunities that I would never have had,” reflected Casner. “The world was flat on the backside. Everybody was there because they had one common love, and that was the horse.”
Though he moved away from the track, Casner kept the horses close. He turned back to the rodeo and taught his daughters to ride as they grew up. Years later, he and Kenny Trout bought WinStar with the goal of making it to the Kentucky Derby. Not only did the pair accomplish that with Super Saver, but they were involved with a number of other major stakes winners, including Drosselmeyer, Colonel John, Bluegrass Cat, and Any Given Saturday. Casner and Trout also bred and owned Well Armed, who would win the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, in 2007. That win was particularly special for Casner, as he'd managed the horse's rehabilitation from injury at his ranch in Texas, even riding him himself to prepare him to return to training at the track.
“It carried Susan and I to the mountaintops on the back of a horse,” he said. “It was a heck of a ride.”
Casner has also served as the past chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and was a founding director of the Race for Education and Kentucky Equine Education Program (KEEP).
These days, Casner focuses on his own racing operation, Casner Racing, and still enjoys being the “header” in his team roping partnership on the local rodeo circuit. He says he is honored to be enshrined in the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame as some of the best rodeo contestants in the world, top veterinarians, and, of course, D. Wayne Lukas.
“I'm not certain how they chose me for this honor, but I do know that it was on the back of a horse,” Casner said. “Horses have been an extraordinary part of my life. You have this 1200-pound horse that's so willing to do whatever you ask it to do. They totally amaze me.”
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