BILL COLLINS OF CALGARY, ALBERTA ELECTED TO AQHA HALL OF FAME
The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) inducted five individuals and seven horse inductees to the AQHA Hall of Fame, during the 2007 AQHA Convention, in Houston, Texas.
Bill Collins, retired owner of Leecoll Stables, Calgary, Alberta, is the first Canadian to be inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame, one of the highest honours bestowed by AQHA. Collins joined 122 individuals and 62 horses previously inducted into the Hall of Fame, established in 1975 to honour people and horses instrumental in the development of the breed and the AQHA.
Left, Bill Collins & Smarty Scotian Gold
Born in Big Valley, Alberta, in 1924, Bill Collins is the Canadian icon of the North American cutting horse world. However, Collins’ accomplishments are not limited to the cutting arena. In the 1940’s Collins became a livestock dealer and attended his first Calgary Stampede in 1945, as a spectator, where he caught the rodeo “bug”. He returned the following year as a competitor in calf roping and as an outrider for a chuck wagon racing outfit.
Collins was the Canadian Calf Roping Champion in 1951, 1952, 1956, and 1957 and Reserve Champion in 1954, 1958, and 1959. He was also the 1954 Canadian Wild Cow Milking Champion. In 1955, Collins began working with cutting horses, and is a three-time Canadian Cutting Horse Futurity Champion and has been the Canadian Cutting Horse Open Champion at least a dozen times. As a testament to Collins’ diverse equestrian talent, he won the Safeway Jumpers Sweepstakes following a jump-off over 5 ½ foot fences, was third in the $1,200 Cutting Horse Jackpot and was the Reserve Champion Calf Roper, at the 1966 Edmonton Rodeo.
In 1958, Collins set up his original training stable in Edmonton, Alberta and had up to 75 horses in training in both English and Western disciplines. During the 1960’s Collins was a Director of the Canadian Equestrian Federation (now Equine Canada) and helped the organization to standardize judging rules. In 1962, Collins met H.R.H. Prince Phillip during a cutting event at the Douglas Lake Ranch in British Columbia. This encounter led to a three-month Royal Cutting Horse Tour and demonstration across Great Britain, in 1964, with Prince Philip as the event’s patron.
Collins taught clinics worldwide between the 1950’s and 1980’s. From the 1970’s to the mid-1990’s, he was a judge for the Canadian Cutting Horse Association (CCHA), the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) and the AQHA, presiding over competitions throughout North America, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and England. In 1987, Collins was inducted into the CCHA Hall of Fame, followed in 1994 by induction into the Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame, and the NCHA Hall of Fame, in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1995.
Jeff Hooper, Executive Director of the NCHA said, “Mr. Collins has been a valuable member of the NCHA since 1960, and a major liaison between the CCHA and NCHA for many years, assisting to promote and educate in all areas of the sport in both countries. Among his other achievements, Mr. Collins was responsible for the inclusion of the continuous cutting competition, since 1974, at the Calgary Stampede. He has been an asset to NCHA in many areas for many years, and is most worthy of this honor.”
Jamie Steer, President of the CCHA said, “For in excess of 50 years, Mr. Collins has been the greatest influence in Canada, not only on the quality of cutting performed through his training methods and performances, (he is still riding and selectively teaching) but through the quality of Quarter Horses he has provided through importation and breeding for his clients and the industry.”
“Bill Collins has held many positions throughout the lifetime of the CCHA and was very instrumental in the organization of this association in 1954. Bill still attends all Directors meetings and functions and his knowledge of the history of the cutting world is a great contribution to our meetings,” said Connie Delorme, CCHA Executive Secretary.
Arguably, Collins’ greatest admirers were the legions of students with whom he has so willingly shared his knowledge over the decades. One such student, Janie Bass of Winnipeg, Manitoba said, “I went to train with Bill about 10 years ago. His kindness and patience was evident in his dealings with all those who came in contact with him. Bill exemplifies everything that a Hall of Famer should. Bill Collins is a true champion of the horse. He will come to the defense of the horse, in a way that will educate the rider, so as to make the horse’s life and job so much easier. His first concern is always the horse’s welfare, and his caring is evident in everything he does, and stands for. Bill has dedicated his life to horses, and horses are his life. He is truly a gentleman and his fine qualities are rarely found today.”
Bill Collins reestablished Leecoll Stables at Bearspaw, near Calgary, in 1974, until he sold it in June of 2005, when he retired from active training. Bill and his wife Pearl continued to live in the Bearspaw area. Their family consists of: Bill’s three children, son Russell Collins and daughter Billie Lynn Collins, who reside in Vancouver, British Columbia, and son Philip Collins and his wife Shannon and three children, Liam, Declan, and Baillie who live in Calgary; and Pearl’s two sons, Gary Coleman and his wife Jodi and son Jarrett, who live in Sherwood Park, Alberta and Paul Coleman and his daughter, Jenna who live in Kentville, Nova Scotia.
Collins was originally nominated to the AQHA Hall of Fame in 2003, by Wayne Antworth of Woodstock, New Brunswick. The Canadian Quarter Horse Association is proud to have played a role in resubmitting this most deserved nomination in 2005. This time the nomination was supported by the CCHA, the NCHA, two Alberta equine magazines – Canadian Cowboy Country and Western Horse Review, and many personal letters of support from individuals who hold Bill Collins in the highest esteem. Given his many personal accomplishments and generous contributions to the international horse industry, it is absolutely fitting that legendary Alberta horseman Bill Collins was the first Canadian to be inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame.
Sadly, Bill Collins passed on December 31, 2013.
Photograph of Bill Collins and Smarty Scotian Gold graciously provided from Bill Collins’ personal collection.