Cover photo for Michael Thomas's Obituary
1940 Michael 2023

Michael Thomas

April 8, 1940 — August 9, 2023

Michael Richard Thomas was born on April 8, 1940 in Fairfield, Connecticut, sharing a birthday with the legendary Thoroughbred, Three Bars. Between 1943-44, Mike spent a year and a half in an experimental hospital with advanced kidney disease. He was not expected to live. It came down to an experimental drug that at the time would prove to be either revolutionary or a death sentence. There was only enough for one of two boys in the hospital and the medical staff did not know if it would kill or cure. Mike was selected only because of the strength of his mother and family. His mother (Jane Bernice (McCarthy) Thomas took the gamble, along with his father, (Arthur Richard Thomas). Mike lived, the other boy did not. This situation made a major impact on the rest of Mike's life. "Why was I spared and where would the other boy be now?"

In February, 1947, Mike saw his first rodeo, the famed La Fiesta De Los Vaqueros in Tucson, Arizona. At the age of seven, he decided that was the life he wanted to pursue: to explore all aspects of horses and livestock. He had already been riding horses with his mother, Jane B. McCarthy Thomas. The famed Pete Martinez of Tucson, Arizona, was his first teacher of horsemanship. Mike's next ten years were filled with Junior Rodeo and jobs in Livestock Sale Barns.

In 1957, he was hired to work at the famed Boquillas Cattle Company (The Diamond A’s) of Seligman, Arizona, a 15,000-head cow/calf operation. He experienced a "baptism by fire" that summer and only the incredible patience of Slim and Dorothy Gillum helped him survive his overall ignorance. He feels that this job was, and still is, the greatest experience in life that a 17-year-old could get. They did not cut him any slack whatsoever!

During the next ten years, Mike was involved with Arizona State University and University of Arizona. This included the rodeo teams in calf roping, bulldogging and team roping. He became the Regional Director of the West Coast Region of the NIRA and was awarded a Gold Card for life under Sonny Sikes. He did graduate work in Reproductive Physiology and Animal Nutrition and spent a summer at Purdue University learning techniques in Plasma Progesterone Qualitative Analysis, first with paper chromatography and later with thin layer chromatography. He collected blood samples from thousands of cows while studying embryonic mortalities in heat-stressed dairy cattle and could palpate a 28-day embryonic pregnancy. He also worked in cattle feed yards for several years, doctoring cattle while going to school.

The next ten years saw Mike and wife Sharon Rose (Christopher) Thomas moving to Brush, Colorado, after the premature death of their son, Sean Michael Thomas. Their first job at the well-known Colorado Feedlot paid $125 a week. Mike did team roping on weekends and managed two cow/calf operations part-time while working full-time.

In 1970, Mike and famed cattleman L.A. “Buzz” Coakley developed, with the Ceres Land Company, an Artificial Insemination Program for 12,500 cows, the largest to date. The program, which was predicted to be a huge failure, resulted in 10,616 inseminations in 47 days, and with clean-up bulls, produced 96% overall conception, calculated at the time of birth of all first-calf heifers and mature cows. The spring of 1971, with well-organized calving and first computer programs designed by Mike and Bruce Bainbridge, shook the cattle world. Lots of horses and patterned cattle made it all work, and humans learning how to work from the inside of a horse and cow, not the outside in! The program ran successfully for several years.

In the early '70s, Mike created Livestock Management Services, Inc. The company managed several ranches for absentee owners, creating innovative breeding and cattle-handling systems designed to efficiently handle thousands of head of cattle with the least possible stress, never getting a horse or a cow upset. During the early '70s, two daughters, Michelle and Shannon, were born after ten years of marriage and Mike considered them to be the most important thing to happen in his life. Mike also developed a Beef Management Program for Syntex Agribusiness and Livestock Management Manual called the "Cowpedia" and the first all-inclusive computer programs of ranch management, called "Cowputer"!

Mike was retained as an expert witness in several multi-million-dollar lawsuits involving purebred cattle in Bismarck, North Dakota; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and other courts and organized teams of experts with nationally-known veterinarians, Ag economists, geneticists, biochemists, financial experts and many other professions.

Mike also designed a 1,000 cow semi-confinement dry lot system that worked as well. Additionally, he created and designed a feedlot to be built in Russia, the former Soviet Union. He served as an expert witness in several other Federal and District Courts and represented ranchers and farmers in bankruptcy courts developing their reorganization plans.

And horses were the keystone of every operation!

Mike first met the late Ray Hunt (Legendary Horseman) in the mid 1970’s, which left Mike shocked, speechless and very humble. After years of rodeo, ranch management, feedlot management and purebred cattle operations, Mike now realized he didn't know diddly-squat about a horse, or cattle, either. During this period, Mike took over the now-infamous Madison River Cattle Company of Three Forks, Montana, a company in deep trouble. The ranch owned a great non-paying asset: 170-200 head of ignored, un-started young and older horses. Mike began taking three-, four- and five-year-old horses to Ray's clinics. The herd was basic Moon Hancock (Herd Sire: by Tough Company by Chicaro Bill and out of Panzarita, a famed broodmare of runners as she was.

Mike began filling the bunkhouse with enthusiastic young people. These young cowboys and cowgirls knew they could experience Ray Hunt Clinics with a variety of colts and horses, and choose among horsemanship, cow working and ranch roping clinics. The opportunities included exposure to Ray Hunt, and Tom Dorrance in the early years, in many, many clinics in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and other northwest states.

Everybody - well, almost everybody - knows Mike hired Buck Brannaman. Buck was coming through the most trying part of his life! (See "The Faraway Horses" by Buck Brannaman, Lyons Press.) What most people don't know is that the magic of Madison River Cattle Company was equally important to many young people like Preston and Julie Lord (Ristau); Jim and Ann Aller Overstreet; Doug Kirk; Mike Beck; Mel and Freddie Obrigewitch; and at least two dozen others in the same age range, who rode for the brand and are now famous names in the horsemanship world. Today, after 40+ years, the memory of the incredible young people who got a fair chance to succeed with the ranch, along with the friendship of Mike and Ray, Bill and Tom Dorrance, is far more important. Over the years Mike has been very proud of the young people who dedicated their lives and horses to the Inner Circle of Quality Horsemanship.

Mike’s later years have been spent helping people and horses from every walk of life. His desire was to share his passion for quality horsemanship with anyone who wanted to learn. He believed quality horsemanship = quality friendships = quality relationships = quality lifemanship. It was Mike’s dream to see the horsemanship community embrace unity with one another.

In 2011, Mike would get to know his beloved partner, Anna Strickland. Anna has been by Mike’s side every step of the way and together they have touched the lives of others by sharing their love for the horse.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Mike’s GoFundMe page

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Michael Thomas, please visit our flower store.


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