Starting colts for JR Simplot in the mid to late 90’s was an interesting experience to say the least. It wasn’t that I had never started cots before but the kind of colts they raised for the feedlot at Grandview Idaho were as wild as they get.
The first few batch’s were straight Thoroughbreds, 3 year olds and had only been touched once and that was at weaning to brand and castrate. Not a great introduction to the hand of a human.
They were raised on a chunk of range in Southwest Idaho, near the old Wickahoney Stage stop so were referred to as ‘the Wickahoney Colts’. It is pronounced ‘wick-uh-hone-ee’; at least all that I associated with pronounced it that way.
The Stage stop was active in the late 1800’s between Mountain City Nevada and Mountain Home Idaho. Near as I can tell there was nothing there but the Stage Stop and home of the hostler and maybe a garden and orchard. No small town, community, saloon or brothel, just a place to change horses and for passengers to stretch their legs and possibly get a bite to eat.
I was running a Crop Dusting business in Mountain Home and although I loved the flying and it was paying my bills, as a seasonal pilot I had the freedom to day work part of the year as well as guide big game hunters, and enjoy my other activities of interest.
Horses had long been a passion and from my earliest years I was horse crazy. As a small and somewhat shy kid I learned early in life that my trust in horses was rarely betrayed; they were for the most part honest.
I started my first colt when I was 14 and other than the 3 years I spent in the Marines have rarely been without a colt to start. Even in College I was always aboard something either mine or helping someone else.
After college we, meaning my bride and I, ran various ranches in the Utah, Idaho and Montana region. In December of 1982 as we were leaving Montana I made a cannonball run to Battle Mountain Nevada and interviewed for a cow boss job there on the TS. The brand was the T lazy S but all the cowboys that I have known that worked there referred to it as the TS.
I liked everything about the job but the housing and bailed on the job because of that. We were somewhat discouraged leaving Montana and wasn’t sure that a future in the Ranching industry was in our best interest. I had been working on my flying ratings and was a commercial pilot holding an instrument rating. I knew I didn’t want to fly for the airlines but was looking for a way to add flying to my war bag of working skills, hoping that I could combine the flying and ranching together in the future.
It took a few years and some heartache to get it done but when we moved to Mountain Home we were on our way to achieving that dream.
In the fall of 1991, I hauled our family horse to Tremontont Utah and showed her in a Reined Cow Horse class; it was the first of many that I would go to over the next several years.
I had known what the CRCHA association, California Reined Cow Horse Association, was since its creation and was always interested in the Vaquero way of training. There were several things about the CRCHA that I didn’t agree with but as a ‘no body’ in the horse world, no one cared what I thought. If I wanted to show up and donate to the winner that was fine, otherwise, just keep quiet. I was okay with that for the most part because I was there to learn how to show horses and prove I could compete as well as raise some great horses. I eventually stopped showing for several reasons but none of those reasons have anything to do with starting Colts for JR Simplot.
By The mid 90’s I had had some success in the show pen and was wanting to expand what I was doing with the horses. We were raising some of our own and buying a few and had a small herd of cows so along with the flying we were plenty busy.
A friend of mine told that the cow boss at the feedlot was looking for someone to start colts. I gave him a call and picked up the first 2 of many the fall of 1994.
When you talk about wild horses these colts were the wildest of the wild. Biting, striking, kicking; if they couldn’t get away from you they would put you in the emergency room or the morgue. My wife wasn’t sure that I had made a great decision and to be honest, I wasn’t sure either.
The first 2 colts were polar opposites. A big brown colt I sent back and told the cow boss I didn’t want my name on the horse, I could start him but was certain he would hurt someone down the road. The second colt was a full brother to another horse that they had in the feedlot and was a peach to start. We’ll call them Hank and Cowboy for easy reference. Hank was the peach and although later on when I would spend some winter months in the feedlot I never got to use him, I rode his full brother; they were great using horses, solid and dependable.
Cowboy, after I sent him back, another feedlot pen rider wanted to finish him so the cow boss said ‘go ahead’. That young rider got hung up on the horse and went around the round pen 3 or 4 times before coming loose; he could have been killed. He stuck it out and got the horse usable but the horse was a hand full and even as an aged horse you could never relax with him or trust him. Some of the pen riders refused to use him; I understood why. He and another horse that tried to kill me, a horse they named ‘Short Timer’, I would end up using. They were pretty much what they were from the cradle to the grave. The cow boss loved Short Timer, I hated the horse, which is a big statement for me because hate is a big word as well as a burden to me. Cowboy I never hated and he was very usable but I never, I mean never, relaxed with him and trust was a qualified statement when it came to Cowboy.
The following spring of 1995 the cow boss sent me 2 more colts and one was very close to Cowboy in disposition but I got him going and although a bronc was a good feedlot horse. He was cowy and tough and good to rope off of.
Pen riders are not open range cowboys or at least in the feedlot they are pen riders and roping anything was rarely a good idea. Each rider had thousands of cattle to check every day and roping is time consuming. A lot of the pen riders I rode with were dangerous to rope with and I have been known to take ones rope away from him, or her. If they want to get their selves killed roping that’s their call but I’d rather not get killed with them. That is not to say that I am a great roper but I can rope and have yet to be consider a hazard at a roping.
Several of the horses that I was assigned to use had been soured on roping by riders that would start something that they were incapable of finishing. Some of the horses I was able to bring around but most were done for and dangerous when it came to roping. It could be a handy tool for turning a steer over but it wasn’t worth getting hurt. The vet crew could always go out and roll one upright.
The other horse that I had the spring of 95 broke his back fighting in my round pen. We worked on him but he never got up and I shot him the next morning. Both the cow boss and the feedlot boss said it was better that he did it there than in the feedlot with a cowboy on his back. I always figured it was better that he did it before I got on him but I didn’t say that to them. My job was to start their colts and so far I was running a 50% average. Things leveled out after that and over the next several years I lost track of how many colts I started for them.
The colt that broke his back was a beautiful Seal brown horse and he wasn’t tough to rope and halter but he got on the fight the first time I tied him up and flipped himself over and never got up. No warning, it just happened.
I had to rope everything from the back of another horse to halter them and get my hands on them the first few times. Several of them came across my horse trying to get me but were unsuccessful. I know someone out there reading this is going to think ‘man, you don’t know beans from apple sauce about ground work’, you are welcome to think what you want but until you start these kind of colts you have no idea whats in store.
My second oldest son Scott, wanted to help with these colts but I wouldn’t let him at first. Later on we started getting some with not quite so much fight and I put him to work. He was a couple of years older by then and that made a huge difference but I still got him stomped and bucked off a time or too. I picked through the ones I would let him help me with at first but later on there wasn’t much I couldn’t turn him loose with.
I had several close calls with these colts but the closest was with Short Timer.
Quite often a horse that fights like a cougar at first will come around once he realizes that you are not there to hurt him; although you can get killed or injured in the process of convincing them of that. If you are good at reading your horses you can sense it and act on their response. Occasionally you’ll get one that is sullen or hard to read. Short Timer was that kind, sullen and hard to read. He fought so hard when I roped his hind leg for the first time that he blew his stifle out. I slowed the pace down and let him heal up as I worked him.
A few days later we were in my 40 foot round pen and my youngest daughter was watching. He wasn’t fighting a lot that day but I was unsure of him so caution was in order. I was a foot as he needed to be solid with someone on the ground around him. As I moved to his right side near his face he jumped forward, turned his hocks side ways and kicked me in the chest with both hind feet. Actually I was too close to him for his feet to get me and both legs above his fetlocks slammed into my chest. The force tossed me across my round pen about 20 feet. I should have been dead but by some carnal instinct of survival I had got my arms up and took most of the force on my forearms.
I ended up with massive bruises on both forearms and a button off of my flannel shirt made a neat little impression in the skin on my chest that was easily seen for years.
I got to my feet and after I made sure I had his attention I let him know how unappreciated that was.
I eventually got him rode and he went to work but was never very trust worthy. He tried to kick one of the riders through the wall at the cowboy barn and took a swing at the farrier; it didn’t endear him to anyone.
Where did I learn about horses, I’m pretty much self taught. By that I mean I learned from the horse. Yes I’ve had some great input from others in my life about horses but the horse has been my best teacher. I’ve never been to a Ray Hunt clinic, although Dale Harwood encouraged me to the fall I picked up my saddle from him. There was always something more pressing in my life like buying diapers or paying bills and buying groceries or buying a money colt and it was hard to get to any clinic. Never been to a Tom or Bill Dorrance clinic either. Having said that I think those men are awesome. I also believe that if they were still alive they would tell you that they never invented horsemanship, they were great horsemen because they learned from the horse.
Early in my adult life I read Ed Connells books and although they were a great source of information there was a lot of reading between the lines. I know it was about that time in my life that I decided I wasn’t going to follow one person about horses but would be a student of the horse throughout my life. Books and clinicians can be a great source of information but the horse is still the best teacher. A clinician that doesn’t help you learn to read the horse is of no value to you but is self serving in the sense that you have to return time and again for his or her help; learn from the horse.
Recently on the RFD channel I watched a Reined Cow Horse trainer say that Ray learned from Tom and Tom learned from the horse; I don’t believe that. Tom and Ray more than likely learned some from each other but both men learned most of what they knew about horses from the horse. You cannot start 80 to 100 head of Nevada range colts a summer and not learn from the horse.
I believe I have mentioned in another blog that I had 3 uncles who influenced me with the horses but another person I would give any credit to is a friend of mine from Montana. He was a great friend and a great horseman as well and he challenged me to get better. It wasn’t a written or verbal challenge but his passion and thirst for knowledge about horses fueled my own passion. I have intentionally left his name out as I have many others, if I start naming people I will leave someone out or possibly offend someone and that is not my goal.
I attended several reined Cow horse clinics in my pursuit to show horses and become a better horseman and have to give Teddy Robinson the award for being the best teacher of any of those. It was not that I didn’t learn something form each of them but Teddy’s personality and way of teaching clicked with me better than any others. After all the guy won the NRCHA 7 times; something that no one has come close to.
By the late 90’s or possibly 2000 the cow-boss at the feedlot hired an ex-submarine driver that wanted to be a cowboy and a top hand at starting colts. I was burned out on starting their colts and was plenty busy so it was a good fit all around.
I never kept track of how many colts I started for JR but it was quite a few, spring and fall for several years. When it came time to quit it was by no means traumatic for me. I was risking getting hurt on them every spring and it could have cost me a flying season had I been injured badly enough. Had I got hurt in the fall I would have at least the winter to heal up. But it’s like a good friend of mine once told me, “Brian, I can do my job in a wheelchair, you, probably not”. He was a Sate Judge in Utah and a former PRCA saddle bronc rider; he was right.
For what I was being paid to start them about all I had time to do was get them so you could catch, saddle, get on and ride; they could follow their noses, stop and turn and you could swing a rope off of them.
All of the colt’s would get at least one outside ride checking our herd of cows and more than a couple tried to unload me. I suppose all of that freedom was too much temptation for them; no doubt had they got out from under me I would have found them heading to Whickahoney. I mean what the heck, the Snake River, several Highways and a dozen barb wire fences shouldn’t be any obstacle to them.
Most cowboys consider themselves a hand with colts and few of them are near as good as they think. Some of the best I have seen with taking a started colt and finishing him had no idea how good they were. I think it was lack of ego and more professional pride that made them good. Often times they were the hands that made the cow boss look better than he was.
To see a rider throw a leg over a 2 year old at 7 in the morning and start picking on him and then see him step off at 5 that afternoon still picking on him was discouraging to watch. The colt had a half hour break at lunch but that’s still too much for a young horse. One of the worst cases of abuse that I witnessed was a colt’s tongue cut nearly off with a snaffle bit. How hard would you have to tear on a horses mouth to do that with a snaffle bit?
I’ve started quite a few colts since the Wickahoney Colt’s but I have never forgotten them or what they taught me.
This is about as lengthy as I want to write on a blog, I will do a follow up with another post on ‘riding pens for JR’. I have always been more of an open range cowboy than a pen rider but I had some great experiences in the feedlot and going in and out of gates all day and pulling sick cattle from pens in hock deep manure can get a horse mighty handy.