The Nature of Horses and Branding Cattle

Earlier this spring while branding calves I was thinking about horses’, mostly because the one I was using has yet to make me look good at a branding; I know, my fault right.

No doubt there is a whole crowd of folks out there that really believe it is never the horses fault, you are certainly welcome to believe what you want. I’m not trying to change your opinion, just trying to make a living as an author and a blogger.

Horses in my opinion are a lot like humans, they are pretty much what they are from ‘the cradle to the grave’. I know, once again you’re not obligated to agree with me, just my opinion. It’s not an opinion based on casual observation but an opinion based on a lifetime, my lifetime, spent with horses.

I’m not a clinician, nor do I train outside horses anymore or help folks with their horses. I just ride my own and raise a few now and then.

I don’t ‘cowboy’ full time anymore either. I know I would enjoy it but there are days at my age that I’d rather not get out of bed let alone throw a leg over a cold backed colt on a frosty morning. I still do a certain amount of day work and there are few brandings that I don’t make it to during branding season in Southwest Idaho. Anniversary is in September, my wife’s birthday is late June and mine is August. Actually branding on ‘my’ birthday would be a treat; just glad her birthday and our anniversary aren’t a conflict. I’ve known a few folks that weren’t lucky enough or smart enough not to get married during branding season.

The horse in question belongs to my wife and is the Palomino gelding pictured. Rebel, so aptly named, has a lot of good virtues; making me look good at a branding isn’t one of them. He’s a neat horse though and my wife loves to trail ride on him and quite honestly that is his forte so to speak.

The colt behind Rebel is Cinco named for Cinco de Mayo; born on the 5th of May, 3 years ago. Cinco was not difficult to start although a little flighty. Thirteen months after his first ride he found his eject button and unloaded me about 3 weeks ago; the little bugger can buck. I’ve been too busted up to get back on him but as much promise as he has shown I’ll figure him out. Quite a few days of cow work this spring and a couple of brandings without incident so I’ve got a lot of faith that he’ll make a good one. Although I’m no youngster I’ve got a lot of young help, folks with rubber bones you might say. Not that I want them bucked off but at least someone who can get him rode while I’m healing up.

The nature of horses you say? His momma has bucked 3 of my 4 sons off at one time or another so I suppose you could say, ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’. He doesn’t have near the temper that his mom has. She’s a using son-of-a-gun by the way; just don’t take her for granted.

I don’t know how many colts that I have taken to their first branding but it’s been more than a couple. The secret, if there should be a secret is to know your horses and make dang sure that they are aired out. Even a well mannered colt ‘fresh’ at a branding can be full of surprises.

Here in Southwest Idaho we rope both ends of our calves at most brandings and that provides for a lot of work for our horses making them just that much handier.

One of my biggest frustrations when I first started day working in this area is that most everyone would run their cows in, then step off and tie their horses up and grab some sorting sticks and go to sorting cattle on foot. It didn’t take me long to break some of those cattlemen from that habit. Those that chose to cling to their old ways I soon became to busy to help. Why hell fire they might as well of owned a ‘calf table’.

I know, forgive me for that blasphemy. Got a finger on my left hand that I’m glad to still have attached to me. Helping a neighbor in Montana years ago the finger in question got wedged in the scissor action of the calf table; his calf table. I’m sure that my Elk hide Yellowstone gloves are to thank for not losing that particular finger. Those type of gloves will hold a lot of blood before anyone notices by the way.

I’m getting off subject here, lets get back the nature of horses and branding cattle.

The 2 bits that are shown here are ones that we frequently use. The Las Cruces style bit with the 7 hanging S was custom built for me years ago by Rulon Christiansen; not sure I spelled his name right. Rulon was a WW2 Marine and one hell of a Silversmith. I’ve yet to use this bit on a finished ‘Bridle Horse’ that it hasn’t worked well. The other bit is an off the wall store bought bit and has a nice feel to it for in between the snaffle or bosal and a ‘Bridle’ bit. By ‘Bridle Bit” I’m referring to a solid bar with a half breed, Mona Lisa or spade type mouth piece. Some folks prefer the spoon spade but I have found the Spanish Spade with Santa Barbara cheek pieces to have a better balance. I double rein all of my horses with my spade bit even if they are never straight up in it; it puts a natural headset on them.

For my older horses I will ride them in the double rein at a branding if they are doing well with it, if not I will use the other bit often referred to as the star bit for easy reference. My colts are normally green enough that they are in a snaffle or a bosal for their first few brandings. I don’t wait until they are 5 or 6 to go to a branding or the hills, I want as much exposure as early in their lives as reasonable to everything that we will use them for through out their lives. Discretion is important as to how much is too much but miles and wet saddle blankets is what makes good horses.

Going back to Rebel he is a high strung horse and being penned in with a lot of commotion is not good for him. I’ve had colts with a dozen rides on them that were better suited for roping. We owned a 3/4 brother to Rebel that we called Diablo who was awesome to brand off of. Diablo could and would buck but it wasn’t that hard to get past that with him. He was smart and sensitive and I prefer those kind.

I was using Rebel at a branding several years ago and he was being rather unhelpful but I was getting it done, just not as smooth as I wanted. As I rode away from the fire after holding one down a guy on the ground stated that the chinstrap was too tight, referring to my horse. It took me a second to realize that he was talking to me and as I have known this guy for years and can tell you his opinion is of more value to him than me, it did not take me long to comment, ‘then he was born with it too tight’ referring to my horse once again. I rode back into the herd and healed another calf that had been headed and was being drug to the fire.

The owner of the cattle told me later that she was shocked that anyone would be so arrogant as to say something like. It’s not that I can’t take advice but it was inappropriate, the timing and the comment both. Considering that this particular individual and a friend of his had pulled a calf chest high earlier that day as they got to the fire, I figured he should work on his own problems and not mine. Killing or injuring cattle will not get you invited back.

Rebel is 20 years old, he’s drug calves to a branding fire from Southwest Idaho to Independence California, I seriously doubt he’s going to change; it’s not in his nature.

More than likely there will be ‘The Nature of Horse’s’ part 2; thanks for reading.




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