Ranching Blog: Getting One Made

Ranching Blog: Getting One Made

Creating a great ranch horse requires time, effort and a lot of miles.

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By Jenn Zeller

It’d be nice to say a good ranch horse makes itself, but we all know that’s not the case. For me, the fun in making a great horse is the time it takes to get the horse to that place where he’ll ride to hell and back with you, simply because you asked. 

I’ve been riding my home-raised mare, DX And The City (“Cosmo”), for about a year and a half now. All summer, I hauled her with me to rodeos where I was running my big, yellow horse, “Avie” (No Average Joe 022). This mare got a late start in life, as her first rides didn’t come until late spring of her 4-year-old year. I would catch a ride here or there, but had so much other stuff going on, I didn’t get to ride her near as consistently as I’d have liked that year. 

Fast forward to now – spring basically flew by: I was dealing with a sore barrel horse that required trips to the vet 200 miles away, and a farrier in another state, so Cosmo hadn’t gotten to be used on the ranch as much as I had hoped. By late May, I was able to ride her at the first branding I got to attend that spring. In June, at our first of two brandings, I rode her for the gather, and then I got to heel a few calves on her. 

Our first-calf heifer branding is usually a head-and-heel branding, and if you’re riding a young horse, cracking it out at this branding is a good idea, because they can heel a little one. That’s not a lot of work, but they get used to the commotion of the branding pen and, of course, holding a live critter on the end of their rope.

Cosmo did a great job that day. 

Overall she’s been coming along nicely: Other than a few times early in her outside rides where we asked her to cross muddy bogs or when a set of cows was being pushed in her direction, she has taken everything I’ve thrown at her with incredible willingness. In fact, I can honestly say she’s never ever tried to sell out on me. At one rodeo this year, the stock contractor asked if I’d help move the bucking stock. There was a moment when she thought it might be fun to run with those big, soggy buggers, but I was able to talk her out of it. After we got them moved, we sorted them. She plowed through there like an old saddle horse.

This fall, I decided I’d camp on her for all the ranch work. And then, of course, like all of 2019 has been, life got crazy-busy again and I didn’t get the chance to ride her all the places I’d wanted to go. I did get to ride in our neighbor’s big pasture to help gather and ship their calves. The day before, it had snowed, and then melted off, so the ground was soggy. Typically, we drive into that pasture a little over 5 miles or so – this day we only made it 3 miles before the boss said if we went any further in the rig, we’d get stuck. That meant we’d be riding another 3 miles to the north fence before we started our gather. 

Her trot, well it was meant to go somewhere that day; through knee-deep muddy creek bottoms, to soggy gumbo flats, she never weakened. When I asked her to lope off to shape the herd, she said, “Cool. How fast?” and never offered to quit before she was asked. The last couple of miles required a lot of slogging through mud, and a creek that had water running past her knees. She had to stand in knee-deep mud to shape the herd around the corner, and then cross the creek when the herd had made the turn. To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure getting her to cross the spot in front of us was going to be quick – it was at least 3 feet across and full of water. She never once hesitated, charging through it like a mare on a mission. 

We finished our ride muddy and sweated up, but I was dang sure proud of her that day. 

I feel like this mare has arrived: she’s ready to be a full-time ranch horse – when she’s not on the road, helping take the load off Avie. As for riding to hell and back, she’s ready to do that for me, too. And I dare the devil to chase us – she’d outrun him! 

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.