Horseback Riding

Colts by Contract

February 21, 2011

Colt-starting brothers traveled the country, saw a lot of scenery and rode a lot of young horses.

By Tom Moates for The American Quarter Horse Journal

An O-ring snaffle and light hands are essential tools for contract colt starters like the Neubert brothers.

Quite a few American Quarter Horse owners, breeders and trainers with crops of colts to start under saddle each year find that hiring an independent, colt-starting contractor is a sound investment.

“Basically, it saves us time … a lot of time,” says Todd Bergen, who keeps about 35 Quarter Horses in training year round at his Eagle Point, Oregon, facility. “The colt starters can get the 2-year-olds going, and I can see what I’ve got, then go right to training.”

However, Todd doesn’t let just anyone start his colts. “It better be someone you respect,” he says.

In 2008, two of the busiest and most respected contract colt starters, brothers Jim and Luke Neubert, were actively traveling the country, starting colts for several establishments. Todd’s facility was one of them.

“They were excellent colt starters,” Todd says, “very talented and both capable of being trainers themselves.”

Luke admitted that he could train horses but preferred contract colt starting.

“I’d get a better variety starting colts rather than riding the same horse every day,” he says. “I kind of liked going somewhere new. I’d make better money doing what I did and got to see more places. And there’d be enough time to enjoy stuff in between.”

Want to learn more about the Neubert family and their training methods? Watch Jim and his father, Bryan Neubert, along with Joe Wolter, start 20-head of colts for the legendary Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas, in “The First Week” 7-Disc DVD Set.

He and Jim also got a variety of scenery. Their yearly circuit took them from Texas to Hawaii.

“I think it’s real important for colts to get a good start,” Jim says. “It’s going to be the foundation for the rest of their lives – a framework.”

Jim and Luke are the young sons of well-known cowboy and clinician Bryan Neubert. Growing up on ranches where their father worked, the brothers have never known a life without horses, so their experience rivals that of many older cowboys. They also traveled the country with Bryan and their mother, Patty, and sister, Kate, going to the various clinics their father taught.

“They grew up on some really tough horses,” Bryan says of his sons’ early initiation into the horse world. “So now, they don’t run across ones they think are tough. And they’re talented. … I think they got that from their mother’s side.”

“We just grew up riding,” Luke explains. “Then we discovered we could make money doing it. People would ask, ‘We’ve got six or eight colts here. Would you come back and start them?’ We never advertised. It was just been word-of-mouth.”

Steady Work
The word-of-mouth occasional jobs snowballed. The Neuberts usually started their first young Quarter Horse colts of the new season in November and December, in California and Texas. These would be performance horses, usually headed for cutting and reining, and were worked early as long yearlings. The idea was to get the horses all the time possible in training for the 3-year-old futurities.

After that, the Neuberts would head off to the legendary Four Sixes Ranch in Texas, where they would spend the next two months, starting about 50 colts. Then the Neuberts would take some time off, help with some brandings around their home in California and pick up some smaller jobs in the western states for a few months.

Roll It!

The 6666 or “Four Sixes” Ranch in Guthrie, Texas, is featured on America’s Horse TV.

Next, they’d head to Hawaii in June for three months. Starting colts for the Parker Ranch was their main job while on the island, but Luke and Jim both love to surf, and they’d get in some time on the waves between batches of colts. Then they’d head back to the western states for smaller jobs and a bit of time off before the new season starts over again toward the end of the year.

Jim and Luke averaged eight to 10 head of colts each at a time. They’d spend a week or two working with the green colts, depending on the circumstances. The brothers’ horsemanship toolboxes were well-stocked, and they’d use any number of methods when working colts. They’d work with colts from the ground or on another horse, with a rope or a flag, sometimes in a round pen – they’d get the job done under any circumstances with good results and a good attitude.

“I like riding colts myself,” says Keoki Wood, livestock operations manager of the Parker Ranch in Hawaii, “but I don’t have the feel these guys have.”

“The First Week” DVD Set is an unscripted look at the work of Bryan Neubert, Joe Wolter and Jim Neubert as they go through the first catching, haltering, leading, saddling, and first rides on the young colts of the Four Sixes Ranch. Make the “first week” as painless as possible with the methods of these renowned horsemen.

Keoki oversees the ranch’s 175 horses and 16,000 mother cows. At the Parker Ranch, all the horses stay on the ranch for the working cowboys. The job the Neuberts would do, Keoki says, was so good that they have re-evaluated and changed their horse program. Because of the improvements the outside colt starters provided by coming each year, the Parker Ranch sees drastically fewer green-horse-related injuries on their cowboys.

Now, the Parker Ranch has a three-stage program for starting colts. First, the contract colt starters handle the yearlings – get them in a halter, leading well and loading into trailers. They also get them used to being saddled and will even get on them a time or two just to acclimate the youngsters to the gear. The following year, the colt starters build on that foundation with 20 to 30 rides, and they will put another 20 to 30 rides on the ranch’s 3-year-olds. At that point, the colts are going well and are ready for the cowboys to put them to work.

Dr. Glenn Blodgett manages the horse division of the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas, and was responsible for hiring Jim and Luke.

“They were very fast, efficient and productive in colt starting,” he says. “Some people could spend months doing what they could do in a few days.”

On the “Sixes,” cowboys still start their own horses, a fact they take great pride in. The horses Jim and Luke started are prospects headed to a trainer or sale for some type of cow event.

“They’d ride all the top fillies,” Dr. Blodgett explains, “and some stallion prospects. Their work helped us identify the better horses.”

Some of Jim’s colt-starting work can be seen on a video he was invited to do with his father and another clinician, Joe Wolter, at the Four Sixes called “The First Week.” Jim says he always enjoyed the Quarter Horses of the Four Sixes.

“Every year, the crops of colts would get a little better,” Jim says. “The breed’s improving. They are becoming more mentally flexible. I like to work a cow and rope. The Quarter Horse is the horse I pick.”

Over seven hours of footage is included in “The First Week” DVD Set, from live training to commentary, interviews and additional insights on riding, roping, riding out, hobbling, feet handling, trailer loading, cow-working, gate opening and much more!