Ranch kids get well acquainted with hard work, traditions – and a whole lot of horseback riding.
By Tom Moates in America’s Horse
The cattle are gathered up. About 200 head are moving across open land at a steady pace. A dust cloud wafts up into the blue sky as the herd passes. An American Quarter Horse at the back of the bunch coaxes the cows onward. The horse is barely visible, as is the silhouette of the rider’s hat with big brims upturned on the sides.
You squint to see the rider under that big hat – he must be under there somewhere – and there he is, all 3 feet 10 inches of the little squirt. He’s just a kid who lives on the ranch, loves horses and knows for a fact that his heroes are cowboys, especially his dad, who’s riding nearby.
Family traditions are part of the weave of ranch life in the West, fostering the passage of knowledge between the generations who take part in this unique way of life.
So what’s it like
to grow up on a big outfit where your “yard” stretches endlessly to the horizon in every direction, and you see way more horses and cattle than people? Let’s ask a few ranch kids and find out …
Gage Moorehouse, son of Tom and Becky, grew up on the family’s ranch in Benjamin, Texas. He’s another generation in the family proving the truth of what his father said.
“I was born in Wichita (Falls), and I was raised there at the Moorhouse Ranch in Benjamin,” Gage says.
The ranch spreads out among 75,000 acres with a few thousand head of cattle and around a hundred horses. Over the decades, more than 800 American Quarter Horses have been registered in the ranch’s name, and in 2008, the horses’ top quality was recognized when the ranch received the AQHA-Zoetis Best Remuda Award. The ranch’s origins trace back to Gage’s great-grandfather, Edward Moorhouse, who began the family business of raising cattle in Texas and Oklahoma.
A big part of growing up on a ranch is training the horses who live there. With AQHA’s FREE Horse Training Fundamentals report, you’ll learn the basics of ground work, collection, shoulder control, sidepass and many other techniques. AQHA Professional Horseman Ken McNabb walks you through essentials.
“I lived there and worked there until ’08, and we moved here to Tongue River (Ranch in Paducah, Texas, when Tom became manager),” Gage says. “I’ve been working out here since then.”
The two major jobs on the ranch each year are branding in the spring and weaning calves in the fall, which are often called the “works.” When out in remote areas for days or weeks at a time, a chuckwagon accompanies the crew to provide food and other basic necessities. Cowboys often refer to these extended jobs as “going on” or “staying with” the wagon.
As a kid, “I got to go out with (the cowboys) during the works all the time,” Gage says. “(I like) everything about it … the crew and everybody getting together, staying with the wagon and sleeping outside. The country we get to work, the things we get to do that a lot of people don’t get to do.”
Gage especially loves the oral history that gets passed along on the ranch.
“The stories people tell around the wagon,” Gage says, “you want to be like those people they talk about. Go out living like they used to do a long time ago and trying to be a good hand. When I was real young, I used to stay out three or four months: now it has gotten to where two weeks will get everything done. When my dad went to high school, they’d let you out to go on the wagon because everybody had to. But I’d play hooky a whole lot, as much as I could, to go on the wagon.”
“I don’t remember not riding,” Gage says. “You go with your dad and follow him everywhere he goes. Obviously, your dad tries to take it real easy, but a lot of our country is real rough, and the cattle are kind of wild. He’d have to go slower with me, but he couldn’t go much slower. Then when he had to go pretty fast and I had to keep up and my horse would jump a creek or something, I’d fall off or my hat would blow off, and people would have to get off and get my hat for me because I couldn’t get on and off my horse without help.”
Buster McLaury is a name known to many horse enthusiasts since he travels across America teaching horsemanship clinics and starting colts. Buster is a generation older than Gage, hitting grade-school age in the early 1960s, but he also spent his childhood on big Texas ranches.
In AQHA’s FREE Horse Training Fundamentals report, Ken McNabb explains why building a strong relationship with your horse is crucial when training. He also goes through what to do with the first 30 days of training, explaining how to properly accomplish key exercises.
His father, Royce, was a wagon boss on the famed Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie when he was born. Buster’s early years were spent on that ranch, which spreads out over a quarter million acres and has been home to some of the most notable American Quarter Horses in history, winning the AQHA-Zoetis Best Remuda Award in 1993.
“There was a lot of horses there in them days,” Buster says about growing up on the Four Sixes. “When I was 10 years old, I didn’t think anything of seeing 150 saddle horses in the remuda, or three or four hundred cows thrown together. I just thought that’s the way it was everywhere. It’s all I’d ever known or been around.”
When Buster got old enough to go to school, “they promoted my daddy to foreman at the Triangle Ranch, which is out east of Paducah. Then I was 25 miles from town. So I rode that school bus a lot of miles. The old road wasn’t any count. There was another boy a year older than me that went to school with me, and when it rained, the school bus couldn’t get in and out, so we’d get the horses and trot out to the highway, tie our horses to a mesquite tree, ride the bus to school, then get back in the evening and trot them back to the house. It was six miles from the highway to the house.”
A few other kids were around the ranch, and they enjoyed quite a bit of freedom. They all learned to ride and loved it.
“We were all little – 8, 9, 10 years old,” Buster says, “and of course, it was all wire fences and wire gates. A lot of the old gates were too tight; we weren’t strong enough to open one. So we took a piece of an old rope, and you could put it on the gate post and around the gate stick and dally up to a saddle horn and let another kid get off and take the wire off, so we’d open and shut gates that way. I think on purpose, (the cowboys) took an old catch rope and probably cut it in two so we wouldn’t be roping something on the way! We’d been accused of that a time or two!
“I got to work in the summers on those ranches my daddy was running. The summer when I was 17, I went to work for the JY Ranch down there east of Guthrie. The next year, I graduated and went to work for the Four Sixes. I got out of high school one day and went to the Four Sixes bronc pen the next day.”
More on Buster, including his clinic schedule, can be found at www.bustermclaury.com.
Jim Neubert makes a living these days starting colts. He and his brother, Luke, have spent the past several years traveling across the country working together and even flying to Hawaii, starting batches of young Quarter Horses for various ranches.
It’s a career they came to naturally. They, along with their sister, Kate (now a professional horse trainer in Santa Maria, California), spent their younger years on the Las Aguilas Ranch in San Benito Valley, California. They are the children
of Bryan and Patty Neubert.
Bryan was cow boss on one end of that ranch back then and now is a prominent horsemanship clinician. Jim was featured with his father and another celebrated horseman, Joe Wolter, in the now-classic colt-starting video “The First Week,” where the trio started 20 head of American Quarter Horses at the Four Sixes Ranch (available through Quarter Horse Outfitters, www.aqhastore.com).
“On that ranch, they would get in between 20,000 and 25,000 head of cattle) a year. They come in the fall and leave in the spring,” Jim says. “My dad was in charge of the horse program there. We’d help him break them to lead when we were little.”
Jim started his first horse when he was 8. The next year, as the kids were halter-breaking nine yearling colts, an extended rainy period set in. Jim says he hardly weighed 50 pounds, and with work on the ranch temporarily at a standstill, his father suggested he play around with starting those young horses under saddle for something to do.
“I was too short to saddle them” Jim says, “but I would get a bucket and get them saddled up, lunge them both ways and get them up to the fence and get on them. Trot them around both ways, get my rope down, I had a piece of plastic I could pack around. I put 10 rides on all of them. I probably wouldn’t have done it, but it was just kind of rainy and miserable, so we were killing time. I was pretty little. Rode them all with my pony saddle and pony bridle.”
In AQHA’s FREE Horse Training Fundamentals, you’ll see that a strong foundation is key when training your horse, and you’ll learn exactly how to build this foundation with the help of AQHA Professional Horseman Ken McNabb. This six-part report is essential for the beginner horseman or the advanced trainer.
The Neuberts moved away from the ranch the next year, and another cowboy started the colts as 2-year-olds. He couldn’t believe how easy they were to ride, and years later, Bryan told him about the early start Jim had put on them.
“He said, ‘I couldn’t figure it out, it was like they had been rode but they were only 2. They were the best colts I ever started!’ ”
It made sense, since Jim’s life as a ranch kid revolved around horses – and renowned horsemen.
“Growing up there, we didn’t have any television. Pretty much all our heroes were either guys that worked on the ranch or friends like the Dorrances. Once in a while, Tom Dorrance would come over there, and everybody talked about how good a hand those guys were. So growing up, that was your heroes.
“I liked it. It was pretty much total freedom.”
Watch the video below to see Buster Welch be awarded the 2012 Golden Spur Award from the Texas Tech University Ranching Heritage Center.