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Horsin’ Around

Roger Thompson
Fort Collins, Colo.

The only thing most of us know about brands and branding cattle and horses is what we see on the screen of movies and TV. The one scene I like is with John Wayne, in “The Cowboys”, when they are branding steers before starting that cattle drive with all those little boys. He puts the hot iron on that steer and all the smoke boils up. “Been doing this all my life and never could stand the smell,” was Wayne’s infamous line.

I have been around it all my life, too, and the only time I can remember not liking the smell was as a little boy. Now it reminds me of the life and work I love to be a part of.

Brands are used to identify all cattle, equine, and domestic alternative livestock (elk and fallow deer) and monitor movement for ownership. In other words, brands help reduce theft of animals or at least make it easier to locate and identify animals that have been stolen or wandered off. It is the first thing I look for when finding a stray.

A brand is required on all animals prior to change of ownership or transported more than 75 miles or out of state. My Bay horse has a tattoo on the inside of his lip as a result of being on the race track. This is the reason I have never branded him, even though I own a nice little two-letter brand that looks nice on horses. However, my problem is that I haven’t used this brand in a long while and am thinking about selling it.

I think it would look nice on his right shoulder since he is a Bay color, and the freeze brand would turn out white. It would be the only brand on him and dress him up a little. The nice thing about using a freeze brand on horses rather than a hot iron brand is that it doesn’t hurt them like a hot iron does and you don’t have to fight them. Also, a freeze brand is not as apt to blotch, and you can use a smaller iron when branding. However I have branded horses with a hot iron and if done correctly they just stand and you don’t have to burn the skin as deep, so you can use smaller figures.

Branding has mostly been a western custom due to the fact that there is more open country for horses and cattle to roam on and a greater need for identification because of it. When checking cattle, I like to be able to ride up fairly close (without spooking the cow) and read the brand; that way, if a neighbor cow gets in the herd I can spot it and put it back where it belongs. Branding has been around for a long time and was brought into this country when the Spanish began exploring the New World. This may be why brand laws are established mostly in the 17 states located west of the Mississippi River.

With introduction of freeze branding, I feel it is a good idea to brand horses for identification. If you remember back a few years, there was a top roping horse stolen at the Denver Stock Show Rodeo. The horse was not located until later when the roper who owned him entered another rodeo and saw the horse being used by another roper. He immediately notified the local brand inspector and recovered the horse. The poor guy who bought the horse for quite a bit of money was left out in the cold because he had not had the horse inspected before buying.

Horse rustling is still a big business for the simple reason that a horse can be loaded into a trailer and be in another state before sunset (except in Texas.) Most state lines don’t enforce the law that you must stop and have the port inspect your animals, except in the case of cattle. I have only had the highway patrol chase me down and inspect my horses once in my lifetime. Another time when I paid $50 to get my horses inspected I stopped at a port of entry and demanded the official look at my papers because of the cost. He just looked at me like I had lost my mind and sent me on the way

Right now health and identifications on horses are voluntary but may become mandatory in the near future because of disease and cost of animals. This is just what we need in our growing society ” another law to try to follow.

I wrote this article because I was going to try and sell my 50-year-old brand, but after writing the article and the fact that it is such a nice little horse brand, I’m going to think about it for awhile unless someone offers me a good chunk of change for it.

Roger Thompson is a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.


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