Ranchlands » women of the west
This young ranch wife trains colts on the Conchas River, 30 miles of dirt road from her children’s school. She drops everything to help her husband with heifers.
Interview and photograph by Tim Keller
As a young girl, Brittany Rouse dreamed, prayed, and begged for a horse. She didn’t get her wish until six years ago, at 22, when Don Rouse walked into the Amarillo grocery store which Brittany helped manage. They hit it off and before long she went to work with him managing cattle and horses.
Married and raising two kids, Kourtnie and Kyle, they took a job three years ago working a 40,000-acre heifer operation on the Conchas River north of Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Brittany had already done a good deal of colt training with Don.
Settling into the 200-year-old adobe ranch house that came with the job, Brittany answered the phone one night to find the caller, expecting the former tenant, needed a horse trained. He got Brittany. Her clientele has grown from there.
Training colts, it’s a lot like kids. I’ve watched Don, I’ve watched other people, but when it comes down to it, it takes common sense. Just like with a kid, what works for one isn’t going to work for another. You’ve got to be flexible. Sometimes you come up with really creative ways of getting through to them.
I’ve hung pots and pans from the saddle horn to teach a colt not to react to everything I do. He learns to ignore them. To train a high-headed horse, I’ve used a ball and chain that my brother gave Don as a wedding present.
We make what we need. Our opinion is, if it works, great. We’re not very shiny people.
The first 30 days they get a good base. It’s getting them over the scared, the crazy. A lot of them will start showing you their potential. They might be good with cows, or with roping, or barrels – they’re just like people, they have their specialties just like we do.
We have this Purple Cow that Don built. It’s a sled welded together from 2” pipe and a really good training aid. You can drag it and it starts helping them to log stuff, and to be able to drag in a branding pen. You can rope it and it helps them start learning where their spot is to rope. You can tie onto it in a setting that’s not crazy, that’s not nuts, that they can just learn and that’s the only objective they have. That way, when you get out where it counts, they know what you’re expecting.
I deal with a lot of 2- and 3-year-olds. The younger the horse – just like with a kid – the smaller the attention span. With a horse, you can push them so far that you actually push them backwards. So you take baby steps with them, and as their attention span grows, you add things in. It’s much easier to do it right the first time than it is to fix one after you’ve messed them up.
I usually spend 2-3 hours with a colt each day, weather permitting. The winds are too intense sometimes. You want to set them up for success so you don’t want to take a new situation and add scary to it.
The best thing you can do for 2-year-olds is give them 60-90 days of training then put ‘em up for the winter and get ‘em back out in the spring.
Every foot has a different brain. Each side has a different brain.
We don’t use bits on young colts. They’re already dealing with teething and the like. We start them on the 3-ringer, then move to the beetle hack. Some go to a bit for a spell, but with our own horses, they go back to the hackamore. It’s about getting into their heads instead of their mouths.
You always want to stop them on something they can do – not on something that’s new. So you release the dally and let them do something easy.
Wild Thing is my baby. He got his name from his attitude. He was a mean little horse. His full name is Chief Wild Thing of the Punkass Tribe. His mom is good-natured; she’s the one my son rides. Wild Thing is going to be a very levelheaded, very bombproof pony.
I’ve had colts come from Ft. Sumner, Roy, Tucumcari, Clayton, Santa Rosa, Puerto de Luna, and Santa Fe. Sometimes I’ll meet them in Santa Rosa. A lot of times people bring their colts here. They want to see where their ponies are going. Most people will call about halfway through and see how the horse is doing. Some like to come visit and actually see how the horse is doing.
As a little girl, I prayed for a horse every night, every day, ten times a day. My dad, as a young kid, was on a farm and he just didn’t see them as anything but stinky and messy and work. So I didn’t get one.
I was 22 when I met Don. He put me on a horse and I hated it. It was the most uncomfortable thing in the world. But the more I did it, I got a little more accustomed to it. It didn’t hurt as bad. I started working for Don and gradually started to love riding.
The first Saturday of each month, I drive 167 miles to Clayton to work an estate auction for Walter C. Hall. I’ve been working with Walter since 2006 when he had the livestock auction in Vegas (Las Vegas, NM). I do everything from clerking to cashiering to entering the data. I always take my dog Tater and one of my kids.
I will sometimes substitute teach at my daughter’s elementary school. The school bus comes right here to our house. With a little moisture, a parked car will slide off our road. But when it gets a lot of moisture, you can usually slog through it.
©2010 Tim Keller
See two more images from the photo shoot: Morning Light, Saddle