by Aspen C. Emmett
Nestled in the rugged Montana mountains, the Weaver family caries on a longstanding tradition of family values and foundation Quarter Horse bloodlines.
It was early April and a pesky spring snow whipped around the Bear Paw Mountains at the Weaver ranch as the last of the calves were hitting the ground. A few of the early AI foals were even beginning to arrive, but there was one baby the Weavers were particularly anxiously awaiting. Finally, late on the evening of the 5th, the family welcomed the six-pound, 14-ounce bundle of joy that is to be the sixth generation to ride the trademark AX branded, Montana-bred roan Quarter Horses.
The excitement exuded from Nancy Weaver when I spoke with her shortly after her grandson Wyatt Casey Terry was born. Family - that's what the Weavers are all about. Their ranch is founded on solid family values that shine through in the pride they take in their horses, the cattle raise and their everyday ranch operations. This is their way of life. Whether it's halter breaking the colts, tending to the finances or deciding which band to place a new broodmare in, the Weavers work as a team on every aspect of the ranch operation.
Big Sky Country
News of Stan and Nancy Weaver's first grandchild had just broke when I visited with them last fall at their remote Montana ranch. Perhaps "remote" doesn't exactly convey just how far out the Weaver's Ranch is from civilization. Big Sandy, Montana - a one gas station town where the Weavers get their mail - is more than an hour's drive from the nearest airport in Great Falls, Montana. The Weaver's youngest son, Daniel, gave me directions to the ranch. It went something like this:
Daniel: "Turn right in Big Sandy, at Q's," he said, as though there weren't too many options for me to miss whatever "Q's" was. "Go about two miles and turn left at the white signs onto the dirt road; turn left at the stage cabin; you'll go over a hill and there'll be a poll entrance on the right."
Aspen: "About how far is the ranch from the highway?"
Daniel: "It's about 30 miles from Big Sandy."
Aspen: "So, 28? And to the stage cabin?"
Daniel: "Right about 17."
It's a good thing I didn't get lost - there's no such thing as cell phone reception once you leave the pavement - just a long and winding dirt road and big sky country.
September is undoubtedly the busiest month of the year for the Weaver family. It culminates a year's worth of hard work and planning with a one-day, sell-all event in Great Falls. In one fell swoop, every weanling, yearling and saddle horse selected for sale in any given year is sold with no reserve on the second Sunday in September. I arrived at the ranch the day following their seventh annual sale - my timing was quite possibly the most inconvenient it could be.
The week prior, Nancy had played hostess to a steady stream of prospective buyers, many of them traveling cross-country to get a sneak preview of the weanlings up for sale. How Nancy managed to feed and entertain the various people that came and went through her home while they prepared for the biggest business day of the year, I can only imagine. But her spry spirit took it in stride - if she was tired, she didn't show it. I was amazed to hear the great lengths she had gone to in order to accommodate her guests. She knew their likes and dislikes - choice foods and beverages she painstakingly had prepared upon their arrivals.
I expected nothing of the sort - only the opportunity to visit with them and take some photos of the ranch and horses. The day after the sale should have been an opportunity for the overworked family to unwind, yet Nancy spared nothing and prepared a steak dinner. The Weavers' hospitality was more than generous to say the least.
Stan Weaver's personality is reflected in the horses he raises - strong, solid, honest and kind. While the evening light was settling on the Bear Paws, Stan took me on a tour of the ranch to see his prized possessions. The occasional bay or sorrel appeared in a sea of primarily blue and red roans. Bred with the harsh Montana mountain terrain in mind, the Weaver Quarter Horses are working cow horses with foundation bloodlines. Thick muscled, sure footed, and strong boned, the criteria for Weaver horses is clear cut: "They have to be athletic, and they have to have a good mind," Stan explained.
He went on to enlighten me about the history behind the horses and the land. "My granddad bought this place in 1925," he explained in his calm demeanor as he ran his hand down the back of a Poco Bueno-bred mare. "The Weaver family came to Montana in 1888 from Oregon and my dad purchased the first Quarter Horse in 1959. We've been running Quarter Horses ever since.
"My granddad started breaking horses for the public when he was 14 years old," he continued, "and when he was 16 he had 17 horses so he started at a pretty young age. The horse brand we use now was registered in 1888."
Montana is rough country and the Weaver spread is the epitome of true ranch horse territory. "We do get winter and it's tough to start horses when it's really cold and the ground is hard," Stan said of some of the challenges. "Someday maybe we can build a building or a big barn. Basically in Montana it's hard and you'll see that a lot of the Montana trainers will go down south in the winter."
Stan and Nancy live in the main house while their daughter, KellyAnne and her husband, Casey, live with their newborn baby, Wyatt, just up the hill within shouting distance. A college graduate, obviously as well versed in the business world as she is in that of the ranch world, KellyAnne is an even cross of both Nancy and Stan. She possesses her mother's engaging charisma (as well as her good looks) and her father's calm demeanor - to say she was more like one than the other is impossible. Her quiet husband, Casey, compliments her perfectly, and is without a doubt a substantial addition to the family's ranch operation.
The Weaver's oldest son, David, and wife, Telicia, train horses in Texas but return to the Montana ranch regularly to help, especially around the time of the annual sale. David is the spitting image of his father and seams to take after him in the personality department as well. Telicia, a stunning beauty, is also quite a hand when it comes to horses - a blessing to the Weaver clan I'm sure. Her inquisitive nature makes her a delight to be around and she fits in naturally.
Daniel, also bearing the same sly smile as his dad and brother, struck me as the jokester of the family. A pre-med student, he attends school and plays football at Washington State University but still manages to slip away to help out at the ranch whenever there is a branding and for the annual sale.
"This is strictly a family operation," Stan said proudly at the dinner table. "You're looking at everybody that does everything right here. We do the fencing, the hay the farming and we break the horses. We don't hire any outside help.
"It's changed a lot since everybody got married I guess," he added. "It seems like the skills the kids had when they were younger have just gotten better. David's always liked to break horses - he's been doing that and he's just gotten better at it. Kelly and Daniel - they really like the breeding aspect of it."
Nancy added that their children's marriages have been fortunate additions to the family. "Casey's really a good hand with the horses and David and Telicia work hand in hand down there in Texas breaking colts."
Although Stan and Nancy miss having David and Telicia live near by, they still remain an intricate part of the family business.
"In a way it works pretty good, David being in Texas," Nancy said. "We sure miss him, and I wish he was here but we send horses down to him and he's down there where he knows a lot of people. David's thing is starting 2-year-olds."
Stan said, that as their children matured, they've enriched the family's business. "As far as the program, I think it's just kind of expanded more with the kids being here," he said with the grin of a proud papa. "We're able to do more things - have more saddle horses. We're a family deal and we sit down and talk about everything. I always kind of put the mares where I think they should be but usually everybody has to approve it so we talk about things. It's a true family deal."
9/11 struck days before the sixth annual sale and the Weavers considered the fall out and the possibilities of canceling. But with the majority of their buyers expected from out of state, and a year's worth of profit balancing on one day, the stakes were high, and postponing was as unattractive an option as moving forward days after terrorism had stunned the nation.
Much to their surprise, buyers went out of their way to make it to the sale and the turnout exceeded their expectations.
Skip Land from New Jersey was one of those people who made a cross-country trek just for the sale. Land said he had heard by word of mouth of the Weaver horses and had planned to fly to the sale. However, when the terrorist attacks struck, he and his wife, Nadine, opted to hitch up to their trailer and drive to the sale.
"We viewed the horses on Saturday and really liked what we saw and ended up buying six horses," Land said of the year before.
Though now Land has a barn full of Weaver horses, he returned for the seventh annual sale via plane just to visit. "The Weavers are just such good, friendly people. It's a horse sale that, if you come and aren't prepared to buy a horse, you'll wish you had because you'll be back the next year wanting to buy a horse. It's a sale with a lot of repeat buyers."
Skips right. The Weavers are truly wonderful people and their horses are spectacular. It was all I could do to keep my hand down when the sweetest little blue roan colts came trotting into the pen at the sale the Sunday before I flew out of Great Falls. And the mystique of the Bear Paw Mountains at sunset after Nancy serves up one of her tasty feasts with her generous Montana hospitality is enough to make anyone want to go back again and again - I'd go any day.
Seventh Annual Weaver Sale Specs:
More than 500 buyers and bidders represented 31 states and three Canadian provinces.
The highest selling weanling by of PC Joes Frost sold for $46,000.
The highest selling filly by Ima Bit of Heaven sold for $32,000.
The sale average on 92 lots was $4,689.
Weanlings averaged $4,936.
Fillies averaged $5,403.
Colts averaged $4,600.
Yearlings averaged $2,000.
Mares averaged $4,114.
Saddle Horses averaged $5,040.