|Montana's 15,000-acre Weaver Ranch
produces Quarter Horse foals bred
to become hardy ranch horses.
The stretch of Montana north of the Missouri River has endured little change through time. It’s easy to picture thousand-head bison herds grazing in the knee-high prairie grass at the foot of the Bears Paw Mountains, which burst skyward from the plains. Antelope are still the quickest creatures around, and the wind never stops.
Here, the weather sorts the weak from the strong. Summer brings long, hot, dry days with temperatures above 100 degrees. In the winter overnight lows drop to 10 below zero. And it can snow any month of the year. This land and its climate have sent many struggling families to the city. For much of the 200 years since Lewis and Clark ventured up the Missouri, strong men have shaken their heads in frustration and headed back down the river to eastern comforts.
In 1925, though, 29-year-old Elmer Weaver ventured through the region, trailing a string of horses across north-central Montana. His livery stable in Geraldine had burned down and, in an attempt to rebound from the setback and earn some cash, he was taking his horses to Chinook, where he hoped to sell them.
The Fourth Generation
|Stan is the fourth generation
in his family to use the AX brand,
first registered by the Weavers
in Montana in 1888.
Three-quarters of a century later, that fledgling 3,500-acre outfit has grown into the 15,000-acre Weaver Ranch, a horse and cattle operation, and breeding ground for highly sought working ranch horses. Elmer’s grandson, Stan Weaver, and his wife, Nancy, are the fourth generation to use the AX brand, registered in Montana by the Weaver family in 1888.
Each September the Weavers navigate 30 miles of twisting gravel road and another 75 highway miles to transport 100 head of Quarter Horses – primarily brightly colored weanlings – from their ranch near Big Sandy to Great Falls, Montana, for the ranch’s annual production sale. Buyers from 38 states and five Canadian provinces have attended the sale in which weanlings average more than $4,000.
Weaver Ranch weanlings, separated from their dams the morning of the sale, walk into the ring fat on mare’s milk and summer pasture. Their colors draw buyers’ attention immediately. The Weavers’ foal crops include plenty of palominos, buckskins, duns, roans, blacks and grullas.
The horse breeders deliver more than color, though. “The first thing I look for in a horse is bone and withers,” Stan says. “Then I look for straight legs and big hips. We breed for those 14.3- to 15-hand horses. They’re big enough to go all day in this country.”
The Weavers have purchased numerous outside mares to complement their homebred mares. The broodmare band now totals about 100 head. Developing such a group of broodmares, Stan says, is a life’s work.
“You don’t just go out and buy a bunch of mares,” he explains. “Anybody can buy a good stallion, but it takes a while to assemble a quality broodmare band.”
|Stan Weaver puts in a day’s work aboard
PC Joes Frost, one of the ranch’s stallions.
The stallion battery includes two Poco Bueno grandsons; the Doc Bar-bred Dox Smart Travaler; Ima Bit Of Heaven, by Smart Little Lena and out of a daughter of all-time leading cutting-horse producer, Royal Blue Boon; and PC Joes Frost, a heading and heeling horse, and past qualifier for the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show.
“I like the cutting bloodlines, but I’ve also got the kind of horse I want,” Stan says. “It goes back to the bone and withers. Our horses have to work all day and last all day.”
The Fifth Generation
The Weaver Ranch is a family-driven enterprise. Stan and Nancy’s son David lives in DeLeon, Texas, with his wife, Telicia. David worked with cutting-horse trainer Gary Bellenfant, and now trains horses on his own, including some Weaver Ranch horses bound for cutting competition. David and Telicia return home to Montana each year to help with the production sale.
Daniel Weaver, Stan and Nancy’s younger son, attends Washington State University, where he was a walk-on defensive end for the Cougars when they won the 2002 Sun Bowl. “He’s into the breeding end of the horse business,” Stan explains. “We talk mares and stallions. He takes an interest in what mare is being bred to which stud.”
The Weavers’ daughter, KellyAnne, and her husband, Casey, live on the ranch. Casey starts all of the ranch horses and preps them for the annual sale.
After each year’s sale the Weavers’ mares are turned out on Tiger Ridge, a mountain that juts a thousand feet skyward behind the ranch headquarters. The mares stay on the ridge until Feb. 1, when they’re brought in until the last of them has foaled.
Stallions are turned out with their respective bands from mid-May until July. On Aug. 1, the Weavers gather the horse herd, then begin teaching the foals to lead in preparation for the next sale.
As sale day approaches, prospective buyers make the long trek to the remote ranch country around Big Sandy to preview consigned foals and make some early notes about those on which they might bid.
The success of the Weaver horse program has allowed the family to scale back their cow herd from 700 head to 250. “We run Angus and black baldies,” Stan says. “We used to run a Hereford herd, then began using black bulls. We use Hereford bulls now, too.”
By focusing on the horse program and scaling back the cattle herd, the family no longer needs to lease additional grazing ground, and can keep their entire operation confined to their home ranch.
The Weavers take great pride in the horses they raise, and the fact that buyers come from so far away for the chance to bid on them. The key, Stan says, is raising a horse that’s bred to work and to hold up to the rigors of being part of a working remuda. The Montana horseman’s standards are at least as tough, probably tougher, than those of the bidders who travel to Great Falls each September.
“Any horse we raise,” Stan says, “is one I’d ride on our ranch.
Ty Wyant is the Quarter Horse columnist for the Daily Racing Form and a writer for Boulder Magazine. He lives in Colorado .