Great Ranch Geldings - George
Photograph by Darrell Dodds
Brian and Mary Kate Hunts-Berger were not shopping for a new horse when they heard about "George," a bay gelding sired by Mylanta Lena, who was for sale.
The Huntsbergers owned a yearling by the same sire and liked him. Knowing that, Mylanta Lena's owner, the late George Hearst of Estrella Ranch in Paso Robles, California, said they should look at the gelding while they were attending a club cutting.
"We talked to the owner and looked at the horse, but I was hesitant," Brian Huntsberger says. "I didn't need another horse."
The owner had another interested buyer, but when that sale didn't pan out, she contacted the Huntsbergers.
"Once I rode him, I really liked him," Huntsberger says. "Since then, he has essentially been the same horse, just stepped up his learning. He goes along and does what I ask."
The 9-year-old gelding, registered as Oh Mylanta Lena, is a grandson of champion cutting sire Peptoboonsmal and is out of Coho Darlin Dior. When asked how the horse got his barn name, Huntsberger smiles.
"Well, George [Hearst was] a good guy and so is this horse," he says.
At 16 hands, George is big-strided and athletic, exactly what Huntsberger looks for in a using horse. the farrier and cowboy uses his horses regularly at brandings, to work cattle, and, occasionally, to compete in local cow horse or ranch cutting competitions.
Though George was only a 3-year-old when Huntsberger bought him, the horse was exposed early to everything from working cattle to roping, including being hauled to Smith Valley, Nevada, for several years when Huntsberger helped his uncle move cattle on Bureau of Land Management permits.
"George's size helps us cover ground. He is good and strong, and takes care of himself," Huntsberger says. "He doesn't get lonely out there working. He is big enough to go do what you want, but he is also athletic enough to run and stop and get where you need him.
"There have been situations where he has really stepped up. One particular branding, they had four guys roping all day, and I was one of them. The cattle were big, and tried to hook your horse. George took it and kept going even though he was only 5 and green. I was proud that he contained himself and we got through the day. In that kind of situation, not many horses are going to take it and stay honest."
Honesty and consistency are George's trademarks. Though Huntsberger doesn't work with any horse trainers, he continually learns from local horsemen. He says that watching the many top cow horse competitors, cutters and ranch hands in the area has helped him develop his own style of horsemanship. That knowledge has helped turn George into a sought-after branding partner and competitor.
"He is so trainable and had a good start on him when I got him,"says Huntsberger."It was no time before I was able to show him in [reined] cow horse. I started in a hackamore and then put him in the bridle. People see his size and talk about what a great roping horse he'd be, but I wanted to show them he could be more. We have entered some ranch cuttings and cow horse [competitions].
"The first time I showed him, I was naïve, but he is pretty forgiving. A couple of shows in, I scored a 219.5 in the reining and I was ecstatic. He has gotten me some notoriety because he packs me around so great."
Huntsberger credits George with helping him to become a better rider and horseman. Whether he succeeds or fails in a new event, he says George doesn't hold it against him.
"Instead, he teaches me something," he says. "It's hard to have a horse as good as him because I don't feel like I've worked my butt off to make him. I have to remind myself all the time that he is a special individual. He never gets mad or makes me feel stupid."
George has set the standard high for Huntsberger, although it is hard for him to compare any horse, including his younger ones, to the gelding in both attitude and athleticism.
"I have to try and bring other horses I have along, too," he says. "George is so solid, and I can compare my younger horses to him. I will ride my younger horses like I ride him, and I can measure [their reaction] to see how they are coming up. I don't try to create the same horse in my younger ones, though I wish, but I use him as a yardstick."
Mary Kate shows cutting horses on the national level, and her husband says she recognizes both George's athleticism and his unique ability to get the job done.
"My wife says we can never sell him," says Huntsberger, whose smile widens as he talks about his children riding George one day. "This horse is part of the family. I do get concerned when I think about him getting old or crippled, but he is not old yet. He is one of those horses that people love. I will show up somewhere and people will ask if I still have that big bay horse.
"Riding him at other people's events makes me realize what a neat horse he really is; he's not just another run-of-the-mill horse. George is a once-in-a-lifetime horse for me."