Aloha from the Parker Ranch
My experiences and impressions of Hawaii are different than most, thanks to horses.
By Kelli Neubert
December 22, 2016
When I used to think of Hawaii, my mind would conjure up images of palm trees, white sand beaches, sunsets and bathing suits. Oh, and let’s not forget about the delicious tropical drinks.
However, in my adult years, Hawaii has taken on a whole new meaning. I now think of grass-fed beef and wide open country. I see dark green flatbed pickups, battered old cow trailers and cool, breezy temperatures. I see big, strong, colorful colts that wear a “P” freeze brand on their left hips.
You see, I’m actually writing from the Aloha state right now. My husband, Luke, and his brother Jim have contracted to work for the historical Parker Ranch in Waimea and start the ranch’s horses for the cowboys of the outfit. This has been an annual occurrence off and on for about 12 years now. Jim’s wife, Summer, and I often spend our time assisting the boys with the horses and enjoy being a part of it, too.
The Parker Ranch is a pretty extraordinary place. It’s located on the Big Island of Hawaii and spans about 130,000 acres. The ranch is host to many areas of business, including ranching, hunting, tours and sustainable energy, but the thing that pulls us here from time to time is the horse program. The ranch raises about 20 horses a year and delegates them to the paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys), the broodmare band and the annual horse sale. Their breeding program strives to combine sensibility, looks, cow sense and durability, with the majority of the animals raised being American Quarter Horses.
While we are here, we basically have three sets of horses to work with. The 3-year-olds are the oldest set, and by the time we leave they need to be ready to go to work with their designated paniolos. They’ve been started as 2-year-olds but need polishing before they are ready to go to work. The preparation includes getting them as broke as possible, with lots of outside riding, roping and pulling cattle at various speeds, being shod for the first time and working on ground manners. There is a strong focus on getting the horses quiet, sensible and gentle. Before we leave, the cowboys will come and ride their horses and learn about the different buttons and knowledge needed to have a successful partnership with their mounts.
The 2-year-olds are the next set. Luke and Jim saddle them for the first time and usually put about 20 rides on them before turning them out for the year. Basic commands are the focus here, as well as exposure to as much as possible. There is plenty of riding in the round corral and outside on the ranch—both alone and with a group. The goal is to create a strong, simple foundation so that when we come back and they are 3-year-olds, they are easy to continue with. Each of the Parker Ranch cowboys will preview and pick the 2-year-olds that they want for their strings once they complete their 3-year-old training the following year.
The yearling colts are also a part of the process, and often they have had just a little bit of handling and education around humans. We work on getting them easier to catch and work with and practice trailer loading, picking up feet, general ground manners and saddle preparation. If time and their size allows, we may even saddle them a time or two. Once finished, they will be branded and turned out for a year, coming back in as 2-year-olds.
I look forward to coming over here because it’s a beautiful place with a rich history and vibrant personalities. I enjoy the horses, and we all enjoy the opportunity to ride and spend time with the Hawaiians. It’s a special place to ride and the people who work for the Parker Ranch have been very welcoming and gracious hosts.
And, yes, although my modern-day take on Hawaii slightly resembles my Texas life (full of horses, cattle and rattling pickups), I must admit—at the end of a long, labor-intensive day—we welcome the opportunity to enjoy a tropical beverage on a white sand beach and watch the sun set over the warm, Hawaiian sea.