The horses on the Parker Ranch are a specialized and important part of the ranch, both in preserving cowboy functionality and paniolo tradition.
I’ve written before about the beauty, functionality and traditions of the Parker Ranch, a working cattle operation in Waimea, Hawaii (located on the Big Island). Luck should have it that I find myself here once again, with my husband Luke, brother-in-law Jim Neubert and sister-in-law Summer Neubert, starting colts for the paniolos.
Usually when friends and acquaintances hear that we’re working on the island, we are peppered with questions. First and foremost, “What’s the weather like?” And no matter the time of year, I pretty much always answer “Generally very mild, predictable and pleasant.” (Sidenote: my apologies and sympathy to all of those right now on the mainland experiencing record-breaking heat!)
Following weather, the second most asked question is “What are the horses like?” And, as with most things regarding horses, the answer is generally a little more complicated than one simple sentence can explain.
The Parker Ranch has had a long history of raising horses for their paniolos, and it has tried many different breeds and crosses over the hundreds of years that it has been around. They’ve imported and raised draft horses and mules. There have been Appaloosas, Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, Morgans, and even Arabians on the Parker Ranch. However, the herd today is composed almost entirely of registered Quarter Horses. The annual foal crop is usually around 15 head, sometimes a little more and sometimes a little less.
The ranch has three stallions. Just Plain Chubasco, by Just Plain Colonel and out of a Parker S Ranch 3391 mare, is a 2007 sorrel raised on the ranch. Mr Blue Gunpowder, by Sixes Pick and out of a PG Gunpowder mare, is a 2008 gray stallion purchased from the Four Sixes Ranch in Texas. And Parkers Little Whisky, by Eds Little Whiskey and out of a Zan Gold Feature mare, is a 2009 bay raised on the Parker Ranch.
The colts and fillies are branded on the left shoulder with a freeze iron that corresponds with the stallion’s letter. The letter C is used for foals by Just Plain Chubasco; G is for Mr Blue Gunpowder; and W is for Parkers Little Whisky. The horses also carry a year iron with that letter and an identification number below that unique to each foal crop. And on the left hip they wear a P that stands for the Parker Ranch.
The mare power of the ranch boasts lines that combine cow sense with durability. The genetics include Talk About Smart, Gallant Major, Poco Bueno and Leo. The cowboss of Parker Ranch, Keoki Wood, is very involved with the equine breeding program and has been tying more modern-day cowhorse lines to the program via shipped semen and occasional purchases. The ranch is always looking to improve their program to both better suit the needs of the cowboys and also parallel the reputation of the ranch with quality.
Now from personal experience, I’ll tell you that these mares and geldings are certainly cowboy mounts. There are a lot of grays, bays, browns and sorrels. They don’t boast much flash, but they do have bone, size and stamina. These horses are bred to do their jobs and carry the paniolos through varied terrain while gathering, sorting and moving cattle. They are plenty big enough to pull calves to the fire and most of them boast speed, fortitude and grit both out on the lava rock and in the branding corral.
As far as the first two weeks of riding, the Parker Ranch breakers generally don’t behave like backyard bottle babies. These horses aren’t the gentlest, easiest or quietest horses we start. They take a lot of riding, roping and work to be seasoned and ready for their jobs. However, with a little time, they often turn into usable and agreeable partners for their Paniolos to take and use on the ranch.
When the horses are 2, after we have started them and have an idea of what their capabilities and personalities are like, the paniolos come to the corrals and pick the horses they want to add to their string. Different cowboys have different needs, depending on the country that they care for and their skill levels. Each year the crop of horses generally has something that fits for each guy.
The horses on the Parker Ranch are a specialized and important part of the ranch, both in preserving cowboy functionality and paniolo tradition. And although they may not be as mild or predictable as the weather in which they live, they are certainly just as special and significant as the island itself.