A brand on a horse is more than a simple mark of ownership.
By Kelli Neubert
March 27, 2018
Branding horses means different things to different folks. For some, it may conjure up nostalgic feelings for the Wild West and cowboy traditions. For others, it is a way to put their signature and stamp of pride on the animals they raise or own. There are even others who feel that it is unnecessarily harsh and consider brands unattractive and unfortunate on an otherwise flawless hide. But to me, branding horses, though not imperative, is a wonderful way to have permanent, efficient, effective identification of the animals.
Some of the ranches and farms that raise horses identify their animals by multiple irons. I owned a gelding years ago that was raised by Haythorn Land & Livestock in Nebraska. Like many ranches, the Haythorns raise a pile of horses every year and keep track of who’s who by using numerous brand locations on each animal. My gelding had a 55 on his left shoulder, a 4 on his left hip, a G on the left side of his tail and a 05 on the right side of his tail. The placement of his brands followed a fairly common formula. The 55 represented his mare iron (he was out of mare #55), the 4 was the ranch’s iron, the G represented the stallion’s iron (PG Shogun), and the 05 was the year that my gelding was born. They were all hot brands, applied quickly and healed very clean.
Of course, the pattern and location of the different marks varies from one ranch to the next. Sometimes they are done with hot brands, and sometimes they stamp their horses with frozen irons that simply turn the hair white. I’ve seen some ranches brand their horses high on their hips, some who use the shoulder for the ranch identification iron, and even some places that utilize the cheek as a place to mark their colts and fillies. They can be symbols, numbers, letters or shapes.
The ranch iron brings both a stamp of pride and allows the owner of the horse at any time to know where it came from. The year iron is a wonderful way to know how old your horse is without having to look in his mouth or double check his papers year after year. The mare iron helps the ranch keep track of parallels and patterns between foals of different years. If there are several babies out of one particular mare that excel in the show pen or make great cowboy horses, they are more prone to keeping her around and breeding her again. Sometimes the pleased purchaser (such as me with my “55” gelding) might pay extra attention to any other foals with the same number on their left shoulders. And it can help a ranch determine who to breed a mare back to. Not all ranches have stallions, so the stallion iron isn’t always present. Some ranches may assign numbers randomly to the colts that they raise each year, but it’s often somehow correlated to the parental heritage.
Like it or not, branding horses makes for efficient, effective identification for the ranches that raise them and the people who ride them. In one glance, we can tell where the horse came from, who he is out of, who he is by and how old he is. If he’s ever stolen, lost or sold, there is a history and story that won’t be erased, wherever he goes.
And if you like him enough, take note of his brands, return to the ranch that raised him and add another one very similar to your herd!