“He’s a smaller horse [about 15 hands] with good bone, balanced conformation and a lot of muscle,” Reeder says. “He was started, and I liked his looks and color. He enjoys the job and likes to go. He will stand and hang his head over the fence if he doesn’t get to go.”

Though pedigree does not determine a horse’s potential for picking up, the Wards have ridden Bath Bros. Blue Valentine horses since 2004, and like their conformation and dispositions.

“We’ve had close to 80 colts from them and have had tremendous luck,” Dalton says. “The Blue Valentines are stout and have good bone, which gives them a solid foundation. They also have speed.

“I’m tall, so I like a tall, stout horse that weights 1,200 to 1,300 pounds. I want a horse I can latch onto [a bronc] without the horse throwing a fit or having a wreck. ‘Oz,’ the bay horse I ride most of the time, stands over 16.3 hands. He has speed and is as tough as nails.”

Billy Ward prefers horses around 15 hands for ease of getting on and off, and reaching down for flank straps and bronc reins.

Pick-up horses average about 15 hands, which is the right height for a pick-up man to grab a hack rein without having to reach too far. By Ross Hecox

“My horse ‘Ledge’ is 15.1 hands, weighs 1,225 pounds and is quicker than quick, and he drags a bull better than any horse I’ve had,” he says. “[A string of] pick-up horses is like a football team; you have linemen and running backs. Some can run and some block. He’s the whole package.”

Marriott, who has ridden both horses he’s raised and some he bought as 3- and 4-year-olds, gravitates toward geldings with racing bloodlines, but places the most emphasis on speed and conformation.

“Half of my string is registered and half is not,” he says. “I like a cross of running blood like Dash For Cash with cow-horse blood. I always thought Miss N Cash would make a nice pick-up horse. He had a lot of speed and cow sense, and his colts grew to be bigger than most cutting horses.

“I also want a horse with good bone, that travels straight and is built to stay sound. I’m short, so to me the optimum size is 15 hands and 1,200 pounds. When I started picking up, everyone rode 16-hand, 1,400-pound horses. That’s a long way to reach to get a bronc rein off the ground.”

Rempel, who stands 6 feet 2 inches tall, likes a horse between 15.3 and 16 hands, and one with speed.

“I want my horses to be able to run,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than trying to play catch-up. Plus, speed will cover up a lot of mistakes and get you where you need to be.”

Riding on a Horse’s Reputation
The physical demands placed on a pick-up horse start to take a toll on the horse’s body in its late teens or early 20s, and most are retired at that point. But that does not always mean they are permanently put out to pasture. Some of these bombproof, cow-savvy horses are still sound and can go on to be kids’ horses, while others are used for mounted shooting, team penning, roping, ranch work and recreational riding. Occasionally, another pick-up man will buy the horse.

Rempel retired his horse “Rainbow” after last year’s [2013] NFR at age 26.

“I have picked up on him since he was 5, and he’s the best horse I’ve ever had,” he says. “He was so good and liked what he was doing. Many times I’d ride him through a section and, at the end of the day, couldn’t recall being on him because he did everything so perfectly all the time.”

Horses like Rainbow embody the skills and spirit that make pick-up horses just as special as any equine athlete, a bronc rider’s best friend and the prized possession of their pick-up riders.

Article originally published in the July 2014 issue of Western Horseman.

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