Raising four young cowboys to respect ranching traditions is the mission of this West Texas ranch wife and mother.
Candlelight dinners aren’t unusual at Rachel and Damon Mellard’s home. The rural electricity occasionally goes off or they blow breakers in their ranch house. Damon quickly lights a lantern and a candle as Rachel continues to fry tortillas and ground beef in a cast-iron skillet on the gas stove for their family of six. A moment like this is just one of many she has learned to adapt to and appreciate while living on a ranch outside of Marfa, Texas.
The 29-year-old was raised in Lovington, New Mexico, on her family’s sheep and cotton farm. She always knew, however, she wouldn’t settle until she married a cowboy.
The Mellards raise Braunvieh cattle—one of the oldest beef breeds in existence—crossed on Herefords and Corrientes, as well as horses they use on the ranch and show in Ranch Horse Association of America competition. In addition to starting colts and helping Damon work cattle, Rachel homeschools their four sons—Thomas, 10, Aiden, 8, Travis, 6, and Jacob, 4—in a classroom she created on the back of their house with a woodstove and old-fashioned wooden desks. Once the boys’ schoolwork is complete, they saddle their horses and do ranch work the rest of the day.
My family raised sheep and cotton, and in the summer my four brothers and me had to pull weeds out of the cotton. My dad would always say, “Cotton fields make good cowboys,” and he was right.
The summer I turned 14 my dad had a filly out of a mare he had bred. He said that whoever put in the time got to start and keep her, so I jumped on it and I’m sure glad I did.
She was pretty easy [to start] and I had her going good, but she did get her dander up and had some fits. I learned a lot about what to do the next time I started a colt. Our oldest boy, Thomas, rode her for years and she never blew up. We lost her a couple of years ago and it was hard. Thankfully, we have three colts out of her, and Thomas started her youngest colt this year.
I didn’t go to college because I knew what I wanted in life, and that was to be married to a cowboy and raise kids on a ranch. I don’t think a college education would’ve done me any good. I’ve learned by doing.
We aren’t big date-night folks. Our alone time is usually in the early morning or late evening, and we usually read the Bible or a good book that we can discuss. We have long talks about anything we haven’t discussed already throughout the day, and what we have planned for the ranch, cattle and horses.
Damon and I have been married for 10 years. My uncle says I “reeled Damon in with biscuits.” I always said I was never going to marry a farmer. I’d already had my belly full of hoeing weeds in cotton every summer while growing up.
In this country horses are ridden hard in rough, rocky terrain. When you give them a chance to rest, they’re ready [for it]. When we first got married, Damon worked for another ranch and we rode out from headquarters one morning and gathered cattle. The boss man had parked the pickup and trailer at the windmill, and Damon told me to ride back and get [the pickup and trailer]. My horse was good and tired, but she didn’t usually like to load in the trailer. As soon as I opened the trailer gate, she was so happy to jump inside.
I want to find out what a horse is like, and each one is different. I’m not going to make the horse; it already has its abilities. I just need to help bring them out.
Motherhood comes natural, and it gets easier every day as the boys get older and take on laundry, dishes, cleanup around the house and other chores. Being a loving wife isn’t always as natural, but I sure wouldn’t want to be without Damon.
The boys help us with everything. If we’re horseback, they’re horseback. They want to be involved because Damon makes everything fun, even opening gates. He always says [with excitement], “Who wants to get the gate?” and they race to be the one to do it. If you make things a game rather than a drag then they’ll want to do it.
When the boys ride into the arena at an RHAA event, they’ve done the work on their horses themselves. They practice their patterns outside in an area where they’ve beaten down the brush.
I sure hope [ranching] doesn’t change or get too technical or government controlled. We hope that what our boys get out of our way of life is to work hard and enjoy whatever God has called them to do. They come from a long line of cattle ranchers, and Lord willing they can keep at it as long as their hearts are in it.
This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Western Horseman.