Montana native Robin Blankenship is horseback on ranches and at sale barns, working to enforce brand laws.
Robin Blankenship has always lived within a 25-mile radius of the ranch she grew up on near Glendive, Montana. Her mother, Bobbie, raised Morgan sport horses, which the family used on its cow-calf operation and also sold to the public. Robin continues to ride a Morgan most of the time on the ranches and sale barns she visits in her role as a district brand inspector in Montana.
She started out as a local brand inspector in Glendive in the fall of 2014, and then became a “floater” between Glendive and Miles City. In March, she became the first woman to be named district brand inspector, a title her cousin, Bill Blankenship, held for many years before her. She supervises all of the local inspectors, livestock markets and cases that need to be investigated in four counties.
A single mother, Robin has a 20-year-old daughter, Riata, and a 16-year-old son, Bowen. She and Riata often compete on the same team in women’s ranch rodeos and qualified in 2016 and 2017 for the Western States Ranch Rodeo Association National Finals Rodeo in Winnemucca, Nevada. She also competed on a team at the Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association World Finals in Loveland, Colorado.
I’VE WANTED to be a brand inspector since I was in the eighth grade. I asked [my cousin] a long time ago about becoming a local inspector. In the fall of 2014 he called me, and I’ll never forget what he said: “Robbie, I don’t believe brand inspecting is something women should do, but if anyone can do it and be good at it, it’s you.”
SOMETIMES I’m unpopular when I have to enforce the law, but that’s the way it is. It’s really important to put the producers first to make sure they can take their livestock to the markets, and if there’s any dispute we’re there to help them figure it out.
AS A DISTRICT BRAND INSPECTOR, I have the same authority as a state [highway] patrol officer in Montana, and in the spring I’ll go to the police academy for training. Anytime you approach someone stealing it’s a dangerous job. My life is in the hands of God, so I try to not worry and be as prepared as I can be.
THERE’S STILL CATTLE RUSTLING in the 21st century, but it’s done a little differently sometimes. There’s a lot of Internet trading and they target cattle without brands so there’s nothing you can do about it. But when we can get the cattle back in the hands of the producers it’s really rewarding.
WHEN I WAS a local brand inspector I stepped out of my truck to inspect some calves and a rancher said, “I didn’t know women could do this job.” I replied, “It’s the 21st century,” and he left me alone the rest of the time.
I LOVE COMPETING in women’s ranch rodeos because You’re not just the fifth wheel or the token girl—you are an intricate part of the team and every woman has a chance to rope.
I GREW UP RIDING Morgan horses my mom raised, and I really like the breed’s personality. They’re tough and can go hard all day. I haven’t seen anything I can’t do on a Morgan.
I RIDE A MORGAN MARE my mom had taken in for a friend, and she ended up biting my sister and was going to be canned. I could tell someone had put a lot of time into her, so I bought her for $400. I named her Yuma because “you might be a bronc or you might not.” She’s the best little mare and I’m starting to use her in ranch rodeos.
IT TAKES A HORSE with patience to work in the sale yard. Thee best way to prepare a horse is to be selective about the type of cattle you work. When I’m starting a colt I get him used to the calves going by first. I don’t want to start him off with a set of wild cattle.
I HARDLY EVER saw my dad pick up a rope. We trailed cattle for miles, which taught me how to read a cow and influence where she’s going. That’s a big benefit in my job and in learning how to handle different cattle.
MOST BRAND INSPECTORS are farriers on the side. Me, I’m happy just having a team of Percheron-Haflinger horses as a project to drive at funerals, parades, weddings and to take cake to cattle in the winter.
WHEN YOU PUT a group of brand inspectors in a room you couldn’t find a more diverse group all wearing belt buckles and cowboy boots. But we all share one thing: honesty.
I CAN’T IMAGINE another job that would be any better than getting paid to travel around the countryside and interact with people cut from the same fabric as you, and that you’ve known your whole life.
This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Western Horseman.