Now based in Texas, California horsewoman Kelli Neubert logs just as many saddle hours as her horse-trainer husband.
Kelli Neubert spends much of her day riding back and forth. She helps her husband, Luke, start 2-year-old cutting horse prospects. While Luke works a 2-year-old on a cow, Kelli serves as the turnback rider, keeping the cow moving and pointed toward Luke.
Kelli began riding at age 8, taking lessons on hunter-jumper horses. She soon began riding stock horses, competing in local gymkhanas, team pennings and cow horse events.
She moved from the Carmel Valley of California to attend school in Colorado, first at Lamar Community College and then at the University of Northern Colorado. Undergraduate studies earned her a degree in journalism, but also led to a broad education in horsemanship as she started colts, worked on a ranch and completed an internship with California cow horse trainer Sandy Collier.
While at Collier’s she met Luke, who is the son of clinician Bryan Neubert and who specialized in starting 2-year-olds. They were close friends for several years before they began dating, and married in 2011. In 2014 they moved to Weatherford, Texas, and focused their business on training cutting prospects.
I TELL PEOPLE that I’m Luke’s right-hand man. I catch horses and saddle them. I move cattle, doctor some. We start colts together. Mostly I turn back for him as he’s working 2-year-olds on cattle. We don’t have employees. It’s just the two of us.
WHEN WE’RE WORKING cows, it can get a little mundane at times. Luke doesn’t talk when he works. I sometimes hum. We have satellite radio, so that helps.
LUKE SAYS, “You’re on the other side of this cow, and you’re doing just as much training as I am. If I need to stop my horse, but you keep that cow going, it doesn’t do any good.” So I need to be just as hooked as he is.
AT THE END of the day, Luke is quick to tell me I’ve done a good job.
WHEN YOU FIRST get married, it’s hard anyway. Then you’re spending 95 percent of your time together, and it involves animals that don’t talk, and you can’t make them do what you want them to. And you’re trying to work with all that stuff and trying to live together. But we’re four and a half years into it, and it’s gotten smoother.
MY PARENTS THOUGHT it would be good for me to ride hunter-jumpers. I spent a lot of time at the stable, and soon I wanted my own horse. My parents said I’d have to buy it myself, so I saved up $500. My grandpa matched it, so I got my first horse for $1,000. I found a stable and worked there to pay for boarding.
WHEN I MOVED to Colorado for school, I had more opportunities to do things with horses. I started some horses and paid my way through school.
DURING COLLEGE I worked on a ranch. It was a yearling operation, and it was pretty intimidating. That was a turning point in my mind, where I had to humble myself. I had ridden a lot before, and in my small area of horsemanship in Carmel Valley I was well known. Then I moved out to this place in Colorado. I had never been around cattle that much. So every day I was exhausted, trying to learn everything and take it all in. That was really good for me.
I FOUND BUTTERMILK [pictured] on Craigslist. She’s half-Gypsy, half-Quarter Horse. She was 4 years old and 13.3 hands, and I thought she would be a great pony prospect. Then she had a big growth spurt after she turned 5 [and now measures 15.1 hands]. I turn back on her and I’ve started roping on her. I’ve definitely had horses that were more talented and faster, but I have a real soft spot for her. She’s the ultimate little girl’s horse.
MY PARENTS INSTILLED a work ethic and competitiveness in me. It was like, “Well, you lost, and I’m sorry. If you don’t like the way this feels, you’re going to have to do something different.”
WHEN I COMPETE in horse shows or team ropings, I make myself accountable. If I didn’t enter a show, I don’t know if I would be quite so driven. It would let me off the hook.
ONE OF THE MOST exciting things is that this is considered an art, not a science. Because of that you’ll never stop learning. You can’t ever master [horsemanship] because there’s always something new.
COWGIRL SEEMS LIKE a word that’s used more on the outside of our world. If I went to town with my boots and my hat, that’s what they’d call me. But if I could pick something I wanted to be, I’d hope people would call me a good hand, and not a cowgirl.
This article was originally published in the January 2016 issue of Western Horseman.