The Annual Colt Branding - Spur Headquarters Ranch

My aunt and uncle, Bill and Dana Smith, live and work on a ranch right outside Spur, Texas: Spur Headquarters Ranch. Every year the ranch has a big colt branding event, however I haven't gotten to go in years past because of scheduling issues. Thankfully this years I did get to attend the event (which took place on June 28, 2014 - not in August) and not only that, but I got to get in close and really create some photos to tell a unique story of a lifestyle that is, in some ways, disappearing.

I must say that it is much larger than I expected. I thought there was going to be maybe 5-10 cowboys out there trying to get the colts branded and the mares de-wormed. Well, it was closer to 30 cowboys and 20 spectators - plus a complimentary lunch - who braved the hot Texas sun.*

So, for anyone who is interested in seeing and aspect of contemporary Texas ranching, here's a photo essay to. I hope you enjoy it and find it informative!

*Unfortunately, I did not get to capture the very beginning of the day, which consisted of the cowboys driving the colts and mares to the pen. They did this around 5-6 a.m. when the sun was just coming up over the horizon.*

Just a little trivia. For those who are familiar with western chaps but don't know they're purpose: they're used to protect a rider's legs while they're navigating their horse through brush and other tough terrain.

Before the branding, the cowboys get the colts and mares into one pen. All of the mares in this pen were bred by a single stud, and there were four sets of colts/mares that were worked. Each group was divided by the different stud horses that bred the mares.

A colt and mare anticipate going into the chute. The mare goes first, because in order to brand the colts the side of the chute must be opened.

A mare being de-wormed.

After the colt enters the shoot, it is necessary to restrain them before branding. Unlike cattle (excluding small calves), which can be worked by catching them in a headgate, horses are less hardy and narrower heads, so they must be restrained manually. This process does not hurt the colts. It's actually done to prevent the colts from hurting themselves during the branding.

That's not to say that every mare/colt takes it in stride. They can get spooked and rear up while in the chute

One mare got spooked and reared up while in the chute, causing her hoof to get stuck in the gate. Many gasps could be heard as the mare struggled to free herself. 

Brands in the fire. 

And the branding begins.

And the branding begins.

Bill Smith places the second of five brands on a colt.

Bill Smith places the second of five brands on a colt.

Each colt is given several brands: on their rump, thigh, shoulder, and head.

A freshly branded colt.

After being branded, the colts rejoin their mothers in the large pen.

Unlike traditional branding, in which a heated branding iron seers the skin and hair of the animal, a freeze brand is applied by using a branding iron that has been chilled with a coolant such as liquid nitrogen. It actually damages the hair cells, causing them to grow white from then on. It is, however, more expensive, slower, and less predictable than traditional branding.

A variety of brands hang on a fence while mares graze in a pen.

Kent Moore from Oklahoma watches as the colts are branded in the chute and released to join their mothers.

The dewormed mares and branded colts huddle together.

Jimbo Humpreys and Carson Horner sharing a laugh while waiting for the next mare and colt to come down the chute.

A mare is roped in order to trim its hooves.

Bill Smith leads a group of cowboys as they return from moving the mares back into their original pen.

Jimbo Humphreys helped throughout the day with the branding and moving of the colts and mares between pens.

Jim Trumper also helped to make sure the branding went as planned.

Kim Lindsey is the director of the Texas Tech Equestrian Center. She is also a champion quarter horse exhibitor, having won first place at the 2013 Adequan Select American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show in Amarillo, TX.  The horse that Lindsey won with was actually bred from Bill's stud, "Ten O Sea."

After all of the colts have been branded and the mares have been brought back to their pens, a cowboy rests under a tree in one of the pens.

After all of the colts have been branded and the mares have been brought back to their pens, a cowboy rests under a tree in one of the pens.