He’s a tall lean cowboy, with a head full of horse sense and equine knowledge. On top of that, Ralph Lausten may have one of the most unusual businesses in America. He raises horses that have a very special talent ... they are bred to buck.
“They are not angry. It just comes naturally to them," he said. "I raise them out in the open country, no fences, no shelters and no people around; so it’s like they are in the wilderness. Running and bucking is what they naturally do.
“When the young horses are about two to three years old, I bring them in to see what I’ve got. It is then that I 'dummy buck' ‘em. The dummy is a device that you put on their backs in place of a live person. Usually they will immediately start bucking to get it off. If they don’t want to buck, I may give them another chance in a year or so. Those that just don’t want to buck I send over to Monty Roberts’ International Learning Center for the students to gentle and work with. Or I may sell an individual to be trained as a riding horse.
“Then I give my young bucking horses another year or so to mature with no pressure put on them. Once they get to a rodeo there is a lot of pressure. One thing that happens is that a flank strap is put on. This is annoying, although it is not put on any of their sensitive parts. It is simply used as a tool. When it’s put on they know that it’s time to buck. When it comes off, it’s time to quit.
”Six year-olds can take more pressure. The younger ones can be more easily intimidated and may even lie down which is a natural thing to do when playing out in the fields. It seems like giving a horse a chance to grow up and be a real horse is the best system. So I can go out in the field and pet some of them and others don’t want to have anything to do with a man. I have some mares that are still foaling in their 20’s because they are out in the wilderness being just a horse. They know what to eat and how to survive. But over the years I have lost a couple to mountain lions."
Bucking can be hereditary but that is not always the case. “It is not a matter of being angry, they just enjoy bucking. These horses are stout and big boned and can weigh 1,800 lbs. I have a horse named Icabod, that is 18.1 hands high and when he bucks he can get 6 feet off the ground! Probably, 80 percent of the great bucking horses go back to Shire and Arabian blood lines that were raised in the ‘40s by Feek Tookes in Montana. There are many good ones out there but just a few rated at the very top. It’s kind of like with the Thoroughbred race horses.”
How in the world does one get started raising bucking horses?
“Well,” says Ralph, “I used to ride ‘em when I was a kid and I entered a few rodeos. But then I got too busy working.”
Now besides raising these talented, athletic horses, Ralph raises cattle and also does custom farming. Then about six times a year, he hitches up his stock trailer and takes the horses to various rodeos.
“I always stay with them ‘cause I just want to be sure my horses are handled right. A rancher named Milo DeWitt is most likely the one that started the bucking horse competitions at rodeos. The season starts in April and the rodeos keep scores on each horse. Each is judged with 25 possible points. The two judges are on the right and left sides of the arena. Things that affect the scores are lead changes when landing, or covering more or less area in the arena. Cowboys will follow the scores of a horse’s previous performances so they know which are the best bucking horses.”
Do wild mustangs make good bucking horses?
“Not really because their first thought is to flee. You can see any horse that is about a half mile away and watch its ears and its eyes and tell what it is going to do. If a horse is going to make a break for it, one shoulder will be forward and you watch that. Sometimes they’ll appear to be ignoring you and grazing but they are really watching you. The smarter the horse, the more you can learn from it.
“Now, I’m experimenting with training them to be quiet and calm in the chute. This is important for the safety of both the horse and the rodeo cowboy. A horse that behaves well in the chute will have a better start on his trip in the arena, which allows for a higher score. And each horse is scored on his performance just as the rider is.”
Ralph’s arena techniques: “When I first bring them in, I constantly talk to them, always aware of the tone of my voice and how I move around them. In the corral I never turn my back on them, because some of them will run right over you. I’ll get about 40 horses in the corral and work them by myself. I am constantly moving. Once I get locked on to a horse, it knows that it’s time to go up that chute."
How long does a bucking horse last? Ralph says that some can go well into their 20s but as they age, many of them find other hobbies.
“The bucking horse business is really fun,” he says.
“I have great memories and sometimes the money is very good. At the sales the good horses can bring a high price. At the National Finals auction this year the top horse brought $64,000 and two years ago a bucking horse brought $105,000!“