(Editor’s note: Montana State University media release)
BOZEMAN – A Montana State University adjunct instructor who has made a name for herself as a horsewoman and a businesswoman is featured on the covers of two national magazines popular with equine enthusiasts.
Reata Brannaman, who since 2013 has instructed the colt-starting class in the MSU College of Agriculture, is the cover story for the August issue of America’s Horse, a publication by the American Quarter Horse Association, the world’s largest equine breed registry and membership organization.
Brannaman is also on the cover of the September/October issue of Cowgirl, a magazine with print and media formats that combined reach 840,000 primarily women consumers who are interested in the western lifestyle, according to its website.
Brannaman said she was surprised to be on the cover of both magazines, but proud to draw attention to MSU’s Equine Science Program in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences, and to the hard work that goes into its annual events, such as the Top of the West colt sale and colt-starting competition.
“It was also a really neat opportunity to get to talk about what I’ve been doing at MSU in trying to build the equine program the past four years and about my own business,” said Brannaman, who graduated in 2017 with a marketing degree from MSU’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and launched her western wear business, Reata Ranchwear, when she was 12.
Brannaman, 23, was a sophomore when she was hired to instruct MSU’s colt-starting class, which had been without an instructor for some time. Younger than most, if not all, of her students that year, Brannaman already had years of horse-training experience under her belt, gained from being mentored by three of the world’s most renowned horsemen: Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance and her father, famed horse whisperer and clinician Buck Brannaman.
In the America’s Horse story, “Her own way,” written by Mary McCashin, Brannaman shares how she grew the colt-starting class from 10 students and colts to a program that now boasts 20 student trainers and as many colts donated by quarter horse breeders. The colts – AQHA fillies and geldings – are sold each year to raise money for the equine program and funds go to support its students and for the care and upkeep of the horses.
She also talks about her growing-up years on the family’s Sheridan, Wyoming ranch with her two sisters and her mother, former model Mary Brannaman, and what it means to have Buck Brannaman as her father.
“I’m sure it comes with a lot of preconceived notions from people, but to me, Dad was always just Dad,” Brannaman said in McCashin’s story.
In the Cowgirl magazine story, “American Cowgirl,” written by Chase Reynolds Ewald, Brannaman shares her journey as an MSU sophomore marketing student who spent three years juggling coursework and teaching duties, while also running her business and helping her father conduct clinics and events across the country.
“I’m just really good at having a lot of irons in the fire,” she said in Reynolds Ewald’s story.
Now with student life behind her, Brannaman’s fire has one less iron in it. Looking back, she said she wouldn’t recommend anyone else take on as much as she did at such a young age, although she has no regrets.
“I didn’t have anyone to advise me against doing it,” she said. “Dad was like, ‘Go for it. You can do it.’”
This year, in addition to the colt-starting class and colt sale, Brannaman is teaching a course in young horse development and a one-credit, independent-study course in equine marketing. She developed the marketing course to recognize the hours of work her students put into developing a catalog for the annual colt sale.
“They learn to market a horse and talk to potential buyers and clients,” she said. “It’s a lot of what I learned in the business school, but with the focus on horses that they can use in the field.”
She also credits her students’ work ethic as a big reason for the program’s success.
“They put in 40 hours a week, and they’re required to do two labs a week,” she said. “How many electives would you do that for?”
What the students gain from putting in those long hours has more to do with what they produce than the thought of a high letter grade, Brannaman said.
“They like that they get to show a return for the amount of effort they put out,” she said. “These horses give the students something they can work toward and see results. They’re so proud their horses get to go to people who will enjoy them for the rest of their lives.”
Since she took the reins of the colt-starting class, some of Brannaman’s students have graduated from MSU and are now working or studying in various animal- or equine-related fields, such as veterinary school or the MSU farrier program.
“Some have gotten scholarships to go on the road and travel with my dad, which is a pretty awesome experience for them to get to go into the field,” she said.
Several have even continued on in colt-starting and have done well selling the horses they have trained.
“It’s cool to see students who keep doing it and know that they’re getting paid to do it,” she said. “That’s what I think college is about — learning what you want to learn and making it a career. Like they say, if you do something you love, you don’t work a day in your life. That’s what this teaches them.”
And as she considers the growth of her students and the colt-starting program, Brannaman also considers her own, and how her experiences over the past four years have changed her.
“Teaching these students has broadened my abilities as a teacher and a rider,” she said.