Written by Tom Moates
This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.68
The last issue of Eclectic Horseman featured a story on the Neubert brothers, Jim and Luke, profiling their unique experience of criss-crossing America for many years working as professional contract colt starters. It also provided a series of photos of them working colts at the Horsemen’s Re-Union back in April of this year with captions provided by Jim. A lot has changed in these cowboys’ lives in recent years, however, including both horsemen getting married and becoming less nomadic. Kelli and Luke Neubert were married in May of 2011. Jim and Summer Neubert were wed soon after. To get the very latest on the Neuberts and see what they’re up to now, we recently spoke with Jim, Luke, and Kelli.
Luke and Kelli have begun the new business, Neubert Custom Colts (www.neubertcustomcolts.com), from their home in Paso Robles, California. Jim and Summer happened to be at the Parker Ranch in Hawaii starting colts this October when Jim was interviewed—one of the regular stops Jim and Luke made for many years—but they, too, are spending a lot more time staying put in California these days.
Luke and Kelli
“Jim and Summer have been doing more traveling than Luke and I have,” says Kelli Neubert. “We’ve basically got a deal down here where we ride a lot of two-year-olds and take some older horses, too.”
Back in 2005, Luke and Kelli met when they both worked for trainer and Cowgirl Hall of Famer, Sandy Collier, in Buellton, California.
“We were friends for a long time,” Kelli says, “and ended up dating and getting married. [Now,] we’re here in Paso Robles. We’ve got a few different things going on in our lives. Jim and Summer and Luke and myself just traveled to Europe. We got back about five weeks ago, so that was kinda neat. Luke and Jim did some clinics. They did horsemanship, some roping, and some cow work and the four of us got to spend some time together.”
The European clinics were organized by Antoine Cloux, another participant in the Horsemen’s Re-union. He is from Switzerland and contacted Luke and Jim about doing the clinics.
“I think Frank Dominguez had gone over there before, as well as Martin Black and Martin’s son, Wade,” Kelli explains. “There’s a pretty small group of people [there] who are really interested in western riding. Antoine organized some clinics in different areas in France and Switzerland—horsemanship, cow working, and roping clinics, and it was really fun.”
Luke moved to Paso Robles about three years ago. His sister, Kate Neubert, and trainer, Morgan Cromer, work horses together nearby. It is a ten-hour drive north to the Neubert family ranch in Alturas where the brothers’ parents, Bryan and Patty, live. Jim and Summer are living now in Stonyford, California, about halfway in between.
“I moved down to this country because I was looking for somewhere to live and stay in one place,” Luke says. “I bought a horse and wanted to stay somewhere long enough to get something broke [rather than just put on the first few rides]. I stayed there for a year and a half and it worked out really good for me because I didn’t have to go rent a whole place, I could just rent a few pens from Morgan, and Morgan allowed me to do that—helped me a bunch. Nobody knew me in this country. I didn’t know anybody around here and just had a few horses to ride, just a handful for the first year. It’s just grown into where I’ve got more than I can ride.”
Kelli moved to the area about two years ago and was caretaking a little bed and breakfast north of town. They were married in May of 2011 and moved into the place where she was living. In September of that year, they began renting the property where they are now.
“We have an apartment in the barn,” Kelli says. “We have 14 paddocks. Some of them are multiple horse and some of them are just single. We have a 10-stall barn. I actually have a milk cow here right now. We’ve got a handful of steers. A lot of people send their two-year-olds here and want to get them started on a cow. So we’ve got a flag set up and we are going to have a couple buffalo here probably within the next month that we can work. Mostly, he [Luke] and I are doing everything at our place. So, a lot of the stuff he would do when he would travel we’re still doing here out of this place. We’re just not going anywhere—we’ve got a permanent address now.”
Repeat business (even though Luke and Kelli only have been in the area a few years) is a sizable percentage of their work already. Kelli says their Website and Facebook page help get their contact information out to the public, but the best advertisement simply has been word of mouth.
“We’ve been really blessed,” she says. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming. We’ve got our horses lined out at least through Christmas and now we’ve got people calling, ‘Hey, I’ve got this horse that’s bucking, can you take him for two weeks?’ I hadn’t even factored this kind of time in. It’s fun being part of something that Luke’s built up. It’s been really successful and we’ve been really lucky to be here. Paso Robles has been good to us in that way. There are a lot of young people that are interested in the same things we are, so we’ve got a really cool little community that we’re part of as well.”
Luke echoes those sentiments and seems very content to work year-round at a home base at this stage in his career. It also allows him the opportunity to expanding his equine knowledge base by showing some horses as well.
“We’ve lived at the place where we are now about a year,” Luke says. “Pretty much what we do is we start colts and ride horses that anybody’s having any kind of problems with. I want to show some horses a little bit more. I don’t show very good, and you’ve got to do something to get better at it. I start a lot of performance horses and it’s helped me—the more that I go show, it helps me more with my colts at home because I kinda have a better idea of what people want. I feel you can get more done on them or have them more ready for the people because you have a better idea of what they would like. If you [always] just ride them the first month or so—I’m not saying that we didn’t do a good job—but I feel like I do a better job if I have an idea of what I want in the end picture. Sometimes I get too ‘one-month-minded.’ When you go show, you realize more stuff you don’t need or there’s things that you need more of. So that’s helped me quite a bit.
“So that’s what we do, just ride some colts here and try and keep it simple. I’m not looking to be a cutting horse trainer or anything like that. We’ve got a pretty good little niche. A lot of people don’t like to ride two-year-olds and that’s something that we don’t mind doing. It’s just worked out good for us. We’re very blessed down here.”
Kelli began riding at eight years old and bought her first horse when she was 11. She gained some ranching experience in Colorado when she helped take care of cattle on the place where she lived in exchange for her board while completing her degree in journalism.
“We [Luke and Kelli] are the ones that ride everything,” Kelli says of Neubert Custom Colts. “A lot of them are cutting and reining cow horses. But we do have quite a few that go on to be barrel racing horses. We had a couple from the Horsemen’s Re-Union that belong to the Twisselmans that they bought back, so some of them go on to be ranch horses. Once in a while we’ll have a friend call that’s having some trouble with something. I have a few horses of my own that are my own projects that I plan to show as a non-pro. We both really like to rope. We try to rope whenever possible. We’ve got some friends in the area that we rope with. They like to show, so it’s a pretty good little community for us.”
The demand for their services grew so fast that already this year they realized they were taking on too many horses this past summer. That’s certainly a good problem to have in a fledgling business, especially in a sagging economy.
“I had too many this summer,” Luke says. “We were just really busy. I do most of the riding. My wife helps me a little bit, she’ll trot some around for me, and she helps me with everything else around here a bunch, but most of the riding I do, so if I get more than that I start feeling like you’re always kind of hurrying to ride the next one. I’m going to try and have only about 12 to 15 outside horses. That’s kinda going to be my max.”
Another factor in the quick success of the business, according to Luke, is how he structures it. He took a lesson from his dad in how to figure the bill for folks.
“There’s been a few things that I think has really helped my business,” he explains. “When I charge people, I break it down by the ride. I know that a lot of people, if you send them a horse for a month, it’s January first to February first and you’re going to get billed for a month of riding when a month’s been up. I don’t ride my horses every day. Once in a while I like to go surf, and we brand calves—we try and ride six days a week but there’s days where we miss horses because we’ve got something else going on or something comes up. My dad had a business when I was a kid. He pretty much did what I do now; he started colts for the public out there in Alturas [CA]. That’s the way he ran his. His deal was, if I don’t ride your horse you’re not going to get charged for it—I’ll charge you to feed your horse just like you have to feed it at home, but I’m not going to charge you to ride it. It’s amazing how people appreciate that. It might end up being that you save them 50 bucks—it’s not that big a deal—but if I go to a cutting for the weekend and my horse is standing around for a Friday/Saturday, then I only think it’s fair not to charge somebody.”
Another perk to his new situation, Luke says, is getting to ride a real variety of horses. It’s more enjoyable and keeps him out of a dull, repetitious rut—so that he’s not working a cow on every single horse every day, for instance.
“I think I learn more,” Luke explains of being exposed to greater equine diversity. “Sometimes, even when you have something around here that’s not a great horse, it’s not necessarily the most fun thing to go ride, but I’ve got to change to fit the situation and that’s been good for me, too. Kelli came up with the name, Neubert Custom Colts. That’s what I try and do. I customize my horses to the people and to the different disciplines and think about, ‘Where’s this horse going and what’s he going to do?’ That’s kinda fun, too.”
“It was kinda difficult for a while,” Luke confesses about starting up the business. “It wasn’t just real easy but now that I’m here and I have something going for us it would be hard for me to leave. I kinda like staying home riding my horses—I enjoy that. We’ve got a good place to ride. It’s kinda our own little deal and we’re real happy here. Good friends, and this country has been really good to me right around here. I’m starting to get repeat customers. I got no plans of leaving as of yet!”
Jim and Summer
Jim and Summer, like Luke and Kelli, are taking in outside horses and working them for the public where they’re living in California. Jim and Summer seem more open to traveling to start colts in the coming year which is reflected in the website Jim is putting together: www.travelinghorsemen.com. Jim says the site is not yet live, but its design is nearly complete and should be online soon.
“Since we [the brothers Neubert] both got married, we’re both kind of staying home in California a little more,” Jim says. “I came over here to Hawaii and that’s the only place I went all year [to start colts]. Soon as I get back I’m gonna ride some outside horses and just spend the winter in Stonyford, California. It’s north of Sacramento getting into the coastal hills there. A friend of ours has got a ranch there so we’re going to spend the winter on that ranch. We’ve got an arena and a round corral. We ride maybe 12 or 15 at the most if my wife is helping me.”
Summer is a nurse but has been working with Jim quite a bit and not nursing since they got married.
“She helps me a lot,” Jim says. “If she helps me then I’ll take a few more. If she goes and does some nursing then I won’t. Her family has got a ranch about an hour away from my dad there in northern California. And, [before we got together] I kinda knew who she was, but I didn’t know her that great. I helped her dad some, brand calves and that stuff.
“Her dad’s brother is married to Joe Wolter’s sister, so by marriage she’s related to Joe and so she was staying down there with Joe in Texas. When I was there at the Four-Sixes I got to know her. She was staying over at Joe’s house. So, we were almost neighbors there in northern California, but I didn’t really get to know her until I was down there in Texas. I think she’s a fifth generation rancher there in northern California. Her family’s been in that country a long time. She’s rode all her life on the ranch and she’s started some colts, and that, as a kid. Mostly just riding for use on the ranch.”
To get in touch with Jim and Summer regarding their horse training, call 831-596-2920 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure and follow them on Facebook www.facebook.com/TravelingHorsemen.
This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.68