Branding Iron

Blaine Northrop, Chief Brand Inspector


We recently had our first horse sale, and it’s a big sigh of relief that it’s over. Horses came from Iowa, Manitoba, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. People drove through terrible weather, even becoming stranded waiting for roads to open, all to buy or sell a horse.
This reminded me of all the times I brand-inspected at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) and Benny Binion Bucking Horse Sale in Las Vegas, Nev. Stock contractors drove for days trying to get the livestock to Las Vegas a few days early so they could get acclimated to the weather.
The annual agenda
Every year, Sterling Wines, southern region area supervisor brand inspector, and I would leave for Las Vegas the day after Thanksgiving and meet at the Thomas and Mack so we could look things over and meet with the people in charge of the livestock. The next day, we met with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association executive judges and started the process of brand inspecting and identifying the horses for the NFR tagging process. It was quite a job. After all the horses were done, we moved on to the bulls. That was another story.
Rodeo bulls are what they are. If they want to move, they will. If they don’t, it took a lot longer. I’ve never seen bulls that could jump like some of them did. The pen hands would move the bulls up the alley toward the tagging chutes, throwing cross gates as they came up. It never failed that a few of the bulls decided they had enough and would jump the 6-foot-high gates. By the time we were done with the bulls, it was usually sundown and everyone had had enough.
The next day, Sterling and I would inspect the timed-event cattle and then move on to the horse barns and inspect the grand-entry horses. We usually finished in the afternoon, then started the paperwork. For every hour of processing stock, there was an hour of paperwork that followed. We would usually finish writing brand inspections somewhere between 10 p.m. and midnight.
Monday morning, we would head to Horseman’s Park and start on the Benny Binion Bucking Sale Stock. We processed these animals every day until Wednesday afternoon. We saw a lot of wrecks. One I’ll never forget: we had just finished tagging a bull and rolled him into the holding area when one of the pen riders rode into the holding pen. The bull flipped the horse and rider so fast that the horse landed on the saddle horn, the rider still sitting square in the saddle. The rider was hauled to the hospital, but we never saw him again.
On Thursday, we shifted to South Point Casino, where the Binion sale was held. All the stock was penned in the tunnels. There, we would inspect and tag all the pickup horses consigned for the sale. When that was done, we set up to write brand inspections and watch every horse buck to make sure they had a tag. Every time an untagged horse would slip into the sale, we had to get to the mouth of the tunnel, brand inspect and identify the seller before the horse was lost. By Saturday afternoon, when it was all over, we both had enough. When we were done writing changes of ownership, we couldn’t get out of Las Vegas fast enough.
It’s kind of ironic. As I finished writing this column, Sterling called me. Now, we’re making plans to meet in Las Vegas this winter during the NFR. We both decided to find out what it’s like to actually attend the NFR and have fun like everybody else!