An outside-the-box approach helps barrel futurity trainer Melissa Brandt prepare horses for a lifetime of success.
Before Melissa Brandt could walk, she was in the saddle riding horses alongside her father. From 4-H fairs in early childhood to high school rodeo in her teen years, Brandt’s love for horses flourished — ultimately leading her to open Brandt Performance Horses in Hermosa, South Dakota, where she oversees a small breeding operation in addition to preparing prospects for the barrel racing arena. Although Brandt has a passion for training horses for aged-event competitions, she is quick to add that she rides with one goal in mind: developing the horse for a long and happy career.
Equinety: What do you love most about training young horses?
Melissa Brandt: Building young horses from the ground up is really fulfilling to me. When I get to swing a leg over a horse I’ve bred, it can be magical. We’ve picked the mare, we’ve decided what stallion to breed to, we’ve raised the foal, and when that young horse comes home from the colt starter with 30—60 days on it and I get to shape it into a barrel horse, that’s a really special process.
Equinety: How do you keep your aged-event horses wanting to work the barrels?
MB: It’s important to take things at the horse’s pace and not get in a hurry. Their 2-year-old year is a lot of light riding, just making sure they’re broke and using their bodies correctly. I keep things pretty light during their 3-year-old year, too. We check a lot of cattle and pasture ride. By the time they’re 4 years old, I’m hauling and exhibitioning them to get them ready to futurity.
The more I can be out of the arena with my colts, the more they love to come back to the barrel pattern. I try to spend a lot of time just long trotting outside the arena or riding them out to check cows. It gets them out of the four corners of the arena and keeps their mind fresh. The less I drill them on the barrels, the more they crave the work.
Equinety: You compete on a lot of 5-year-old futurity horses. What influences your decision to hold them for that extra year?
MB: I feel like most horses mature and gain confidence between their 4 and 5-year-old year. I like to let them grow up a little bit more. When I look at the big picture of keeping them sound, happy and loving the job for a lifetime, that extra year can make a huge difference. The more time I give them on the front end, the more time they can give me later, so I’m happy to give it to them. I’m not saying I would never futurity a 4-year-old, but holding them to their 5-year-old year is usually my approach.
Equinety: What’s your best advice for someone who wants to pursue a career training barrel horses?
MB: It has to be a passion. It’s a lot of hard work — a lot. The finished product is amazing, and the reward is worth it. Seeing a horse you’ve trained go on to win with other people is an incredible feeling. You will work for every bit of it, though.
Equinety: How were you introduced to Equinety products?
MB: I had seen ads about Equinety. We had an older mare that had selenium toxicity, and she had a lot of overall body soreness. I reached out to John [Dowdy] to ask if he had anyone who had tried Equinety for selenium toxicity. He hadn’t, but he said he’d like me to try it. It helped my mare so much! Her body soreness, movement, tail, coat and hoof growth all improved.
When I called John to tell him about the results we’d seen, we started talking about the possibility of putting our broodmares on it. Well, we did that and got great results with our broodmares. That made me want to try it on the training horses. It just grew from there. We have everything on it now.
Equinety: What would you say to someone who hasn’t yet tried Equinety?
MB: Try it! You will not be disappointed in the results you see. It can help in subtle ways, like a little more focus and ability to settle in colts, and it can help in big ways going down the road with muscle recovery and overall soundness. Hands down, try Equinety. I cannot say enough good things about it.
My horses are quieter, more focused, stand tied better, and when I ride them, they just feel better. Their coats shine and dapple out. It’s truly a supplement that works from the inside out.