Ranching Heritage Breeder: Mahlstedt Ranch
Matching lifetime partners is this Montana Ranching Heritage Breeder’s goal.
The customers pulling up to the gates of Mahlstedt Ranch are there to bring home a new horse, but most of them are repeat or word-of-mouth customers because of what else they get in the deal: The matchmaking of the perfect equine personality that will mesh with them and their human family for, most likely, a lifetime.
“We want our horses to be good using horses that last,” says Tana Canen, who manages the horse portion of the operation and who is a fourth-generation on the ranch. “Our theme is ‘color-class-cow.’ Conformation and disposition are absolutes. We like that short back, long underline, good slope to their croup and hip. Good feet or bone. The people who come and buy our horses are people who keep our horses as a part of their family and their operation for the rest of their life. So we really want it to be a good fit and the horse to be built to last.”
The ranch, located near Circle, Montana, was first homesteaded in 1912, and the fifth generation of the Mahlstedt family is now helping to care for it. There, the AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders raise Salers-Angus cross cattle, American Quarter Horses and farm the feed needed by their animals throughout a long northern winter.
Third-generation rancher George Mahlstedt and his wife, Jeanie, raised their daughters, Tana and Trista, on the ranch, and still live there. Today, Tana manages the horses, her husband, Ross Canen, manages the farming, and the entire family, including their three daughters Tienna, Alexis and Corinne, helps with cattle and ranch duties.
While the ranch raised horses from the beginning, their registered American Quarter Horse program kicked off in the early 1960s when they traded nine broncs, a steer and 40 bushels of oats for their first registered stallion, Punkin’s Poco, a son of Poco Blackburn with both George Clegg and Chubby on his papers.
Their breeding program currently consists of approximately 40 broodmares and four stallions. The stallion battery is headed by the 2007 blue roan Sanrose Blue Colonel, a son of Colonel Doc Bar Chex; and also includes the buckskin roan MRI Snips Spirit by Weavers Doc Ima Poco; red roan Can Man Fling by Freckles Ta Fame; and bay roan Sugar Irish Oak by Castle Creek Whiskey.
But for the family, their breeding stock are also their working horses.
“On our ranch, we ride the mares and stallions,” says Tana. “We only have two geldings, one old boy and one other one.
“We drag calves at brandings, we do pasture sorting, we do a lot of riding to move cows pasture-to- pasture up in the hills, so they have long hard days where they just go all day moving cows up and down the hills. Then our girls take them and will jackpot rodeo on the weekends.”
The small family is involved with every part of the ranch, and knows their stock well.
In August, they bring the pasture-raised horses in and halter break the foals. Soon after, the ranch hosts an open house, allowing customers to come out and purchase their selections. The majority of their horses are sold as weanlings. They list all their horses on their website and social media, and also offer private appointments for people to purchase horses individually.
“Repeat buyers have built our operation,” Tana says. “We sell all over the country. Every horse has its own page on our website so they can get a feel for the horse. Our philosophy is to have a personality match for the buyer and the horse. That’s best for the buyer, but it’s also for the horse, to make sure the horse is going to the right home.”
The family is dedicated to advocating for agriculture and helping educate people on their lifestyle. One of the ways they’re doing that is by giving back through AQHA’s Young Horse Development program, which matches qualified youth with a weanling from a Ranching Heritage Breeder. This program requires the youth to work extensively with their horse while competing for a scholarship at the end of the year.
“To me, when you match a youth and a horse, you’re making a life for both of them and that’s more important than any competing they’ll do,” Tana says.
To date, the ranch has donated four horses to the program, most recently 2021 participant Isobel Cook, who received the filly MRI Redeemed Spirit.
“It’s been fun,” Tana says. “I like to meet the youth, I like it when they come to get the horse so I can meet them and get to know them and their family.”
It’s just part of a bigger plan, and promoting what has sustained a way of life for generations.
“We consider one of our most important purposes in agriculture is to be advocates for agriculture,” Tana says. “We are always trying to let people know about the agriculture industry, how we’re raising these animals humanely and doing our best to raise the animals and the environment – be the best stewards of it because God’s given it to us, so we take good care of it, and we want to share that with everybody.
“When people come, we’re telling them about our land, our industry, the wildlife on our place. It’s kind of our education platform, so when people come to see our horses, they get to see Montana agriculture. They can’t even comprehend what it’s like to live on a place where the animals run free, where their food comes from, how much work and tears go into it along with the joy of working together as a family.”
The AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder program highlights working cattle ranches that breed high-quality American Quarter Horses primarily for ranch work. Horses bred by these ranches are given unique opportunities through Ranching Heritage competitions open only to these horses. For more information, visit www.aqha.com/ranching.