Heather Labree's Story

For twins, a first event can be a slightly different experience. In the case of Heather and Hannah Labree, this event was choosing their first horse. Heather Labree remembers things slightly differently, “I don’t recall we got a choice, but maybe Hannah did,” shared Labree, recalling going to the corral the day her mother’s horse Tidy was handed down to her. “Hannah always had a sorrel, and I always had a palomino, so that just was the way things were for our first and second horses,” stated Labree. 

Heather and Heidi Labree on their first horses.The Labree twins before that shared a bouncy horse in the shop where their father did a lot of work on the ranch. Like most children raised on the ranch, the Labree twins spent a lot of time shadowing their parents in their daily tasks. “Our dad sometimes used some colorful language when we were working cows, and my sister and I picked up on it.” Labree shared with a chuckle, “We were fighting over the bouncy horse calling each other things we probably didn’t know what they meant. Our dad would hear us and laugh and laugh.” 

It made sense that Heather would have her own horse one day. Tidy was the perfect fit for her too. Tidy was raised by Labree’s mother from a colt, trained on the ranch and in rodeo, and was a trustworthy starter horse. “Heather’s great grandpa Doran and I went to Sterns Quarter horse sale and bought two weanlings. I picked Tidy and her aunt Terri Raye ended up with a horse she named Kitty.” shared Labree’s mother. “I trained her, showed her through the 4-H Colt to Maturity, and many other shows.” Labree’s mother rodeoed on Tidy throughout high school and college, competing mostly in team roping as a header, breakaway roping, Goat Tying, Pole Bending and Barrel Racing. Tidy was at her best during roping events.

Heather would ride the palomino mare in her first rodeo, where she competed in Barrel Racing, Pole Bending, Flag Race, and Goat Tying.

Labree, an outstanding roper now, would not rope from Tidy. Not for the lack of wanting to, but because her parents instilled the importance of knowing the basics from the ground. As she was just getting started on the back of a horse, like her sister Hannah, Labree rode without stirrups. 

Tidy could have a bit of a spark once in a while, having served for years as Labree’s mother’s barrel horse. Labree remembers one distinct day when old Tidy decided to turn up the speed unexpectedly, leaving her on the ground. “I was going around the last barrel to head towards home and she shifted gears on me. I stayed at third and she was by the out-gate. I wasn’t hurt, but I walked back crying. My uncle met me at the gate and said my mom would want me to get back on. So, I guess they made me try again.” 

Like many children with their first horses, the life lesson of getting back up when you are knocked down stuck with Labree. This grit is what she carries with her in everything she does, including in the classroom, on the basketball court, and in the rodeo arena as a standout student-athlete. 

Hannah and Heather would often ride their horses close to home together. “I do remember riding the shelter belt like my sister shared. We would pretend to be jockeys and race end to end. We were pretty wild.”

While Heather was a good yard jockey, her parents were not yet confident in their 4-year-olds’ ability to move cattle out in the pastures despite having good mounts between the two sisters. Heather was asked to stay close to where her folks could see her as she was learning the ropes of driving in the herd. “We were getting pretty confident, but I still stayed close to dad. I remember we had gone out a few times and saw what our parents did. Hannah knew we were always supposed to check over the hill for any stragglers one last time before we moved out of the pasture. One day, she just took off, saying she was going to check the hill. Dad was a bit stunned and looked at me and said, ‘Well, if your sister comes back we are good; if not, we will have to go and look for her.’ We just laughed it off.” 

Heather and Hannah Labree riding on the ranch with friends and family. Heather learned to take educated risks with the experiences with Tidy, and also how to have a lot of fun. Heather’s younger sister Heidi looked up to older siblings and would often ride double on Tidy or Hannah’s Taz when they weren’t busy moving cows. Tidy was an all-around kid’s horse.

As Labree got older, Tidy would be put out to pasture to live out her days. Tidy had many colts and was a great member of the Labree Ranch team. Most of all, the palomino mare forever holds a special place in Labree’s heart as her first horse.

Hannah Labree's Story

Your first horse can help you decide if you have a passion for riding according to Hannah Labree, a junior agricultural studies major from Ekalaka, Montana. Labree shared, “Throughout your life, you will have a lot of horses come and go, but your first horse leaves a lasting impression.” 

This lasting impression for Labree came from a horse named Taz. Named after the cartoon character, Taz was nothing like his namesake, as he was calm and gentle. Labree picked him out from the herd when she was four years old. Her twin sister Heather was with her and selected a horse for herself. 

Taz was her parents’ old horse. Taz was a sorrel gelding with a thin strip down his face. His personality meshed with Hannah, and the two became quite the team on the ranch. 

Labree would have fun riding him around for hours in the shelter belt of trees that surrounded her house. Hannah had easy access to Taz as he was in the pasture closest to her yard. “We would shake a bucket of grain and he would come in. My parents usually had to help me halter him, and then we would go for a ride.” Hannah remembers. “We were pretty wild riding around the yard and would fall off and be laughing. Then the hard part was getting back on.” To mount Taz, they would find a bucket or a fence post and try to get him to stand. Taz liked to step away at opportune moments and tease the kids trying to get on him. An older horse at that time, he was very quick-witted. Taz loved his rider as much as they loved him. 

Labree shared that her parents taught her to ride without stirrups. They felt this would help develop horsemanship and avoid the possibility of dangerous hang-ups. Labree was happy to have a horse of her own, as she spent the previous years riding with her parents on their horses. Taz gave her the independence she was ready for. 

Heather and Hannah Labree posing with their horses for their senior photos.The Labree children, with their own horses, were then able to help their parents with sorting pairs for fall shipping. Hannah recalls being excited to go, even though the day would turn out to be quite eventful. “Heather and I were supposed to keep this one cow pinned in a corner while our dad was sorting the calf,” shared Hannah, “doing what siblings do, we got into an argument, and pretty soon we were in the corner, and the cow was gone.” Understandably, their father wasn’t too pleased. “He was probably pretty annoyed that these two eight-year-olds weren’t much help,” shared Labree, “To cut the tension I asked him if we had our heads back on straight yet while we were riding home. He laughed and laughed at that one.” 

When Labree wasn’t busy helping her folks with the cows, she was following in her mother’s footsteps, pursuing a passion for rodeo. Labree’s mother, Cam, was successful in the sport in her own right. Taz helped Hannah grow this enthusiasm by being a really trustworthy and patient horse. “Taz made ranching and rodeo a lot of fun. I learned a lot when I was riding him.” A member of the DSU Rodeo Club, Labree still works with and trains her horses for different events.

Labree would have Taz until she was 10 years old, until he eventually passed from old age in his favorite pasture. “He had the best life,” shared Labree, “and he got to live it out on the ranch.”

This story is posted as it appears in the Heart River Voice (April 2024  |  Vol. 6, No. 4  |  pp. 18-19). To view this column online, please click here.