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Beaver and Rooster the Belgian draft horses


Beaver and Rooster came to us from the National Park Service’s Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Deer Lodge, Montana. The ranch was once the headquarters of a 10-million acre cattle empire in the 1800’s. Today it is a 1,500-acre National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service as a working 1860’s ranch.

Beaver and Rooster were the two draft horses who pulled wagons and other equipment at the ranch. They are half-brothers and were raised, trained and harnessed together their entire lives. Beaver and Rooster were immensely popular with visitors to the ranch, who marveled at the sheer size of these two amiable giants. (They each weigh about 2,000 pounds, twice the weight of a normal horse.)

So when Rooster developed a severe swayback condition and could no longer work, the National Park Service staff at Grant-Kohrs faced a difficult decision about his future.

National Park Service regulations and budgetary restrictions prevented the Grant-Kohrs staff from simply keeping Rooster there as a ‘pasture pet.’ Even if they could, this would be inconsistent with a true 1860’s ranch environment.

And because Rooster was official U.S. Government property, the staff could not simply give him away. No, Rooster would have to go through the auction process at the Missoula Livestock Exchange. But who would want an enormous 2,000 lb draft horse who couldn’t be worked? The reality was that Rooster would wind up in a slaughterhouse.

Could We Take Him?

Determined not to let that happen, the National Park Service Superintendent at Grant-Kohrs, Laura Rotegard, contacted us. Laura asked whether we would be able to take Rooster if she bought him at the auction herself, using her personal funds, and then turned him over to us.

Alayne and I hesitated. We were only taking in blind horses, and Rooster was neither blind nor even ‘disabled’ by our definition. We were also nervous about having draft horses because of their enormous size. Rooster was huge, and bigger than most Belgians. Could we handle him?

Alayne drove down to Deer Lodge to see for herself. On her way home she called from the road with her assessment: “He’s BIG!,” she said. He was also sweet, well-mannered, and gentle.

We pondered this some more. Finally we said ‘yes.’

Because draft horse teams come in trained pairs, Beaver could not remain at the ranch by himself. He would have to go to sale, too. Beaver was still young and healthy, and thus his chances of getting purchased by another draft horse owner were pretty good.

At The Auction House

On ‘sale day’ I drove to Missoula with the horse trailer and met Laura at the Livestock Exchange. We walked to the back feedlots where the hundreds of horses awaiting auction were penned. There I saw Beaver and Rooster for the first time. They were scared to death, huddled tightly, looking alarmed at the noisy, smelly chaos of the livestock yards around them.

We expected Beaver and Rooster to go through the auction ring individually, since one could work and the other couldn’t.

You can imagine our surprise when the doors opened and both draft horses came charging through. The auctioneer immediately began the bidding. The only words we could understand in his rapid-fire delivery were “bidder’s choice,” but we didn’t know what that meant.

How Much Is A Life Worth?

Only a few people were bidding on Beaver and Rooster, including the slaughterhouse buyers. With each bid, Laura would wave her card to match it. In less than a minute it was over. Laura had the winning bid at $650. The auctioneer asked Laura which horse she wanted, or whether she wanted both. Still puzzled why Beaver and Rooster were in the ring together but knowing there had to be a reason, Laura quickly said she’d take the two horses.

It turned out “bidder’s choice” meant the winning bidder could choose which of the two animals he or she wanted, or take both and pay the winning bid price for each. If only one was sold, the bidding would start over for the second, less-favored horse. The final $650 bid was actually the highest price anyone at the auction was willing to pay for Beaver, a working draft horse in great shape. No one would top Laura’s bid. That meant Rooster would have sold to the slaughterhouse buyers for far less.

Together Forever

On the way out to pay, we learned why both horses entered the ring together. The Livestock Exchange wranglers, who are used to dealing with bulls, stallions and other hard-to-handle animals, could not separate Beaver and Rooster. They would not allow themselves to be taken away from each other, and they fought the wranglers’ attempts to separate them.

That’s when Laura and I knew it was meant to be. These two half-brothers, who had been together their entire lives, meant everything to each other. Now they’d spend the rest of their lives together, too. I called Alayne and said, “We’ve got two draft horses coming home tonight.”


New Arrivals
Timmy the paralyzed dog
Joey the blind dog
Hannah the blind horse
Luke the blind dog
Claire the wobbly cat
Laddie the blind horse
Beaver and Rooster the Belgian draft horses
Madison and Bridger the blind horses
Honey the blind mare
Destiny the blind foal
Chance the blind horse

Kiowa the blind horse

Nikki the blind foal 
Scout the blind horse
Rocky and Hawk the blind horses
Faith the old, blind mare
Copper Kid the wobbly horse
Blue the blind horse 
Tonto the blind horse 
Marie the blind mare 
Lonesome George the old mule 
Lena the blind Quarter Horse
Shasta the blind Appaloosa


©2005 Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary