Horseman’s Corner : Meet Robin Blankenship O’Neill

By Nelseena Lehmann, The Horseman’s Corner

Robin Blankenship O’Neill – Her Background

When I was a little kid growing up in Southeastern Montana, my paternal grandfather raised high quality Morgan horses. I adored him, so I championed his passion even though I didn’t know what that was. One Christmas, my grandpa George handed us all an envelope and in each was the registration papers to a Morgan colt. My brother got Tiger, my sister got Squirrel, who proved to be a Squirrel, so she was traded for Fox and I got the little paint filly, Bunny. I talk about these horses like they were family, but if you spent as many hours horseback that we all have, they would be family to you as well.

The story to these horses was that Dad had started their dam for the neighbor lady. A pretty, small, tough bay tobiano mare. She was a really nice horse and instead of returning her to Ethel, dad bought her and he rode her, but found she was an excellent producer, so she was bred every year to Grandpa’s Morgan stud, Shawalla Major. She produced, Red Man, Bunny, Tiger, Wolf, Squirrel, Fox, Panda, and most likely others that I don’t remember. I could tell you a story about each of them and all good stories too. They were quick and quick footed and tough and not really fast, but they were all solid. Dad roped calves off of Bunny and she was 950 pounds at her best and she could stop hard and take a jerk and he had to switch the calves when he was roping or she would jerk them over and kill them. She was a beauty as well, beautiful dark eyes, delicate ears and an movie star face. She was special and I knew it.

Robin Blankenship O’Neill on being a brand inspector

Bunny’s was so quick and cowy. I was penning cows on her when she was young and she would stop and turn so hard that I couldn’t stay with her. Once I made the mistake of tagging her on the withers to try and stay on her, but that was her cue to stop when dad was roping calves on her. I ended up on my back underneath her looking at her throat latch. He would ride her in a pretty spade bit and she would run the cricket until it sounded like a chainsaw. He had a light little headstall and the reins were a scant 3/8ths and his hand never moved. He would let me ride her in the same spade, but when I was learning, he put grocery story string from the shank for reins. If I pulled too hard, the string would break and if I broke the string, I didn’t get to ride the spade anymore. Excellent lessons.

Bunny’s siblings were talented as well. Tiger went to Blairs for a ranch horse for Barry when he was very young. Wolf was rode and used a lot and Dad eventually sold him to Bill Loehding and Wolf outlived Dad. Bill was still riding him when he was older. He had beautiful ears that curved in at the top and almost touched. Such a kind horse. Squirrel went to Nebraska as a ranch horse, Fox was a barrel and pole and heel horse for youth rodeos and all of us kids rode and used him. I heeled on him lots and he went on to raise two different families of kids along with his lifetime side kick Skeeter. Skeeter was a book all his own. He was a bumb, raised on a bottle because his mother was struck and killed by lightening. He bucked my little sister off three times in one day because he could. I don’t think my brother was ever beat in the flag race or the keyhole race on him. We heeled on him and I was never beat in the trail class, because he was small enough he would load in the single axle one horse trailer. We won a trailer load of hardware on those two little horses. And Panda came along, he was the last baby out of Fancy and brother Jess did anything and everything on that little bay paint horse. He was so honest and so tough and so handy.

Full interview with Montana Brand Inspector, Robin Blankenship O’Neill

Bunny was my pretty girl, but I had certainly outgrown her. Bobbi Blankenship called, looking for something that Robin could ride. Robin was just a little thing with her curly red hair and a precocious sprite of a child. She was bright and determined and gritty. I knew how quick footed Bunny could be, she wasn’t bad and she wasn’t mean, but she was all business. Bobbi came and took Bunny home and I was so afraid it wasn’t going to work. However at a youth rodeo in Wibaux, I recognized the little bay paint mare and she was doing every thing Robin asked of her and doing it well and she loved that little red head. It was a match.

I get a little teary eyed remembering all the good horses I have straddled over the years, but I think horses and the good ones that go to someone else is a bit symbolic of a cowboy’s or cowboy girl’s way of passing the torch. Robin has grown up to be an accomplished cattle and horse woman. She holds a job that requires integrity and work ethic and it is a very important position for the state of Montana. She lives on a ranch, she’s married to Pat O’Neill my first cousin and I guess it’s coincidence, but it seems we have been kindred spirits for lots of years. I am proud to know her and I am proud she is extended family and I am proud of the western, accomplished woman she has become. If you ever get the chance to meet her, you have certainly got the best end of the stick. Good people attract good people, so both parties win.

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