By Jim Urquhart
“It’s been a wild ride. Thank you.”
And with that Renee and Kail Mantle closed a chapter of American history. On Sunday the husband and wife team held the closing ceremonies to end the last of 11 horse drives they have completed with their company, Montana Horses, after racing over 300 horses through the western outpost of Three Forks, Montana.
The duo, a redheaded former theater major preparing for law school and a tanned wrangler who is a former rodeo champion, have been operating Montana Horses off a plot of land north of town since 1995 when they started with just 14 head of horses. Recently the plot of land has grown to 500 acres where they lease hundreds of horses, each one of which Kail and Renee know by name, to dude ranches and trail ride companies throughout the west and in many national parks. The Mantle family has a long tradition of supplying and tending to horses, leasing horses in various western states since 1964.
Last year the pair announced that they plan to begin selling the horses in their herd. According to Renee many of them will be purchased by their leasing clients. While the herd is being reduced they have added about 300 beef cattle to their land. The Mantles also plan to sell their ranch next to the Missouri River and possibly sail the world.
The Mantles opted in the direction of cattle after several years of battling to continue a thriving business in a market where horses are no longer profitable when compared to cattle; a story that seems to be becoming increasingly familiar with more stories of dude ranches and outfitters closing their doors after years in the business.
Every spring over the course of three days the herd of horses are gathered off the winter range from the mountains south of town and driven 35 miles to the Mantle’s 500 acres to be picked up by leasing clients after making a run through the middle of town where the streets are lined by thousands of people looking to catch a glimpse of the herd running past.