[Photo: Barbara L. Glazer]
Just west of Dickinson, you’ll find Melissa Chruszch managing CW Ranch and putting her own spin on her family’s equine breeding operation.
Her parents bought the ranch in 1994, tore down every structure, and started fresh. Melissa remembers her summers being spent helping with construction and pouring blood, sweat, and tears into what the ranch resembles today.
“It was definitely a family effort. My parents were both incredibly meticulous and contemplated every detail of the ranch. We did everything as a family unit, including everything with the horses. My dad loved to show horses; my mom loved to raise colts. I’m an even mixture of both,” said Chruszch.
It was June of 1997 when the first mare foaled on the ranch.
“My parents’ early breeding program was largely thanks to the advice of our dear friend Steve Hartman. Those who knew Steve knew his innate way with a horse. He was a true horseman before it became commercialized. He’s who developed my entire foundation for what I look for in conformation, pedigrees, crosses, and in the way I handle and start colts. Without Steve, my program would be vastly different today. Growing up I was constantly immersed in the pursuit of knowledge about horses, and I think that’s served me well,” explained Chruszch.
After losing her parents in the early 2010s, continuing the program was fully in Melissa’s hands.
“I had been out of touch with the horse industry for about a decade. I’d gone to college, left North Dakota, and had been on the path to pursue other dreams. I didn’t think I’d come back to the ranch or horses so soon, or so fully. My parents left me with about 25 horses. I knew I had to make some strategic decisions about how best to manage them. I leaned on friends to help me start colts and sell what wasn’t a fit for what I wanted. I heard the criticisms of others who said I’d never do any of them justice. I took it all in, took it all in stride, and forged on,” Chruszch remembered.
During the summer of 2014 she started looking for a cutting horse trainer to help her advance her program to the next level.
“I reached out to a number of trainers. I knew what I was going to ask was atypical for the industry, and I knew that I wanted to develop a long standing relationship with someone who would ultimately help fill in the gaps I had from being out of the industry for so long. Disappointingly, I didn’t hear back from very many of those I initially reached out to.”
It was her husband, Broden Porter, who said he ‘maybe knew a guy’ that was training cutting horses in Texas. That’s how the business relationship with Clay Volmer began.
“I reached out to Clay and was very transparent. I had green, broke five-year-olds who had been left untouched due to my parents’ illnesses, a rough plan, and a dream. I told him I would work diligently to build a breeding program that was up to par as quickly as I could. Eight years later, and I feel like we are finally at that point.”
A native of Wasta, South Dakota, NRCHA and NCHA professional trainer Clay Volmer shared, “When I got Melissa’s email, I thought it would be a good opportunity to help someone from the country I grew up in forge ahead in the performance horse industry. I’ve watched her work diligently to produce performance horses that are something I look forward to showing, and she’s invested a lot of time, money, and effort into creating a successful program.”
When asked where she began, Chruszch said, “The entire cutting focused breeding program started with one mare. I had a daughter of Freckles Playboy my dad had purchased as a show horse a few years before he passed away. My goal had always been to get to six well-bred cutting broodmares and to put my own style and spin on the horses that were raised at the ranch. I stayed persistent about looking for additional mares, but I was shopping with a limited budget compared to other breeding programs in the industry. I bought my Athena Puddy Cat daughter and my Halreycious daughter in 2014. The following spring I added a daughter of Dual Rey that I showed enough to get some earnings on, and we put her into the broodmare band as well. In the summer of 2018, I purchased my Zack T Wood daughter, and after searching high and low for the last puzzle piece, I added a Peptoboonsmal daughter in 2021. I can always stand to make improvements to the horses I’m breeding through adding additional lifetime show earnings, produce earnings, expanding bloodlines, etc., but I have a solid foundation I’ve set. I will always keep working to be better.”
When asked about the breeding program, Broden said, “The breeding is all Melissa’s vision and work. I’m just the driver! She studies pedigrees, looks at nicking reports, and isn’t afraid to ask questions of those who are more knowledgeable. Melissa has such an intimate knowledge of her mares, their quirks, their strengths and weaknesses, and she chooses her crosses accordingly. I have to keep a note in my phone of what she’s up to, or I’d easily forget. She has breeding plans 2-3 years out.” He also joked that he doesn’t mind when one or two of them end up in his rope horse pen!
It isn’t just her attention to detail that sets Melissa apart, it’s her approach to her business. “In addition to being intentional with my crosses, I’m intentional with how I market the horses I choose to sell, and I’m even more intentional about who I sell them to. I care more about the horse working for the buyer, and the buyer being good to the horse than I do about a profit. If it isn’t going to fit, I’m not going to sell the horse. My reputation matters above all else, and it takes just one bad match to do lasting damage to that reputation. I won’t ever break any records for the number of horses sold from my program, but I can almost certainly guarantee if you’ve bought a colt from my program, you’re satisfied with your purchase, or I will do everything in my power to rectify any issues at any time.”
Melissa went on to add that she’s “under no illusions that every horse born from my program will be a performance horse. Despite pedigrees, training, and conformation, some horses just don’t make the cut. We are incredibly lucky that we’ve been able to transition a number of the colts that haven’t been enough for the show pen into the roping arena and capitalize with them there.”
After eight years of breeding, Melissa proudly boasted, “I have my first home raised colt headed to the National Cutting Horse Association Futurity this fall, and she’s entered in the Open divisions with Clay Volmer. We’ve had some nice horses prior to this, but she’s the first one that’s felt like she can handle that level of competition and that pressure.”
High End Honey is a 2019 mare by High Brow CD out of Melissa’s daughter of Freckles Playboy. Honey is sentimental, to say the least. When asked about the attributes that have set Honey apart from what Melissa has raised up until now, Clay noted, “I love her [Honey’s] thought process about a cow. I love the fact that she really does not want me to be a part of it. She wants to work the cow herself, and I think that will make her a solid show horse as she develops. I’m looking forward to showing her this fall.”
Following Honey’s debut at the NCHA futurity in November, Melissa said she’s just getting rolling with her performance prospects. “I have five more colts on the ground, with five on the way that are aiming for Clay’s training program. A 2021 Boon Too Suen stud colt out of the Dual Rey mare, a 2022 WR This Cats Smart filly out of the Zack T Wood mare, a 2022 One Time Royalty Stallion out of the Athena Puddy Cat mare, and a 2022 Sanctus filly out of the Peptoboonsmal mare. We’ve also confirmed five mares in foal for 2023 to Smooth Talkin Style, I’m Countin Checks, Metallics MVP, High Brow CD and Dual Smart Rey. These two breeding seasons have left me with a lot of pinch me moments. I know I’ve put in the time and the work, but to see it materializing still somehow seems surreal.”
Melissa said she is also very realistic about how she spends her time. On top of managing the ranch, she works full time, and recognizes that the only way she’s going to be successful is if she finds balance.
“I’ve made the conscious and intentional decision not to show as actively while I build and breed my show string. I miss competition, but to me, the long term investment in the horses I have on the ground now will ultimately serve me better than if I were seriously hauling at this stage with something I purchased. I do miss showing, and I will absolutely get back to it, but for now, I keep myself sharp and practiced at home, volunteer my time helping high school kids learn to cut, and focus on the breeding program.”
She joked, ”You’ll see me back in the show pen soon enough. It’s about time I give into the peer pressure I’ve been receiving!”
Author and bio: Melissa Chruszch is a Dickinson, N.D. native who has been involved with raising and showing horses for over three decades. By day, she helps families estate plan and secure their legacy for future generations through her work as a Succession Planner, and by night she builds her own legacy through expanding the ranch her parents left her. She shares that ranch with her husband, Broden Porter, a Solsgirth, Manitoba cowboy who found his way to North Dakota via a rodeo scholarship at Dickinson State University. Broden qualified for the CNFR in three events, and the Badlands Circuit Finals in the Tie Down Roping before he opted to put down his piggin string to become a management consultant for companies meeting completions needs in the Bakken.