Craig R. "Rusty" Hebel, rancher, of Glen, Mont., passed away Oct. 23, 2010. He was born Sept. 26, 1960, to Beverly Martin and Rollie Hebel in Bozeman.
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Rusty graduated from Ennis High School in 1978. He always said his only advanced degree was the one awarded by spending his lifetime on or behind a horse. He was a lifetime student of horses and learned from each one he encountered.
In 1990, Rusty married Margaret Armitage in Big Sky.
Over the years, Rusty led a multi-faceted life. He rodeoed - both rough stock and timed events - cowboyed on ranches across the state of Montana, was a dude wrangler, over-the-road trucker and managed Rocky Mountain Supply stores in Townsend and Dillon. However, driving big horses was his true calling and passion.
Rusty and his father bred, raised, trained and showed strawberry roan Belgians for 40 years. Together, they developed a training wheel to hook a beginning driving horse to the first three or four times to allow it to move or stop without injuring itself or others.
Rusty successfully started hundreds of horses under harness, not only young "colts," but also older horses with bad "people" experiences. He farmed with horses in Montana and Iowa, two very different farming environments.
He had wagon train experience, both as a teenage swamper on the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial Wagon Train (the Montana to Valley Forge leg) and as an adult driver in the 1985-1986 Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train where he drove eight head of Belgian mares 3,600 miles around the perimeter of Texas in six months. His two preschool sons accompanied him on this trip. Rusty took great pride in the fact that he was in charge of the health, shoeing and training of 30 head of Belgian mares over the six months of the Texas wagon train with never a sore shoulder or lame foot. Through these two experiences, he gained invaluable knowledge about working horses daily on pavement, in the heat and in the company of crowds of other animals.
Rusty worked for McCrossan Boys' Ranch in South Dakota training and showing Belgians across the Midwest, always with "troubled boys" as students and helpers.
After leaving McCrossan, Rusty worked for Dick Sparrow driving the Coors Belgian Hitch parading, exhibitioning and promoting not only Coors beer but the Belgian breed. He drove horses in every major parade in the U.S. including the Macy's Day and Rose Parade. One of Rusty's favorite accomplishments was driving Sparrow's 40-Horse Hitch.
For the past 20 years, Rusty and his wife, Margaret, have promoted Belgians by breeding, training and showing their own strawberry roans. During those years, they held clinics for individuals and driving clubs, taught "Ladies Only" classes and co-wrote the Montana 4-H driving program.
His favorite work experience has been using his own finely tuned Belgian mares to teach college students at the University of Montana Western in Dillon to drive. In less than 10 years, he grew the program from a three-day workshop to four full semester classes.
Rusty loved his family, laughter and good horses.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret; sons, Lee (Katie) of Circle and Lyle (BreAnn) of Bozeman; and only grandson, Archie. Also surviving are his parents; brothers, Zane and Wade (Susan) Miller, both of Ennis; sister, Shannon (Tim) Chicoine of St. Charles, Iowa; and numerous nieces and nephews.
A Celebration of Rusty's life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 30, at La Cense Arena in Dillon, with lunch and sharing afterward.
Memorials may be sent to Montana 4-H Foundation Horse Committee, Montana State University, 111 Taylor Hall, Bozeman, MT 59717; or to the charity of the donor's choice.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Oct. 26, 2010