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History of two large longtime Texas ranches that continue breeding and using horses for cattle work is interesting. 

“The Waggoner Ranch and King Ranch have been breeding Quarter Horses for 100 years,” announced the American Quarter Horse Association. 

Even though the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) registry was founded in 1940, these ranches already had horse herds.  

“Several horses from both ranches were inspected and admitted for initial AQHA registration,” confirmed officials in Amarillo, Texas,  

W.T. Waggoner Estate 

Established in 1852, the Waggoner Ranch is a historic north Texas ranch south of Vernon, Texas. 

 Notable for being the largest ranch within one fence in the United States, it is used primarily to raise crops, beef cattle, and horses as well as for oil production. 

Dan Waggoner set up in the cattle business in 1849. He and his son, William Thomas “W.T.” Waggoner, built the ranch known throughout the West as “Waggoners.”  

W.T. Waggoner always sought the best horses available, bringing in foundation stal­lions including Yellow Jacket, Midnight, Blackburn, and Pretty Boy. 

 In 1940, his son E. Paul Waggoner began registering AQHA horses. Five years later, E. Paul Waggoner purchased Poco Bueno, a yearling son of King P-234 who became a Hall of Fame sire. 

Poco Beuno has impacted the line ever since at Waggoners, which in 1994 claimed the AQHA Best Remuda Award. The program has produced nearly 6,500 American Quarter Horses. 

“Poco Bueno was a great horse, and a lot of our mares go back to him,” said Trace Cribbs, Waggoners’ equine division manager now. “We’ve had some real good studs over the years, but what really made our program were the Pretty Boy mares. 

“We’ve bred a lot of mares to Smart Chic Olena, and we’ve exper­imented with running bloodlines,” Cribbs said. “We don’t mind going back to some older lines. We want a good rope horse that you can roll back in with performance, movement, and cow.” 

Now, they’re evaluating a three-year-old Jesses Topaz son named Justa Topaz. He traces to Mr Jess Perry, Peppy San Badger and the Poco Bueno stallion Poco King Tuck.  

“We like the reined cow horse, and we are big proponents of the AQHA Ranching Heritage program,” Cribbs said. “Our No. 1 customers are cowboys.  

“We look for horses with substance, about 15 to 15.2 hands, with a lot of bone, around 1,200 pounds. We want to get the structure and the brain, trainability, right.” 

So, do they want a big-motored horse or a “pusher,” that need pumped up to make them go? “There are different jobs that one or the other kind are good for, so we need to raise both,” Cribbs emphasized. 

W.T. Waggoner Estate sold in 2016 to Stan Kroenke, who owns the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams and is husband of Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke.  

At the time of acquisition, the ranch comprised 520,527 acres, or 800 square miles. But additional acreage was included in the sale making the total closer to 535,000 acres. It is estimated that the operation runs about 12,000 mother cows. 

“We’ve kept our old bloodlines in our mares,” said Cribbs. “Those bloodlines are our history, and Mr. Kroenke did not want to lose that. That’s great for us as we have so much invested in these mares.” 

King Ranch 

King Ranch is AQHA’s all-time leading breeder by number of foals, having produced more than 7,200 in its long history.  

Mainly a cattle operation, King Ranch, headquartered at Kingsville in south Texas, includes more than 825,000 acres. It was founded in 1853 by Richard King and Gideon Lewis. 

The ranch does not consist of one single contiguous plot of land, but rather four large acreages called divisions.  

“The King Ranch commitment to excellent Quarter Horses over the past century is remarkable. It helps ensure the future of the horses we love and the ranching industry.” said Karen McCuistion, AQHA director of member programs. 

Four King Ranch horses registered by AQHA were foaled in 1922. They included Little Richard, son of Old Sorrel. 

Little Richard holds registration number 17, which puts him in what is considered the “foundation” sires in the AQHA Stud Book. 

“Purpose of the horse program is to provide our cowboys with the best horses in the world for their daily work,” said King Ranch’s James Clement III. “Producing a horse that can stand up to this work, this heat, this climate, this country, is our Number One goal.” 

For more than a century, form to function is why every horse foaled on the King Ranch today is descended from Old Sorrel, most through Mr San Peppy and his son Peppy San Badger. 

 Clement is a great-great-great-grandson of Richard King. The historic King Ranch which grazes more than 35,000 cattle and 200 Quarter Horses. 

It takes tough horses to handle it, and Old Sorrel proved to be exactly what was needed. A son of Hickory Bill, the sorrel stallion was foaled in 1915 out of a Thoroughbred mare from Kentucky. He was purchased by the ranch while still on his dam from foundation breeder and neighbor, George Clegg. 

Bob Kleberg, a grandson of Richard King, often said that Old Sorrel was the best cow horse the ranch ever had. He had good temperament, intelligence, cow sense, endurance, good feet, and a good mouth. 

 The stallion’s best qualities were perpetuated through careful line breeding, relentless testing, selection, and rigorous culling. 

In 1940, when AQHA was registering its first horses, King Ranch had eight sons and grandsons of Old Sorrel that were being bred to daughters and granddaughters of Old Sorrel.  

More than 100 descendants were in the first studbook, including Wimpy, who is P-1 in the AQHA studbook.  

“There is no greater honor for me than serving this ranch and this Running-W brand for the seventh-generation,” said Lee Roy Montalvo, King Ranch Quarter Horse manager. “Our ancestors were trying to build the perfect ranch horse.” 

Today, the AQHA Best Remuda-earning King Ranch stands several stallions including The Boon by Peptoboonsma.  

The ranch is also evaluating its homebred Coronel Del Rancho, six-year-old son of Not Ruf At All, their first bred and owned AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse world champion.  

“The importance of our history cannot be understated, but we are always looking forward,” Clement said. “We continue our commitment to breed the best possible cow horse for the King Ranch cowboys promoting the American Quarter Horse throughout the world.” 

Both ranches will be recognized at the AQHA Breeder Recognition Banquet, during the 2023 AQHA Convention, February 26, in Fort Worth, Texas.