Muleshoe Ranch, 2014 Best Remuda Award winner
By Jim Jennings
It’s unusually cool for the middle of July in west Texas, even for this early in the morning – the sun has yet to climb over the horizon. And the south breeze that’s rattling the dried mesquite beans hanging in the trees makes it seem even cooler. Almost jacket weather. Almost. But I know the temperature will climb to 100 by mid-afternoon, so I forgo the jacket, enjoying the coolness while it lasts.
I’m sitting on a hill in the middle of a big pasture on Muleshoe Ranch, waiting on the drive to come by me so I can shoot some pictures. A “drive” is a long line of cowboys, spaced a few hundred yards apart, moving somewhat parallel to each other toward a designated point. In this way, all the cattle in the pasture are picked up and driven to that point. Muleshoe Ranch is the winner of the 2014 AQHA Best Remuda Award, which is given annually to a ranch that is judged to have the best set of ranch horses, and I wanted to get some pictures of those horses in action.
Historically, there has been some confusion on the location of Muleshoe Ranch. Most people seem to think that it’s located at Muleshoe, Texas. It’s not, although it was at one time. Or at least one of the men who established the current Muleshoe Ranch had a ranch at Muleshoe by the same name. See what I mean by confusing?
It’s really pretty simple. W.D. Johnson Sr. established the Muleshoe brand when he bought the Blackwater division of the old XIT Ranch around 1900. That was in the southwestern part of the Texas Panhandle and bordered the New Mexico line. W.D. sold that ranch to E.K. Warren – who later donated one section of it for a town, Muleshoe, when the railroad came through – but W.D. retained the brand. Then, in 1913, he and partner R.M. Clayton bought a ranch in Borden County, Texas, and used the Muleshoe brand.
By 1945, R.M.’s son, Jerry, had ended up with the ranch, and in 1957, Jerry sold it to his daughters, Jere Hubbard and Barbara Anderson. In 1994, Barbara and her husband, Rich, became the sole owners. Today, the ranch is operated by Rich and Barbara’s son, John, his wife, Kevva, and their son and daughters – Clay John, his wife, Krista, and their daughter, Layton; Whitney Fuston and her husband, Kye; and Bailey, who also attends Texas Tech University.
Muleshoe Ranch is located at Gail, Texas, a small town of about 230 folks on Highway 180, roughly midway between Snyder and Lamesa. And since most people outside of West Texas are unfamiliar with either of those towns, let’s just say Gail is about 70 miles southwest of Lubbock – and, for the record, 150 miles from the town of Muleshoe.
But it’s ranch country, big ranch country, where it takes a good horse to work the cattle. And Muleshoe Ranch has good horses.
But then, the Andersons always have had. John’s father, Rich, started the Muleshoe horses with some of the old foundation bloodlines, such as Joe Reed, Joe Moore and Leo, and he registered his first horses in 1952. His AQHA membership number is under 3000, and the ranch has received the AQHA Legacy Award for having registered horses for 50 consecutive years.
John grew up on the ranch, riding Muleshoe-bred horses. When he left for college at Texas A&M in 1975, he took one of the ranch-raised horses with him, and three of the four years he was at Texas A&M, he qualified for the college rodeo finals in team roping, always riding Muleshoe-bred horses. When John and Kevva’s kids got old enough to compete in high school rodeo, they, too, rode Muleshoe horses, with Clay John competing in team roping and Whitney and Bailey in cutting. All three were very competitive, and the girls won their region in cutting several times.
The Muleshoe goal today is to raise horses to use on the ranch, as well as have some that can be consigned to the three or four sales in Texas that the ranch supports each year, including the Western Heritage sale in Abilene, the Caprock Ranchers sale in Levelland and the Fort Worth Stock Show sales, one of which is exclusively for winners of the Best Remuda Award.
To do this, the ranch maintains 30-35 broodmares and four stallions. Boy Boon is by Cee Play by Freckles Playboy and out of a daughter of Boon Bar. Bailey qualified him to the National High School Rodeo Finals in cutting, and in 2010, Boy Boon was named horse of the year in cutting by the Texas High School Rodeo Association. He has also had some success in some National Cutting Horse Association events. Another stallion is Red River Bet by a son of Smart Little Lena and out of a daughter of Freckles Playboy.
The Andersons raised the other two stallions they are using, San Peppy Cakes and Brown Badger Bear. San Peppy Cakes is by a son of Mr San Peppy out of a daughter of Zero Badger Boy. Brown Badger Bear is by a son of Zero Badger Boy out of a daughter of Hermans Whiz. Zero Badger Boy is a 28-year-old stallion who was the ranch’s No. 1 sire for a number of years, but has finally been retired. Hermans Whiz was a 1982 son of top cutting horse Smooth Herman whom the ranch purchased as a yearling and used for years as a breeding stallion. He died a few years ago.
In addition, John owns a share in the syndicated Paddys Irish Whiskey, which allows him to breed two mares a year, and he will sometimes take a mare to some other outside stallions that he thinks one of his mares might cross well on. Many of the mares in the broodmare band are by some of the previously mentioned stallions.
The mares are pasture bred, and John puts the stallions out about April 1. Foals are weaned sometime between November 25 and December 25.
“I know a lot of people think that’s late,” John says, “but I just feel like they get along better with their mommas than anywhere else, and we seem to have good luck not weaning until then. I may not get the size that I could if I weaned them earlier, kept them up and fed them, but my horses average 15 to 15.1 hands and weigh 1,200 pounds, so I don’t think it would help me any to get more size. As a matter of fact, it would turn some people off.”
As yearlings, the foals are freeze-branded, the wolf teeth are removed, and the colts are castrated. Then they are turned back out to pasture until the following year.
Halter breaking takes place when the foals are 2.
“When we halter break them, we’ll usually use an older horse,” John says. “We’ll get in the round pen, maybe rope them around the neck and get them to stop and turn around, and then we’ll rope them by a leg, get them to backing up and giving to pressure.
“Then we’ll get up alongside them horseback and put a halter on them,” he says. “We’ve got a line that goes across the round pen up high, and we’ll tie them to that. If they want to fight around a little bit, they can, but they can’t hit their heads on the ground, and they can’t hurt their legs. It doesn’t take very long before they figure everything out.”
Next, John starts rubbing them all over and then saddles them. The next day, someone will get on them in the round pen.
“We try not to mess with their heads much,” John says, “just get them used to moving with somebody on them. And we’ll usually have someone in there on an older horse just to make sure no one gets into any trouble.”
The 2-year-olds are ridden in the round pen for about five days, and then everything that’s not destined for one of the sales is turned back out to continue growing for another year. They’re caught again as 3-year-olds and ridden lightly. Then as 4-year-olds, they go to work.
The horses that are bound for the sales as 2-year-olds are typically ridden 80-90 times before the sale, and that includes any fillies that are to be sold. Even though mares are not typically ridden for work on the ranch, all the fillies are started as 2-year-olds to determine their disposition. That, along with conformation and breeding, determines if John wants to add them to the broodmare band. Roughly 20 percent of the fillies are kept as broodmares.
A cow horse is what Muleshoe Ranch is breeding for, and with approximately 1,250 mother cows on the ranch, that’s what they need. All cattle work is done horseback, to include gathering, sorting and dragging calves to the fire for branding.
In addition to their own cattle, Spade Ranches, another Best Remuda Award winner, has an agreement to run cattle on the ranch, but John and his family take care of those, as well as their own.
In 2011, when the drought in West Texas was so severe, and that part of the state got five inches or less of moisture, John had to ship all the cattle on the ranch. He procured pasture in Colorado and New Mexico for his own cattle, and the Spade cattle were shipped to Montana. But he was able to keep the horses and preserve the genetics he and his father had developed throughout the years by buying hay out of South Dakota. In 2012, some nice rains brought the grass back, and by some time in 2013, most of the cattle had been returned to the ranch.
Cow horses are what Muleshoe Ranch is raising, but that also makes them ideal horses to compete in roping, cutting and ranch horse events. Muleshoe horses have excelled in events hosted by the Ranch Horse Association of America, Ranch Cutting Horse Association and Stock Horse of Texas, as well as NCHA, AQHA and professional rodeo, including the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. And John, Clay John and son-in-law Kye Fuston compete each year in Las Vegas at the World Series of Team Roping. In the past two years, Kye has won more than $40,000 at that event, riding Muleshoe-bred horses.
“We take a lot of pride in the horses we produce,” John says, “and as more and more of our horses become athletes for the public, it’s exciting when you see that Muleshoe freeze brand on the left hip. When you see one of ours carrying a top cowboy somewhere, that just motivates you to raise some more.”
AQHA Editor Emeritus Jim Jennings wrote this story in 2014. He always enjoys getting out in good ranch country, photographing good horses. Much of his work was compiled in “Best Remudas,” a coffee table book featuring the first 15 AQHA Best Remuda Award-winning ranches. To order the $45 book, email email@example.com or call 806-376-5181.