angle-left 50-Year Breeder: Jerriel Betts

50-Year Breeder: Jerriel Betts

Retired rancher Jerriel Betts of Atoka, Oklahoma, still raises American Quarter Horses.

Jerriel Betts of Atoka, Oklahoma, has been breeding American Quarter Horses for 50 years. (Courtesy photo)

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By Richard Chamberlain

Jerriel and Sue Betts married 54 years ago. That’s a while, but it’s not as long as Jerriel has been raising American Quarter Horses. And that’s not as long as he has had horses.

“I grew up in Atoka County, (Oklahoma), on the same ranch that I have today,” says Jerriel, a retired rancher who turns 83 in August. “Dad had horses and cattle, and I first had a bunch of grade horses. I sold all them, and I got me a few registered mares in 1964, which is what started me in Quarter Horses.”

Jerriel and Sue Betts raised children Glenda Dever, Jay Betts and Amanda Betts on their ranch seven miles west of Atoka, where their seven grandkids come to visit.

“We’ve got a few cows and horses, but I’ve cut down,” he says. “We used to have a lot of cattle and horses, and I used to have sheep and Leopard dogs, too. All I’ve got is 200 acres now, with six or seven broodmares. At one time, we had about a section (640 acres, or one square mile). It was my Dad’s ranch, and we milked a lot of cows back then. It wasn’t a dairy – milking cows is just what we did. We separated the milk and sold cream and butter. A long time ago, that’s just what everybody in the country did.”

“I kinda took over Dad’s place when he got sick,” he continues. “I graduated from high school in 1955, left home and got a job, went to work for a company building bridges. When Dad got sick, I came back home, took over and went from there with horses and cattle. Dad did OK – he lived until he was 82, in 1977. By then, I was pretty well established and so I went on with my cattle and horse business.”

The Betts Ranch horse business took a big step forward in 1972.

“I was interested in good-bred horses. I bought Leo Betts in 1972 and started breeding good horses,” Jerriel says.

Leo Betts was 6 months old in September 1972 when Jerriel bought him from breeder Lester Erhardt. Leo Betts was by the Leo stallion John Leo and was out of the Pretty Buck mare Ariel Buck, who was foaled in 1962 out of a Bill Cody mare.

Jerriel describes Leo Betts as his ideal horse.

“He was a palomino, white mane and tail, probably weighed about 1,100, about 15 hands,” he recalls. “We don’t live far from Clear Boggy Creek, and the river would get out and you’d have to go in when the water was up and get the cattle out. That’s where I rode my old yellow horse. Leo Betts was a mighty good horse, I tell you what. I could take him in that water and he’d swim like a duck.”

Leo Betts sired 69 AQHA-registered foals, some of the best ranch horses in the area.

Any stallion, of course, is only as good as the mares to which he is bred. One of Jerriel’s best mares was Sue’s Payday, a sorrel daughter of Son O Leo foaled in 1966 out of the Croton Oil mare Croton Oil Sue. Sue’s Payday produced 10 foals, including two by Leo Betts.

Two others were by Peerless Prince, a Thoroughbred son of Noholme II. One of those was Peerless Sue, a 1980 sorrel mare who won six races on the track. Another by Peerless Prince was Sues Little Sister, a brown mare foaled in 1982 out of the Jet Flash mare Sue’s Jet 5.

“I’ve done a lot in my life, mostly with cattle and horses,” Jerriel says. “I worked a few other jobs, I used to weld and was a county commissioner in Atoka for 12 years. I did a lot of roping. I worked for the Blue Ribbon Stock Farm, where they ran about 700 head of cattle, and we worked them the old-time way. Everything we did, we did horseback – rope, tie them down and drag them.

“Can’t do that now,” he says, with a laugh. “It’s amazing how time goes. I’m old and I can’t believe it. I used to just jump in the saddle. Age makes a difference, doesn’t it?”

So time goes on.

“I’ve had a lot of horses, and still got a lot of them scattered everywhere,” he says. “I’ve got some horses in Texas, some here in Oklahoma. I don’t know why, I just always did like horses and just kept foolin’ with them. I’d break them and ride them, Dad would help me – he’d snub for me and I’d get on and break them.

“When I had a job to do, I had a Quarter Horse to help get it done,” Jerriel concludes. “My pleasure and love is working with my horses.”