angle-left 50-Year Breeder: Matador Ranch

50-Year Breeder: Matador Ranch

The Matador Ranch in Matador, Texas, has been raising American Quarter Horses to use on the ranch for 50 years.

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By Richard Chamberlain for The American Quarter Horse Journal

It’s something of an understatement to say the Matador Ranch in Texas has nice horses. In 2013, the Matador Ranch won the AQHA Best Remuda Award, which recognizes one ranch that has a superior set of saddle horses for working cowboys – the best remuda.

It takes a lot of nice horses. The Matador runs about 3,200 mother cows and another 2,500 stockers on 130,000 acres, much of which are rugged canyons, breaks and draws that can only be worked horseback. Henry H. Campbell established the Matador Ranch in 1877 about 80 miles northeast of what would become Lubbock, Texas, at a place called Ballard Springs. The headquarters were sited about a mile outside of what the ranch would develop as the town of Matador.

Growing as a couple of successive owners added land, the Matador Land & Cattle Co. owned 861,000 acres in Texas by 1910 and within a few years had more than a million acres owned or leased in South Dakota, Montana and Canada. In 1951, Matador Land & Cattle Co. was sold to Lazard Frères and Co., whose purchase included approximately 800,000 acres, 1,400 horses and 46,000 head of cattle, and who then divided the ranch into parcels for resale. In 1952, Fred C. Koch of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kansas, bought three of the parcels and incorporated the Matador Cattle Co., including the Matador Ranch and its original headquarters at Ballard Springs. Koch’s Matador Cattle Co. also has divisions in Kansas and Montana.

The Matador Ranch always used good horses, but started upgrading its stock in the early 1970s. In the years since, the Matador has bred and registered more than 330 American Quarter Horses. The ranch generally maintains about 25-30 broodmares, several stallions and about 45 geldings.

The ranch built its broodmare band on the foundation started in the ’70s, but also branched out to some of the more popular cow horse bloodlines. Some of the best of those go back to a 1985 mare called Lost Echo Gal, by a son of Gay Bar King and out of a Sugar Bars- and Hollywood Gold-bred mare. Several of Lost Echo Gal’s daughters are in the broodmare band today.

Another mare, Claires Double, is a double-bred Black Chick Gold mare who produced MCC Double Heaven, the reserve champion in the 2011 AQHA Battle in the Saddle Remuda Challenge. And there have been a number of other horses bred and raised on the ranch that have been very successful in AQHA, Ranch Horse Association of America and Ranch Cutting Horse Association competition.

Matador currently uses stallions Wrigly, a 2008 red roan by the Peptoboonsmal stallion Boonlight Dancer; MCC Travalin Cat, a 2010 buckskin by the High Brow Cat stallion Palo Duro Cat; and Four Peak 59, a 2013 black son of the Snicklefritz Chex stallion Snicklefritz Flake. All the mares are pasture bred, and the stallions are normally turned out about April 10 and are picked up about July 1. Most of the mares are bred to one of the ranch’s stallions, but occasionally a mare is bred to an outside stallion.

The foals are weaned in the early fall and halter broke at that time. The cowboys spend about three days with them, turn them out, then get them up again and work with them for a couple of more days before they are turned out again to grow.

Most of the Matador-breds stay on the ranch, but some are sold through private treaty and through the Best Remuda Sale in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Western Heritage Classic in Abilene, Texas.

“I’ve been involved with this team and the Matador Cattle Co. for over 30 years,” says ranch manager J.D. Russell. “We’ve built this remuda with a lot of thought, care and work, and I feel like we’ve taken the necessary time and steps to develop a nice set of Quarter Horses that are really functional in our environment. That’s very important to us, not only to be able to traverse the rugged terrain and get our job done, but also to have horses that are athletic, that are willing to work with us and that make our job easier and more enjoyable. That brings as much satisfaction and pride to me and our cowboys as you can have about a horse program, and then to have others seek out our horses because they find that to be true for them as well is really special.