Breeding

Elmer Hepler Was Nearly Always There

Elmer was there in the beginning, and he liked to see things through.

With one exception, Elmer Hepler was there. Elmer was there in 1934, when Tex Austin took a rodeo to London. Elmer said they weren’t allowed to rope calves or bulldog steers, but that he rode broncs. He came home and rode broncs, too, retiring in 1935 after he won Denver. Elmer was there in 1940, at the Blackstone Hotel in Fort Worth, when a group of men and women met and formed the American Quarter Horse Association. In 1991, he was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.

Elmer was there at Rillito Park in 1942, when Shue Fly won the World’s Championship Quarter and beat the best horses running at the time – after falling to her knees at the break and giving the other horses a seven-length head start. Elmer and his brother, Charley, bought the mare immediately after the race for $3,000. Shue Fly was a world champion three consecutive years, and she, too, is in the Hall of Fame. Elmer was there in 1954 at the Cabrito Bar in Albuquerque, when he and a few other men laid down the basics for what became the All American Futurity. He told me about it 20 years later. Elmer said that he, Stan Snedigar, Ray Lewis, Jim Derrick and a few others had met in Albuquerque to talk about getting a racetrack in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which was where Elmer lived. He said they were sitting in the Cabrito, just visiting, as horsemen will do, talking about the old mares like Shue Fly, Stella Moore, Miss Pinky and Miss Bank, all legends off the old Quarter tracks, and they realized all of them were in foal.

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“We decided to have a race for those foals when they were 2 years old,” he said. “Each of us put up $500, and we contacted enough other people so that we had 11 entries in the race.” Gene Hensley, who owned Ruidoso Downs at the time, was also at the meeting, and he volunteered his track for the race. After the first nomination, subsequent payments were required through September 1, 1957, the day of the race, and the purse reached the unheard-of figure of $22,700.73. They called it the Southwestern Futurity and it ran under that name again in 1958. However, by then they knew they had something bigger than the Southwest, so in 1959, they renamed the race, and the inaugural All American Futurity was run. Elmer was there on that day, too. But it was in 1971 that Elmer went missing. Slim Pickens, former rodeo cowboy and movie actor, told me about it. He said, “We were in Carlsbad shooting ‘The Honkers,’ and we had it all arranged for Elmer to be in a little of it. Well, we shot a scene with him, and then they went on to something else. In a little bit, they needed Elmer again, and the director hollered for him. Somebody answered, ‘Elmer went to the ranch to breed a mare.’ “‘Why didn’t he let the horse do that? We need him.’ “And that ended Elmer’s picture career.” Yep, for once, Elmer wasn’t there. Elmer Hepler died in 1978 at the age of 72.