Horse Breeding for Speed

A long history in the racehorse industry paves the way for these Oklahoma barrel-horse breeders.

From America's Horse

It would have been the late 1960s when Tommy Wells began working for famed racehorse trainer-turned-breeder Ted Wells Jr. The two unrelated horsemen – often mistaken for father and son – stood renowned racehorses Azure Te (TB) and Savannah Jr.

By the mid ’70s, Tommy had moved on to help build another piece of Oklahoma history, Shebester Stallion Station in Wynnewood, where he managed the breeding career of Bugs Alive In 75, who won the All American Futurity in 1975.

“Whenever Ralph (Shebester) brought ‘Bugs Alive’ home from the racetrack, we stood him there and were the first ones to breed him to a mare, I guess,” Tommy says. “It just went from there. We finally wanted to do it for ourselves instead of somebody else. Even when I was standing Bugs Alive, I was breeding some mares myself, trying to get barrel prospects. That was way back in the late ’70s and early ’80s.”

In the early 1980s, Tommy and his wife, Phyllis, struck out on their own as breeders, focusing exclusively on barrel horses.

“My wife likes to run barrels, and we started thinking on that line,” Tommy says.

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By then, the Wellses had some Bugs Alive In 75 mares of their own – hot commodities, considering that the sorrel stallion was rapidly earning a reputation as a maternal sire and grandsire of barrel horses.

Today, the couple owns an indoor arena in Harrah, Oklahoma, where they host jackpot barrel races and stand two stallions whose dam was one of those great Bugs Alive mares.

Alive N Firen and En Flano are full brothers out of Whichwitch S Witch. They’re by top barrel sire Fire Water Flit and were successful can chasers themselves before retiring to stud.

Alive N Firen is the sire of the 2011 AQHA- Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association barrel horse of the year Yeah Hes Firen, aka “Duke,” who was bred by Phyllis and is owned and ridden by Brittany Pozzi of Victoria, Texas.

Tommy and Phyllis own Duke’s dam, Splendid Discovery, and are proud of her, as well.

“She’s a daughter of Shoot Yeah (a champion racehorse) and out of a daughter of Hempen (TB) that was out of a daughter of Jet Deck,” Tommy says. “She’s a very well-bred mare. Lots of speed there, and I think that just happened to be an excellent cross with our Fire Water Flit-Bugs Alive horse.”

For the Wellses, the horse of the year honor is verification that they’ve found a good niche.

Success and recognition have “taken a long time,” Tommy says. “It always does for everybody; it doesn’t just happen overnight.”

But there have been a lot of good times.

Tommy and Phyllis train barrel horses, as well, and Phyllis competed in AQHA shows and professional rodeos. In fact, she won her class at the 2010 All American Quarter Horse Congress aboard He Is A Dough and was qualified for the 2011 AQHA World Championship Show before her horse injured himself and had to take some time off. Phyllis also spent 14 years on the board of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association and three years as vice president.

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“In barrel racing and rodeoing, you make lifelong friends all over the United States,” Phyllis says. “If it hadn’t been for the horses, we wouldn’t know a lot of people that we know, just everywhere.”

“Horses is all we do,” Tommy says. “That’s all we’ve ever done, and they’ve been good to us. … Everything has been great, all these years.”

“Thank the lord,” Phyllis continues, “keeping them horses coming.”

And, really, that’s what the horse business is about; the horses that keep

coming, the optimism that keeps springing out of each new foal crop.

Alive N Firen is still going strong at 20, and the younger En Flano’s first foals are 3-year-olds this year.

“I really feel like he’s going to be a good sire for us, too,” Tommy says. The babies “look really good at this point.”

Both stallions are palominos like their sire, and it never hurts to have speed wrapped up in a pretty package.

“Everybody likes to look at a good horse, if they know anything about horses at all, they like to look at a good horse,” Tommy says. “It just makes it worthwhile.”