Breeding

Horse Breeding: Sam King

Sam King, a popular ranch horse and American Quarter Horse breeding stallion, was a legend in his own right.

Sam King's get excelled at events like polo and racing. Photo courtesy of the American Polo Horse Association.

Most American Quarter Horse historians know the stories of foundation horses like Steel Dust, Shiloh, Old Billy and Cold Deck. While thumbing through some of the first copies of The Quarter Horse Journal, I ran across the story of a horse that many claimed to be superior or at least equal to those other early sprinters.

Sam King was foaled in the Texas Hill Country in 1910. By Hondo, a son of John Crowder by Bill Fleming, Sam King was broke to saddle at age 3. In the April 1953 issue of the Journal, Sam King was remembered this way: "‘Sam’ was a top cow horse in the days when this country was full of good cow horses, a racehorse in his own rights and a sire of outstanding racehorses, cow horses and polo mounts of international caliber.”

In a time of many great horses, Sam’s disposition, intelligence and physical characteristics — and ability to pass them on — set him apart. Sam was used as a cow horse until he was 7, and then he was sold to S.S. Bundy and O.W. Cardwell, who used him on a band of mares at the James Patterson Ranch near Junction, Texas, for three years.

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Ed Bode bought Sam from Bundy and Cardwell and kept him for a year before selling him to Joe Wyatt of Sonora, Texas. Wyatt kept the dappled chestnut until he had so many daughters of the prolific stallion that it was no longer genetically expedient to continue breeding him.

By then, neighbors in the area had noticed a marked improvement in Wyatt’s remuda and were eager to improve their herds the same way. Sam was sold to the Monroe-Kirkland spread and lived there until his death. Even after his demise, breeders and ranchers in southern Texas and northern Mexico wanted a Sam King son to improve their cow horses.

Sam King was not a large horse. Of average height, he weighed about 1,050 pounds when in racing or working shape. As one fan of the little chestnut said, “Sam King was our first well-nigh perfect Quarter Horse.” High praise from an era that helped establish the breed.

Perhaps Sam’s best-known offspring was a filly named Flashlight. After several race wins, Flashlight was purchased by Jimmy Chittim as a polo pony. She was later named the outstanding polo mare at three national meets. In fact, at a series of polo matches throughout 1932 and 1933, the forebears of the Quarter Horse proved themselves against the best-bred polo ponies of the time. And many on the grounds during those matches were sons and daughters of Sam King.

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In 1953, the Journal summed up Sam’s contributions to the breed, which, though almost forgotten now, deserve to be remembered. "He ran the quarter of a mile at a terrific clip from the starting line to the finish. He was always alert, yet never fractious or unruly, and carried his share of ranch work except in the breeding season.

“Sam King helped make Texas the big state it is, as surely as the ranchers of his time did. His value as a sire was discovered early in his life and utilized to the fullest extent, and now, though Sam King lies buried under the Texas sod, his name is perhaps as well known as in the days when he was turning cattle and dragging calves to the fire.

“The fact that all neighborhood ranchmen wanted colts from Sam King in every locality he was used, is perhaps the greatest tribute these men of the Southwest could ever pay this grand little horse. It is more lasting and a greater honor than the erection of a cold, marble monument at his final resting place.”