Kenny Hart

This American Quarter Horse jockey rode his way into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.

From The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum

At the 2013 AQHA Convention in Houston in March, five horses and five men joined the ranks of those honored with entry into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. Legendary jockey Kenny Hart of Ruidoso Downs was among them.

Kenny Hart

This is long overdue. Kenny Hart, at 65, is finally recognized for what he was in his day: An American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame jockey.

A decade after his retirement, Kenny remains the fourth all-time winningest Quarter Horse jockey and the fifth all-time money-earning rider. Since 1970, when AQHA began keeping records on jockeys, Kenny’s mounts earned $28,940,309 – and that’s on American Quarter Horses in official races alone, not the money he earned riding Thoroughbreds or in match races.

From 21,528 mounts (again, in official races only), Kenny brought back the winners of 3,199 races, with 2,936 seconds and 2,810 thirds.

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The first Quarter Horse jockey to ride the earners of more than $1 million in a single season (with $1,275,052 in 1977), Kenny was the sport’s leading rider by money earned seven different seasons (1977-78, 1980-83 and 1985). In 1981, he became the first jockey to exceed $2 million in a season ($2,091,097), and booted home a then-record 303 winners in one year. Kenny continued to ride the earners of more than $2 million each year through 1985, when he rode the then-record earners of $2,628,431 and was the AQHA Champion Jockey.

Kenny’s mounts included world champions Miss Thermolark, Super Sound Charge and Special Leader, and divisional champions Florentine, Sig Hanson, Lady Juno, Don Guerro, Flashy Go Moore, Dashing Val, The Black Alliance, Flight 109, Easy Austin, Now I Know and Meter Me Gone. The fastest horse he ever saw, he says, was Kaweah Bar, the “Palomino Express” that was the 1968 and ’70 world champion that Kenny rode to six of the gelding’s 38 victories.

But his all-time favorite horse was champion Town Policy. The gelding was kidnapped after Kenny rode him to win four futurities and finish second in the 1977 All American Futurity, but after he was recovered in a Mexican cornfield, Kenny got back on Town Policy who went on to earn $862,180 in his own Hall of Fame career.

“Town Policy was good from the start, and he became great,” Kenny says. “He was really hot-headed at first, but Blane Schvaneveldt kept working with him and telling me what to do and got him straightened out. Anybody could get a horse physically fit to win a race, but it takes a horseman to get one mentally fit.”

Born November 16, 1947, and raised on a ranch near the West Texas town of Post, Kenny won on his first mount, a match race at Aspermont, Texas, in 1962. Five years later, he joined the pari-mutuel ranks at Ruidoso Downs, where that summer he rode Miss High Bar in his first Rainbow Futurity and Quincy Rocket the following year in his first All American Futurity.

We can't all ride like Kenny Hart, but we can earn rewards for time spent on our horses. The AQHA Horseback Riding Program allows members to log hours in the saddle and earn great prizes. Enroll now and hit the trail!

Kenny attributes his success to advice from his father: “My dad always told me, ‘No matter what you’re going to do, be sure you are hooked up with the right people.’ ” Those people include such American Quarter Horse Hall of Famers as Blane Schvaneveldt, Jack Brooks, D. Wayne Lukas, Jerry Nicodemus,Danny Cardoza and the late Scoop Vessels, each of whom Kenny rode for or against.

Now a race steward in New Mexico, Kenny and wife Shirley live in Ruidoso, where he is in the Ruidoso Downs Hall of Fame. Kenny has two children from a previous marriage, Jason with five children; and Lacy Wootan, with two.

“There are no other racetrackers in my family,” he said, reflecting on his career as he hung up his tack in retirement. “I was raised on a cattle ranch, 21 miles from town, and I was always what they called a kamikaze. I didn’t have any fear of horses, and I’ve had my rear whipped a lot of time for doing things horseback that I shouldn’t have done. No one ever thought I’d grow up to be any kind of horseman. But I’ll tell you something: I know I only weigh 115 pounds stripped, but if I put my mind to something, I’ll figure out how to get it done.”

Visit the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in Amarillo to see Kenny and many others who have had an impact on the American Quarter Horse breed.

AQHA Member Benefit Spotlight

AQHA Members receive FREE admission into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and discounts on gift shop merchandise.

AQHA Video

Watch video from the 2012 All American Derby in Ruidoso, New Mexico.