Hall of Fame Part III: Frank Howell and Skipper W
One of the most universally recognized American Quarter Horse names is that of Skipper W.
February 28, 2012
From The American Quarter Horse Journal
At the 2012 AQHA Convention in Las Vegas in March, six new inductees will join the prestigious walls of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. The new inductees include Gordon Hannagan, Walter Fletcher, Bob Loomis, Indigo Illusion, Streakin La Jolla and Hollywood Dun It.
In April, America’s Horse Daily will feature biographies about the new members of the Hall of Fame. Until then, enjoy this series about the people and horses honored in 2011 by induction into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.
One of the most universally recognized names in the annals of the American Quarter Horse is that of Skipper W. This sorrel stallion by Nick Shoemaker and out of Hired Girl by Cowboy P-12 was foaled in the spring of 1945 on the Alamosa, Colorado, ranch of H. J. “Hank” Wiescamp. Hank – a 1994 American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame inductee – began his storied horse-breeding career in the 1920s and 1930s by crossing middle-of-the road Thoroughbred stallions with “Steel Dust” mares to produce cavalry mounts and polo ponies.
In the early 1940s, the renowned horseman decided to concentrate on the Old Fred-Peter McCue family of horses that had been popularized by Coke Roberds of Hayden, Colorado.
“I admired Coke as one of the outstanding breeders of all time,” Hank recalled in an interview prior to his death in 1997. “In size and type, his horses were not all that different from the horses I had been raising, but they had a lot more color and chrome. They were also a family of horses that you could line breed successfully in order to set your type and uniformity, and that was what I wanted to do.”
To head his new breeding program, Hank purchased a 4-year-old palomino stallion named Nick Shoemaker from Warren Shoemaker of Watrous, New Mexico, in 1943. An outstanding sire in his own right, the ill-fated stallion died in early 1947 as the result of a freak accident.
At the time of his senior herd sire’s passing, Hank had several up-and-coming young stallions that merited consideration as breeding animals. Among these were Joker W, a proven race and cutting champion; Scooter W, a future champion racehorse; Showboat, a future champion show horse; and Skipper W, a promising but unproven 3-year-old.
Scooter W was too lightly muscled to suit Hank, while Joker W was a dun and Showboat a palomino. The Colorado horseman wanted a sorrel or chestnut stallion to cross on his predominantly buckskin, dun and palomino Old Fred-bred mares. And so it was that Skipper W got the nod.
The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum is a great way to experience the western lifestyle. Come visit the exhibits showcasing the American Quarter Horse.
“Skipper W had the shortest fox ears that you’ve ever seen, and he had a good, long neck that just got better as he matured. He also had a tremendous hip, stifle and hind leg. He was strong where my mares were weak, so I went with him, and it turned out to be the right thing to do.”
Skipper W, who grew into a well-proportioned stallion, standing about 15 hands and weighing 1,300 pounds, was shown only three times at halter – standing grand at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado State Fair in Pueblo and New Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque.
When the stallion was a coming 2-year-old, Hank turned him over to George Mueller to start under saddle. “When I started him,” George said, “he was kind of awkward. But he learned to handle himself real well and, the longer I went with him, the better he got. I roped a lot of calves on him, and he was a fine calf horse.
“I think ‘Skipper’ would have been a super performance horse. The horse could do things. But we just didn’t use him. Hank could make more money back there with them mares than he could with me spurring on him. But that’s the only thing I regretted; that I didn’t get to sure ’nuff hook up and do things on him.”
Among the stallion’s best-known sons and daughters were Skipper’s King, Skip’s Reward, Skipper’s Lad, Skipperette, Skipadoo and Skipette.
“Usually a stud becomes better known as a sire of sires or a sire of broodmares,” Hank said. “Skipper W turned out to be a sire of both. Skipper W flat out-produced himself. I don’t know any other way to put it. When I bred him to a mare, he consistently sired a foal that was better than both he and the mare.”
Skipper W died of a heart attack at age 18 in 1963. Hank kept back seven of his sons and 57 daughters for breeding, and they formed the nucleus for a family of horses that is still very much in evidence today.
Skipper W was never heavily shown or promoted, he never stood to outside mares, and he was never put into mass production as a sire. Despite all of this, his name continues to be a household word within the Quarter Horse world; so much so that, even though his name might only appear once – six or eight generations back in a horse’s pedigree – the owner of that horse proudly proclaims it to be “Skipper W-bred.”
Fresh out of high school, a young Southern horseman named Frank Howell headed to work at the Dixie Dude Ranch in Bandera, Texas. Born in Greensville, Alabama, and raised in Selma, Frank had ridden and roped all his young life. It was a perfect talent to perform for the city “dude” visitors on the weekends. Frank stayed at the ranch for a year, working cattle during the week.
He never forgot the experience or the horses, even after he returned to the South, established and grew an international roofing business, and raised three children with his wife, Lena.
Once the children were grown with families of their own, Frank and Lena moved to a place outside Union City, Georgia, south of Atlanta, and Frank bought an American Quarter Horse to have something for the grandchildren to ride. It was a mare who had won a halter futurity in Ocala, Florida. Frank started buying more horses, raising foals and showing, and the rest is AQHA history.
Frank’s first homebred home run was Private Twister (Private Blend-Mini Twisted Lass by Sheik’s Command), the 1985 amateur reserve world champion 2-year-old gelding. He was the first in a long line of great horses of Frank’s that included Zoraya, 1988 amateur world champion yearling mare, and Miss Mergie, 1996 junior barrel racing world champion.
Sugar Ray Cool, a 1989 gelding by Ima Cool Skip and out of How D Royal Rita by Tee Jay Roman, is the horse Frank is most proud of. The horse’s list of accomplishments include 1989 open and amateur world champion weanling gelding; 1991 world champion 2-year-old gelding and reserve in the amateur; 1992 amateur world champion 3-year-old gelding; and open, amateur and junior high-point halter gelding for a record four consecutive years, 1990-93. Frank led all but one of his world champions, even in the open classes.
“People used to tell me that the judges wouldn’t let an amateur win in the open,” he told the Journal at the time. “They let me win. If you had the right horse, and you presented him properly, they would let you win.”
Be sure to visit the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum and take a one-of-a-kind tour of the facility!
In 1976, Frank joined the Georgia Quarter Horse Association and later served two terms as president. In 1990, he became active in AQHA by serving on the amateur committee and was elected to the board of directors in 1996. He has also served on the stud book and registration committee, the public policy task force and the affiliate and racing councils. Elected to the AQHA Executive Committee in 2001, he was the Association’s president in 2005-06.
Introduced to the idea of regional championship shows by a group of members from the Northeast, as president, Frank made the AQHA Regional Championships (initially called Regional Experiences) a reality. The first were in 2005, and they remain a mainstay of AQHA’s effort to bring in new exhibitors, increase regional showing opportunities and offer horsemanship educational venues nationwide.
Frank and Lena now have eight grandchildren and have lived on their farm outside Union City for 26 years; they still have a few horses. The AQHA World Championship Show is his favorite show to attend, and he remains active in AQHA governance as a past president.
“One of my greatest pleasures now is to look through show catalogs or show schedules, and a lot of the horses that appear came from horses that I once owned,” Frank says. “At one time, we had 38 mares and all the yearlings and weanlings that come with that.”
He gave as example Charcool, a 1991 son of Ima Cool Skip that Frank raised and sold to someone in Europe: The horse earned an open halter Register of Merit, was 1998 and 1999 high-point international western riding horse, and earned an open AQHA Championship.
“It’s fun to see that what you sent out, over the country and over the world, comes back in some way,” Frank says. “We scattered horses all through the industry.”