We’ve Come a Long Way

Early halter classes helped define the American Quarter Horse standard.

I think there’s a good chance that horse shows were started to settle an argument – a my-horse-is-better-than-yours kind of thing. Arguments like that have been the basis for a number of traditions that we know today, not the least of which is rodeo.

With that in mind, probably the first horse show was out on a ranch when two cowboys lined up their favorite cow ponies and asked another cowboy to tell them which one he liked the best. No one knows for sure about that, of course, nor does anyone know when or where the first formal horse shows took place.

However, it appears that the first organized shows were in conjunction with stock shows. The American Royal in Kansas City had a horse show in 1905, and both the Fort Worth Stock Show and the National Western in Denver had one in 1907. The Fort Worth Show was popular enough that it was held again in 1908, and American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame member William Anson was the judge. Anson was producing Quarter-type horses early in the 20th century, long before AQHA was founded.

Watch Jim Neubert, his father, Bryan Neubert, and Joe Wolter start 20 head of colts for the legendary Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas, in “The First Week” seven-disc DVD set.

By 1910, going to the Fort Worth Stock Show’s horse show became “the” thing to do, and men led their prized animals into the ring while decked out in wide-brimmed felt hats and high-heeled riding boots. And, of course, they all wore ties – not entirely unlike the major shows of today. The women, not to be outdone, wore the latest fashion in western circles, split riding skirts, even though they were not exhibiting the horses.

The horse show at Fort Worth continued uninterrupted through the years, and in 1941, the year after the formation of AQHA, it was decided that the horse named grand champion stallion at that show would be honored with the first number in the new AQHA stud book. That horse was Wimpy, owned by the famous King Ranch.

The first official AQHA horse show actually preceded the 1941 Fort Worth Stock Show. It was July 4, 1940, in Stamford, Texas, only four months after the Association had been organized. In conjunction with the Texas Cowboy Reunion rodeo, which was nearly always attended by most of the ranchers in Texas, the show was judged by AQHA inspector Jim Minnick. Competing in the stallion halter class was Dexter, owned by AQHA Second Vice President Lee Underwood, and Del Rio Joe, owned by AQHA Executive Secretary Bob Denhardt. Of course, Denhardt, as executive secretary, in essence worked for Underwood, and Minnick, as Association inspector, worked for both Underwood and Denhardt.

Denhardt’s stallion was named grand champion over that of Underwood’s. You don’t suppose that caused any controversy, do you?

Roll It!

Wimpy P-1, bred by King Ranch, became the first registered American Quarter Horse. King Ranch also influenced the cutting industry with legends Mr San Peppy and Peppy San Badger. Learn about his fascinating place in a special America’s Horse episode.

Minnick judged many horse shows during his tenure as an AQHA inspector, and often, while judging a halter class, would send the horses to the their trailers with orders to the handlers to bring the horses back to the arena saddled, at which time Minnick would ride each horse before placing the class. Not all judges at that time thought it was necessary to ride the horses being judged, however.

“The First Week” DVD set is an unscripted look at the work of Joe Wolter, Bryan Neubert and Jim Neubert as they go through the first catching, haltering, leading, saddling and first rides on the young colts of the Four Sixes Ranch. Make the “first week” as painless as possible with the methods of these renowned horsemen.

Denhardt, in his book, “Foundation Sires of the American Quarter Horse,” said, “We tried to select judges for the early shows who would place the correct type of Quarter Horse,” which indicates the controversy that haunted AQHA from the very beginning over whether the Quarter Horse was of the “bulldog” type or whether he might be carrying some blood. In 1949, at a horse show in Kerrville, Texas, there were two halter divisions, one for Thoroughbred ranch-type horses and one for racing-type horses, which shows the controversy still brewing over the different types of horses being registered. However, those early Association officials favored the bulldog, and Denhardt said, “We felt that it was part of our duty to see that a common type was placed as unbrokenly as possible at all of those early shows.”

Now the American Quarter Horse is an internationally renowned breed, with world championship shows in the United States and Europe. We’ve come a long way from cowboys in a pasture settling an argument, haven’t we?