The Three Bars Legacy

A history of the horse whose offspring have become legends in the horse-showing ring.


This Hall of Fame Thoroughbred was named Three Bars because his owners hoped he would pay off like a slot machine. AQHA file photo.

In an age of hot-blooded, hair-triggered racehorses, Three Bars' easygoing disposition was something of an anomaly. The Thoroughbred’s even temperament was one of the reasons he succeeded as a sire.

Walter Merrick of Oklahoma knew he'd hit the jackpot when he started breeding mares to Three Bars. He persuaded owner Sidney H. Vail to let him lease the stallion for three breeding seasons, 1952-54. Instead of breeding 12 or 15 mares a year, suddenly Three Bars was breeding 70. After the lease was up, Merrick hauled his best mares to wherever Three Bars was standing.

"I was criticized very sharply for introducing a Thoroughbred into the Quarter Horse industry," Merrick said. "Some people thought it was going to ruin the breed."

From 1945 to 1963, Three Bars sired 554 foals. His stud fee went from $100 in 1945 to $10,000 in 1963. His Thoroughbred progeny include Lena's Bar, the dam of Easy Jet; Lucky Bar, the sire of Impressive; and Rocket Bar, the grandsire of Dash For Cash.

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Shining in the Show Ring

Three Bars' American Quarter Horse sons include:

  • Lightning Bar - AQHA Champion and Hall of Fame horse who sired 148 foals, including Hall of Famer Doc Bar, whose foals earned 8,894 points, nine world championships, four reserve world championships and 31 AQHA Champions. They have also earned more than $3,213,000 with the National Cutting Horse Association.
  • Sugar Bars - halter point earner and Hall of Fame horse whose foals earned 9,896 points. He sired 36 AQHA Champions. Sugar Bars is fourth on the all-time leading sires of AQHA Champions list, followed by his sire Three Bars (TB).

Read The Three Bars Bloodline e-book to learn the history of the bloodlines that set the foundation of today’s top American Quarter Horses in the show ring.

  • Gay Bar King - cutting money earner whose foals earned 2,729 points.
  • Zippo Pat Bars - Hall of Fame horse whose foals earned 113 performance Registers of Merit. One of his most famous foals, Zippo Pine Bar, was an AQHA Champion who sired foals who earned 29 world championships and more than 74,000 points.
  • Goldseeker Bars - AQHA Supreme Champion with foals who earned 5,580 points. He sired two world champions and two reserve world champions.

Debate over permanently registering the progeny of Three Bars and other Thoroughbreds in the 1950s created a severe rift within AQHA. The "bulldog" men, some of whom helped write the original description of a Quarter Horse, grudgingly accepted the inclusion of Thoroughbred offspring after the proponents of Three Bars formed their own breed registry.

Learn more about Three Bars and his progeny, including Doc Bar, Sugar Bars, Zippo Pat Bars and Rocket Bars in AQHA's detailed e-book, The Three Bars Bloodline.

On April 6, 1968, two days shy of his 28th birthday, Three Bars died from a heart attack at Merrick's ranch in western Oklahoma, where he had returned to stand the 1967 season.

At the time of his death, he was the all-time leading sire of racing ROM qualifiers, of AAA runners and of money earners, his get having earned $2,857,781. He was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 1989.