Helen Michaelis will always be remembered as the First Lady of Quarter Horse history. If not for her strict adherence to bloodline standards as the second secretary of the American Quarter Horse Association, the American Quarter Horse breed might have evolved to nothing more than the equine industry’s best loved mutt.
Helen Mary Hall was a daughter of Fred S. Hall, an Englishman who came to America to raise horses, and Florence Black, who was born on a ranch in Kimble County, Texas. Undoubtedly influenced by her father, Helen was introduced to horses at a very young age and would stay involved with them throughout her life.
Helen supported herself through college by owning a riding stable. She attended college at the University of Texas and spent the summer of 1928 teaching riding at Camp Ekalela near Estes Park in Colorado. When she returned to Texas, she rounded up a string of horses she had raised and trained on the family ranch, and drove them 173 miles from Eden to Austin. She first rented at the Western Field Riding Club and later bought her own riding academy.
By 1932 she had finished her education and developed a good business. Then she fell in love, sold her stables and all but a few of her horses and married Max G. Michaelis, Jr. She moved to Mexico with him and continued to raise and train horses while abroad. The couple later moved back to the Michaelis Ranch in Kyle, Texas.
Helen was introduced to quarter-type horses in the early 1930s; and a few years later, she started doing research on the breed’s origins. She visited with different ranchers about their horses and recorded the information. Helen went to match races and kept records of the placings and other information. She started writing articles concerning everything she had learned.
After reading an article written by Robert Denhardt had written on the “Billy” horses in South Texas, Helen sent him a letter concerning Ott Adams’ horse, Little Joe. Denhardt was impressed by her knowledge of Quarter Horse bloodlines, and the two became friends.
When AQHA was established in 1940, Helen was elected as a director and took over as secretary in 1942 when Denhardt received a Rockefeller Fellowship to work toward a doctorate at Berkeley. She ran AQHA from her ranch in Eagle Pass, Texas. She met some initial resistance and prejudice as a woman in the livestock industry, but ultimately she gained the respect of her peers.
As secretary and authority on bloodlines, Helen could spot fabricated pedigrees. More than one rancher’s horse passed inspection, but did not pass Helen on bloodlines.
August 15, 1946, was Helen’s last day as secretary-treasurer of the American Quarter Horse Association. She had spent much of her life working for the Association and, despite pressure and criticism, followed the rules and regulations to the letter. Helen stepped down and handed the reins to John Burns. Her influence on AQHA extended beyond her knowledge of bloodlines, as she had an effect on the role of women in AQHA and the Quarter Horse industry.
It was her good luck to do and have what she valued most. Life without a family, horses, or ranching would have been a prison to her, and she had all of those.
Want to learn more about Helen Michaelis? Purchase a "The Bold & Beautiful: Trailblazing Women of the American Quarter Horse" companion book from Quarter Horse Outfitters to learn more about the stories and history of the 12 women in the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.