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Foundation Quarter Horse History

Foundation Quarter Horse - The Old Sorrel
AQHA Hall of Fame Stallion

Karen Griffith Farms · 34440 State Route 7 · Pomeroy, Ohio  45769
Call: (740) 992-5782 · E-mail: griffith@frognet.net


 The Old  Sorrel - Foundation Quarter Horse - AQHA Hall of Fame

The Old Sorrel (1915) - AQHA Hall of Fame Stallion

The main business of the King Ranch revolves around thousands of head of cattle. Hundreds of saddle horses are required to run the ranch. Most of the cowboys are vaqueros of Mexican and Indian descent who have lived on the ranch all their lives. Cattle were made to be worked by horsemen and the King Ranch vaqueros are among the greatest. They savvy horses and cows.

The owners of the King Ranch have always been cowmen, who when on the ranch put in a day's work, generally in the saddle. They know and demand good cow horses. Robert J. Kleberg, Jr., the man most responsible for their Quarter Horses, found that the racing Thoroughbred left something to be desired as a cow horse. This is why the ranch started its horse program which eventually resulted in the now famous King Ranch Quarter Horses.

Although Bob Kleberg was not sold on the Thoroughbred as a cow horse the South Texas Billy horse did not fill his eye either. Billy horses were too compact to fit Kleberg's desires, so he looked for a sire of Quarter Horse breeding with which he could perpetuate the qualities he admired in both types. He wanted to eliminate some Thoroughbred characteristics and combine the good features of the Thoroughbred with the temperament, maneuverability and cow sense of the Quarter Horse. Caesar Kleberg, who ran the Canales division of the ranch, saw eye to eye with Bob, and it was Caesar who actually purchased the prototype for the King Ranch Quarter Horses, the horse that was to become known as The Old Sorrel.

The colt was about six months old when Caesar first saw him in 1915. He was sired by Hickory Bill and out of a Thoroughbred mare owned by George Clegg which came from Kentucky. The colt was not delivered to the King Ranch until the fall of 1918, shortly before the end of World War I in Europe.

When the Clegg horse arrived at the ranch, it was named George Clegg after its breeder. However, as the years went by, the vaqueros around the ranch just referred to him as "El Alazan Viejo" or The Old Sorrel. The name stuck. He was registered as The Old Sorrel. When he was broken, both Bob and Caesar Kleberg rode him until they were satisfied he could do it all. Some of the things they were especially looking for and found were temperament, cow sense, endurance, intelligence, and a good mouth.

Bob Kleberg knew exactly how he was going to breed the horse he wanted. He had been most successful in setting characteristics not long before when he created the Santa Gertrudis cattle.2 He planned to repeat approximately the same program with The Old Sorrel by selecting outstanding mares. He also had some Quarter mares which he planned to use in his program.

The top colt of the first cross of The Old Sorrel and a Thoroughbred mare was Solis. It must not be assumed that Solis was selected immediately from the first colt crop. There had been a continual elimination process which Kleberg supervised. The bottom half were gelded and put in with saddle horses. The top half were carefully broken and ridden by the family and the other top horsemen. Then they were ranked in all their activities. Selected fillies were also put through this routine. When the top three or four stallions were selected, each was given a carefully screened group of half sisters and some hand-picked Quarter mares for an outcross.

When the foals of this second cross arrived, they went through the same process of culling and selection. It was then decided that Solis was best. In 1940, when the first registrations were being made by the association, eight sons and grandsons of The Old Sorrel were being bred to bands of mares who were daughters and granddaughters of The Old Sorrel. Something like three hundred mares were involved in the program, and another five hundred of both sexes were still being tested and culled. It was from these groups that the horses were selected to be registered. Just over one hundred were registered. Some of the more familiar sires of the horses registered were Solis, Tino, Cardinal, Ranchero, and Little Richard. There were also ten or twelve mares by Chicaro. In almost every case, The Old Sorrel was the sire or grandsire.3

As time passed, some great horses were produced, all bred about the same way. Take Wimpy, for example. He was half Quarter Horse and half Thoroughbred, close to what Bob Kleberg wanted. To define Wimpy's breeding in another way, a son of The Old Sorrel was bred to a daughter of The Old Sorrel. The son had a Thoroughbred dam and the daughter a Quarter Horse dam.

This breeding employed by Kleberg may seem a little close, or tight, as inbreeding is sometimes called. It may be tight for the average breeder with only thirty or forty mares, but when undertaken by a master breeder and geneticist like Bob Kleberg--using several hundreds of mares--it works. Proper individuals and careful culling insures success, and the desired characteristics are set.

Other examples of Kleberg's breeding were Peppy, who won the Fort Worth show in 1940, and Macanudo, who won the Kingsville show a few months before the Fort Worth show. Peppy was by Little Richard by The Old Sorrel and out of a daughter of Cardinal by The Old Sorrel. Macanudo was by The Old Sorrel and out of a Hickory Bill mare. All were top horses. It is to the credit of The Old Sorrel that his colts have been outstanding in all activities, roping, cutting, racing, and showing. They are all-round horses.

2 Robert J. Kleberg, Jr., had done the next to impossible by establishing a new breed of beef cattle, the Santa Gertrudis. This was a Brahma-Shorthorn cross that was ideally suited for the hot, damp climate of the Gulf Coast. Before the creation of the AQHA, he was well on the way toward creating his own breed of sorrel cow horse, by crossing the Thoroughbred and the Quarter Horse. When the AQHA was formed, Kleberg joined the association and registered his horses in the Quarter Horse Official Stud Book. For an excellent description of the King Ranch activities read The King Ranch, by Tom Lea.

3 The officials making the first inspection trip to the King Ranch were Jim Minnick, Lee Underwood, and I. We were escorted on our rounds by Bob Kleberg, Dr. J. K. Northway, and Lauro (Larry) Cavazos. Dr. Northway is internationally famous as a veterinarian and was Kleberg's consultant on livestock matters. He had been intimately connected with both the Santa Gertrudis and the Quarter Horse programs. Cavazos was the ranch foreman. He knew the history and location of every animal on that ranch. Incidentally, he was one of the two or three outstanding horsemen I have ever known. Reference is made here to the following works by the above men: Robert J. Kleberg and A. O. Rhoad, "The Development of a Superior Family in the Modern Quarter Horse," The Journal of Heredity, August, 1946; Dr. J. K. Northway, "Like Begets Like," The Cattleman, September. 1965. Another excellent treatise on that ranch's horses is "King Ranch Horses,' Cattleman, September, 1940.

This story was taken from the book by Robert Moorman Denhardt - Quarter Horses: A Story of Two Centuries. (For more reading, check out another book by Denhardt - The King Ranch Quarter Horses.)


Karen Griffith Farms · 34440 State Route 7 · Pomeroy, Ohio  45769
Call: (740) 992-5782 · E-mail: griffith@frognet.net
Web site: www.karengriffith.com

Copyright © 1973 - 2009 by Karen Griffith. All rights reserved.

Content by Karen Griffith