The Top 5 Ranch Horse Bloodlines

Western Horseman ranks the top bloodlines used in today's working ranch remudas. 

Compiled by JENNIFER DENISON and ROSS HECOX, originally published in the October 2007 issue of Western Horseman

Ranchers have bred for the ideal working ranch horse for more than a hundred years. In the early days, cowboys favored Steeldust descendants. Around the turn of the 20th century, Thoroughbred stallions in the U.S. government’s Remount program improved bloodlines of ranch remudas throughout the West. And in the heyday of match racing, famous stallions known for their quick bursts of speed and athleticism began influencing the breeding programs of many working cattle ranches.

The time period from the late 1800s to the early 1900s produced legendary stallions such as Peter McCue, Midnight, Joe Hancock, Oklahoma Star, Joe Reed and My Texas Dandy. These horses became the foundation sires for the Quarter Horse breed and for today’s working ranch horses.

In the mid-1900s, horses such as Driftwood, Bert, Hollywood Gold, Grey Badger III, Sugar Bars, King, Poco Bueno and Leo added another layer to the foundation of the breed.

Within the past 20 years, ranches throughout the country have begun using popular cutting horse bloodlines to enhance their horses’ athleticism and cow sense. And, while they identify their horses by contemporary names such as Little Peppy or Freckles Playboy, those horses trace to the foundation sires of the Quarter Horse breed. At the same time, the names of a few old-time bloodlines, such as Hancock and Driftwood, endure to this day.

After interviewing top ranchers and leading horsemen, and analyzing registration statistics and production sale records, Western Horseman editors and staff members cast their votes for the ranch-horse bloodlines that have had the most influence on today’s working strings.

Here’s our top 5:

5. Driftwood
DriftwoodPhoto by Katy Peake

Bred by “Old Man” Childress of Silverton, Texas, and foaled in 1932, Driftwood emerged from a relatively unknown pedigree. Nevertheless, he quickly became a top match racehorse in West Texas.

Later, Ross Brinson brought him to Arizona, where he dominated in the rodeo arena. Under Asbury Schell, one of several of the horse’s owners and a top rodeo hand, “Speedy” became a famous rope horse and later was well-known throughout Arizona and California as a top sire of rodeo mounts.

At age 11, Driftwood was purchased by Channing and Catherine Peake of Lompoc, California. The Peakes used Driftwood to establish one of the most respected bloodlines of rodeo and ranch horses, known for their speed, intelligence and ability to cross well on other bloodlines. Mel Potter of Marana, Arizona, is largely responsible for keeping the Driftwood line alive.

Pedigree: sired by Miller Boy and out of The Comer Mare. Traces to Barlow, Hobart Horse and JA Ranch breeding. Descendants: Poker Chip Peake, Woodwind, Driftwood Ike, Lone Drifter, Drifts Chip. Ranches that use this bloodline: Babbitt Ranches, Diamond A Ranch, Bar B Ranch, Wagonhound Ranch.

4. Two Eyed Jack
TwoEyedJackandHowardPitzerCourtesy Pitzer Ranch

Jim Brinkman, the grandson of legendary breeder Howard Pitzer, rode Two Eyed Jack as a boy and has ridden the stallion’s descendants all his life. He’s done everything on them, from working cattle to roping to showing them in halter. Their versatility and disposition have made them ideal ranch horses, particularly in Nebraska, where the Pitzer Ranch is located, and throughout the Midwest.

“Whenever someone came to look at [Two Eyed Jack], Howard threw me on him bareback with just a halter on him,” Brinkman recalls. “You didn’t worry about him being broncy or anything. His foals were all gentle horses, on the verge of being a little lazy. But at the same time, they had a lot of bottom.”

Two Eyed Jack was bred by Herman Mass of McHenry, Illinois. Pitzer acquired the stallion in 1964 as a 3-year-old. The 1961 sorrel earned a Superior in halter and AQHA points in a wide variety of events, including reining, working cow horse and Western riding. He sired 1,416 foals and 149 AQHA Champions.

Pedigree: sired by Two D Two and out of Triangle Tookie. Traces to legendary sires Silver King, King, Grey Badger III and Roan Hancock. Descendants: Watch Joe Jack, Mr Baron Red, Two ID Bartender, Two Eyed Red Buck. Ranches that use this bloodline: Hutchings Cattle Company, Pitzer Ranch, Bartlett Ranch. 

3. Joe Hancock
JoeHancock1927A photo taken in Oklahoma, probably about 1927, shows the famous horse in racing shape.

Joe Hancock’s history is filled with approximation and uncertainty. Bred by John Jackson Hancock, Joe Hancock was foaled sometime between 1923 and 1925. His sire was the great foundation stallion Peter McCue, and his dam was a grade mare by a Percheron stallion and out of a Thoroughbred-type mare. This unusual cross gave Joe Hancock his stout conformation, calm yet tough disposition, speed and cow sense.

After a colorful match-race career, during which he stood open to race any horse for three-eights of a mile, Joe Hancock retired virtually undefeated. Tom Burnett paid $2,000 for the horse, and retired him to stud on the Four Sixes/ Triangle Ranches.

Today, rodeo competitors, ropers and ranchers appreciate Hancock-bred horses for their big, stout conformations, grittiness and cow sense. Some Hancocks are known for their buck, big feet and plain heads, but staunch supporters say few foundation bloodlines produce such hardworking horses.

Pedigree: sired by John Wilkens, by Peter McCue, and out of an unregistered range mare. Descendants: Hancock’s Dude, Little Joe The Wrangler, Red Man, Roan Hancock, War Chief, Hesa Eddie Hancock, Figure Four Fritz, Red Hot Hancock. Ranches that use this bloodline: Bar B Ranch, Broken Bones Cattle Company, Haythorn Land & Cattle Co., Merrill Ranch.

2. Doc Bar

When Tom and Jack Finley of Gilbert, Arizona, bred AA running horse Dandy Doll to AAA racehorse Lightning Bar, they hoped to produce a sleek speedster. Instead, they got Doc Bar. The 14.3-hand, 1,000-pound chestnut stallion won only $95 in lifetime racing earnings; however, he went on to excel in halter competition and sire a cutting-horse dynasty from 1960 to 1978. His get dominated cutting competition with their cow sense, athleticism and graceful, sweepy moves. These qualities make Doc Bar’s blood popular with today’s working ranch-horse breeders.

John Lacey, owner of Lacey Livestock in Paso Robles, California, stands two stallions and runs several mares that carry the Doc Bar bloodline. He considers Doc Bar to be the product of a perfect nick between Lightning Bar and Dandy Doll.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Doc Bar, through his Three Bars influence, is one of the greatest cow-horse sires there ever was or will be,” says Lacey. “He was a prolific sire, and he was very prepotent; he passed on his cow sense and athletic ability to his offspring.”

Pedigree: sired by Lightning Bar and out of Dandy Doll. Traces to Three Bars on his top side and Texas Dandy on the bottom. Descendants: Doc O’Lena, Doc Quixote, Doc Tari, Doc’s Hickory, Doc’s Leo Lad, Doc’s Lynx, Doc’s Marmoset, Docs Prescription, Doc’s Starlight, Docs Stylish Oak, Dry Doc, Genuine Doc. Ranches that use this bloodline: Bell Ranch, JA Ranch, Lacey Livestock, Raymond Sutton Ranch, Singleton Ranches, Spade Ranch, W.T. Waggoner Estate, Wagonhound Ranch, Van Norman Ranches.

1. Little Peppy

Cutting horse enthusiasts are all too familiar with Peppy San Badger, better known as “Little Peppy.” The 1974 sorrel stallion won the NCHA Futurity in 1977 and has sired the earners of more than $25 million.

Little Peppy will forever be linked to the legendary King Ranch and famous horseman Buster Welch. Bred by Joe Kirk Fulton of Lubbock, Texas, the sorrel blazed-face stallion was purchased by the King Ranch in South Texas as a 3-year-old. He was trained, shown and used on the ranch by Welch.

Even though Little Peppy remains the patriarch of dominant lines in the cutting, reining and reined cow horse industries, some of the best ranch remudas in the country descend from the stallion.

“He was an outstanding ranch horse,” recalls Welch. “He had a smooth trot and a smooth lope. He was always attentive, but never fractious. He really studied what you were doing.”

Pedigree: sired by Mr San Peppy and out of Sugar Badger. Traces to legendary sires Leo and Grey Badger III. Descendants: Peptoboonsmal, Paddys Irish Whiskey, Haidas Little Pep, Grays Starlight Ranches that use this bloodline: King Ranch, Four Sixes Ranch, Douglas Lake Cattle Company, Waggoner Ranch, Lacey Livestock, Bar B Ranch, Pitchfork Ranch.

Tags: Flashback FridayDoc BarTwo Eyed JackflashbacksLittle PeppyPeppy San BadgerDriftwoodtop bloodlines