EQUINE ELITE: Sandhills, Nebraska ranch makes top horses | TSLN.com

EQUINE ELITE: Sandhills, Nebraska ranch makes top horses

Sage Haythorn riding Lamar at the 2015 Black Hills Stock Show Ranch Rodeo. Sage was a member of the Sandhills Ranchers team and Lamar was named Top Horse of the evening, a distinction he also earned at the 2014 Western Heritage Classic Ranch Rodeo in Abilene, Texas. Photo by scootemnshootem photography.

With 90,000 acres in the Sandhills of Nebraska to cover, the Haythorn family needs horses that get the job done. Every job.

Lamar is one of those horses. The judges at the Black Hills Stock Show Ranch Rodeo agreed, naming Lamar, ridden by Sage Haythorn, Top Horse.

At age six, the gray gelding, registered as Four Shogun Strong, stands 15.2 hands and weighs about 1,340 pounds. He’s traveled to ranch rodeos in Fort Worth, Abilene, Texas and South Dakota, and has taken home the top horse award more than once.

Sage Haythorn agrees with the judges, saying he’s competed against a really high caliber of horses, but hasn’t yet seen one he’d trade Lamar for.

“He’s one of the biggest horses I’ve ever rode, especially for as young as he is. He’s one of the more cowy or athletic horses I’ve ever rode,” Haythorn said.

Though the big gelding is a standout now, he wasn’t always. Haythorn said he was about the homeliest, plainest horse in the 18-colt pen. “I just liked him. Even when we first started him, he showed he had some cow and some expression, and I just like that about him. And he was big.”

In the cutting business, the horses that have been bred to be cowy have also been bred to be small. So a horse that has the agility to cut a cow out of the herd, then stand at the end of a rope with that cow at the other the end is bound to attract some attention.

“I’ve had several comments on him. Way more comments than any other horse I’ve ever rode,” Haythorn said. “A lot of people have commented about his size and what he can do for the size he is. I think that says quite a bit about what our horses have done.”

Lamar was born and bred on the Haythorn Ranch, near Oglala, Nebraska. He is out of the gray stud PG Shogun, who claims his share of top horse and ranch horse champion honors. On his dam’s side Lamar goes back to Happy Hancock.

Though at age six Lamar is by no means over the hill, for Haythorn it’s time to shift his focus to younger horses. With a new crop of foals hitting the ground every spring, Haythorn says, “I’ve kinda got to start getting started on the young horses so I don’t get so far behind.” While Lamar will still go to ranch rodeos and team ropings, his ranch jobs are going to be largely taken over by the as-yet-unskilled youngsters. “But he won’t go to waste,” Haythorn said.

Lamar’s job at this point is to be a sort of ambassador for the Haythorn horses. The traveling Haythorn and Lamar do could be looked at as a marketing expense, since most of their horses are now sold privately, or through large consignment sales. They just sold 26 head at the AQHA Best of the Remuda sale at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in January. For years the Haythorn horses drew thousands to the ranch horse sales held every four years at the ranch. With the shift in the marketing, it’s more important now than ever to increase the visibility of their horses through competitions.

While the competition is where the buyers get to see the horses in action, the Haythorn horses are still built the old fashioned way—by just doing their jobs. Most of Lamar’s jobs don’t involve an audience and a stopwatch, but every skill required in the arena at a ranch rodeo is likely one he’s already mastered in the pasture.

Haythorn said Lamar had never been out of the driveway until they hauled him to Abilene, Texas for the Western Heritage Classic Ranch Rodeo, where the Haythorn Ranch won first place, and Lamar won Top Horse.

As an invitation-only ranch rodeo, Haythorn said he had to be pretty confident in the horse he hauled there. It can ruin the team’s day pretty quickly if one of the horses turns the stray gathering event into a bronc riding exhibition. That wasn’t a concern with Lamar. “He’s got a pretty good disposition. He’s always been just a little bit watchy, a little bit spooky on the ground, but once you’re on him he’s good.”

Though their marketing technique has shifted, the Haythorns are still producing the kind of horses they’ve been making in the Sandhills of Nebraska for well over a century. They’re horses that drag calves, cover miles, stand when they are told to, run when they need to, watch what needs watching and get the job done. They’re top horses.

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