Flying B horses showcase Bartlett’s legacy

A big cattle spread in Wyoming was a dream come true for Dr. Woody Bartlett, who already had a horse and cattle ranch in Alabama and a horse ranch in Texas when he expanded to The Cowboy State, growing his holdings to about 90,000 acres in the late 1990s.  

Jed Hirschi, the horse manager for Bartlett’s Wyoming ranch, said Bartlett started out in Alabama, which is where he was raised. Bartlett’s father was a doctor, and he would have liked Woody to follow in his footsteps, but all Bartlett wanted was to be around animals–horses, specifically–so he became a doctor of a different sort, a veterinarian. The Bartlett family was well-heeled thanks to a Coca-Cola bottling line innovation, so in his 20s, Bartlett had the means to follow his real dream–building a stable of good breeding horses and a cattle ranch.  

Some of those early studs Bartlett picked were Quick Henry, Handle Bar Doc, Sugar Tricks and Skip Chico. Those names are still on many of pedigrees of horses that carry the flying B brand of the Bartlett Ranch. 

Bill Smith, world champion saddle bronc rider and founder of the WYO Quarter Horse sale, said in 1987 Bartlett went to one of Smith’s sales, and bought a gelding for his wife. That was the beginning of a relationship that guided Bartlett’s expansion into Wyoming and ranch horses.  

For about 10 years Smith went to Bartlett’s ranch in Alabama and conducted horsemanship clinics. Then, about the time that some members of Smith’s family were looking to get out of the horse sale, Bartlett was looking at expanding to Wyoming, and partnering with Smith to produce horses for the WYO Quarter Horse sale was a perfect fit, Smith said.  

Bartlett’s wife at the time was big into cutting horses, so he had bought a place in Texas, where he was producing high-end cutting horses. He brought the horses that didn’t make the grade for his cutting program, but that were still outstanding horses, to the ranch in Wyoming. They were well-suited for Smith’s sale, which focuses on ranch horses, from weanlings to finished geldings. 

Smith helped Bartlett find the ranch near Chugwater, where they now run about 1,000 head of mother cows and 1,200 steers, in addition to around 170 broodmares and 13 studs, having just added 70 mares that were previously at his place in Alabama.  

Hirschi said they have a marketing plan for every horse produced on the place. They previously planned on about 100 foals a year, counting about 40 broodmares they run for Smith. The oldest fillies, born before May 5, are sold on the fall sale as weanlings, along with about 25-30 yearling fillies and a few aged geldings. Fillies born after May 5 go on the spring WYO Quarter Horse Sale as yearlings. They typically keep five to 10 for replacements. The geldings are kept until the fall after they turn 2, when they’re marketed as “started.” The top 10 to 15 of the 2-year-old geldings stick around for a few more years. They are ridden in the mountains, creeks, roping arena and generally taught to be top-of-the-line ranch horses, and sold when they’re around age 7. 

“It gives us a chance to sell those 2-year-olds, somewhat at a discount, but without five years worth of riding,” Hirschi said. “We sold an aged gelding this fall for $35,000. You can get something very similar for $6,000 or $7,000 as a 2-year-old.”  

The first week of June every year–right around Bartlett’s birthday on June 6–15 to 20 cowboys head to the ranch in Chugwater to start the 45 head of 2-year-old colts that will be on the fall sale. “They’re not going to sit there and individually mess with each one, to where he kicks a ball around,” Hirschi said. “They throw 15 head of colts in the round pen and we’re saddling and getting on them. They take time if there’s a problem.” They call it a “clinic” and it’s open to the public, but the focus is on getting those colts started well and riding smoothly before they are turned back out to grow up some more.  

The riders are paid, and the cookhouse provides three meals a day for whoever shows up. After about day three the crowd dwindles as the colts start behaving and the riders start taking them outside the round pen.  

From the beginning, Bartlett was intentional about producing quality horses for a specific purpose. His foray into the cutting world added some genetics that aren’t accessible to the average ranch horse producer, simply because of the high price tag on those horses. Hirschi said, “We get the ‘junk’ they don’t want down there (at the Texas cutting-horse facility) that’s like solid gold up here. These bloodlines aren’t going to pop out as ranch horse bloodlines, but they’ve got Metallic Cat or Peptoboosnmal on their papers.”  

They’ve used generations of breeding to build the cutting horses into ranch horses, and to put more cow in the ranch horses. Of the 13 studs on the place, four were raised on the ranch in Wyoming and two came from the Bartlett place in Texas, but the outcrosses boast Pitzer bloodlines, a son of Playgun, a son of Dash Ta Fame, a son of Streak of Fling and a son of Peptoboonsmal. The two from Texas are sons of Metallic Cat. The four that were raised in Wyoming are big, ranch-bred studs that will add the ruggedness people look for in these ranch horses. 

“We want a horse that’s 15 to 15.2 hands. We like something with some color. We cross the cow-bred mares on ranch studs, and the ranch mares on the cow-bred studs, and try to get a good using horse that’s not too tall, not too small, has good bone, good feet, a good mind and some color,” Hirschi said.   

When it comes to the mares, Hirschi said they have some of the best marepower in the country. They have daughters of Smooth as a Cat, High Brow cat and other well-bred mares that were raised in Texas. Nearly all the horses are registered with AQHA, with the exception of two that are registered Paint horses.  

For the most part, they have pairings figured out that they’re pretty happy with. Bill Smith makes the breeding decisions for his own mares, and Hirschi manages the Bartlett mares.  

“Royal Blue Gin is my favorite stud,” Hirschi said. “He has a set of 15 mares that have gone out with him for as long as we’ve had him, and he’s 11. He’s a great big grey horse that carries a roan gene. I like what he gives them colts. He’s 5-panel negative, so I can cross him on anything and not have to worry about that 5-panel stuff coming back.”  

They do make some adjustments if there is a mating that doesn’t produce exactly what they’re looking for. About six years ago, Hirschi said, they had a 17-hand Quarter Horse. Three years ago they had one that was 16.3 hands and weighed 1,600 pounds.  

“There is a market if you’re able to have one in the sale. Five or six year or 10 years ago, you could have six horses that were 15.3 or bigger and all six would sell really well. Now you want one of them. There will be about two people in the audience that will want that big horse. People are starting to realize they don’t have to be that big to be a good ranch horse. These 15-hand horses can do everything a 16-hand horse can do, but do it smoother.”  

For a lot of their customers, this is a one-time investment. They’re planning to be able to ride these horses for 15 years, and they have to be thinking about whether they’ll be able to climb on a 16-hand horse in 15 years.  

But many customers keep coming back. They’ve learned to trust the people and the horses that go through WYO Quarter Horse sale, so any time they need a horse, that’s where they go.  

Bartlett has recently been dealing with some health issues, and has gradually handed over the management of his ranches to a staff he trusts. But he still likes to come out and see the babies, and celebrates his birthday with a massive colt-starting clinic, Hirschi said. “He’s been a great boss. You know he loves this lifestyle and what he does here in this place, and in Alabama and Texas. When he was able, he did all the vet work here. He taught me how to cut studs. I appreciate just being able to take what he’s done and continue on.”  

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