South Dakota’s Crago family recognized as AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder of the Year
Although brothers Bruce and Ralph Crago each run their own cow herd under different brands, the two share more than a brotherly bond. They also share the rocking chair horse brand that has represented their family for over 60 years.
The brand was first registered in 1957 as a partnership between father and mother, Vince and Margaret, and their three sons: Bruce, Ralph and Chuck. After the passing of Vince and after Chuck left to run his own operation, the brand is still used for the Crago Cattle Co. Quarter Horses.
Ralph and his wife, Becky, along with their daughter, Kristy Schmidt and her husband, run one stud and a band of 12 mares. Nearby, Bruce and his son, Colby along with his wife, run three studs with a couple small bands of mares while Margaret still lives on the original homestead that has been in the family for 130 years.
Vince’s grandfather came to western South Dakota from England and homesteaded the first 320 acres in 1887, turning it into an orchard and planting 1,000 apple trees. His son, Charles, purchased the orchard and land in the late 1920s from his father. As the story goes, the family sold apples, milk and vegetables to grocery stores in order to keep the family afloat during the 1930s. Shortly after, Charles changed the focus of the place from fruit orchards to cattle, draft and ranch horses.
Vince grew up with those horses and thanks to his father, Margaret says that he always had an appreciation for them. In 1958, Vince bought his first registered horses. A mare and a colt for 60 dollars and a yearling for 40 dollars. Soon after, he bought a registered stud named Wrangler Red, who was a grandsire to the second stud that he purchased, Beckwith Dun.
“Beckwith Dun was kind of our cornerstone sire that started the Crago Quarter Horses and us having a production sale for 30 plus years,” Kristy said. “They go back to King, Leo, Poco Tivio and Sugar Bars.”
Because Kristy has grown up riding Beckwith Dun horses on the ranch, she says she intends to keep those bloodlines alive, not only because she enjoys everything about the horses, but also because they are what her grandfather believed in and brought to Crago Cattle Co. in the beginning. While it’s true that working cattle on the ranch helps make good horses, good bloodlines also help and Beckwith Dun has contributed to the Crago’s reputation for good, solid ranch horses that can also be taken to the arena or show pen and be highly competitive.
“My mother’s maiden name is Beckwith,” Bruce said, “and I remember when we went and got that horse [Beckwith Dun] from my gramp in Midland, South Dakota back in 1976. He raised Beckwith Dun and then we raised a lot of colts out of him with quite a little success so for as long as we can, we’d like to keep those lines.”
Bruce looks for good conformation and disposition in the colts that he raises. Conformation so that the horses stay sound and disposition so that a horse can be turned out if needed, and still be the same horse the next time he is ridden.
From 1976 to 2008, Crago Cattle Co. held an annual Quarter Horse production sale until the passing of Vince in 2006.
“Around then, we just kind of quit having it and that’s when we started doing our separate bands of mares, but together under the same brand with the same Beckwith Dun bloodlines,” Kristy said. “We cut back our mare numbers quite a bit and we just sell mostly through private treaty now.”
Of the mares that the brothers kept, all were either proven themselves, having won some money or otherwise shown they are well minded and sound, or have full siblings who have proven themselves.
The colts that are not sold as weanlings are sent to have the first 30 rides put on them as 2 year olds, turned out for a few months, and then as 3 year olds they begin to start seeing more ranch miles under the Cragos.
“We sell about half of our colts, and keep the other half to make sure we always have some coming up,” Kristy said. “We sell some broke geldings every couple of years to keep the numbers and make sure we have room for young ones as well.”
While with the Cragos, the horses are used in a variety of off the ranch as well, including team roping, cow horse performance and even picking up broncs at local and amateur rodeos.
“They get used to a little bit of everything around here,” Kristy said. “We like to produce a good, well rounded, solid ranch horse. The good ones are worth a lot of money when you take the right steps and put the time into them.”
In the past few years, Kristy and her husband have been attending and placing well at AQHA Ranching Heritage Challenges, shows that are open to any horse bred by an AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder, which Crago Cattle Co. is. The challenges consist of several different classes such as working cow horse, working ranch horses and ranch boxing classes.
“It’s a lot of fun and a really great challenge,” Kristy said. “If someone buys one of our colts, since we are a Ranching Heritage Breeders, they can also take that colt to these Ranching Heritage Challenges and compete on them.”
This year, Crago Cattle Co. is being awarded the AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder of the year award, an award to recognize Quarter Horse breeders who continue to uphold the ranching tradition.
The Cragos are quick to pay homage to Vince and Margaret, the first to bring Quarter Horses to the ranch, the ones who helped their sons into the ranching business, true stewards of the land and a true ranchers. They are also quick to pay respect to each family member who continues to work hard every day to keep the Crago Quarter Horse program alive and well.