Horse Crazy, Gary and Deb Mailloux: South Dakota couple celebrates 50-plus years as SDQHA Quarter Horse Breeders |

Horse Crazy, Gary and Deb Mailloux: South Dakota couple celebrates 50-plus years as SDQHA Quarter Horse Breeders

By Ruth Nicolaus for Tri-State Livestock News

When Gary Mailloux married Deb Poss, she came with baggage: horses.

The daughter of Edward and Leah Poss, Deb’s dad wasn’t necessarily horse crazy, but his daughter was. He purchased her a pony, after much begging. “I probably picked at my dad so much,” about horses, “I think I just wore him down.” The pony threw her off as much as she got him ridden, but that didn’t extinguish her love for horses.

Gary wasn’t really horse crazy either, but when they married in 1970, she brought four horses to the marriage.

The couple, who ranch on the homestead of Gary’s grandparents near Vale, S.D., are being recognized by the AQHA for 50 years of breeding quarter horses.

Their first registered horse (besides the ones Deb had when they married) was purchased from Rudy Jaskela. Ropett’s Bar, “Bebe,” was a foundation bred brindle mare going back to Bar Nothing Springer and a Lobo Roper mare.

Bebe “was a pretty mare,” Deb said. “She raised colts, was ranched on, was broke, and used for playdays.”

For the first few years, the couple didn’t own a stud, but took their mares out to be bred. They used a stallion called French Saber (no relation to Frenchmans Guy), owned by Glen and Nora French. The Frenches showed and bought high quality stallions, including two more that the Maillouxes bred to.

In 1979, they bought their first stud, Keen Keg, and then a second one, Keeper Bee Bar, a big red roan, a “ranchy” horse.

The Maillouxes looked at more than pedigrees when they purchased horses. “We didn’t buy based entirely on pedigree,” Deb said. “We bought what we thought would fit with our mares. We wanted good ranch horses.”

In 1987, they bought what would be one of their most influential stallions.

Bob Drifter Coulee, “Drifter,” had “a super disposition, was big, solid black, and good boned. He had good legs, speed, and was smart,” Deb said. “And he was a kind horse.”

Drifter was the sire of their daughter Amanda’s high school rodeo horse, Drifters Blue Star, who had her Open Performance Register of Merit.

Drifter sired over 100 colts, and Deb wishes he was still alive. “I wish I had another one just like him.”

In the mid 90s, the Maillouxes got what Deb considers their standout stud. Gotta Sweet Leo, “Buck,” a buckskin with Leo blood in him, was “really built, with tremendous confirmation and cowy.” Gary and Deb both rode him. They crossed Buck on many of the Drifter mares they had kept.

In their herd, the Maillouxes were looking for ranch horses and versatility. They didn’t get into showing. “I would have liked to,” Deb said, “but we didn’t know anything about showing, and it took a lot of time and money.”

The kids competed in playdays and Amanda competed in high school rodeo with their horses, which gave them a place to show off the Mailloux breeding.

They did show one stallion. Peppy Dunit Special, “Peppy,” a 2003 dun, was shown by Dean Johnson, and in 2007, was reserve champion at the Center of the Nation Quarter Horse Association show, and the next year was champion junior reining and working cow horse.

“Peppy was good,” Deb said. They bred the mares to him that they had kept by Drifter and Buck.

Other stallions the Maillouxes have include True Sparks A Flying, who went back to Drifter and was purchased from a friend in Wyoming, and Cowboys Shinin 811. “His colts are very well liked,” Deb said. “People like their disposition, and you can do anything on them. They’re very versatile, and that’s what we’ve been striving for.”

Cowboys Boon A 411, “Boon,” a Boonlight Dancer bred stallion, is an excellent cross for cow working on the mares, Deb said, and was shown in the cow horse versatility in Rapid City. Two other stallions round out the herd: YO Easy Onapepto and Reggies Sparkin Hot, a young stallion bred for the first time in 2021.

One of the Mailloux standout mares was a 2015 Gotta French Sweetie, “Sweetie,” who is by Gotta Sweet Leo and out of a Frenchmans Guy daughter. One of her foals is Peps Gotta Frenchman, “Hank,” owned by Sammy Ryan. Hank won the NILE Futurity as a two-year-old and is a money earner in several different events. Another Mailloux mare who has done well is True French Beauty, who won the 2020 NILE Ranching Heritage barrel race.

The Maillouxes five-panel test all of their mares. “We want to keep a clean herd,” Deb said, “and not pass any genetic disease on. Our customers know what they are getting with our horses.”

The Maillouxes are Rancher Heritage Breeders, so their colts are able to be paid up and entered in those competitions.

The Maillouxes’ customers have a standing joke about Deb, who loves her horses.

“People always say, ‘go ahead and buy one from Debbie, because when you want to sell it, she’ll buy it back,'” Debbie laughed. “I have bought a lot of horses back, that I liked and wished I’d never sold.”

One of the good parts of the business is the people, she said. She stays in touch with buyers through social media, including a customer in Michigan who purchased a weanling named Skedaddles Drifter from the Maillouxes. The black mare, who is now 24 years old, is ridden by the customer’s granddaughter for the barrels and poles and she “beats every horse in the area.”

But maybe the best part of the business is springtime, when the new foals arrive. They foal in the pasture, and she or Gary check them every morning and evening.

Deb is glad her husband went along with his horse-crazy wife more than 50 years ago.

“I just kept telling him how nice this horse was, and that horse was,” she recalls, “and I wanted to keep this filly and that filly, and see what they would produce.”

Even now, in their seventies, they are still invested in the business.

“We are long in the tooth and should be cutting back, but we have five studs right now and 25 brood mares.”

She and Gary love it.

“It’s an addiction. It’s in your genes.”

The Maillouxes sell their horses at three sales: the Powder River Quarter Horse Breeders Association in Broadus, Mont., the NILE Gold Buckle Select Horse Sale in October in Billings, and the Ranchers Quarter Horse Breeders Association sale, held at the Beslers Cadillac Ranch near Belle Fourche. They also sell private treaty and off the ranch.  

Gotta Sweet Leo, “Buck,” was one of the standout studs for the Maillouxes. Photos courtesy Deb Mailloux and Larry Larson
Mares silhouetted across the South Dakota sky at the Mailloux ranch near Vale. Photo courtesy Deb Mailloux.
Bob Drifter Coulee, “Drifter,” was the “real foundation of our breeding,” Deb Mailloux said. Photo by Larry Larson
Stallion Cowboys Boon A 411. Photo courtesy Deb Mailloux
Deb rides Cowboy as they look for cows in the breaks.
Another Mailloux stallion, YO Easy Onapepto.
Gelding True French Leo, a horse that goes back to Gotta French Lee and True Sparks A Flying. Photo courtesy Deb Mailloux.
True French Beauty, a mare that won the Ranching Heritage barrel race at the 2020 Nile.
Gary and Deb Mailloux preg checking cows. Photo courtesy Deb Mailloux.
Gary and Deb Mailloux. The Vale, S.D. couple is honored as AQHA 50-year legacy breeders by the SDQHA.
The Mailloux kids: Dustin, Amanda Sheeler, and Dayne. The boys were more interested in horsepower (under a hood), but Amanda loved the horses, competing in high school rodeo. Photo courtesy Deb Mailloux.
Gary and Deb Mailloux and their six grandchildren.
Granddaughters Aubree, Braylee, and Lainey and friend Sammy, aboard Mailloux horses. Photo courtesy Deb Mailloux.
Grandson Keion at a playday, on a Mailloux-bred horse. Photo courtesy Deb Mailloux.
Stallion True Sparks A Flying. Photo courtesy Deb Mailloux.
Granddaughter Lainey with one of the Mailloux geldings, Cowboy. Photo courtesy Deb Mailloux.
Peps Gotta Frenchman, “Hank,” owned by Sammy Ryan, has won money in several different events and has qualified for the 2015 AQHA World Show in the 5/6 Year Old Limited Open Ranching Heritage.