Lutters’ Love: 57 years in horse business started on honeymoon

Dox Outside Chance by Doc Olena was a big asset to the Lutters’ Quarter Horse program. Courtesy photos

Gilbert and Zelda Lutter were honored by the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association in January for 50 years of breeding Quarter Horses, an achievement that began immediately after their wedding in 1961, much to the dismay of the new bride.

Gilbert wasted no time in introducing his new wife to the world of horse ownership. It was on their honeymoon in that the couple purchased their first registered Quarter Horse filly together while passing through Sturgis, South Dakota. Although at the time, Zelda admits to being somewhat unsettled by the purchase, she knows now that horses were her husband’s first love, and she soon learned to love them too.

“At the time I thought to myself, ‘My gosh, what did I get myself into,’” Zelda says of that day in 1961. “When you’re first married, times are tough and how were we going to pay for a horse?”

But Gibert simply couldn’t imagine a life without horses. He had lived in South Dakota his whole life, always around horses of varying breeds, sizes and abilities. When he was a child, he would compete in playday horse shows in surrounding towns. As he neared high school, his father became interested in breeding registered Belgian draft horses, which Gilbert helped with. They traveled to shows and parades with the four-horse team but draft horses were never quite where Gilbert’s heart was. When he was a senior in high school, he purchased his first registered Quarter Horse, a sorrel stud colt sired by Rudy Ashwood named Rudy Mount. “Rudy,” along with the honeymoon filly, put the newlywed Lutters in the horse breeding business.

They started out breeding halter horses and traveling to many shows around the region with their home-bred Quarter Horses. Eventually, as their four children grew up and became more interested in rodeo events, Gilbert decided to change their breeding program. He sold off the Skipper W-bred horses and bought two sons of Doc O Lena, switching over to more cow-bred type horses that would better suit his family in the arena.

As their children grew, Gilbert taught them all to ride, rope and do so with good horsemanship. In the arena they became quite successful, even qualifying for national equine events on their home-bred horses. Joe qualified for the national 4-H Horse Judging contest in Denver, Colorado, Wanda was 1983 Miss Rodeo South Dakota, going on to compete for Miss Rodeo America and ending in the top ten, Barb went to the American Quarter Horse Junior World show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ending up seventh place in both the poles and the barrels, and Marsha could, and still does, “ride and rope with the best” Gilbert and Zelda say.

Gilbert himself took to the arena with an interest in cutting horses. In the 2013 year-end standings for the South Dakota Cutting Horse Association, he was the Champion Rider in the Select Non Pro class and took third place in the Novice Horse Non Pro class.

Zelda says that her husband had, in his father, a good teacher on wh at to look for in horses and how to choose good breeding stock. Although the elder Lutter’s focus was draft horses, a good horse of any breed will have similar characteristics: straight legs, a good head, a kind eye and will travel well. Gilbert has passed his knowledge along to his children, who in turn have passed it along to their children.

“I learned a lot from Dad over the years on the horse business, everything from breeding to conformation to training,” says their son, Joe Lutter. “It’s been fun watching my kids, my two older boys and two younger girls especially, have spent a lot of time with him doing a lot of things and growing their interest in it.”

Joe has bought horses from his father for himself and his children to ride and he has three broodmares of his own, which he breeds to Gilbert’s stud horses. It’s not just on principle that he is fond of the horses that come from the Lutter Quarter Horse program though, having spent his entire life around them, he sees them for exactly what they are.

“They’re a lot more athletic than some of those halter-bred horses that we used to have and they’re really smart,” Joe says. “Then once you get them started they perform real well. My kids have all gone on to rope on them and my two youngest girls have done a lot of barrels and poles on two bay mares that he raised and we bought from him.”

A few years ago, Joe’s daughter, Emma, who now runs the Lutter Quarter Horses social media pages, started a home-bred two-year-old filly with her grandfather and today, Joe says that she is running barrels and poles on the mare, heading herself in the direction of wanting to work in the horse business.

Gilbert has no plans to cut back on his business any time soon, either. Last fall, he started a two-year-old and this spring he is riding a few three-year-olds. Despite being 78 years old, Gilbert’s age doesn’t stop him from climbing on four to five horses each day, although sometimes Zelda might.

“I made him promise me he would not step on a colt if it’s a little bit tough because bones don’t heal very good,” she says.

Even after 57 years in the horse business, the couple still enjoys seeing the baby colts each spring, raising them and working with them.

“We’ve just tried to raise horses that are good, all-around type horses suitable for almost anybody to get along with,” Gilbert says. “And there’s just something about seeing a well-bred horse.”