‘A great guy,’ South Dakota Quarter Horse Association to honor Stanley Johnston
If he couldn’t do it well, Stanley Johnston was of the mindset that he wasn’t going to do it at all. The Nebraska-born cattleman bought a ranch in Ree Heights, South Dakota in the 1940s and proceeded to do very well in the Angus cattle business, even showing cattle and winning at shows. In order to run cattle though, a man needed to swing his leg over a good horse. Stanley and his wife, Frances, started breeding horses.
At the time, they may not have known the lasting impact that their horses would leave on the American Quarter Horse industry, they just knew that the horses they bred worked well for the couple’s purposes. They were athletic, but they were good minded and trainable. While some Quarter Horse breeders produce one or two great horses in their lifetime, Johnston horses continue to leave a lasting impact. Horses from their breeding program, such as Wilywood and Sun Frost, went on to produce numerous great horses who performed not only on the ranch or in the arena, but also carry on what continues to be strong genetics for generations to come.
Around 1950, the Johnston family traveled to Arizona in the winter, initially due to poor health of Stanley’s daughter. The family would then go north, back to the ranch in South Dakota for the summers, returning to Arizona every winter following. It was in Arizona, while roping, cutting and bulldogging all winter that Stanley and Frances began to be noticed for their horse breeding.
Stanley purchased Poco Speedy, an own son of Poco Bueno, who soon became his favorite mount. Poco Speedy became an American Quarter Horse Association champion, the first ever from South Dakota. He turned into an excellent breeding horse and he won National Cutting Horse Association shows.
“Dad really liked to cut, and Poco Speedy was his favorite stallion,” says Randy Johnston, Stanley’s son. “He practiced roping with us once in a while, but he never roped calves. He’d heel for me in high school rodeo, team roping. But bulldogging and cutting, those were his things.”
While Stanley was riding Poco Speedy, Frances bought some mares. The first was River Stardy, an Oklahoma Star bred mare that Randy describes as being the greatest mare his mother ever rode. Frances was a true cowgirl who loved to ride cutting, pleasure and barrel horses with great success in each arena.
The pair seemed to have an eye for what would make good crosses. It was a son of Driftwood named Gray Chip that turned Stanley onto the Driftwood bloodlines. Originally, the gelding was supposed to be a bulldogging prospect for Stanley, but Randy says he “kind of stole” the horse from his father.
“The first time I rode that horse, I won second in South Dakota so then I just kept roping calves on him. Dad liked the way he was, so he started buying Driftwood mares and then started breeding them to Poco Speedy,” Randy says. “That’s what he called the ‘Golden Cross’ and that’s what he rode, crosses out of Poco Speedy and a Driftwood mare until he passed away. They were his favorite.”
In 1977, David and Dennis Motes won the NFR team roping title, both riding “Golden Crosses.”
While many of the colts were sold straight off the mares, the colts that Stanley saw a future in were taken to Arizona where Randy would start them, then turn the prospects over to his parents who would train them for cutting events.
“Mom, she was great with the cutting horses, training them,” Randy says. It was around when Frances was diagnosed with cancer that she purchased Prissy Cline and started running barrels on the mare. “After she passed away, things kind of changed. They were pretty close, Mom and Dad. They liked the same things, so it was a heartache when we lost her.”
After Frances passed away, Stanley bred Prissy Cline to Docs Jack Frost, an own son of Doc Bar, resulting in Sun Frost who went on to produce many winning foals, such as Frenchman’s Guy, who has sired over 11 million dollars’ worth of winners.
One foal, French Flash Hawk, aka ‘Bozo’ out of Sunfrost and Casey’s Charm, was owned by Kristie Peterson. Bozo carried her all the way to the National Finals Rodeo time and time again, winning her five barrel racing average checks and four world titles, as well as AQHA Horse of the Year from 1995 to 1999. The ESPN announcers, seeing that Peterson called her horse Bozo, mistakenly said on live television that she found the horse at a circus.
It has taken years for Stanley’s legacy to be realized, for horses to mature and show their innate ability and for rodeo cowboys to take to using papered, well-bred horses in the arena. Stanley passed away in 1982 and is remembered as a straight businessman with a big heart, one who Randy even recalls giving horses with promising futures away to those who couldn’t afford to buy them.
“Of course, he’s the guy who didn’t want anybody to know about doing that,” Randy says. “But he was a great guy, a great dad and he was great to everybody.”
In 2015, the South Dakota breeder was posthumously inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame. Today, many Quarter Horse breeders across the nation boast that their programs are products of Johnston-bred horses.
“I feel like him and mom deserved it all because I had seen them do it all since I was a boy,” says Randy. “There’s a lot of work and I felt they’d done great at it, and a lot of people have done great with the horses that he raised.”