AQHA Honors South Dakota Rancher Jay Livermont
In the settlement of Wanblee, South Dakota on the 3.5 million square mile Pine Ridge Indian Reservation you’ll find Jay Livermont, his family, their herd of Black Angus Cattle, and 22 American Quarter horses. In 2021, Jay was honored by the AQHA as a 50-year legacy breeder for his dedication to maintaining the pedigree of these horses.
Each year, AQHA honors breeders who have dedicated their livelihoods to maintaining the integrity of the American Quarter Horse breed. These horsemen, horsewomen and their families see their biggest accomplishments and proudest moments in the horses they breed.
Jay’s parents moved from Nebraska to South Dakota in 1940 where, in 1944, Jay was born. He is the son of a Native American father and Irish mother. It wasn’t always about the Quarter Horse though “growing up we raised wild horses, we’d round them up once a year, bring them out of the Badlands before they had new colts and bring them home,” Jay says. However, for the terrain they ranched in Jay had always wanted Quarter Horses as they made “great cow horses, they ride good in the Badlands and have a lot of guts, we think they are the best.”
Jay points out that “We never raised horses to make money or anything like that, we raised them because we like to use them.” The family ranches in the Badlands which Jay describes as “pretty rough country” an understatement when you also add in the years of bad cattle markets, drought, and the other day-to-day challenges of being a rancher. Because the Livermonts do all of their cattle work horseback, a good mount is especially valuable.
In 1965 Jay was serving in Vietnam when his thoughts turned to home and the plan to own and breed Quarter Horses. The problem was he couldn’t bring himself to sell the mares he had in exchange for the breed he wanted. Jay’s father stepped up to do it for him and in 1967 when he left the military, he had two Quarter Horse mares waiting for him at home and so began his 50-plus year journey with the breed.
Jay explained, “My dad bought these two mares, one was Tiny Mont sired by Hat Creek Red. The other one was Little Alta sired by Shanks. Tiny Mont was the better mare, she had mostly colts.” One of these colts, Badlands Revenue, would become one of the best Jay had ever raised.
His next step was to introduce a new stallion to the herd. He purchased Blanca 8 Card as a colt from a sale in Martin, S.D. and when he was three years old, he was bred to the mares in the band. Jay has always pasture bred. “We turn the stud out in the spring with the mares and in the fall bring him back in, I don’t know any other way to do it,” he laughs. He kept Blanca 8 Card for seven years before trading in for a new stud to avoid in-breeding.
He shares that the key to breeding great horses is to “read and study the pedigrees” he has his favorite pedigrees and “picks the ones that fit my needs and operation.”
The motivation for Jay is “to see a new colt, raise them up and watch how they grow. Like people, you get to know them well and you have your favorites.” That favorite is a Palomino Quarter Horse called Rockin T Chick or by his nickname Mello Yellow. Jay says he is always gentle and with Jay getting on in years the colt stands nice and still for him to get on.
Jay’s wife of 40 years, Pamela, says she feels it is a great honor for him to be recognized by the AQHA reiterating that the horses are an integral part of their traditional way of ranching without motorized vehicles. She grew up on a ranch east of Sturgis, S.D. and always knew she wanted to marry a rancher and have that lifestyle for her children. She says she is proud of the fact that her sons Hadley and Austin will carry on breeding and raising Quarter Horses.
Pamela humbly shares that “Jay has been very generous and has given quite a few fillies away.” Jay elaborates that this is “mostly to young kids, I give them a filly, let them break the horse and learn to get on with it, it gives them something to do.”
These days with their sons running the ranch, Jay and Pamela see themselves as more of the support crew. Pamela, retired from the National Park Service “helps do lots of cooking for all the round ups and brandings” and Jay, now in his 70s rides the round up and helps move the cattle from place to place on the ranch. This despite being bucked off a horse four years ago and spending a week in hospital and two months sleeping on a recliner with nine broken ribs.
The couple’s two adult sons Hadley, 37 and Austin, 35 have fond memories of their time growing up on the ranch. Hadley is keen to follow in his father’s footsteps and continue to raise enough horses for their own use on the ranch. He says that with their “six head of mares and a stud, it’s enough to have a gelding every year or other year to break and use on the ranch.” Austin adds that his father has a talent “for picking pedigrees and rotating them throughout the years” his favorite memory is of the first broodmare his father gave him, Sweet Wanblee.
While Jay doesn’t ride as much as he’d like to, he still manages to get out once a week, calling it “his therapy.” The family is adamant they would never give up the life and are already talking about the next generation of breeders in the family.
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