‘Cowboy at heart’
He rode broncs in a remuda, served in the United States Army, taught high school in three states, raised fine Quarter Horses for more than fifty years, fathered two sons, and married the best woman in the world. Gene Hunt, known as Geno to his friends and family, has had an adventuresome life filled with kind friends and high-quality American Quarter Horses, he says.
While Geno’s wife Effie Lopez Hunt was more passionate about teaching young minds than returning to ranching, she helped shape her husband’s life in a big way. Geno grew up riding what he referred to as brumbies; Effie grew up the opposite in a family with a fine taste for good Quarter Horses.
“His dad had hundreds of horses, all basically Indians’ ponies, wild horses they’d gather and train and break. That was transportation; it was the same for most of their neighbors in those days. He had nine sisters and another brother, and they used to ride some of these old inbred mustang-type horses to school every morning,” Jim Hunt said of his dad Geno. “He acquainted the neighbor girl, my mother, and once he got to ride the well-bred Quarter Horses his father-in-law mounted him on, he decided he was going to raise Quarter Horses and never go back.”
Nearly-85-year-old Geno started his path with a degree in education from Black Hills State teachers’ college in Spearfish, South Dakota. He was drafted to the army for a couple years, before returning home to marry his sweetheart Effie and finish his degree. He attempted to attend South Dakota State University in Brookings but had no taste for the lack of cowboy companionship and abundance of cold, wet, and humid weather. He implemented his degree and taught high school students for half a decade.
“At heart, I was a cowboy, a rancher, but I did teach school for five years. I taught high school business, world history, and American history in Meteetse, Wyoming, Plevna, Montana, and Belle Fourche, South Dakota,” Geno said. “Then I came here to my ranch in 1962. At first, I just worked with my good friend Bill Ullman, then he sold me the ranch. I added to it. I was fortunate to get started at a time when a young man could still put together some country, and I’ve put together a pretty good ranch. I’ve helped my sons and their families stay in ranching and horses.”
Through the years, Geno has combined efforts with family and friends to produce a high-quality horse sale, Hunt, Lopez, and Meyer. His stallions always contained, and still do, notable Quarter Horse bloodlines. Geno jumped on an opportunity to purchase his current stallion Frenchmans Mr Tuff—a son of Frenchmans Guy— at a sale in 2002 as a weanling.
“On his dam’s side, he’s what every Frenchmans Guy stallion should be bred with: good, proven using horse lines. I got him from this horse lady in Colorado, Ann Scott, and I bought two of them at this said time,” Geno said. “They didn’t brag on these two young horses like they did some of the others, so I got them bought pretty reasonable, and they’ve both been outstanding.”
The filly proved her breeding, winning the Indian World Championship with Jeff’s daughter Jakki Hunt aboard. The stallion has been used within Geno, Jeff, and Jim’s breeding programs, passing along his finer traits to his colts.
His most prized stallion, however, was Top Not, a son of Bar Nothing Springer born in 1949.
“Those Top Not mares were the best, and we still have some of that bloodline in our mares. I had a lot of good horses, and I wouldn’t ride anything but a good-bred horse,” Geno said. “I’ve got an eye for horses; I just look at one and recognize the qualities of it. I can tell a good looking horse by first look. I guess, of course, I improved upon it as the years went by, but I have no trouble seeing the qualities in the horse.”
Another of his prized horses he purchased from Pat Cowan before his untimely death in a plane crash in 1985. Geno used PC Sun Socks to improve his broodmares before having to put him down to limit his suffering from navicular.
“I have a creek by my house that I used to let him stay in the water and mud to ease his pain,” Geno said. “They don’t get along that well; they suffer quite a bit from that navicular, but he was a very good horse.”
His good friends Bob and Karen Meyer were present when Geno purchased Sun Socks.
“Geno is a horseman; there wasn’t four-wheelers back then. He had big country and ran a lot of mares,” Karen said. “We were there at the sale when he bought PC Sun Socks in 1984. We were good friends of Pat Cowan, as was Geno. He’s always been a good friend.”
For several years in the 70s and 80s, Leon Torvell worked for Geno training horses, allowing Geno to sell broke horses alongside his young ones.
“Leon was very good; he loved to train race horses, but he would also train saddle horses. He was one of the good ones. He loved horses and was very kind and gentle, one of the better trainers in the US,” Geno said. He was a pall bearer in Leon’s funeral.
His intent was always to raise good horses to ride, but it was never considered a bad thing if they found some success in the arena.
“They’re used in the arena and in riding on the ranches. The people got along good with them,” Geno said.
His life has been peppered with highs and lows; Geno lost his wife in 2006 to a car accident, and he had a stroke four years ago. He had a near-dispersion sale of his horses in 2009, but he still runs more than 400 cows and has about a dozen broodmares. He has a stake to leave his sons and grandchildren, and he was honored by the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association as a 50 year legacy breeder.
“His mind and memory are clear and sharp as a whistle, and he still knows the difference between a good one and a bad one,” Jim said of his father.
“I’m happy here, I like this ranching life, however many years it’s been. Fifty year plus,” Geno said. “I’ve raised horses, lots of them, so I’ve had a very good life.”
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The annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln High Plains Ag Lab Research Update and Advisory Board Meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9 at the Western Nebraska Community College campus in Sidney.