King Ranch, 2019 AQHA Best Remuda Award winner
King Ranch, one of the most historic ranches in the world, has been welcomed into the ranks of AQHA Best Remuda winners.
Since 1992, the American Quarter Horse Association has honored the contributions ranch horses have made to the heritage of the American Quarter Horse by presenting each year the AQHA Best Remuda Award to a ranch that raises outstanding ranch horses.
“King Ranch is known around the world as an icon of ranching,” said AQHA Director of Ranching Kim Lindsey. “We are proud to present the Best Remuda award to this storied ranch in recognition of its many achievements and the great ranch horses the ranch is producing.”
King Ranch, ‘The Birthplace of American Ranching,’ was founded in 1853 by Capt. Richard King, a steamboat captain who had come to Texas in 1846 during the Mexican/American War and had piloted steamboats up and down the Rio Grande for the U.S. Army. On a trip from Brownsville, Texas, to Corpus Christi, King spotted a small rise overlooking Santa Gertrudis Creek, on the Coastal Plains near Corpus Christi, and thought to himself that this would be an ideal location for a ranch. He had ridden more than 150 miles from Brownsville, at the mouth of the Rio Grande, across millions of acres of nothing but grass and a few live oak trees, and this was the first fresh water he had found. Capt. King soon began buying land in the area, the first parcel of which was the 15,500-acre Rincon de Santa Gertrudis. The next year, 1854, he purchased the larger 53,000-acre Spanish land grant Santa Gertrudis de la Garza. These two land grants became the nucleus of what is known today as King Ranch.
In 1850, Capt. King met a young lady by the name of Henrietta Chamberlain, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who had come to the Rio Grande Valley as a missionary. In 1854, the two were married. In 1881, through a chance encounter, Capt. King met a young lawyer from Corpus Christi named Robert Justus Kleberg. Capt. King hired Kleberg’s law firm on retainer to handle the legal affairs of the ranch, and after Capt. King died in 1885, Henrietta charged Kleberg with the responsibility of running the ranch.
The following year, Kleberg married Capt. King’s youngest daughter, Alice, and it is from this marriage that the long line of Klebergs who were to form the destiny of the ranch emerged.
Prior to Henrietta’s death, Robert Kleberg had suffered a stroke in 1918, and his and Alice’s son, Robert (Bob) Justus Jr., took over management of the ranch.
The ranch’s horses as we know them today began with Old Sorrel, who was foaled in 1915 and was purchased by Bob Kleberg from George Clegg of Alice, Texas, while the colt was still on his mother. The chestnut colt was trailed back to the ranch, playing along behind his dam, and there he was referred to by the Kineños as “El Alazan,” the sorrel, and later as “El Alazan Viejo,” the old sorrel. He never received another name.
Bob Kleberg was quoted as saying Old Sorrel was the best cow horse he had ever ridden. In 1921, Old Sorrel was bred to “50 head of using saddle mares, the best we could get from the ranch, as perfectly conformed as possible.” When the first foal crop hit the ground, more than 75 percent of them were chestnut and all were uniform in conformation. His second foal crop was foaled in 1923, and with only two foal crops, it was obvious that Old Sorrel’s characteristics were being perpetuated.
From the time Bob Kleberg took over the ranch, there was always a policy of not breeding horses not worth breeding, and his daughter Helen Kleberg Groves, a former director of the National Cutting Horse Association, would carry on that philosophy in her storied career as a breeder. On King Ranch, if a stallion was not siring cow horses, he was not worth breeding. A horse had to earn its way into the breeding program and the way it did so was by working cattle.
When AQHA started registering horses, it was decided by the board of directors that the No. 1 in the registry would be reserved for the grand champion stallion at the 1941 Fort Worth Stock Show. That turned out to be a King Ranch stallion named Wimpy, who received the AQHA registration number of P-1. Foaled in 1937, he was by Solis out of Panda, and both were by Old Sorrel.
In the late 1970s, the ranch purchased Mr San Peppy, who was by Leo San by Leo and out of a mare called Peppy Belle. Peppy Belle was by Pep Up who was by Macanudo and out of a daughter of Little Richard. Both Macanudo and Little Richard were by Old Sorrel.
Mr San Peppy, at the time, was the youngest horse to be named the National Cutting Horse Association world champion and the youngest horse to be named to the NCHA Hall of Fame. He was also the youngest horse to win more than $100,000 in open cutting competition in a single year. Among his get was Peppy San Badger, who was the next stallion the ranch bought.
Better known as “Little Peppy,” Peppy San Badger won the NCHA Futurity in 1977 and the NCHA Derby in 1978, and he was AQHA reserve world champion in 1980. He, too, was inducted into the NCHA Hall of Fame, and, of course, he continued that direct line to Old Sorrel.
Legendary horseman Buster Welch led the training program at King Ranch and showed Mr San Peppy and Peppy San Badger to their phenomenal show careers.
Old Sorrel, Wimpy, Mr San Peppy and Peppy San Badger are all in the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame, along with Buster Welch, Robert Kleberg Jr., his nephew Richard “Dick” Kleberg Jr. and Dick’s son Stephen “Tio” Kleberg.
Lee Roy Montalvo on Kinenos Moon; Henrietta Armstrong on Marsala Red; and James Clement III on The Boon. PHOTO: Rahm Carrington
Today, the family ownership of King Ranch is in its seventh generation. The ranch has extensive interests in addition to ranching and horses. The horse division is supervised by sixth-generation family member James Clement III, and its equine breeding program has been guided with the hard work of former ranch vet Dr. John Tolkes and current ranch vet Dr. Ben Espy, who is also a sixth-generation family member.
King Ranch has long held significant interests in Kingsville, a town surrounded by King Ranch lands, and has long supported the educational programs of the University of Texas at Austin and agricultural programs at Texas A&M University, both at College Station and Kingsville.
Today’s King Ranch has diversified and grown into a major agribusiness corporation across California, Florida, and Texas. King Ranch has interests in cattle ranching and feedlot operations, farming (cotton, grain, sugar cane, sweet corn, almonds, pistachios, and turf grass), citrus groves, commodity marketing and processing, and recreational hunting. Its retail operations include luggage, leather goods, farm equipment, commercial printing and ecotourism. In addition, since 2001 Ford Motor Co. has been producing the highly successful F-Series King Ranch edition pickups and in 2019 Beechcraft and Textron aviation have combined to build a King Ranch King Air-branded plane.
The home of the legendary “Running W” brand currently stands the stallions The Boon, Kinenos Moon, Marsala Red, and El Rey Hidas. Each of the stallions that King Ranch currently stands has Peppy San Badger in his pedigree – and thus also carry the blood of Mr San Peppy and Old Sorrel. In fact, every horse on the ranch carries the blood of Mr San Peppy and Old Sorrel.
The AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder is the all-time leading breeder by number of foals, having bred more than 7,200 foals in its long history, and continues to produce top-quality ranch horses. Vice President and Ranch Manager Dave Delaney stresses that King Ranch’s “main goal is producing the best horses for our 35 cowboys to ride every day in their ranch duties.”
“Capt. Richard King knew the value of good horse flesh, having paid $600 for a single American stallion as early as 1854,” said James “Jamey” Clement Jr., the chairman of the board of King Ranch, Inc. “Bob Kleberg also recognized the value of breeding not only ranch horses but Thoroughbred race horses as well. He developed a program that has not only survived but flourished over the years through the tireless efforts of his daughter, Helenita, grandnephew Tio and public successes during the Buster Welch era. King Ranch is not as active in competition as it was in the 1980s, but it never left the business. King Ranch is proud to receive this award acknowledging the legacy of innovation and development initiated by Capt. King. The pursuit of these core values is alive and well through his ensuing generations.”
King Ranch will receive a specially designed award presented at the Working Ranch Cowboys Association World Championship Ranch Rodeo, November 7-11 in Amarillo. The ranch will also be recognized at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Convention in February 2020 and again in March at the AQHA Convention in Las Vegas. King Ranch will be featured this fall in The American Quarter Horse Journal.