Stallion Showcase 2022: One in a Million: Christmans left their mark on North Dakota Quarter Horses
Black Jack was born on April 23, 1961. A tiny, weak, wobbly twin colt, he was black with white socks and a big snip on his nose. He was registered as Panda Bear, partly because his dam’s sire was Little Bear, and partly because he was black and white.
“He was colored just like a Panda Bear, but we called him Black Jack,” Chuck said. “He walked like a giraffe for the first month or so. Dad gave him to me, and I nursed him to health. I halter broke him and eventually broke him to ride. I did everything with him.”
Chuck’s older brother, Bob, recalled noticing the mare, Jenny Owens, waxing in December, before Black Jack was born. She had been bred to Wayne Evridge’s stallion, Lo Ho, the previous summer.
“We brought her home and kept her in the west shed for a while and then she dried up,” he said. “Harry Smith, and old horseman that lived north of the Cedar River ventured a guess that she had twins and one of them died. It turned out he was right. Jenny was due to foal in April, but April came and almost went before she did foal. She gave birth in the west shed, and when Dad threw out the afterbirth he saw the remains of a small, decaying colt. The living colt was smaller than you would expect of a full-term colt, and he had legs that went every direction.”
The little horse that had a tough start turned out to be one of the good ones.
“He was one in a million,” Chuck said. “If you had a whole pasture full of horses like Black Jack you’d be set. He was as gentle as they come.”
It had all started out of frustration. Chuck’s father, John Christman, was getting cows in one day when a calf ran back.
“We were bringing in the cows from the big pasture to work them,” Bob said. “Of course there was one calf that got away. Dad chased the calf with Snooks, a brown pinto mare that was ‘wind broke.’ When you rode her at a lope after a while she would wheeze very badly. On this particular day, all of the cows and calves were in the corral but one calf bolted and got away from us. I don’t remember the final outcome but I remember when he came back to the barn the horse was sweaty and gasping for breath. That was when he decided we needed better horses.”
John and his wife Blenda raised their children on the family ranch in North Dakota, just a few miles from the border town of Lemmon, South Dakota. As their youngest son, Chuck’s childhood was shaped by the horses.
A carefully handwritten record book contains the names of the mares John purchased: Creeping Jenny, a granddaughter of Golden Chief. Jenny Owens, daughter of a Blackburn grandson, Little Bear. Sugar Clegg, a granddaughter of Clint Higgins. Ma Frisbie, whose sire was double bred Clint Higgins and dam was double bred Red Jacket. Plaudits Flag 2, who had Plaudit and Little Joe Springer on her papers. Tona’s Queen, whose sire traced to Old Sorrel three times, and whose dam was double bred to the Peter McCue grandson Billy Sunday Blond Rocket, a mare with Joe Reed P-3 on her papers. Ma Sandy, a mare with King P-234 on her papers. Pussy Clegg, Buttons Cat, and Nan Copper, daughters of Sugar Clegg that John kept back. Dixie Mays, Jo Copper and Jody Copper, daughters of Creeping Jenny. Ginny Copper, a daughter of Jenny Owens. Lotta Frog, a daughter of Tona’s Queen.
These mares all traced their lineage to the early Quarter Horse stallion Steel Dust. Brought to Texas as a yearling around 1844, Steel Dust put his stamp on the development of the American Quarter Horse. “They were heavy-muscled horses, marked with small ears, a big jaw, remarkable intelligence and lightning speed up to a quarter of a mile,” to quote the AQHA. Long before the inception of the American Quarter Horse Association, quarter horses were known as ‘Steeldusts.’
The record book also lists the stud each mare was bred to, breeding dates, foaling date, and sale records of the foals.
John used a double-bred Royal King stallion for several years. Ruvio Copper, bred by John’s friend Wayne Evridge, was quick footed and cowy and his colts were the same way. Christmans also leased Frog W from the Whitcomb ranch in Colorado. A double-bred Peter McCue horse with Zantanon, sire of King P-234 on his papers, Frog W was a race winner as well as a halter winner, an accomplished reiner, and had his NCHA Certificate of Ability.
“Frog W really gave dad’s already successful program a boost,” Chuck said.
The horses truly were a family affair.
“I showed Black Jack for ten years in 4-H, as well as in High School Rodeo,” Chuck said. “We participated in our local saddle club and went to shows all over the area all summer. Black Horse Creek, Isabel, Timber Lake, Lemmon, Mound City, Nisland; every other week or so there was a show. The saddle club members would hire Corcoran Trucking and fill a big straight trailer with horses, and then load their families in the car to travel to the more distant shows. We had halter classes for every age and type of Quarter Horse, horsemanship classes, western pleasure, and speed events: barrels, poles and so forth. There wasn’t much for roping classes at that time. They would have a flag race, scoop shovel races, cowhide races and chariot races. We hosted a show at the ranch as well.”
These saddle club shows would have events for all ages, including calf riding, cow riding, barrel racing, pole bending, flag race, scoop shovel race, cowhide race, relay races, pony, horse, and chariot races. There wasn’t much for roping events yet at that time.”
Starting in 1959, John Christman and his family hosted a North Dakota Quarter Horse Association approved show at the ranch. It was held annually in June, with an AQHA-approved show held in Lemmon the following day. This made it handy for Quarter Horse breeders in a four-state area to participate in both shows. Events at these shows included halter classes for every age and sex of Quarter Horses, reining, cutting, western pleasure, and a couple of speed events, barrel racing and pole bending.
“When we had the show, the yard was full of horse trailers and tents,” Chuck said. “Back in those days nobody had a trailer with living quarters. Some people would get a hotel room in Lemmon, but a lot of folks would just pitch a tent and camp out. We would clean out the garage and Mom’s homemakers club would set up in there to provide concessions. We had corrals and cattle, so we had cutting classes at home, but they did not have cutting in Lemmon.”
The family rode their own horses for years.
“Dad was tired of trying to find a good using horse, so he decided to raise his own so he’d know what he had,” Chuck said. “Bob Lynch worked for dad for a while, and part of his job was to start the colts. Dad would let him quit with other farm work at a certain time of the day and then he would go ride horses. I was really interested in what he was doing and he took me under his wing and taught me how to break horses. I didn’t realize until recently how far ahead of his time he was in his methods. He didn’t do it the ‘cowboy way’ of bucking them out. He taught me to take it easy, to gain the horse’s trust, and he did a lot of ground work before he rode them. He made sure they would give their heads before he got on and that prevented a lot of wrecks. He was really ahead of his time.”
Chuck loved horses and enjoyed competing.
“When I was fourteen, Dad took Jo Copper, a daughter of Ruvio Copper and Creeping Jenny, to Alvin Gabbert up at Lefor, North Dakota, for training,” Chuck said. “I wanted to learn how to rope and Alvin agreed to teach me. I stayed up there for two weeks with Black Jack, and every day I did chores, mucked out the stalls, and so forth. But every day I got to ride and rope with him.”
Gabbert made a good rope horse out of Jo Copper, and she became Chuck’s rope horse through high school and college.
John put together a sale a few times, but eventually sold most of his mares due to a low demand for colts.
“Everybody used horses in those days, but nobody wanted to raise a colt and wait till he was grown to ride him,” Chuck said. “Plus it was a lot of work, and by then Bob was gone and I wasn’t old enough to take it over yet. Bob and I have often wished that we had figured out a way to keep the breeding program going.”
John Christman was inducted into the North Dakota Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2014. He was recognized as one of the first breeders of registered quarter horses in North Dakota, for hosting a show at his ranch, as one of the organizers of the North Dakota Quarter Horse Association and a member of the NDQHA board of directors.
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