Ranch horses, ranch raised: Lauing family, Blunt, South Dakota
For four generations and over 100 years, the Lauing family has been raising horses and livestock on their Blunt, South Dakota ranch. Today, the ranch is most well known for their Quarter Horse program that features the Blue Valentine, Hancock, and Driftwood bloodlines. This January, the ranch is being honored by the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association as the 2021 Producer of the Year.
“According to family history, my grandpa, Hank, who had good instincts about horses, had one of the first registered Quarter Horses in this area and it came up from Texas on a train,” says JD Lauing, the fourth generation to live on the family ranch. “Grandpa never transferred that horse to his name though, it had a race pedigree of some sort. I’ve tried contacting some people that maybe would know what his bloodlines were but everyone just called him Chalky. The registered horses we have now are definitely because of my dad though, he’s been doing this all of his life, showing horses at the South Dakota State Fair.”
For over forty years, the ranch has been registering Quarter Horses and in that time, many horses have come and gone. JD recalls going through a stack of horse papers that his father, Bernie, has owned over the years and seeing the names of notable sires like Peppy San and Docs Prescription. Though the direction of the breeding program has changed some since the beginning, creating good looking horses with straight legs, a good disposition, brains and athletic ability has remained a constant for the Lauing’s breeding program.
Some of the colts they have sold over the years have gone on to make names for them in professional rodeo, like Woodrow Sniper Leo and LR Hancocks Two Bugs, two geldings sired by Hancocks Two Boys who are now being used as pickup horses by Randy Britton, or like LR Hancock Roan Star, owned by the Westphal family who has been used for not only ranch work, but bull roping, rodeo queen horsemanship contests, team roping and breakaway roping. But the big wins aren’t what means the most to Bernie, instead he is most proud watching the horses he raised carry his children and grandchildren to success in the arena, from Little Britches Rodeos to professional rodeo, as well as on the ranch. Horses like Dakota Star Pat and Dakota Billy Star among many others have been passed from grandchild to grandchild.
Bernie’s first notable stud, one that the whole family including JD’s siblings, agreed upon, was Billy Star Pat, a 1985 red roan stallion by a Roan Bar stud and out of a Watch Joe Jack mare.
“He was the type of horse that, when you sold something of his, you may never hear from the people again until the horse got old or they lost it, then all of a sudden the phone would start ringing and people would ask, ‘Do you have any more of those?’” JD says.
For a time, the Lauings used cutting horse bloodlines, standing a son of Young Gun out of a three quarters sister to Smart Little Lena, as well as an own son of Haidas Little Pep out of NCHA champ, Millie Montana. While they added cow and athleticism, they didn’t quite have the size and bone that the Lauings were seeking.
“We got a little spoiled with Billy Star Pat,” JD says. “He was an excellent broodmare sire and sired a lot of roans. We started looking around and got into the Hancock and Blue Valentine horses, crossing with Driftwood lines.”
That was over twenty years ago. Now, many mares in the broodmare band still go back to Billy Star Pat, Revue Hancock, and Hancocks Two Boys, but every year fillies are held back and added to the band to preserve the direction that the horse program is heading. Stallions like Blue Fox Hancock and his full brother Hancocks Red Fox, Mr Junewood and Revue Hancock have had tremendous influence on the foal crops, but the Lauing’s favorite stallion remains Bonny Blues, a 2001 bay roan by Roan Ambrose and out of Bonnie O Blue.
“Bonny is picture perfect, plenty of bone, kind eye, big hip, short pastern and cannon bones, puts a good brain on his colts and you can cross him back on foundation, cow type mares and they are outstanding,” JD says, adding that his offspring are all willing to do whatever you ask of them because of their easygoing personality and athleticism.
All the stallions that the ranch stands produce good colts though, with a lot of research and emphasis going into each stallion based on how he may compliment certain mares. When Bernie and JD look for stallions either to purchase or to hold back from their colt crop, they look for all of the usual things like conformation, disposition, size, athletic ability and brains, but they also put a lot of stock in the young prospect’s dam, explaining that each step from birth to halter breaking to riding a young horse are all stepping stones to eventually finding out what the resulting offspring will be, and knowing what qualities certain mares have previously delivered in their offspring.
“You’re lucky to know if you have a good breeding stallion by the time they’re eight to ten years old,” JD says. “It’s a long process and that’s why we put a lot of emphasis on the mare. Every good stud comes from a really good mare.”
Every spring Bernie and JD are forced to make decisions on what fillies should be held back to possibly eventually join the broodmare band, what colts might make breeding or riding prospects and what foals to include in the annual production sale held in Springfield, Missouri with other partners from around the country.
The Lauings have learned through the years though, thanks to advice from a good friend and mentor in the horse industry, Sam Schultz, that if it doesn’t hurt a little bit to sell, you’re not doing it right, and every year when JD puts colts in the sale, he reminds himself of those words and the fact that you simply can’t keep them all.
To add to the decision making, in 2021 they started a new concept at the sale, inspired by JD’s experience as a 13-year-old boy when he was intimidated to bid against adults at a horse sale. Now, one lot is added to the production sale for kids only to bid on. The kids must be present and the foal comes with a one year paid AQHA Youth membership. Next year, the Lauings are hoping to take the profit from the Kids Bid lot and offer it as a scholarship.
Behind the brand, along with Bernie and JD are two talented women. Bernie’s wife, Genie, who in addition to helping with livestock chores, does all the AQHA paperwork, is administrator for their social media, updates their website and takes many of their photos, and JD’s girlfriend, Becky Amio, a horsewoman who starts the 2-year-olds and does each horse’s sale preparation and promotion.
Horses have always been a part of the ranch and the Lauings say they feel blessed to continue the legacy started by the family on the South Dakota prairie over a century ago.
“My dad started this program out right and it’s something that has treated us well, so we’re just going to keep raising good horses,” JD says.
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