SDQHA honoree Stage Bird Tom: An all around type horse
Growing up in Wessington Springs, South Dakota, Dr. Robert M. “Doc” Christensen learned quickly that he loved horses and purchased his first registered Quarter Horse in 1955. He earned the 50 Year-Breeder award from the American Quarter Horse Association, and until the day he passed in August, 2021, his love for horses and his passion for Quarter Horses only grew, in large part due to his prize stallion, Stage Bird Tom, who is being honored by the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association as the 2021 Notable Horse of the Year.
Stage Bird Tom was a 1966 sorrel Quarter Horse stallion and grandson to the famous King, who was well known for his early influence on the breed. With the help of a long-time friend and mentor, Art Reeves, Christensen found Stage Bird Tom down in Texas and brought him back to South Dakota to grow his own breeding program.
“First and foremost, he looked for a horse that was put together conformation wise, built in a way that he can do whatever you needed to get done, whether that was working on a ranch or taking him into a show ring to show halter or do more performance type events,” says Doc’s son, Eric. “He was looking for a stallion that could produce good all-around working horses when he found Stage Bird Tom.”
And Stage Bird Tom certainly left a legacy in the show ring of being an all-around horse and producing all around horses. Over the years, Doc employed various horsemen to train and show Stage Bird Tom and his offspring, the first being Pat Trebesch, who showed Stage Bird Tom from 1971 to 1973. In that time, the stallion participated in 51 shows in South Dakota and surrounding states, winning 47 aged stallion classes, 25 grand champion stallion titles and 18 reserve champion stallion titles. He also earned points in western pleasure, hunter under saddle and reining.
“He was real smart and he was so athletic,” Trebesch says. “He could turn around faster once than you could blink an eye. I hauled him many a mile and he was nice to haul, even though he was a stud.”
It was within the first month of working with Stage Bird Tom that Trebesch realized the stallion was something special because of his athleticism, halter look and incredible disposition, which was proven one day when Doc stopped by the barn to see how his stallion was progressing. At the time, Pat’s daughter was practicing her roller skating in the same cement alleyway that Stage Bird Tom was tied up in. Just as Doc asked Pat what he thought about the stallion’s potential and his temperament, Pat’s daughter roller skated right underneath Stage Bird Tom, who didn’t react in the least.
“I think that gives an idea of the temperament of the horse,” Eric says. “Calm enough to handle things like that.”
Trebesch showed a daughter of Stage Bird Tom as well, Stage Birds Image, a 1973 sorrel mare who also became an AQHA champion, earning 28 halter points and 71 performance points in her career.
Doc continued to breed Stage Bird Tom, having greatest success when he crossed the stallion with his Roan Bar mares. Some foals went on to be shown and earn AQHA points in the youth, amateur and open divisions, a testament to the temperament of his offspring that they could be shown by all ages.
“Dad didn’t have much patience for a horse that didn’t have his head on straight,” Eric says. “If it wasn’t easy to handle, it probably wasn’t around for too long. He tended to like the ones that were easy to get along with and smart enough to train and teach some things.”
Stage Bird Tom sired 154 foals over 16 years, and of those, 12 earned a total of 1,212 AQHA points, including six all-around wins and two reserve all-around wins, nine superior awards and one AQHA world champion award.
Other notable direct descendants included Stage Bird Lad, a 1973 blue roan gelding who earned 33 AQHA performance points; Stage Bird Ladie, a 1975 red roan gelding who earned 8 halter and 48 AQHA performance points, including the title of 1980 South Dakota Quarter Horse Association All-Around horse; Stage Bird Bill, a 1975 sorrel gelding who earned 722 performance points, numerous show titles and eight performance register of merits; and Stage Bird Roanie, a 1976 gray stallion who earned 220 performance points, a performance register of merit, numerous roping titles and was a contender for the 1981 AQHA Super Horse Award.
One of the most recent trainers that Doc hired before his passing was John Kabeiseman, who first got involved with a great-great grandson of Stage Bird Tom in 1991 by the name of Kahuna Ben.
“In the spring of ’94, Doc brought me a mare to breed to Kahuna Ben and that started our relationship,” Kabeiseman says.
Through the years, Doc and K bred many of Doc’s mares who went back to Stage Bird Tom back to Kabeiseman’s stallion, dabbling in linebreeding but seeing great success in the crosses. K was able to make both a son and grandson of Kahuna Ben into AQHA champions and has high hopes to do the same with the next generation.
“These are just good using horses that go all day and I know that comes from Stage Bird Tom because I’ve heard that from other breeders,” Kabeiseman says. “The ones that didn’t end up in the show pen ended up on ranches and they’re loved because they can use them all day, they don’t have to go in at noon and switch horses. I think a lot of today’s modern bloodlines might be more specialized, better in one or two events, they’re not the true all-around horse that the Quarter Horses are supposed to be.”
As his name gets further and further to the right on registration papers, it was his legacy of producing those true, all-around type horses that Stage Bird Tom leaves on South Dakota.
“I think that’s a testament to the strength of the horse that Dad’s breeding generated,” Eric says. “One time Dad got a letter from a guy who had this horse for 25 plus years and the horse passed away, so the guy took the time to write Dad a three-page letter telling him how much he liked the horse. I think moments like those were some of the things he appreciated most and really got a kick out of, just visiting with folks who purchased and liked his horses over the years, whether they had shown them or just had them for fun because they could do just about anything.”
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