Johnsons win SDQHA Legacy Award

Bob and Shilo Johnson, daughter Cheyann and Jake Snider. Not pictured, Bob's daughter Katelynn. Photo courtesy Bob Johnson

For the second year in a row, the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association has given Legacy Awards for influential people and horses in the South Dakota Quarter Horse industry. New to the group of awards this year was naming an influential Quarter Horse racing producer. The 2019 Legacy Award winners in the racing category were Bob and Shilo Johnson of Lemmon, South Dakota.

The move to add the category to existing awards (including rodeo, trainer, show, promoter, ranch, and influential horse) was a natural one, according to SDQHA President, Kristen Gonsoir. “Quarter Horses have been a large contributor to racing. As a matter of fact, the name comes from being so competitive in a quarter mile of racing. We wanted to include such an integral part of the quarter horse industry.”

In the same way, the choosing of the Johnson family for the first award was quite straightforward. “Selection is done through nominations and then the committee looked at the various nominations. Their nomination was an easy consideration because they’ve been so involved in the racing industry, specifically Quarter Horses, for a very long time,” says Gonsoir.

The Johnson family didn’t see it coming, though. “It was a large surprise to me. It’s something that’s never happened before. I’m glad to see that it is part of it now,” says Bob Johnson.

“Those are the kind of horses that make money in any aspect of the horse industry.” Bob Johnson

Johnson’s philosophy on raising and training race horses is simple. “Speed with brains is what we’ve always shot for. A sound horse and a sound minded horse is a helluva combination.” Gonsoir attests to a racing Quarter Horse’s ability to move from one discipline to another, “The American Quarter Horse is the most versatile horse, so the bloodlines for racing also cross over into other disciplines. They cross over into barrel racing, roping, dressage, over fences. There are some really beautiful movers from the racetrack that can excel in the arena as well,” she states. Johnson’s sentiments are the same. “[We] strive to have fast horses that can do other things.”

Though the philosophies are simple, it takes months of hard work and training to make them a reality. “We break them to ride first and then they get to be racehorses next. That way, if they don’t work out as a racehorse, they’re ready to go into something else,” Johnson says. “I don’t ride very many horses anymore: I’m 61 and I’ve rode my fair share. I do a lot of the ground work myself still. I think that’s the foundation to everything.” The Johnson’s employ 1 to 4 riders, depending on the time of year, to train with him.

Living in South Dakota, Johnson also has to work around winter weather, though it doesn’t faze his determination. “We’ll ride until it gets like thirty below. We’ll ride inside. It doesn’t really slow us down a lot. We’re just not progressing as fast at some things as we’d like to be but we’ll make it up when it breaks. The weather, it’s not perfect, but if you’re committed to getting your job done, you’ll get it done.” Bob and Shilo spend up to six months per year traveling to races in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, and California, and more.

Johnson learned about horses from a young age as he was influenced by his older relatives. His grandfather, Oscar Johnson, settled the Lemmon area in 1890 and raised thoroughbreds, as did his uncle, Andrew Johnson. His father, John G. Johnson, trained thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, and Bob followed in his father’s footsteps. The 1990s were a turning point for the Johnson family’s horse racing business and it grew from a small operation to a large one, according to him.

Several stallions have been an integral part of Johnson’s operation. Dr Kirk, a son of Jet Deck, produced many winners and well-minded babies, according to Johnson. “They would do whatever you asked them to do. Those are the kind of horses that make money in any aspect of the horse industry,” he says. Currently, No Brakes Now is a producer of well-received foals. “Everyone that’s got one likes them. You never hear a detrimental thing about those horses,” says Johnson. Even so, he maintains that mares are crucial to the production of a successful horse. “Anywhere from 60-70 percent of your mare is what your offspring is. You’ve got to have a good mare. The stud is the donor: the mare is the parent. They’re the ones that create the horse,” he says.

The Johnsons see success in many areas. In the past six years, they’ve run full siblings, both out of mare Leadmetoyourladder (one of the last horses raised by Ray Wardell) and by Hasta Be Fast. Hastabealeader and Faster Than Hasta – both owned by Wardell Quarter Horses) have both won well over $100,000 each.

This November, the family returned from Las Alamedas, California after competing in the Bank of America Champions Challenge. There, they received several high placings in various races, including 3rd place in an undercard race and Faster Than Hasta placing in a $250,000 race. In other disciplines, Hasta Be Fast sired Whatcha Lookn At, who was the 2018 Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s Derby champion, ridden by Kalie Anderson of Carrington, North Dakota. Johnson’s father spotted a colt from one of his mares hazing at RFD-TV’s The American in the past year. He says, “You see them everywhere. My daughter’s in Phoenix and she saw a horse at a barrel race the other day with a Rafter JJ on its hip. I had a friend call me at a barrel race in Minnesota and he saw three of them.”

The Johnsons were given an honorary plaque for their lifetimes of dedication. “To get recognized for doing your job made me feel really good. It made everyone feel great because of the hours and the sacrifices,” he said. He claims that the most important value he’s maintained throughout the years is consistency. “Doing your job no matter what. It doesn’t matter how bad the weather is, Try and take as good of care of the horses as humanly possible. If you treat a horse the way you’d like to be treated, they’ll probably do just the same,” he says.