Stallion Showcase: D & S Cattle Co: Building horses on a Montana ranch
More than 1,000 miles separate Hysham, Montana, from northern Texas. George Johnson rode every single one of them back in 1902. He was part of what was possibly the very last cross-country cattle drive. Johnson dropped the herd at their destination in Wyoming and then headed north for Big Sky country.
“People did really amazing things back then at a young age,” said Ginger DeCock, one of Johnson’s granddaughters. “They didn’t wait to grow up, they just did things.”
Ultimately what Johnson did was homestead in Hysham, which later transitioned into D & S Cattle Co. Now in the hands of third, fourth and fifth generations, the ranch values still boil down to raising quality livestock with good bone, feet and size. The ranch demands these qualities from both their bovine and equine residents.
Ranch in the Pines
As AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders, Gary and Ginger DeCock are keeping with the tradition previous generations laid down as both horse- and cattlemen among the rolling pines of Beaver Creek.
“My family has always been in tune with horses; it’s a natural thing on a ranch,” Ginger said. “George raised a lot of horses and so did my folks. The horses have always been a good sideline gig with the cattle.”
Growing up on the family ranch and then leaving for school in town, Ginger later returned with Gary at her side. The ranch now includes land passed down from Gary’s grandfather.
“Our horses have really evolved over time,” Ginger explained as she thought back on the photos of studs her parents were using almost 70 years ago. “We’ve improved our horses over the years. I think that’s typical of most horse operations in the world, whether they admit it or not.”
Selecting for genetically superior crosses is just one of many modern upgrades that both Gary and Ginger have enjoyed about the changing times. With this modern technology, they said horses on the ranch today are better looking than their ancestors. Part of that improvement is better nutrition, and breeding decisions are treated as a more important process than ever before.
“It’s never about the horse, it’s always about the cross,” Gary said. “We’re looking for the magic cross to produce horses that are always improving.”
With a large sector of the horse industry breeding horses for specific disciplines, it could be said that the DeCocks are going against the grain with their program. They aren’t just breeding your average ranch horse though.
“We’re still trying to raise horses that are 15-hands and have an athletic build that will allow them to do just about anything,” Ginger said. “Our horses need size, bone and speed, so they can go just about any direction that someone would want them to.”
Finding that perfect cross begins with a broodmare band progressively developed over generations. The ranch now has about 20 mares, each one carefully selected to continuously improve the broodmare band.
Every one of those mares was either raised on the ranch or came from someone in the immediate family. About half of the mares are by Millie N Docs Oak, an own son of Docs Oak by Doc Bar. And the rest are by a Frechmans Guy stud, Romeo White Feathers.
“Having those two studs in our broodmares really upgraded the herd for us,” Gary said.
Out of those mares, 10 colts are sold as weanlings in the online auction each fall. The rest are kept to be used on the ranch and later sold with miles on their backs.
“We try to sell five or six riders every year,” Ginger said. “The market for solid, broke horses is always good. So, anybody that puts some miles on a horse can get paid for their time.”
One of the most important aspects of those solid riding horses is their disposition. If someone can trust those horses with any level rider, they’re easily worth their weight in gold. The addition of a Metallic Cat son has brought that to a whole new level for the horses bearing the X lazy T brand.
When you think of a stud who’s nabbed world titles, a cuddly teddy bear isn’t usually what comes to mind. But that’s exactly how North Platte, Nebraska, trainer Jeremy Knoles describes Takes Alotta Metal, their stallion out of Metallic Cat and Takes Alotta Faith (a Dual Pep granddaughter), who was dubbed Gar Bear as a long yearling.
“A lot of times we’ll give horses a barn name after their owners,” Jeremy explained of how this stallion earned the name Gar Bear. “Gary (DeCock) is a big ol’ teddy bear and someone just started calling the horse that [Gar Bear] one day. I still just call him Gary, but my kids call him Gar Bear.”
Even before he was fully-developed, the stallion was impressive. All it took was a suggestion from a fellow horseman that a Metallic Cat son would cross well on their mares and the DeCocks had their eyes peeled.
“John E. Johnson, who was on the ranching heritage committee with AQHA when it first formed, told us we needed a Metallic Cat for our mares,” Ginger said. “When one came available, it really rang a bell with me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known what a good deal I was getting.”
In the past, Gary and Ginger have ridden their own performance horses. They decided to step out and try something new with this one. And that’s how the DeCocks connected with Jeremy Knoles Performance Horses.
“He’s done all the training on this horse and helped us sell his colts,” Gary said. “He’s made a big difference in our operation. He’s truly a partner in this stud.”
The red roan stallion looks almost identical to Metallic Cat. His maternal lineage, which traces back to Dual Pep, Pretty Little Kitty and Docs Stylish Oak, definitely shines through as well.
“Even as a colt, he’s always been really mature and acted very grown up,” Jeremy said about the stud who rarely acts like one. “I don’t know that I’ve ever ridden, trained or shown a stud that wasn’t a little bit of a pain in the spring, except for Gary (Takes Alotta Metal).”
His laid-back demeanor transcends fences and even tack. When let out with the mares, Gary’s (Takes Alotta Metal’s) disposition is still clear as day.
“He’s really smooth and quiet when he’s out with the mares. He kind of talks to them if you will,” Jeremy says.
Now a 6-year-old, Takes Alotta Metal is showing in the bridle classes in the reined cow events. He boasts an impressive resume in his successful, albeit still blossoming, show career. His top award to date came in 2020 when he was crowned the AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse High Point Junior Horse Champion.
“He’s just always been a good horse,” Jeremy said. “He’s big and athletic, has color. And he’s always done whatever we’ve asked him. He just wanted to get along and let us train him up.”
As the modern cornerstone of the operation, Takes Alotta Metal’s traits are coming through in full force in his offspring.
Although they’ve sold some of his semen, the DeCocks mostly just use him on their own mares. To get one of these foals, potential buyers need to come back in the fall for the annual online foal sale.
For more information about Takes Alotta Metal, visit http://www.takesalottametal.com.
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