Sun Frost remembered for skill, grit and ‘the look’
The South Dakota-owned stallion will be a 2022 AQHA Hall of Fame inductee
There is no doubt that if a list was written of Sun Frost’s biggest fans, and ranked in order of who was the biggest fan, brothers Tigh, Tork and Treg Cowan would be at the top, and they’re not afraid to tell you that.
Sun Frost was bought as a colt by Pat Cowan, Tigh, Tork and Treg’s father, as a colt in 1979 from Stanley Johnston, the South Dakota man who bred and raised the now nationally famous 2022 American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame inductee. Johnston and his wife, Frances, were passionate about good horses and helped bring many greats to South Dakota. Two of which were the sire and dam of Sun Frost, Docs Jack Frost by Doc Bar and Prissy Cline by Driftwood Ike. The cross proved themselves time and time again, with the Cowans owning three full brothers before they even bought Sun Frost with the goal of keeping him as a stud prospect.
The first brother was a horse by the name of Runnin Gun, who Elayne Cowan, the boys’ mother, picked out, and the Cowans hazed, cut, roped calves, heeled, bulldogged and tied goats off him. The second, Quick Draw Cline, proved to be a talented bulldogging horse and the third, Marco Doc, turned in to a rope horse.
“To me, those were good horses 30 years ago and they would definitely be good horses today,” Tigh says. “I think what those horses had that we look for in horses today, is they were capable of moving very quickly and they were capable of being able to think as fast as they could move which I think is part of one of the very strong points of the Sun Frost line.”
In the beginning, Pat was interested in racing horses, in fact he owned Laughing Boy for a time with Tex Fulton, a horse who came to South Dakota thanks to Stanley and later, when one of his daughters was crossed with Sun Frost, created the now-famous Frenchmans Guy line. But eventually, after starting many young Docs Jack Frost and Orphan Drift colts for Stanley, the exposure to cow bred horses changed his focus. The arrival of Sun Frost pushed Pat to start gathering mares from lines he admired through his travels from his race horse days, as a rodeo cowboy, and from the perspective of a South Dakota rancher who used horses on his ranch.
When Sun Frost was a long yearling, Roy Durfey was working for Pat and put the first few rides on the stud colt. The following year, in 1981, Pat and Stanley decided that Tigh would ride a now two-year-old Sun Frost in the high school cutting.
“I had no idea what cutting was, nor did I know how to do it, but Stanley was a cutter and he was very knowledgeable so he and my dad went to putting Sun Frost on cattle and eventually, I got on him,” Tigh says.
While they were practicing that spring, someone on the ranch accidentally let some calves into the pen with Sun Frost and they ate his long, beautiful golden tail off. Usually a passive man, Tigh says his dad wanted to whip somebody that day when he got on the radio and called anybody and everybody that worked for the ranch to come meet him, and now. Days later, Pat woke Tigh up at 4 a.m. and told him they were still going to cut on Sun Frost, and Tigh was going to put a tail on him.
“I said, ‘Now? How, Dad?'” Tigh says. “He said there’s an old yellow gelding, you go pull his tail and I don’t know how you’re going to do it but get it put on that yellow stud. If you look in the pictures, his tail is floating in the sun and those little shiny deals in there was super glue holding his tail together.”
With a new tail, and despite both the horse and jockey being green, Sun Frost and Tigh made it to the state finals, then lost a cow, missing the opportunity to make it to the short round at the state finals.
Something about the horse made him special, maybe it was his natural ability, maybe it was his unique character that seemed like he constantly just knew what was going on, or maybe it was the way he could look at you, and like Tigh’s wife, Jill says, it felt like he was looking over the tops of his glasses at you.
“He just knew what was going on and so did those brothers of his, uncanny like,” Tigh says. “They would try harder if the chips were down heavier, they would just do things that were remarkable.”
And when the chips were down for Sun Frost the following spring, the Cowans had to do all they could to help him out in return. It was his three-year-old year and they were preparing to start cutting on him again when he got into a pen next to some cycling mares. Sun Frost went to jump the fence to get in with the mares and a piece of sucker rod broke and impaled him from the inside of his back left stifle, coming out the side of his hip where his brand was.
“I remember to this day looking at that and thinking, this is over, no way we’re coming out of this,” Tigh says. Someone was sent to get a tractor, someone else a gun. “Dad thought that pipe had gone directly through his stifle, and if that were the case he would never be sound again. We got him lifted up off there, cut the bottom of that pipe with a cutting torch, got him stood up and he stood on that leg.”
The pipe merely grazed his stifle, only going through muscle, so they cleaned up the wound as best as they could. When the vet showed up, he confirmed it was a flesh wound and Pat put a saddle on Sun Frost, ran a stick through the fork of the saddle and tied it to the left side of the cantle, then tied a burlap sack filled with ice to the end where the ice melted and dripped down into the wound. Eventually, the wound closed and Sun Frost resumed cutting, although no longer in high school rodeo.
A few years later, in 1984, Pat held his first public horse sale in Highmore, marketing Sun Frost’s progeny. The colts brought good money and Pat was just getting into the groove of the horse industry when he passed away the following year. For the next 12 years, through the farming crisis of the 1980s, the Cowan siblings, who had already lost their mother years before, focused on running the ranch and surviving. Sun Frost bred Cowan mares every year, but the majority of those colts were used on the ranch with very few sold to the public. During that time, they partnered with the Loiseau’s, breeding Sun Frost to their mares, from which the colts were being marketed publicly. Eventually, the brothers held a sale in 1988, but it wasn’t until nearly 10 years later, in 1997 that they established an annual sale, re-entering the horse industry as the Cowan Brothers LLC, with the help of their sisters, Patti Werdel, Mari Shaull, Shannon Daly and Caly Dirk and their families.
“We knew the horses we had were good because we’d rode bad ones before,” Tigh says. “We knew what we were riding and raising were good, straight forward, honest horses that had a lot of run and a lot of cow and we rodeoed enough to know these horses had some talent, so we decided to have a sale.”
Around that time, a gelding by Sun Frost, French Flash Hawk, or Bozo as he is better known, was fortunate enough to have fallen into Kristie Peterson’s hands and was winning barrel racing titles, as well as being named AQHA Horse of the Year from 1995 to 1999.
The brothers were just hoping that people would show up and buy the horses, little did they know what influence Sun Frost was already having on the industry, thanks to his progeny who were doing very well in the rodeo arena.
“We did have the ability to know what kind of horses crossed well on him thanks to Dad, and we were fortunate to have the different horses, Docs Oaks Sugar and Boon Dox John, to come in as other studs that crossed so well on the Sun Frost line,” Tigh says.
The Cowan siblings held a few more sales, but today, they mostly market grandsons and granddaughters of Sun Frost through private treaty. In a way, it was fortunate that there was a ten-year stretch where they didn’t focus on marketing the horse program, because so many of their now paramount broodmares are the results from that time. For only siring 464 foals, Tigh says it’s amazing to look back now and see how many horse programs and individuals that that yellow stud from South Dakota has touched.
“I look at it, and keep in mind, I’m one of his biggest fans, but it tickles me to think what my dad, Pat Cowan, and Stanley Johnston were thinking, about one little old plan they had 40 years ago, and how powerful that plan was that touched this whole industry,” Tigh says.
Sun Frost is a 2022 AQHA Hall of Fame inductee.
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