The Haythorn name is synonymous with ranching in the Nebraska Sandhills region since 1884, when Harry Haythornwaite (later changed to Haythorn) filed on a homestead that became the historic Haythorn Land and Cattle Company. In 1940, Harry’s sons, Harry Jr. and Walter, split the cattle and Harry Jr. (along with his teen son, Howard) started the Haythorn Ranch Company near Maxwell, Neb., which is where his grandson Harry Byron Haythorn and family presently raise about 100 AQHA horses and up to 1,500 mother cows on approximately 20,000 owned and leased acres. Asked about being a part of the rich Haythorn ranching legacy, the current Harry gave a humble reply.
“It’s really an honor and a pleasure to do this,” said the personable cowboy. “I thought about a few other things, but really the only thing I ever wanted to do was ranch. I like caring for animals and watching the grass grow in the spring and getting our calf crop on the ground and our foals all foaled out.”
There seems to be a lot the Haythorns enjoy about ranching, including the ability to live the traditional cowboy way of life in contemporary America.
“I think that is one of God’s greatest gifts,” Haythorn admitted. “When we leave here in the morning and I get up on top of the hill and the sun is coming up and there is dew on the grass, it almost brings tears to my eyes every time I do it. It never gets old,” he added in a genuine tone. “I could do this forever. I don’t have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning and I also don’t have a hard time trying to figure out something to do, because there is always something. You never get it all done. I think if you run cattle, you have to have horses and if you have horses, it takes cattle to make good horses.”
Those horses he mentioned are bred with an eye toward creating a versatile horse that can contribute on a working ranch instead of breeding to the whims of a fickle market.
“Our horses have to have good feet and bones,” began Haythorn about what he wants in a ranch horse. “They’ve got to have good muscle and conformation so they don’t get lame or don’t have other health problems. They have to be of good size — we like a horse that is 15-hands and weighs 1,200 pounds. We don’t necessarily breed for color. It’s nice to have one with some color because they are easier to sell, but we don’t turn a good horse down just because he’s sorrel. The horses we raise have got to have some cow in them but we don’t try to breed cutting horses,” he continued. “Most of these cutting horses now are so small they really wouldn’t be very useful to us on the ranch, so we have to be mindful of that. They have to have a good mind, athletic ability, speed and cow and then, of course, the conformation. They really have to be a very versatile horse.”
Haythorn Ranch Company’s singular focus on breeding excellent working horses was rewarded with the prestigious AQHA Best Remuda Award in 2009. A Remuda is a group of working horses bred by a ranch specifically to work and pen cattle, and the award is a team effort of Pfizer and the AQHA “to recognize the outstanding foundation that ranch horses laid for the entire American Quarter Horse industry.” Asked his thoughts on receiving the impressive distinction, Haythorn’s response was good-natured.
“As my dad (Howard) said, it means you are in a pretty high class of people,” he answered with a chuckle. “It’s very humbling to think of all these ranchers that have such good horses and wonderful programs. For us to be included in that group, I can’t say enough how humbled we are and how honored we are to be awarded the Remuda award. Again, I want to quote my father. He said, well, I guess that means after all these years of breeding horses, maybe we done something right,” Haythorn added with more laughter. “It is an honor and it is very humbling.”
Despite increased noise from activist organizations against traditional animal ranching, Haythorn stands firm in his belief in the western heritage, the ranching way of life and its importance to modern society.
“I really think (ranching) builds character in a person and that is the most important thing you can have as an individual and you can pass on to your children,” he stated with confidence. “I think we are losing a lot of integrity and character. When you have cattle, horses, land, soils and water that you have to tend to and care for — and all those animals and the land actually depend on you — we are just a steward and we are trying to pass that on to our children. We are not just going to use it up and burn it up. I think that is one of the greatest things that ranching, farming and agriculture influences, is character and integrity. Caring for the land and livestock is a great honor and we really are trying to build a legacy and continue a legacy.”
Summing up the ranch his family built and his three adult children and their children now share might seem a challenge, but Haythorn tackled it with the same passion that drives his western values.
“(I want people to know) we are a good and honorable family that treats their animals with care,” he described of his family and their ranch. “We treat our land with care. We are involved in the ultimate, sustainable form of living. Again, when I am horseback in the hills moving some cattle or watching cattle move down the draw and towards the windmill, it just about brings tears to my eyes. I never get tired of seeing that. And that feeling of not having to go to work — like the old saying, if you find something you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life— that’s it. As far as being on the job, all I have to do is step out the door and I am there. If I do commute, I do my commute horseback. There are very few traffic jams.” ❖