Talking about horses is just one of the family traditions at Nebraska’s world renowned Pitzer Ranch.
Found nestled in the Sandhills region northwest of the small ranch town of Ericson the ranch provides an abundance of grass and water to support reputation Quarter Horses and registered Angus cattle.
It was 1945 when Howard first established Pitzer Ranch. At that time he rented grass for 25 cents per acre and took in cattle. Profit from pasture cattle was used to purchase land and cows. Living expenses were covered through horse trades.
Howard’s grandson, Jim Brinkman, says Howard gained much of his early knowledge of livestock while traveling with his father, Harvey Pitzer, to farms and sale barns to buy and sell cattle, draft horses and mules.
“My great-grandfather was a trader,” Jim says. “He’d put together bunches of cattle, horses or whatever and literally herd them to the nearest sale barn, with my grandfather, Howard, often trailing along. When he began dealing in horses, gramps represented horses as they were. That’s the only way he would have it. The value of honesty started a core of buyers that continues on in generations of return customers.”
It was 1956, after 10 years on the ranch, when Howard began “seriously” developing his quarter horses. It started with the purchase of his original foundation stud, Pat Star Jr. He found the stallion at a match race in Oklahoma. However, it was the 1964 horse trade for Two Eyed Jack that had the greatest impact on Pitzer Ranch genetics.
“Gramps showed Two Eyed Jack aggressively until he was nine,” Jim says. “The stallion earned 217 halter points along with performance points in western pleasure, hunter under saddle, reining, western riding, cow horse, and even ran barrels a time or two. He also worked cattle on the ranch, but his greatest contribution was as a breeding stallion.”
When Two Eyed Jack retired in 1991, he had sired 1,416 foals with 562 amassing 37,035 American Quarter Horse Association points. It was 119 of the foals that went on to become AQHA champions, 30 youth champions, along with 33 world or reserve world championships. With the adoption of artificial insemination, Two Eyed Jack bred as many as 434 mares in one season, proving to be one of the all-time, pre-potent breeding studs in Quarter Horse history (all before the availability of shipped or frozen semen).
In 1997, Howard and “Jack’s” accomplishments were recognized when both were inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame.
Jim continues the ranch’s legacy, holding annual spring and fall horse sales along with a registered Angus bull sale.
“With decades of success in the arena, horses and our horse sales have overshadowed the simple fact that Pitzer Ranch is a diversified working cattle and horse operation,” Jim says. “We have a long-standing reputation for producing genetically dominant, high-quality livestock. Continuing to produce high-quality horses isn’t any easier now than it was when Howard started developing the ranch’s bloodlines.”
To maintain the ranch’s genetic quality while bringing in some outcross genetics, Jim maintains a herd of about 300 mares. In a crop of 250 foals, typically five or six catch Jim’s eye.
To carry on the Pitzer Ranch’s successful genetics, Jim is always on the lookout for studs and mares he prefers. When he traveled to Brazil, he was impressed with the fact that the ranch hands saddled up every morning.
“There were no pickups or four-wheelers,” he noted. “Their horses were all sound and worked on the ranch every day.”
That “no-coddling” philosophy is the same one Howard used throughout the years he established Pitzer Ranch.
“We’ve never fed our horses special rations,” Jim says. “They work all day, are turned out at night and expected to go to work the next day. Our horses are bred to be physically strong, correct legged, functional, and willing to work. Our outcross sires bring in even more modern, genetic traits. The better outcross fillies are put back into the Pitzer Ranch breeding program.”
About a dozen breeding stallions are featured on the ranch website. To deserve a spot on the stud roster, stallions are accomplished competitors and proven winners. Current sires include Show Me A Song Joes and Justa Genuine Jack.
“Show Me A Song Joes is a very capable, stout and shapey horse that finds work easy.” Jim says. “He will probably lead our sire groups for the next five years. Justa Genuine Jack packs a lot of muscle and do-ability in his colts. In our family lines we don’t trend toward a horse that’s too light-boned. When selecting for genetics, we try to stay away from fads and fit more buyers by being an all-around, middle-of-the-road horse rather than limited to a specialty. We believe the ideal horse is one the family can use on the ranch then compete with on the weekends.”
In order to keep current in the Western horse industry, Jim regularly participates in shows and competitions.
“The industry changes all the time,” Jim says. “The only way to know how your program stands is to evaluate how you and your horses do in competition.
“Producing quality genetics isn’t an exact process,” Jim adds. “It helps to have large numbers of mares and stallions to produce horses with different capabilities. We use linebreeding of successful type to produce horses of consistent quality. You have to know what you’re doing with the genetics to make linebreeding work. It takes three or four years before you can be sure a specific cross produces the horse you want. One advantage we have is the history of generations of proven mares and stallions. I can go back several generations and know characteristics and information about specific horses. That gives me great perspective and advantage when making breeding decisions and genetic selections.”
Because they believe so strongly in breeding horses that can be used on the ranch and also perform in competition, the Brinkmans developed the HP Ranch Horse Invitational. It’s an annual competition for 4 to 6-year-olds sired by proven Pitzer Ranch sires. Jim notes that Roman Times historic writings describe war horse battles and beliefs that judged competitions limit creativity and lead horsemen to be mere imitators of previous competition winners.
“We used those teachings as one of the ideas in developing our HPI competition. Our awards go to horses correctly completing the five events in the shortest amount of time” Jim says.
Dependability, probably the most notable trait of Pitzer Ranch horses, is still one of the foundation principles Jim uses in his breeding strategies.
“We also breed disposition,” Jim notes. “Today’s riders use horses more on weekends for recreation rather than as cowboys working on the ranch. It’s a trend we don’t necessarily like to see, but it’s where the industry is going. Pitzer Ranch sales typically offer a couple hundred riding horses. With that many, buyers are more likely to find what they’re looking for. There aren’t many places where you find that many quality horses in one stop. It’s one of the Pitzer Ranch traditions that we are proud to continue to maintain.” ❖