Breeders Connection 2019: Raising Ranch Horses–Hancock line brings strength to Freeman’s horses
December 21, 2018
Some people don’t speak highly of their in-laws, and some don’t speak well of Hancock-bred horses, but Russell Freeman does not fall into either category. The Colorado businessman, rancher and breeder of Longhorn cattle and Quarter Horses has been raising Hancock horses since 1994 when he bought his first stud horse and bunch of mares from his former father-in-law.
"I got my love of horses from my family, but he really started me in raising them," Freeman says.
Today, Freeman still runs some mares out of the original mares from his father-in-law and credits those solid genetics for giving Freeman such a strong start in the horse business.
The Colorado native grew up with horses and cows, raising dry land wheat in eastern Colorado. At one time, Freeman's grandfather was the biggest landowner in the county but after his land was divided between his six children, there wasn't much left for Freeman, aside from one pasture and an extremely treasured brand that had been registered by Freeman's great-grandmother in 1899. Both Freeman's father and grandfather had raised horses and Freeman knew that he wanted to put together his own horse program as well. After college, Freeman started over and the ranches near Yoder and Kim, Colorado are all those he has put together.
"I like keeping records and keeping track of things, managing data and playing with genetics," Freeman says.
Between the Quarter Horse program and his registered cattle, he gets plenty of opportunities to do it all, even switching his registered cow herd over to Longhorns because they presented more of an opportunity in that aspect. Today, Freeman owns the third-longest horned bull in the world at almost 92 inches.
In a sense, Hancock horses are also a challenge. They have a pretty big following but Freeman says that it seems either people love them or hate them, although he has seen his colts sway opinions about the line.
"We do things a little bit different," he says of his breeding program. "There are people who are real Hancock enthusiasts that have Hancock mares and stud horses and really tie that bloodline together." He wasn't a big fan of the resulting horses. To remedy that, Freeman began crossing his big Hancock stud horses on cow-bred mares. Now, the colts he produces have not only athletic ability and color, but the size, bone and structure to go all day, a perfect combination for solid yet cowy ranch horses.
"People have this idea about Hancocks, but if they come ride these colts and spend time with them, you forget the reputation that these horses have," he says. "If you do a good job raising them, keeping them quiet, keeping their feet moving and their legs good, the mix makes some really good-minded horses. I know Hancocks have the reputation for bucking, we just don't find that in our colts."
Even his stud horses are his go-to saddle horses and the easiest to catch and get along with.
For a few years now, Freeman has been artificially inseminating a select handful of mares to race horses like Dash Ta Fame and Wagons West in an attempt to put some speed back in his broodmare band.
"I've learned you can't have mares big enough," he says. "Its easier to make smaller horses than bigger horses. I've got Lil Spoon mares, Cowtown Cats, several Blue Duck mares, he is a Gallo Del Cielo own son, and I put Hancock back on them. The horses I got from my father-in-law go back to Jet Threat and Miller San."
Freeman says everyone who has had a Miller San colt has liked them even though the Quarter Horse isn't very well remembered. As a race horse he was very versatile, running AAA times and winning points in both halter and cow work classes.
"It's hard to make a good horse though," Freeman says. "You would think if you bred 42 mares you would get 42 colts, but you don't. Things happen. Raising good horses is not an easy task, there's a lot of things that can go wrong."
Freeman runs his mares on the ranch near Yoder, Colorado where foals are born. When colts are weaned, he sends them to his other ranch near Kim, Colorado where the terrain is rockier, steeper and has live water.
"We run all the colts from weanlings to two-year-olds in the canyon at Kim so they have to learn where their feet are at, they're climbing hills and crossing rocks and crossing water and I think it makes a better horse," Freeman says. "It helps make their feet hard and when they grow up on water, you take that horse when he's older and ride him across water, he should remember that he's seen it before and it won't freak him out."
One year, Freeman bought a bay roan mare that he was very excited about. She was level-headed and "the thinkingest mare" he had ever seen. He crossed her with Leo Hancock Hazz, his stud at the time, and she threw a perfect roan colt. After he had spent two years in the rock canyons in Kim, Freeman took him back to the Yoder ranch and turned him out for a month. He was solid and straight-legged with perfect conformation. When Freeman went to get him in to start working with him, the colt's hind foot was turned over about 45 degrees. The vet said he hit a growth spurt and the tendon grew wrong.
"You do everything right and then something happens," Freeman says. "It's just the luck of the draw. It's disheartening."
But in the long run, Freeman says it's worth being in the business and he is looking forward to seeing the first colts this spring from a new grulla roan stud that he recently bought from a dispersal sale out of Louisiana.
"I think I've got the best studs in the pasture that I've ever had and I'm really excited about the colts that I will have out of them, but it all takes time," he says. "I like the challenge of it, I like the 'fix it up and see what you make' aspect."