by Brian Wright, courtesy Foundation Horse Journal
With few arguments, the influence of King P-234 is accepted as prepotent, dynamic, and a necessary ingredient for breeding successful performance Quarter Horses. Through sons and grandsons like Poco Bueno, Poco Tivio, King Fritz, Beaver Creek, and numerous others, we now are riding and performing on successful Doc Bar, Chex, Joe Cody, and other lines. The legacy handed down from this genetic code produces athletic, explosive and easily managed equine partners.
Few lines are more successful and interesting than that passed on by Easter King, through his son Easter Gentleman. And few stories host the colorful and respected characters that pass through this one. Successful breeders and trainers are sometimes said to be "made" by their stock. We suspect though, that this crowd had the fortune of destiny on their side when Easter King appeared to weave a tapestry of relationships forged through success and a common love of performance horses.
Foaled in 1951 as a product of the successful Jess Hankins program, Easter King was a sorrel stud colt by the incomparable King P-234 and out of a mare named Gocha H. The breeding on King P-234 is well known, by Zantanon, out of Jabalina, Gocha H was by a Zantanon son named Cuate, out of a daughter of a U.S. Remount stallion named Darity (TB). With two lines to the respected Zantanon, and a healthy dose of cavalry genetics, the pieces almost seemed engineered for success. Although few could ever predict just how quickly this success would come.
Into the picture comes a pretty brunette with a fondness for cutting horses and an eye for an opportunity. LaRue Gooch was at that time an Abilene, Texas Horse-woman married into the cattle business. Her husband Pete had a feedlot and packing plant outside town. With the success many were having with the Hollywood horses from the Burnett program, these King bred horses looked like a wonderful outcross as breeding stock, and obviously were terrific athletes in their own right. With Poco Bueno and Poco Tivio and their sons and daughters performing so well, it was obvious that this bloodline was going to be around for awhile.
With this thought, LaRue decided to win a major cutting with a King bred son of her own. And at a very tender young age, Easter King fulfilled this goal. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, so soon. The Gooch packing plant was staffed by West Texas stockman of wonderful experience. The most critical to our story was a lean cowboy named Elmo Favor. Fondly remembered as a "best fella" and a good Christian, Elmo had a resume that included a stint at E. Paul Waggonners, and time riding with Pine Johnson. It was at this time that Elmo had the distinction of riding Poco Bueno, and getting the feel of these King bred explosive cutters. And with common appreciation for both cutting horses and the spirituality of Christianity, Elmo and Pine were comfortable enough with each other to spend time exchanging thoughts and ideas that would prove key in campaigning Easter King.
To Abilene came the then 12 month old sorrel colt with the terrific pedigree. Gently starting him for LaRue, Elmo was careful and slow to a fault. But with each ride the colt seemed to progress quicker and quicker. Watching day by day, a thought began to grow with Elmo and LaRue. The 1953 Fort Worth Stock Show had the prestige of todays' NCHA Futurity. The junior cutting class there and at the Houston Stock Show represented the first significant wins for Elmo, LaRue and Easter King. Worked for a short six months, Easter won both at the tender age of 18 months. A remarkable achievement even by todays competitive standards!
Easter King proved consistent to Elmo's expectations. Like his sire and brothers, he could have been considered hard to ride. Those first moves were sudden, powerful, and fluid. Elmo remembered those traits and how to best nurture them. Yet at the same time, the sorrel was easy to handle, gentle to a fault, and well dispositioned.
Thus began a remarkable career for this stallion of two destinies. As a show horse he was campaigned to earn his keep. And at home in the breeding season, he was given an opportunity to prove himself as a sire as well. With the opinion that the popular Hollywood mares coming off the Burnett Ranch had plenty of cow sense and desire, Easter King was called upon to pass on his speed and explosive first steps.
These first Easter King colts proved very trainable. With the athleticism of their sire and grandsire, they fulfilled everyone's expectations. Since LaRue was already hosting Hollywood Gold mares from the Burnett Ranch, these were the first cross seen. Bred around his cutting schedule, Easter King was part of LaRue's life for eight years. Now living in Stanford, Texas. LaRue hasn't been able to preserve all her memories about this terrific stud. But true to form as a Texas belle, she does pass along a vignette or two about that time in her life. Like the identity of the unidentified woman holding Easter King in the Western Horseman book "Legends". Getting ready for a trip to town one morning, a knock at the door brought a photographer who just had to have a picture that minute. Rushing around a barn in a new dress was hardly what LaRue needed, but she did accommodate him. The photographer was so rushed himself, he left without a thank you. Rest assured though, that the pretty brunette in the patterned white dress is LaRue herself.
Married now to long time respected horseman Jerry Christmas, it was a treat to expand on this tale with an opinion from Jerry. Well known for campaigning Miss Aledo, Jerry has forged relationships all over the Southwest for fifty years. While riding Miss Aledo one afternoon, horseman Jack Newton came by and saw them working yearling calves. Now Miss Aledo had come to Jerry in a package with 100 cows, and a sore left pastern of her own. Jerry fixed that bad wheel, mounted Jack Newton on her, and went down the road with those two and himself on a half sister to Miss Aledo named Francis T. That foursome "ate up" the Texas and New Mexico cutting circuit for many years. Incidentally, Jack Newton was hardly an amateur himself. Forever linked with the only King p-234 offspring to win a World Championship (Poco Lena was a Reserve Champion), Poco Stampede was heralded throughout cutting circles for years. Newton has recently remarked that he would have liked to have crossed Stampede on some of those Easter King / Hollywood Gold mares. But then, in hindsight, we all probably would do things differently.
One final note of respect and admiration about Jerry Christmas. While working a young horse three years ago, a wasp flew into the colt's mouth prompting the colt to pitch for all he was worth. Jerry broke a knee, his hip and severely injured his back. Since then and until recently, he's been on crutches. Oh, by the way, Jerry Christmas is 86 years old. The story here is one of a horseman who was riding until he was 83. This is a man of real experience.
By now, Elmo had campaigned Easter King for over five years. The early training, however gentle, and miles on the road had taken their toll. Sore and moderately crippled, Easter King then entered the next phase of his life with the dynamic and well known breeder, John Bowling. John originally was from Illinois. Well known as one of the last of the big horse breeders, John moved from there to Colorado Springs, then Sumner, Iowa, and finally setting up shop in Oklahoma. The "big" in horse breeders refers more to the size of his broodmare band than to his well deserved reputation and influence. Building up the bunch to over 300 head while in Colorado, John Bowling was one of the key figures in this story.
To cross on John's favorite foundation bred mares, was a stallion battery that included Buck Hancock, Easter King, a Poco Bueno son, Maybe 64 (from the Waggoner Ranch), and later Easter Gentleman, Lasso, and a stud named The Embezzler. Crossed on the mares originally produced at the Triangle Ranch, the Four Sixes, and others, we can see what was being produced when we look at these pedigrees today. Hancock, Badger, and Blue Rock mares under his King P-234 and Hancock studs. Tough, versatile, and sound Quarter Horses bred to work.
Always the consummate trader, Bowling acquired Easter King in 1959 with a band of a dozen Hollywood Gold mares, including the Blue Hen mare Miss Hollywood. Coming to Bowling after years of hard campaigning, Easter King had both back pasterns damaged to the extent that he was unridable. The Bowlings, though, weren't active arena campaigners of their stock. Selling most of their colts as weanlings, the family rarely had anything older than a three year old. To let the public see his horses, Bowling occasionally put a colt or yearling in a halter class, but rarely more. Easter Kings condition would not at all hamper his duties for the Bowlings'.
From that first crop of colts foaled in 1960 came three Performance Register of Merit winners, two from Hollywood Gold mares and one from a Blue Rock mare. And in the following dozen years, that particular award was given 17 times to Easter King bred horses, along with three World Show Youth Top Ten Cutting placings by Muneco 37 King, Western Pleasures, Halter and an AQHA Championship for Ezee Money 37, and Open and Amateur Reining Championships for Hollywood Jac 86. But all paled in comparison to the show record of the incomparable Mr. Hollywood Red. For eleven years this sorrel gelding set standards of excellence few would ever consider. Five Performance Register of Merit awards, five Superiors in Western Pleasure, Western Horsemanship, Hunter Under Saddle; Seven World Show Top Ten awards in classes as diverse as Pleasure Driving, Hunter Under Saddle, Western Horsemanship, Hunt Seat Equitation and others. A truly remarkable show horse and fitting to carry the banner of Easter King into the show ring.
The heir apparent in the breeding shed was a different story all together. Foaled in 1970 from the Grey Badger daughter Bobbin Badger and by Easter King, Easter Gentleman made an immediate impression on all who saw him. Bowlings' daughter Pat Cuddy recalls him as "floating along" in the pasture with a gait and fluidity unlike any of the other colts there. John Bowling is reputed to have picked out Easter Gentleman as a future stud based on the colts' ability to completely spin around as he leaped in the air, playing. But at the same time he was extremely manageable, and given his designated name by Pat Cuddy at halter breaking. A wonderful breeding plan resulting in athleticism that was easily managed.
It is interesting that at this specific time a Minnesota family with a terrific legacy of its own is in the picture. Craig Howard and his father Chuck had been going to John for years for their performance prospects. A respecter reining enthusiast, Craig was early in embracing Easter King colts as unique. The aforementioned Ezee Money joined Holly & John as early Howard success stories. Perhaps it is this accident of reining advocates finding these colts before the cutters that explains why more haven't been campaigned on cattle. And with the Bowlings being in Iowa at this time, it is understandable that the local discipline would persevere.
Bowling discovered early on exactly what he had. In a move that was unusual for him, he put the two year old Easter Gentleman into training to evaluate what he suspected. In a short time, he was able to confirm that Easter Gentleman had the same intensity and cow sense as his sire. But fate, economics, and the instincts of a savvy horse trader took over. With the unexpected death of Easter King, his fluid and fancy son Easter Gentleman inherited breeding duties. And with an operation as large as the one built by John Bowling, this was a full time job.
By this time the John Bowling operation is reputed to have included more than 500 mares. John had acquired a significant number of the Burnett mares when they decided to go in a different direction. Realizing that the double bred Zantanon stud crossed so well on Grey Badger mares, the future seemed secure. For the next eight years, John Bowling produced 117 registered colts by his gray stallion. Horses like Easter's Up n Away with her 77 Open Points and 11 Amateur Points and her Performance Register of Merit. And show mares like Easter's Call Girl, Easter's Semolita Miss, Uptown Dolly and others. But the most significant offspring were yet to come.
With business conditions and personal circumstances changing, John decided to make a change. In 1979 Easter Gentleman was reluctantly sold, to local Iowa breeder Ron Overstreet. The following spring, John Bowling hosted his near dispersal sale, titled "The Gray Horse Capital of the World Sale". And a small part of Quarter Horse history passed on.
Later that year another unique personality steps into our story. Tommy Tongyai was a trainer, breeder and farrier. Blessed with a wonderful eye for a horse, Tommy found himself with an extremely fancy and fluid moving show mare by Easter Gentleman. Impressed with her movement and sensitivity, Tongyai looked into her breeding and noted the names Easter Gentleman and John Bowling. And another thread into our tapestry of relationship was strung.
The "Tale of Tommy" is suitable for another article. Suffice it to say that Tongyai is respected among his friends, associates and competitors as honest, studied, and a consummate student of equine genetics. Like Bowling, Tommy is a horse breeder as his primary source of income. There is no room for fads, experiments or ill conceived schemes. His 2T Ranch operates on strength of conviction and his own proven breeding practices.
Negotiating with Ron Overstreet for months, Tongyai developed the conviction that this genetic legacy from Easter King was aptly being carried on through Easter Gentleman. As Tongyai grew more and more entranced with his sensitive and beautiful moving mare, he soon developed strength in his new found conviction. Without personally seeing the horse, he bought Easter Gentleman solely on the strength of his get and his pedigree. And for a horse trader like the verbal Tommy Tongyai, this was a remarkable act of faith. He didn't actually view the stallion until he came off the trailer to his new home, then Cleburne, Texas. Months later, the phone rang at Tongyai's to start another relationship from this saga. John Bowling had seen an ad Tommy ran in the Cutting Horse Chatter to announce the new home for Easter Gentleman. Bowling was pleased to see the horse promoted to the cutters, where John felt he would be quite successful. The two hit is off extremely well, and would spend hours discussing bloodlines and the horse business. And it is no coincidence that the current 2T broodmare band carries a marked John Bowling influence. With a preference for Hancock, King, Badger and foundation pedigrees, Easter Gentleman built upon the legacy begun by his sire. As remarkable as the Easter King progeny may have been, the next few years were terrific.
Although not the first of the successful Two T bred show horses, Two T Pachuco Wimpy was one of the best known early on. A bay son of Baronesa Chock, he is easily recognized on the cover of the Kathy Kadash book, "Reining, The Art Of Performance In Horses", featuring trainer Bob Loomis. Even more recognizable is a show career including Congress Top 10 placings, fifth in the 1988 NRHA Futurity, and a 1991 NRHA Freestyle Reserve Championship. Actually, Loomis had partnered on the horse with Tommy Tongyai prior to the 1991 Futurity show. Learning that Bob's daughter Bobbi Jo wanted to ride "Chuck" in that Freestyle class, Tommy gave the Loomis' family his partnership. And as should happen always, Bobbi Jo won the Reserve Championship with a bridle-less pattern. The following spring the remarkable Gray Velocity was foaled. As an avid Civil War re-enactor, Tongyai carries the respect for cavalry mounts into his own program. Gray Velocity is credited with participating in 61 reenactments, suffering the sounds and smells of cannon battle, saber combat and forced marches. This remarkable mare is notable for durability, disposition, striking good looks, and the frequently demonstrated ability to clear a five foot breastworks even after a long running battle cross country. A five foot breastworks is five feet high and five feet wide. This was quite a mare!
The year 1987 produced one of the truly remarkable stories in recent Quarter Horse history. With a registered colt crop of 22 foals, Easter Gentleman produced nine future show horses. Certainly, the most heralded was Two T Whisky Royal, later named Silver Anniversary by trainer Doug Milholland. And while Doug and Silver Anniversary participated successfully in the NRHA Anniversary Futurity, attention and focus is more deserved on the performance and career of Two T Easter King and owner/trainer/rider Chad Howard.
Chad's father Craig was noted as an early advocate of these Easter King horses. As a long time friend of John Bowling, Craig built a career as a non pro NRHA competitor on many Bowling bred horses. With Tommy's Prediction and Badgers Buckshot following Easters Staretta to the Howard home, this Minnesota family were avid proponents of this line. Craig, his father Chuck and later son Chad saw consistency and a willingness to please. So it was no surprise that for a 1990 futurity prospect, the Howards went down to the 2T Ranch. And after considering Easter Red Baron and Two T Taco Belle, the Howard men settled on well bred sorrel Two T Easter King. This was a tough transaction for the breeder in that not only had he planned on keeping the colt as his own, but he named him in honor of his grandsire.
When the colt was delivered, Chad was a 14 year old that knew how to ride a horse. But youth and enthusiasm are rarely successful ingredients to add to a young futurity prospect. Training inside during the long Minnesota winter, Chad remembers his colt as exceptionally responsive. Like the Easter King colts owned by the family earlier, this Easter Gentleman colt proved to be cast from the same mold.
"The Easter Kings are not a fluke", Chad confirms. "These are the type of horse that wants to please. Last year I had a Three Bars bred horse I trained and tried to show. I went right back to the 2T bred horses because they are so responsive and athletic. I'm not going to trade that away again. These horses look at you and want to please. They wait on you. Once you get their trust they'll give you their life. These Easter Gentleman horses make me a better rider and a better trainer."
At the 1990 NRHA Futurity, two Easter Gentleman colts were entered. The Silver Anniversary/Doug Milholland story has been told many times. Of greater significance was the success of then 15 year old Chad Howard. As a limited open contestant, Chad and his red gelding left the arena with the highest score in history for a three year old at the now defunct Solid Gold Reining Futurity, scoring a 220. And at the conclusion of their 1990 HRHA Futurity, the duo walked away with the NonPro Championship as well as the Reserve Limited Open Championship. By the way, this also was in the same year they won the Snaffle Bit Class at the NRHA Derby, and Reserve Championship at the Farnham Futurity at Quarter Horse Congress. More NRHA titles on a three year old than ever before. Remember, we're talking about a fifteen year old here. And a non pro. Fifteen, go figure!
Chad recounts for us . "After we won the Futurity, the biggest problem we had was getting pictures taken. The Easters' are always looking at you. My colt wouldn't get his ears up for the photograph. He wouldn't stop looking at me. And right after I got off him, he dropped his head to lean on me like he was telling me something. These are really smart horses."
"On the two year old I'm riding now by Gentleman 086, we spent a half hour yesterday loping to the right. I kept pushing him off my leg to get him over. You can't use a spur on these horses, you've got to get their trust and you don't do that with a spur. Anyway, I got on him this morning and it was all I could do to get him to stop sidepassing to the right. I'm telling you, these are really smart horses".
In the eight years since the Anniversary Futurity, Easter Gentleman colts and fillies have consistently ranked at or near the top of the year end NRHA standings. Horses like Two T Tatiana, 1996 Congress reining winner, and Two T Easter Sailwin (1993 Congress Jr. Reining winner and 1995 Congress Sr. Reining Reserve Champion) join recent veterans like Two T Tivio Tornado and Two T Glory Seeker as the flag bearers in the show ring. And isn't it interesting that the European fanciers of best quality Quarter Horses started buying up this bloodline in the mid 1980's. As a matter of fact, Chad Howards reiner Two T Easter King ended up in Germany. And looking at the ownership of Two T Tatiana we can quickly spot a trend. Every year, a number of Easter King / Easter Gentleman bred colts and fillies are sold to Germany and Austria.
Looking beyond the reining arena we also see a trend that should have been. Fancied by the reining community, it seems that the cutters may have missed a logical outcross. As strong as the Easter King influence had been, apparently it is not diluted in the production of cow ponies even today. Two T Glory Seeker has 51 ½ working cowhorse points, an ROM in Working Cowhorse, and was three times AQHA Top 10 Working Cowhorse. And as an NCHA mount, the pedigree of Hickory Gentleman shows Docs Hickory over a daughter of Easter Gentleman. This 1985 gelding had earnings well in excess of $100,000.
There's another story about what wonderful breeding mares these Easter King / Easter Gentleman make. In late January, 1987 Craig Howard was looking at the offerings at sale in San Antonio. He spied a yellow stud colt by Docs Okie Quixote out of an own daughter of Easter King. Grabbing his father Chuck to help with the driving, he left the next week for San Antonio. Now it's a long drive from Minnesota to San Antonio, Texas hauling a trailer. But this drive proved worth the gas. Buying up the colt and bringing him home. Craig started him in mid February for the November Futurity. That the colt was extremely green didn't bother Craig one bit. Craig Howard believed in the abilities of Easter King horses. And his confidence certainly paid off with the 1989 NRHA Non Pro Futurity Championship on Okie Easter Wood.
We're not at the end of our tale, but rather the middle. The fabric of this story is colored by the stories and personalities of these people who came together through this talented line of horses. From Jess Hankins and King P-234, we have joined Easter King, LaRue Gooch and Jerry Christmas and Elmo Favor, with John Bowling, Tommy Tongyai, the Howard family and fanciers of athletic equine performance here and in Europe. If there is a legacy here perhaps it's one of appreciation and bonding with a truly unique equine gift. And if Chad Howard is right in feeling that these horses make him a better rider and trainer, then is it such a stretch to say that these Easter King horses make those involved better for the experience? I hope not. You see, this story is far from over.
( reproduced in this format from November 1998 "Foundation Quarter Horse Journal" )