In my opinion, some of the best horses ever raised were ranch horses who never saw the inside of show ring. I’m sure a lot of ranch cowboys remember a particular horse that, if it had been given the opportunity, could have been an arena champion. A horse doesn’t have to run on the track or win ribbons to be damn good. Let me tell you the story of a mare that I knew well.
I raise what I call Hancock-bred Quar¬ter Horses. Besides Joe Hancock, John Wilkins and Peter McCue, there are a lot of good horses in their pedigrees, includ¬ing Question Mark and Osage Red who set the Quarter tracks afire in California in the late ’40s. Yet, it’s likely their best ancestor is a mare almost no one has heard of named Dolly Madison.
My dad, Cap Overstreet raised Dolly and rode her for years. Technically, she belonged to my mother, but that’s another story. She was born May 14, 1950. Her sire was a horse named Copper Nick who was by Nick Shoemaker and out of the mare Santa Maria. Most of you will rec¬ognize these horses as part of Hank Wiescamp’s early breeding program. Dolly’s mother was an appendix mare named Dusty Smithers. Dad described her to me as a grade thoroughbred. In those days before registration was impor-tant, the mix of hot and cold blood that she carried was very similar to that of many foundation Quarter Horses. Any¬way, Dusty was a good using horse her¬self. She and her mother and her grandmother were raised by my grand¬father. Grandpa was a horseman from before there were cars and he was darn particular about what horses he kept.
In the spring before Dolly turned three Dad started riding her. He kept her in a corral near the barn. For some reason he put a cow and calf in with her and went on about his work. When he re¬turned, Dolly had cut the cow away from her calf and was keeping them apart. Although Dad was no cutting horse trainer, he worked cattle a lot. Dolly soon became a top country cutting horse. Sometimes at shipping time the two of them would separate several hundred cows from their calves. In her only arena competition, she won a local ranch-horse cutting contest. As Dad might have said, Dolly could’ve cut a tomcat out of a stovepipe.
Dolly stood close to fifteen hands. I’d guess she weighed around 1100 pounds. Dad roped all sizes of cattle off her; she’d hold whatever he roped. Sometimes Dad roped calves on her in a neighbor’s arena for fun. She must have had a good stop because although I was pretty small then, I can still see her tipping a calf over back¬wards.
One fall when Dad worked for the Sun Ranch, four cows with calves turned up late. The cows crossed the Madison River to feed on the east side but left the calves on the west. It turned cold and a six-foot ledge of ice formed on the river’s edge. The cows couldn’t get back to their calves. At the time there was no bridge. The Madison is not a big river, maybe fifty yards wide and rarely over three feet deep but it runs fast over a bed of big, round moss-covered rocks.
This happened early enough in the winter so that Dolly was not sharp-shod. Dad skidded her out across the ice shelf. She jumped down into the river, crossed and scrambled up onto the ice on the other side. The calves would have weighed around 400 pounds that time of year. Dad roped one. Dolly dragged it across the ice and down into the water. The north flowing current pushed hard against her upstream side, washing well over Dad’s boots. That calf must have pulled like an an¬chor as he drifted down river. Even with the lariat cutting into her hind quarters, Dolly never weakened. When she reached the east side, she jumped up on the ice and jerked the calf out with her. I’ll bet Dad hated to ride back into that cold water again. Dolly carried him back and forth until all the calves were reunited with their mothers. She and Dad came home wet, cold and tired. When he un¬saddled, Dad found that she’d nearly pulled the latigo in two.
Dolly was never a kid’s horse, but she was fairly tolerant. When we were both five, I rode her back from the neighbors two miles away without a saddle. Because of her mother, Dolly was origi¬nally registered appendix but her first five foals all passed inspection and she got a permanent number. Altogether she de¬livered ten live foals. Two of them be¬came broodmares before they were ridden, two went to California as wean¬lings, and we rode the rest. One of the Californians must have been shown enough to earn the two performance points that the AQHA’s records show.
I still have her next to last foal. He’s twenty-eight now. He was my dad’s last horse and in his day was about as good as a ranch horse can get. My ten-year-old daughter, Amber rode him for three hours yesterday when she and I moved bulls.
For years my brother, Reid Overstreet headed steers on one of her daughters. PRCA steer wrestler, Brad Gleason hazed on a grandson. His wife Karen was just starting to place in the barrels on him when he cut a tendon. Recently, Brad has begun to haul a granddaughter for his hazing horse.
I have two of Dolly Madison grand¬daughters in my little broodmare band. My stud is a great-grandson. I’ll keep her genes in my breeding program as long as possible.
(This article appeared in the in the Foundation Quarter Horse Journal in 1997)
Copyright Jim Overstreet