Odds are, your ranch horse is related to the old-time racehorse Traveler.
By Lesli Krause Groves
According to legend, Traveler appeared in Texas in the mid-1880s, hitched beside a mule and dragging a dirt scraper on the railroad right-of-way. Although his pedigree is unknown, his bloodline is famous.
If you do a deep dive into any Quarter Horse’s pedigree, odds are you’ll eventually come to his name. Of course you have to go back 10 or 12 generations or more.
To illustrate his impact on stock horses, all of the division champions of the 2018 Ranch Horse Association Finals have multiple connections. For an experiment we picked two horses and did some figuring. The high-selling horse at the Western Heritage Classic Sale just completed was a six-year-old gelding who brought $33,000; Traveler ultimately appears in his complete pedigree 42 times! The champion from the RHAA Cowboy Division, Sparksgenuinearticle, has 47 connections to the old-timer. Among foundation sires, his story is unusual but inspiring.
“Traveler was for the most part a mystery horse. Well-known writers have offered contradictory stories concerning him,” wrote Robert Denhardt, the first secretary of AQHA.
Actually, more was known about the parents of Pegasus, the mythological white winged stallion, than could be discovered about Traveler’s sire or dam.
While the Selfs owned him, between races he was just another blue-collar Bubba, hitched to a heavy implement. (When your pedigree is “out of New York, by Boxcar,” you’re not banking many breeding fees.)
The lucky fellow who traded a mule for Traveler was most likely Triggerfoot Self. He and his brother, Cam, subcontracted teams of mules and horses, and business had been good since the Texas & Pacific Railroad out of Fort Worth had been laying tracks in a westerly direction. He’d been told Traveler arrived in a carload of stock from upstate New York. The bloodlines of the old Colonial-era sprinters were still popular there, so perhaps he traced to those original quarter-milers.
The region had a fair share of racehorse men, but the Selfs weren’t among them. Folks got pretty curious when Triggerfoot offered to put up good money to match his unknown horse with a well-known mare named Mayflower. Wouldn’t you love to know what the odds were, and how much money traded hands that day?
The most consistent details are also the most incredible: He was a mature stallion in a remuda of horses and mules used for heavy labor. Someone traded a mule for him. Now free of the collar and traces and his old partner the mule, he morphs into a racehorse that is never defeated.
Distilling stories from seven old books and old magazines, with some extra help from Google, here are some highlights.
One witness to Traveler’s first race said the stallion outbroke the mare by such a margin the Mayflower’s jockey could have thrown a rock from Mayflower’s back and not been able to hit Traveler. For the first time in his life, Traveler was considered something special. When the folks gathered on either side of the flat stretch west of the Baird Depot on race day, he was a star.
Fortunately, he met up with Fanny Pace, allegedly the mare who pulled the ice wagon around Baird. They had three notable sons that gained widespread attention and gave Traveler credibility. The first became a racehorse, and set a world record for 770 yards at a track in Montana. Another was considered one of the best steer roping mounts between Fort Worth and San Angelo. And Fanny’s last foal, Buster Brown, became a famous polo pony “back East,” as well as trick horse.
Their exploits helped Traveler’s credibility as a sire, which eventually led him to the big time – the Shely Brothers in Alfred, Texas. The Shelys’ proteges, Ott Adams and George Clegg, instilled Traveler’s genetics into their breeding programs. Adams and Clegg were early nominees to the AQHA Hall of Fame.
The move to Shelys is the primary reason Traveler appears in so many pedigrees today. And much of that is filter through his two most famous sons, Little Joe and Possum, who are also considered foundation sires.
When I first wrote about Traveler 25 years ago, I found his name in the extended pedigrees of all 30 AQHA leading sires for performance and halter, all PRCA/AQHA Rodeo Horses of the Year, and the champions of the NRHA, NCHA and All-American Futurities (the biggest events in reining, cutting and Quarter Horse racing).
More than three million horses had been registered at that time. I’m not good with statistics but that seemed pretty impressive. One sentence in one old Quarter Horse Journal, explained how that was possible. It was estimated that half the horses registered in AQHA’s first 10 years (1940-50) were descendants of Traveler. So it’s no surprise to find at least a trickle of the old-timer’s blood in our modern Quarter Horses.
Traveler was long gone by 1940 when a group of horsemen met to forge bylaws for a proposed breed registry. The first hurdle was the name. One faction adamant the registered horses be called “Steeldusts,” The other faction was equally determined they should be called “Billy Horses.”
Both terms were commonly used to describe the type of horse they hoped to preserve and propagate, even if the horse had no known connection to the bloodlines of either Steeldust or Billy.
Unable to reach a conclusion, they compromised by picking a name none of them really liked: “Quarter Horses.”
With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps they should have called them “Travelers.”
American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame
According to legend, Traveler appeared in Texas in the mid-1880s, hitched beside a mule and dragging a dirt scraper on the railroad right-of-way. His pedigree is unknown, but his bloodline is famous.
Sparksgenuinearticle, 2018 RHAA Cowboy Division Champion. His extended pedigree reveals 47 connections to Traveler. Ridden by Lane Birkenfeld of Nazareth, Texas, in May. Presenters: Jim Frank Richardson Tad Sanders and Mike Seago.
Western Heritage Classic
Traveler’s first race took place 19 miles east of the makeshift track at Abilene used during the Western Heritage Classic. Though they’ve gone the way of cotton ropes and single-cab pickups, match races are an authentic throwback to an old-time cowboy reunion.