More famous now as the stallion Playgun’s mother, she was a celebrity in her own right, earning more than $500,000
By Lesli Groves
A white-haired cowboy gives his teenage son a yearling filly for Christmas. It conjures up a scene from an old-timey Leanin’ Tree card. Except this is South Texas. Prickly pear replaces spruce, and the gun-metal grey filly doesn’t have a wreath around her neck.
Instead of “Merry Christmas,” Dad opens the stall door and says, “Be careful.”
“She was wild,” Wes Shahan said, remembering Miss Silver Pistol in 1983. “Not trusting. Not forgiving. Not a ‘people-horse’. She was trying to climb out of that stall. But I remember Dad saying, ‘She’ll be the best one I ever give you.’”
The Shahans lived on a ranch in Pleasanton, Texas, south of San Antonio, owned by the San Jose Cattle Company, and Wes’s dad, Art, was the general manager. Art was an acknowledged authority on Santa Gertrudis, having been a field inspector for Santa Gertrudis Breeders International during the association’s formative years, and they ran as many as 2,000 cows.
One of the benefits was proximity to Bob Kleberg of the King Ranch, famous for his understanding of genetics and advancing his family’s cattle and horse programs. Art shared Kleberg’s keen interest in pedigrees. He also had a keen eye for conformation, and understanding form to function.
In addition to the Santa Gertrudis, around 1980 the owners of San Jose Cattle Company entered the horse breeding business, with the dual focus of cutting and Quarter Horse racing. Art enthusiastically took the lead in managing those ventures, too.
He’d had a horse habit his whole life. Art roped competitively as well as showed, and as soon as his daughter, Dedra, and Wes were toddlers, he had them involved. Wes rode with the cowboys on the ranch and roped with them for fun in the evenings. He and Dedra showed in 4-H and AQHA shows – halter, showmanship, pleasure, horsemanship, reining, trail — they did it all. Art and his wife, Frances, had both worked for the Texas A&M Extension Service, which promoted 4-H as well as summer horsemanship camps the kids attended.
Christmas 1983, when Art gave Miss Silver Pistol, concluded a good year, horse-wise, for the Shahans. The San Jose Cattle Company’s homebred filly Meganette had won the biggest races of the year, The Rainbow Futurity, in Ruidoso, New Mexico. And young Wes had just returned from his first NCHA Futurity for three-year-old cutting horses in Fort Worth. By design, none of the horses could have competed anywhere else before, which added to the interest. The 17-year-old and his homebred filly competed in the Open and had an impressive first go. It stoked his desire to return, even though it would be two more years before Miss Silver Pistol would be eligible.
The filly’s mother, Pistol Lady 2 Be, had been part of the Shahan family as long as Wes, then a senior in high school. She’d been his dad’s favorite roping horse. Her sire, King’s Pistol, was the 1957 NCHA World Champion — ancient history to Wes, but Art had known the son of Leo well. Her dam was from the Pitchfork Ranch and her pedigree might have seemed behind the times, too, but Shahan didn’t care.
The old grey mare was 20 when Art bred her to Doc’s Hickory to produce Miss Silver Pistol. The Doc Bar son was a current leading sire of futurity horses, but his paternity came with a warning. “People said with some of the Hickory’s, the safest place to be around them was on top of them,” said Wes. As a yearling, it seemed like Miss Silver Pistol could be one of them.
While Wes finished high school, Miss Silver Pistol was turned out with her peers. Then they both left Pleasanton and the ranch for their higher educations: Wes to College Station and Texas A&M University, the grey filly to El Campo, to Joe Blaylock’s barn. Wes described Blaylock as an ‘old-school cutting horse trainer’ the family had relied on for years. “Joe was very driven, an excellent horse trainer, and he had his horses really broke,” recalled Wes. “I rode five or six behind him, and you never had to worry about them.”
San Jose Cattle Company kept the Shahan family plenty busy. Besides the cattle and horse breeding programs, they had sales to prep for, and an influx of visitors year-round. When time allowed, Wes entered some cuttings on another, older horse that summer and earned his first money in the NCHA Non-Pro Division, but then it was back to school. Meanwhile, Blaylock was in charge of figuring out Miss Silver Pistol. Wes only rode her once, at a pre-work in Kingsville, before the 1985 NCHA Futurity.
A universal ritual of cutting is everyone loping a circle in the same direction in the warm-up area, almost like a carousel that never seems to start or stop. But Wes hadn’t loped the filly long when Blaylock motioned to him. “Quit loping,” he said. “Just walk or trot her. We want her relaxed, not tired.”
It was unusual advice, especially for a young horse with a big motor. But Wes trotted and trotted and trotted the filly till their turn, worked a few cows, assumed they’d get along, and headed back to Texas A&M.
“Some of the older guys there told me she was really special, but I was pretty naive,” said Wes. “I didn’t think we were necessarily contenders, but I knew no matter how good she was, it was hard to get one shown all the way through to the finals.”
Scoring was more conservative in 1985, but then, as now, the mark wasn’t as important as how it compared to your peers. In the first round, when all the horses were unknowns, and so was 19-year-old Wes, they advanced with a 214.5. From the second round through the finals, only three runs marked 216 or higher. Wes and Miss Silver Pistol made all three runs.
Their Championship run is online, but Wes’s fondest memory came in the second round, which they won by several points. “She worked our second cow till it just stopped and looked at us, and then she danced and danced, and for a second she dropped to one knee – it was just awesome. I had to go back to school, but they told me the next week, while the open was going on, so many people kept coming by the video booth at the exhibit hall asking to see the replay that they nearly wore the tape out.” (EDITOR: Seriously, folks, punch her name in on You Tube, what she does with that second cow is nothing less than spectacular!)
Miss Silver Pistol and Wes won $77,000+ while he was in Fort Worth, which was probably more than any of his professor’s 1985 salaries. More importantly to Wes and his dad – and so many others who’ve entered the Futurity – they won one of the slipperiest titles in equestrian sports, and on a homebred filly.
Miss Silver Pistol was a Christmas gift that kept on giving.
Miss Silver Pistol ultimately earned more than $500,000, shown by Wes Shahan (pictured here in 1985), Joe Blaylock and Tom Lyons. Her biggest win, the Gold & Silver Stakes, worth $230,000+, by itself puts her at the top of Doc Hickory’s winners. Wes followed Blaylock’s advice, giving the mare lots of slow riding, much more trotting than loping. She appeared to like Wes more than most humans, but remained wary and on high alert throughout her life. Thirty years after she retired, she still ranks #27 on NCHA’s All-Time Leading Money Earners List.