Clabber – The Great Quarter Horse

Known as the "Iron Horse," Clabber not only passed along his speed and durability to his offspring but his true grit and competitive spirit.

Known as the “Iron Horse,” Clabber not only passed along his speed and durability to his offspring but his true grit and competitive spirit.

A chestnut horse, Clabber was foaled in the spring of 1937 at Big Foot, Texas. Bred by rancher Frank Smith, he was get of the celebrated My Texas Dandy, currently rated third among Register of Merit sires. Clabber’s dam was Blondie S (dam also of Captain White Sox), a daughter of Lone Star. Thus he might quite reasonably be said to have been bred in the purple and, as a performer, he more than lived up to his royal pedigree. Because of his indomitable spirit and remarkable constitution he became affectionately known to the race-going public of his day as the Iron Horse.

Known as the "Iron Horse," Clabber not only passed along his speed and durability to his offspring but his true grit and competitive spirit.
Clabber, the “Iron Horse”

His sire, My Texas Dandy, was sent to Charley Brenham in 1928, and it was Mr. Brenham who broke and first raced him. Brenham says he always left the gate as though shot from a cannon. Besides early foot, he had a wealth of blinding speed; yet failed to win a single race. In 1929 My Texas Dandy was sold to J. C. Smith for $250 and was again put into training. Young Smith’s dad tells the story of once seeing the colt fall to his knees at the start of a race, scramble up and overtake the field before he had gone 200 yards. More than once without turning a hair, the sorrel colt would set the pace or push the winner all the way; yet never quite manage to be in front at the finish. Mr. Smith suggests he may have run so fast he scared himself; certainly nothing ever appeared to scare his chestnut son, Clabber. He was one of the toughest horses that ever looked through a bridle.

Early in life Clabber was sold into Arizona and went to the ranch of A.A Nichols at Gilbert. Ab Nichols was a race horse man of the old school who scoffed at bandages and workouts, liniments and rubs. Every man on Ab’s spread was expected to do a full day’s work every day–and he exacted just as much from his horses. Clabber did his full share from dawn till dark; he became an all around cow horse in mighty short order. He was used for cutting and roping, he was used to head cattle. He probably headed more cattle one spring for Ab Nichols than most cow horses ever do in a lifetime. He was used in rodeo and won a lot of prize money. He was a pretty smart cookie, the pride of the outfit.

In between his other chores he did stud service. All manner of mares were brought to his court, few of them better than a shade above sorry; yet from almost all of them he got horses that could run. Quite a number of his get ran themselves into the Register of Merit, and his grandsons and granddaughters are still doing that today.

Clabber was a veteran of the quarter tracks. At Eagle Pass he once ran and won two races in one day; he’d already done this a couple of times in Arizona under somewhat different circumstances. At Eagle Pass he had to win the first quarter miler in 23.0 or better to qualify for running in the big race of the meet. He won the first race as specified and then came back and won the third, which was the big one, against the top runners of the time.

He was officially named worlds champion quarter running horse for the 1940-1941 season, having defeated such outstanding contenders as Nobodies Friend, Balmy L, Little Joe Jr., and the Hepler Brothers’ War Chief–just about as tough company as there was on the tracks.

Many’s the time he worked cows all morning, was trucked to a brush meet to cop a 440, and came back to finish his chores ’round the ranch. On at least one occasion he spent the morning heading cattle, the afternoon at a rodeo, and won a quarter mile dash in the evening. He had a heart of oak if a horse ever had one.

Known as the "Iron Horse," Clabber not only passed along his speed and durability to his offspring but his true grit and competitive spirit.
Trainer Farrell Jones and the last crop of Clabber colts. Photo by Melvin

He has officially been credited with a time of 22.8 for the quarter; at Moltacqua he set a track record going 350 yards in 18.4. He may not have been the fastest horse but he was a real hard knocker who could do about everything a Quarter Horse is asked to. He got no pampering of any sort. More than a few of his races were run under an impost of 135 pounds, and he furnished competition at any distance.

He was still doing some running in 1944. He won two matched races from Painted Joe and, in the stallion race of that year; he ran a dead heat with Bartender in the extremely poor time of 24.2; this race told the story, he was through with the tracks. But he was not washed up by a long shot.

He went back to a life of chousing cattle. Interspersed with ranch work, he did stud service and had several more whacks at rodeo. He was presently purchased by Frank Vessels, of Los Alamitos, Calif., and for him, too, he did top work as a cow horse in addition to piling up a rep as a stallion. It was at Frank’s that he died, January 1, 1947.

He was a sire of doing horses, getting many tough sprinters as well as rodeo and ranch stock. He sired Tonta Gal for Chester Cooper, in addition to Little Wolf, Buster, Chester C, and Twilight. In 1946 Tonta Gal set (and still co-holds) the world’s record for 220 yards; she ran this at Rillito, Tucson, under 120 pounds in 12.1. Buster ran with the best for several years and is still contending in AA races.

An old Vessels Ranch ad truthfully described Clabber as a sire of “speed and utility in Quarter Horses,” and went on to say, “His colts have the build that spells speed with real Quarter Horse conformation. They are powerful colts that have getaway and still have characteristic bottom.”

He was not a pretty horse, and this, perhaps, is what inspired Tom Harris to write in 1949: “Clabber produced some very good horses from some very ordinary mares, and although most of them had many of his conformational defects, they also had much of his ability, desire, and intelligence.”

It is true that you could generally tell a “Clabber” without having to look at his pedigree, but it is a pretty poor sire that cannot put his stamp on the offspring. Clabber marked them, inside and out; he gave them generously of his early foot and competitive spirit; he gave them grit and the toughness to carry it. He was a man’s kind of horse any way you measured him.

Known as the "Iron Horse," Clabber not only passed along his speed and durability to his offspring but his true grit and competitive spirit.
Clabber II. Photo by Potts.

Bombardier was Clabber’s greatest son in the show rings, winning many breeding and reining classes. Another son, Jeep B, was for a while the holder and co-holder of track records at 220 and 330 yards, finishing 3/10 of a second behind the winner of the world’s champion quarter race at Tucson in 1945.

During his own racing career, Clabber served about 100 mares per season, was regularly used as a cow horse and roping horse, frequently being hauled several hundred miles in a trailer, raced, reloaded, and hauled home again without either rest or adequate training. He had more guts than you could hang on a fence post. He sired the following Register of Merit get, and this list probably does not include them all: Tonta Gal, Buster, Wagon N, Clabber’s Lady V, Clabbertown G, Flicka, Jeep B, Chester C, Tess S, 2 Karat, Clabber II, Little Bit, and Silent Mike.

Clabber was not invincible. He was beaten by such speedsters as Shue Fly, Joe Reed II, Red Man, Cyclone, and Arizona Girl. He never gave up and made it a horse race every inch of the way. It took a good horse to beat him. It is told that he ran and won three quarter mile races on the same day in Texas, finishing each of them in 23 flat.

He has sired a whole host of winners, including Morenita, Clabber V, Pachuca M, Clabberina V, Sabou, Clabber Shue V, Chappo V, Sight Unseen, Clabber’s Lightning V, Clabber’s Milly, Lady Lou V, Clippers, and Clabber Babe. There are probably some others whose names I have forgotten.

Wagon N. Photo by Kinney.

Unquestionably his best daughter is Tonta Gal. Equally without doubt, in my mind at least, Wagon N is his best son, a terrifically fast gate horse who, though obviously better short, can go the full distance and proves a strong contender every time he goes out. Clabbertown G is no slouch, either. Jeep B established quite a track reputation as did Clabber’s Lady V. Several of Clabber’s sons are doing well in the stud, particularly Clabber II.

But it is Wagon N and Buster who most greatly resemble their sire in gate power, courage, and rugged constitution. Neither of these stallions has ever been pampered, both are top cow horses. Wagon N, during the forenoon, has been used as a pony horse (ridden by his big burly boss of an owner), bred to a mare right after lunch and, in less than three hours, put into a stakes race and nosed out of first money by an incredibly short margin. I think Wagon N, too, will prove best in the stud–and he’s a heap better looking than most of the Clabbers.

It is Clabber and his progeny who have had most to do with putting My Texas Dandy third on the list of Register of Merit sires. Others, notably Captain White Sox and Colonel Clyde, have indubitably helped, but without the Clabbers he wouldn’t be nearer the top than seventh place. The list was last published in 1949 and shows Flying Bob first, Clabber second, My Texas Dandy third, Joe Reed II fourth, and Little Joe Jr. fifth. The TLJ‘s leading sire list shows Clabber first, Joe Reed II second, Flying Bob third, Piggin String fourth, and Joe Moore fifth. The R of M list is a rating of sires and paternal grandsires of horses listed in the Racing Division of the American Quarter Horse association’s Register of Merit. As we have already remarked, Clabber’s greatness stands the best by any kind of measure.

It is written in the Western Horseman book, Legends: Volume 2, “Clabber matured into a powerfully made individual, with dense, heavy bone, a functional frame, and solid muscling. In fact, if it hadn’t been for his big, coarse head, he would have been a good-looking horse. But, as the cowboys said, that head was just to hand the bridle on; looks didn’t have anything to do with what was in it or the desire to win.”

legends2 If you are interested in reading more about Clabber and other great, “Legendary,” horses, we invite you to read through Western Horseman’s Legends: Volume 2. It provides exclusive detailed profiles, photographs, pedigrees and performance summaries of the horses that played significant key roles in the Quarter Horse industry.

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