A legend in the Quarter Horse industry, Hank Wiescamp has definite ideas about breeding and management which have helped him achieve unparalleled success. This article also concludes with a look at the man himself, whom many horsemen regard as a master breeder.
To begin naming the dozens of stalions and hundreds of mares that Hank Wiescamp has used in his breeding program would become mind-boggling in detail. As he stated in Part 1, he set out 45 years ago to breed a family of horses, and he began by building his foundation on Old Fred breeding. Hank feels that Old Fred was the modern-type horse 65 years ago, and still is.
Foaled around 1893, Old Fred was thought to be a Steel Dust/Shiloh cross, according to Bob Denhardt’s Quarter Horses, A Story of Two Centuries. Denhardt also says, “If Old Fred could be criticized, it would be because he carried a good deal of white marking. However, his offspring left little to be desired in either conformation or speed. According to Coke [Roberds], you could breed him to a boxcar and get a race horse.” Old Fred died in 1915, and some of his better known descendants include Shiek, Bob H, Plaudit, Old Nick, and Question Mark.
In order to intensify the blood of a certain individual, linebreeding must be followed, and this is what Hank has done, and still does. As he explains, “The only way you can set your type is through line-breeding. But you have to be very careful. You have to know what you are doing. If you miss, you have to chalk it off as a bad deal, and start over. In other words, if your linebreeding gets too close (to inbreeding), you might have to call it a crop failure and try something different.” Then to emphasize his point, Hank added, “If you have a sliver in your hand, the quicker you pull it out, the quicker it will heal.
“There’s no set plan as to how to linebreed. And there are very few families of horses that you can linebreed; at least that’s what I learned. You have to carry that same type and kind.”
But Hank has also used quite a few outcross horses and that’s a fact with which many horseman are not aware of. To infuse hybrid vigor into his horses, Hank has gone to outcross horses totally unrelated to his horses. Then he would use sons and daughters of outcross horses back on his own horses. As he said, linebreeding gets very technical, and he honestly admits that he won’t talk about his program very much because he doesn’t wish to share all he has done and learned. Most of his outcross horses have been speed horse or horses that could sire speed—horses such as Ruskin String, Jet Smooth, Pasamonte Paul, DeWitt Bar, and Double Dancer, all rated AAA. Some of those crosses have worked, some haven’t. Hank says, “A stallion will not cross with every family, and you’ll lose a lot of type and other features you’ve been fighting for.”
But one cross that did work was Jet Smooth on Scotch Coin, by Scottish by Nick W. That cross produced Smooth Coin, champion Quarter running three-year-old mare in 1973.
Years before that, Hank bred Scooter W, foaled in 1945, sired by Plaudit, and out of Saucy Sue, by Lani Chief (TB). Scooter W was champion Quarter running horse in 1948.
It’s therefore obvious that racing is in Hank’s blood, and he admits, “If Colorado had had racing when I started in the horse business, I don’t think I would ever have gone into the show horse business. I still would have tried to get all the conformation I could, but I would have bred strictly for speed.”
It stands to reason then, that Hank likes Thoroughbreds, and he has infused Thoroughbred blood into his Quarter Horses. But he says, “I doubt very much if I will ever use a straight Thoroughbred now because of the registration problems. I don’t want to fight the appendix route. I just don’t,” shaking his head at the hassles involved.
Hank also feels that if he goes to a straight Thoroughbred, he will begin losing the type he’s been breeding for all these years. “When you breed to a straight Thoroughbred horse,” he says, “you’re going to get longer ears, a different head, hocks and knees higher off the ground, and you’re going to sacrifice some muscle and working ability. So I couldn’t use very many Thoroughbred horses unless I really scoured the woods to get one that’s as near as possible to my type of horse. If’I were going to raise horses with much Thoroughbred, I’d just go Thoroughbred all the way.”
Then using another analogy to make his point, Hank said, “If I wanted a racing dog, I wouldn’t buy a Collie; I’d get a Greyhound.”
One remarkable part of Hank’s breeding program is the fact he’s a walking computer of bloodlines and resords. He has 200 broodmares, give or take a few, and he can tell you the breeding of each mare, her past produce record, and what her foals have done. He knows which stallion she crosses well on, and which ones didn’t work. Although his family does keep good written records, Hank says, matter of factly, “I also keep most of it in my head. I know every mare and every stallion, and who their folks are. So when we get ready to put the stallions out with the mares, I know how to sort the mares without having to dig on their papers. It’s just been a talent I was born wit and I’ve used it, and I’m thankful for it.”
In planning which mare to breed to which stallion, Hank rarely tries to produce full sisters and brothers. “I just don’t go for that. If a mare has a good foal by one horses, she might have a better one by another horse. I’ve only had two full brothers and sisters that I would say were above average. Horse breeding just isn’t that easy. If it was, you could have taken the sire and dam of the first All-American Futurity winner, kept breeding them, and you would have a monopoly on winning that race. But it just dower work that way. So we breed our mares a little different each year.”
The proof of the pudding lies in the foal crop, and Hank takes a long, hard look at his goals every year, evaluating and weighing good points and bad. “There’s never been a horse without a fault, and I’ve never raised a perfect one,” Hank readily admits, “but I’m not a fanatic like some breeders are.”
“Some people are head fanatics, or leg fanatics, or muscle fanatics… but you can’t say that just because a horse has got a bad head he’s no good; or that if he’s got a short job he’s no good. You’ve got to star from the tip of his nose and go to the tip of his tail and weigh everything. How many good points does he have? How many faults? If the good outweighs the bad, then at least you are heading in the right direction.
“Every year I think my goal crop will be better than last year’s, but sometimes it’s not. I keep striving for that goal, though, and won’t be satisfied until I get all the bugs worked out of ‘em. That’s why I say I’ve been breeding for 45 years and I’m just getting started.”
If you want to put a burr under Hank’s saddle blanket, just ask him how he got into breeding Appaloosas and Paints. “Why,” he snorts, “I’ve been trying to put as much chrome on my horses as I can, and I’m not going to throw 45 years of my breeding away when a horse gets too much white. So I just began raising Paints and Apps. That’s my answer. You don’t determine a breed by its color unless it’s a color breed, like the palomino. Breed a yellow horse to a yellow horse and you might get a sorrel, a bay, or even an albino… you can get anything because it’s just a color.
“If you breed a Hereford to a Hereford, you might get a red neck, but it’s still a Hereford, because the Hereford’s as breed. The Quarter Horse is a breed, and not a color breed, either. But if you breed a Quarter Horse to a Quarter Horse and get too much white, they say it’s not a Quarter Horse. But if it’s a solid color, with no class or conformation, it’s still a Quarter Horse. I disagree, but let it be as it may.”
Using another analogy, Hank continued. “Suppose you go look at 20 houses for sale and 19 are drab colors, but one’s a pretty red or yellow with some white trim. Which one are you gonna look at first? It’s the same with a horse. A very smart man told me years ago that if you want to sell a man a horse, first thing you have to do is get him to stop and look. What will make him stop and look? It won’t be an op’ solid color horse with no class or conformation and no good legs. Why kid yourself?
“I have to raise horses to sell ‘em. I can’t eat ‘em. So I’m gonna put all the chrome I can on ‘em. And I’m not man enough to say that it’s got to stop right at the knee. Can you?” He peered quizzically at a visitor. “I think it’s absurd. It’s like if you have four kids and one has blond hair, one red, one brown, and one black. They’re still all your kids.”
Although Hank likes fancy horses with a lot of white trim, he certainly doesn’t apply that principle to his facilities. First-time visitors are sorely disappointed if they expect to see the accoutrements usually associated with successful horse breeding farms: lovely barns, white fences, tree-shaded paddocks.
In fact, if you’re not careful, you’ll drive right by Hank’s place and never know it. There’s no hand-painted sign proclaiming it as the home of the nation’s best-known Quarter Horse breeder; there’s not even a mail box with Wiescamp scrawled on it.
Just a block or two south of Alamosa’s main street is the yellow house in which Hank and his wife Freda have lived for years. Several hundred yards across a dusty parking area stands Hank’s auction barn, obviously showing its almost 50 years of use. Nearby is an unpretentious horse barn with less than a dozen stalls. Hanging sadly from the beams over the center aisle are hundreds of faded blue ribbons, attesting to the prowess of the Wiescamp horses in the show ring. But now they are coated with dust and droppings from roosting sparrows. The ribbons mean little to Hank; he primarily showed his horses to advertise his breeding program, and he’s quick to tell you again that blue ribbons don’t make a mare a broodmare. Nor does he believe that a lot of fancies and frills make his mares produce any better.
Not until a visitor walks farther away from the barn does he begin to detect that this is no ordinary horseman’s place. There he stumbles upon Hank’s stud corrals, home of one of the finest batteries of Quarter Horse stallions in the country.
But the corrals aren’t fancy, either. Most are built of poles that show years of wear. Hank has tried wire and cable (“but I was always gettin’ cuts that were hard to heal?) and pipe (“if a horse runs into pipe, he can get hurt awful bad”). Some have shelter, some don’t. Hank says the horses don’t need shelter because winds are non-existent in the winter-time. All pens have excellent sandy footing, and continuously flowing water that never freezes, not even at 40 below. The water comes from artesian wells.
The breeding stallions are kept up until they are turned out with the mares in May or June, and they stay out until September. That’s a late breeding season by most standards, but Hank likes to do things Mother Nature’s way. He doesn’t feel that mares are ready to conceive until late spring; and he doesn’t want early foals anyway because winters in the San Luis Valley are so long and hard. As he says, “It’s never too late for a rain or a foal.” You can’t appreciate the former until you learn that the valley only receives four inches of rain annually.
Following Mother Nature’s way, Hank pasture breeds all of his mares except maiden mares, and mares being bred to St. Dancer, a stud crippled with a bad knee, and old Skipper’s King, now 25. Even with the mares he hand-breeds, he teases with a stud. He does not believe in a vet checking a mare to see if she’s ready to be bred. “Mother Nature gave the mare a very delicate reproductive system, and I am going with Mother Nature all the way.”
Except for the few mares bred to produce race horses, and consequently scheduled to fool a little carlier, all the mares foul outside, “We’ve had more trouble foaling in a stall than we’ve ever had in pasture. They’ve got more room to foal in pastures, and it’s cleaner out there, too,” Hank states.
When mares are foaling, Hank keeps them smaller pastures which he and other members of the family patrol every night. “Some nights we don’t get much sleep,” he admits.
To see Hank’s mares, you have to climb into his dusty, four-wheel-drive Chevy Suburban, which eases out onto the highway. Depending on which band of mares he wants you to see, he will head south, east, west, or north. His mares are scattered in various pastures. The same is true with his barns, and it reassures a visitors image of his man that he does have more than just that small, ancient barn at his house.
On the way to one mare pasture, Hank stops by to show off his favorite barn—the one he calls his show barn. It measures 400 by 75 feet, has 60 stalls, an office, a riding area, and storage for several tons of hay and also for some of the 2,000 trophies Hank’s horses have won. It was formerly a potato cell (potatoes are a major crop in the San Luis Valley) but the term cellar is misleading because it is not below ground. To protect the potatoes from freezing, it was built with walls about a foot thick. Hank converted it to a horse barn, and now the walls an insulation protect the horses from sub-freezing temperatures. Even when it’s 30 or 40 below outside, the temperature inside the show barn never drops below freezing.
No matter which pasture of mares Hank drives through, visitors are impressed with the mares’ quality, type, uniformity, Hank’s rapid-fire memory of the breeding of each and every one, and the fact he is so proud of them. Standing in the edge of one group, he waved his arm toward them and said, “Folks can try to outbreed me with their high-prices studs, but you’ve got to have those mama. Anybody can buy a stud, but it takes a lifetime to put these mares together.”
The mares lead the good life, too. Although rainfall is scarce in the Alamosa area, Hank irrigates his pastures, many of which are planted in alfalfa. The pastures usually provide adequate grazing year-round; but when snow does cover the ground, Hank supplements with alfalfa hay, no grain. He believes that good alfalfa is the only supplement a mare needs.
In fact, the only horses that get grain are his weanlings and horses being ridden. Even the stallions get by just fine on nothing but alfalfa, and Hank feeds them all they’ll eat. He firmly believe, “The only time alfalfa hurts a horse is when he doesn’t get it.”
Still going by Mother Nature, Hank Arabs according to the Farmers Almanac, which bases its recommendations on phases of the moon. Weanlings and yearlings are kept up in pens. “We never turn them out in pasture,” says Hank. “Too many would get hurt and blemished in fences and wire. We raise most of our own hay and grain, so I think it’s cheaper to keep them up and feed them, and easier to get them halter-broke and gentle, than to turn them out and get ‘em boogered and cut. And we can grow ‘em pretty good. We foal late, and we overcome it by keeping ‘em up and feeding ‘em.”
All horses are tube-wormed annually in the fall to get the bits, and are worked several other times with medicine administered orally. Hoofs are trimmed regularly, but with so many horses, it’s a job to keep up with it, especially with the stallion. The sand in their pens is so soft that hoofs easily get too long. As Hank says, “Sometimes we get behind… we sure never get ahead of ourselves!”
Hank brands his horses with a Quarter Circle I on the left jaw; that’s all. Unlike some breeders, he does not use a year brand or sire brand; Hank keeps all that information in his head and on each horse’s record. He doesn’t brand until a horse is at least two years old. If a horse is branded as a weanling or yearling, the brand will grow as the youngster grows, and it will get too large. There’s also another reason: Hank waits until a horse is mature enough to determine if he’s worthy of carrying the Wiescamp brand.
Hank Wiescamp, The Man
Talk to a dozen horsemen who know Hank or who have dealt with him and you’ll get a dozen different opinions, not all of them favorable. Even his horses are subject to criticism. But it’s doubtful if any man who has spent 45 years building an empire will ever if win a popularity contest. And Hank candidly admits, “I know some people think I’m a crank.” Then with a broad smile and his eyes twinkling, “I don’t care what they think, or what they call me as long as they call me. I know I have the horses they like.”
Notonly is Hank a shrewd breeder of horses, he is a shrewd judge of men. He can size up a visitor almost instantly, and for sure after a few words of conversation. If he doesn’t cotton to you, he might politely show you one or two horses, escort you back to your car and thank you for coming. If he takes a shine to you, he might spend all day talking and showing you horses.
His independence comes as a natural result of his success and his Dutch heritage. Earlier it was mentioned, “Depending on which band of mares Hank wants to show you…” There’s more truth to that statement than meets the eye. Hank will only show you the horses he wants you to see, which, of course, is any man’s prerogative.
Stories about Hank’s horse-selling deals are legion, to and some of them unfairly make out Hank as a bad guy. He is primarily a breeder’s breeder, and he has helped others establish their own breeding programs with a nucleus of his stock. If a person is honest and sincere, Hank is free with his advice. “But often,” he points out, “people will ask my advice, and then won’t pay any attention to it. They think I’m trying to get the best of them.”
When someone tries to get the best of Hank, however, look out! He’s been in the horse business too many years to be conned by a sharpie. As he says, “The horse traders have all tried me, but they’ve quit.”
When a person meets Hank for the first time or two, his gruffness can be intimidating; but as he begins to relax and warm up to his favorite subjects—such as his broodmares—you find that the gruffness is just a bluff… sort of his way of keeping a visitor at arm’s length until he gets to know him. He is a very warm person, and has a keen sense of humor, even when he’s telling a story on himself. Recently he made the tactical error of sitting on a hypodermic needle, and he shook with laughter as he told several visitors about it a few days later.
What lies in the future? Hank’s sons Larry and Grant, and son-in-law Larry Wilcox, are all very much involved with the Wiescamp operation and will carry it on. However, Hank is now bore neur ready to ease into retirement. No sir. As he said, he’s just getting started, and his goal now is to breed and raise a winner of the All-American Futurity. He feels that the primary future of the Quarter Horse lies in racing, and nothing gives him greater satisfaction than seeing horses of his breeding flash across the finish line first.
In fact, if Hank were starting all over again in the horse business, he says he’d raise Thoroughbreds. Why? “Because there’s a place to race every horse, and the Thoroughbreds bring so much more money than Quarter Horses. Why, look at what the Keeneland sale averaged last July—$128,000.”
“But,” a visitor reminded Hank, “earlier you said money wasn’t that important to you.”
“Yes,” he laughed, “but you asked me what I’d do if I started all over again!”
In order to raise Thoroughbreds, however, Hank says he would have to move to a warmer location, “because here in Eskimo country, it isn’t the right climate. Since I am too set in my ways and have my roots too deep, I guess I will weather the cold here and continue as I’ve been doing.”
As a final question, we asked Hank what advice he would offer to the small breeder.
“Well,” he said, as he sat back in his chair and thoughtfully looked at his hat, “trouble with most breeders is they want to have quantity instead of quality. I think it’s better to go to a breeder, not a horse trader, and just get four or five mares all bred alike, who come from a good-producing family. It’s better to start with a few and have them solid, and all of one kind, instead of getting a lot of mares from four or five different families and trying to find a stud with as much looks, conformation, brains, and ability as you can find, and hope he transmits it. Not only is that my advice, but that’s the way I’ve tried to do it.” And he has succeeded. Whether or not you like the man or his horses, you have to admire him. No other breeder can walk in his footsteps.
This article was originally published in the April 1979 issue of Western Horseman.