Driftwood was the foundation of Channing and Katy’s Peake’s breeding program, and helped shape bloodlines within the American Quarter Horse Association.
Editor’s Note: Last month, Bill Reynolds wrote about Driftwood’s owner, artist Channing Peake, and how the horse and Western culture impacted his art. Read about it here.
It would be hard to separate Channing Peake’s approach to art from his approach to ranching and his horses. He was skilled, passionate and disciplined about both and equally so was his wife, Katy.
Channing Peake the rancher/cowboy was equal parts Channing Peake the artist/visionary, and it started for him at an early age. Born in Marshall, Colorado, in 1910, his family moved to Southern California and after high school, he attended numerous art schools via scholarships, including what was then the California School of Arts and Crafts (circa 1918) and the Santa Barbara School of the Arts where he met and worked with artist Edward Borein.
After schooling he moved to New York to set up a studio and arrived in the most dramatic way. It was 1935 and as a rambunctious and bulletproof young man of 24, he went to Mexico to gain as much exposure to the country’s art and artists as he could. He travelled all over and boarded a steamer from Veracruz headed to New York.
A lot happened in New York for him after he arrived. He studied at the Arts Students League of New York where he met artist Rico Lebrun after taking a mural class and, as it was during the Great Depression, gained the opportunity to work on several Works Progress Administration murals.
His future took a cowboy turn when he married Catherine “Katy” Schott. He met her years earlier in Santa Barbara. Katy came from wealth and social status, as her father owned a successful mining company and her mother had interests in art and social welfare projects. The Peakes married in 1938 and returned to the West Coast settling in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara. In 1939 they purchased 1,600 acres and established Rancho Jabali.
Katy was an avid and savvy horsewoman, and the couple set about creating a working ranch that Channing took to immediately with enthusiasm and passion. Artwork was still center stage, and during the 20 years the Peakes lived on the ranch Channing produced major works, as well being a founding member of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Rancho Jabali had some of the best cowboys in the area working there, including Ralph Camarillo, a man with old Californio blood in him, and his two sons, Gerald and Leo, who would both grow up to be world champion team ropers. But it was Katy who drove the idea of creating a truly stellar breeding program of exemplary Quarter Horses. And like anything they did, the Peakes jumped head first into the Quarter Horse business.
It was Katy and Channing, along with actor John Wayne and others, who started the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association. Channing was its first president. While looking for the right stud to help create their program, the Peakes almost bought Poco Bueno, who would eventually become a significant bloodline for the breed. But Katy was looking for something that was quite unique, a combination of speed and roping ability that would set their program apart.
The Peakes had accumulated a fine set of broodmares during the early 1940s. Five came from a ranch in Arizona, and then they added five more mares of One Eyed Waggoner breeding from a ranch in San Angelo, Texas. Now all they needed was a stallion.
Their search took them around California and Arizona, and nothing they saw fit the parameters they had set for themselves. The horse needed to do well in the roping pen, stay sound, be fast, and above all, have a “nice to be around” demeanor. They felt their list of qualities would require solid conformation.
Time went by, and in the spring of 1942 a friend who lived a little ways up the coast in Templeton, California, contacted them. Roping friend Gordon Davis knew what the Peakes were looking for and said he had a horse in mind for them. The Peakes respected their friend’s opinion and loaded up to go see the horse perform at a ranch rodeo in Hayward, California.
Enter Driftwood, also known as “Speedy.” He turned out to be everything they were looking for. The only problem was his owner at the time, an Arizona roper named Asbury Schell, didn’t want to sell. Even after hours of back and forth, it was all Katy could do to convince Schell to visit their ranch and breed Speedy to several of their mares.
The Peakes were not giving up, and after months of correspondence back and forth (including some rather “bold faced, all caps” yelling via pen and ink), Schell finally agreed to sell Speedy to the Peakes for $1,500. Schell loved that horse, and even after selling him to stand at Rancho Jabali, he would continue to ask about the stallion, purchase colts from the Peakes, and ride Driftwood-bred horses until the end of his roping career.
The rest, as they say, is history as Driftwood went on to sire consistent, athletic and capable horses that were legendary performers and “nice to be around.” It’s been said that aged stallions don’t pass along all their positive traits to more than one or two generations; Driftwood was an exception and would create an important line in the records of the AQHA. He was able to perpetuate his qualities on and on, from generation to generation, and is why breeders continue the line.
Between Channing’s celebrity as an artist and Driftwood’s celebrity as a stallion, Rancho Jabali had many visitors over the years, including Hollywood types such as Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Prior to Hepburn’s role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, she and her then-husband, Mel Ferrer, visited the Peakes and worked cattle on the beach at the neighboring Hollister Ranch. That “nice to be around” quality of the Driftwood line created kind, well-mannered ranch horses enabling Channing Peake to put most anyone on.
Driftwood died at the age of 28 in 1960. He was important horse in so many ways, and his legacy, as well as the legacy of Channing Peake, the cowboy artist of Rancho Jabali, lives on.
Read more about Driftwood and other significant ranch horse bloodlines in Western Horseman Legends Volume 2: Outstanding Quarter Horse Stallions & Mares.