Three Percheron Mares and the Men they Made
reprinted from The Breeder’s Gazette, December 2, 1920
It was harvest time in Virginia, and near sundown. The Blue Ridge was reaching the long arms of its embracing shadow toward the modest but comfortable farmhouse atop the big clay hill. Driving up the long lane I passed a man taking home his harnessed team. He was riding a big white Percheron mare, and leading another. The horses were black with sweat and dirt. The man was carrying a pitchfork over his shoulder. The galluses of his overalls had brought the sweat marks through his hickory shirt. On the hillside yonder the smoke was dying down from a threshing engine, and I could see men covering up the separator with a large canvas for the night. I guessed that the teamster had unhitched and left his load of bundles ready for an early start the next morning before the sun could chase away the dew. I stopped in front of the house as he turned in to the gate.
“Who lives here?” I asked.
“I do, sir; Walter Simpson,” came the answer in the honeyed accent of Virginia.
“Are you the Walter Simpson who owned the champion Percheron mare at the 1919 Percheron Breeders’ Show?”
“I am, and this is the mare I am riding. The other one is her daughter.”
Walter Simpson slid down from Maina’s back and came over to where my car was standing. The grand old matron and her daughter stood there at the gate looking across the pasture at some frolicking foals. I wish I could paint: Gigantic power in those great muscles. Beauty of conformation. Motherly affection for the colts. A handsome team, a showyard team performing to the tune of band music before the admiring criticism of a crowded ringside, here in the hills of Virginia actually doing the hard work of the farm. And that is not all: in a few minutes the milk began dripping down from the swollen jugs; there were two hungry foals in the barn.
Along came Walter, Jr. He put up the team while father and I sat down on the grass by the roadside and talked horse. I was full of questions. What makes you work so valuable a mare? Couldn’t you work something cheaper?
At once the owner of the champion gave me to understand that a pedigree mare is worth no more than a gelding unless she breeds. The horse is an animal for service. Whenever a mare is not given an abundance of exercise, as a rule she ceases to foal regularly. Go anywhere you like where Percheron mares are kept for show or to use up the grass, but not to work, and there you will invariably find mares that are not having colts as often as they should. Maina was twelve years old last April. Mr. Simpson gave $950 for her as a two-year-old. She has raised a colt every year but one since she was a four-year-old. Eight colts in nine years and all of them good ones have made Maina a profitable brood mare. Her first colt sold as a weanling for $300. Her next two colts sold as a two-year-old and a yearling at $2,000 for the pair. A three-year-old filly brought $1,500. Three are still on the farm, despite an offer of $2,800 for two of them. An offer of $2,000 for Maina herself was promptly refused at the 1919 Ohio State Fair.
“Mr. Simpson,” I asked, “did you know that you were getting such a great mare when you bought her, or did she prove out that way accidentally?”
“I took the advice that has been handed down from generation to generation by old-country breeders, as well as those on this side,” he replied. “They pointed out the way to results for breeders of all kinds of purebred live stock. Here is the whole thing in a nutshell: First, insist on getting a well-bred mare as your foundation. One can never depend much on a plain-bred one. Make absolute soundness your second requirement. I want a well-bred mare that is sound. Then, if possible, I would like to have her with the right kind of conformation. The reason I bought Maina was that I knew her breeding to be first-class for at least two generations back. She was a sound and well-built filly. The fourth qualification, and the least important, is prolificacy. If a mare’s colts are all right with respect to ancestry, soundness, and type, then I want just as many of those colts as I can possibly get. But if they are not up to standard, then I am just as well off financially if she does not produce a colt every year. Come down here in the pasture below the barn and I can show you exactly what I mean by the right kind of a brood mare.”
I followed along, thinking to myself that I never before had had these points made quite so clear. Mr. Simpson began again by saying that Maina was out of Capo, one of the famous old white mares that made E.B. White of Selma Farms so well known as a Percheron breeder. Just there I ventured to inquire if this man White was the one so frequently mentioned to me as having bred most of the first-prize colts at the Percheron Breeders’ Show at the Ohio State Fair for the last two years.
“You are right,” said Mr. Simpson, “and, by the way, Mr. White bred Capo. She has been a wonderful mare, old now, of course, but still raising colts. So far, she must have produced nearly ten colts for Mr. White. He sold her last fall to Ed Nicodemus. She was the dam of Mouton, the reserve grand champion stallion at the Panama-Pacific. See yonder? In that bunch are two fillies out of Maina.”
“Yes,” I replied, “and even though I do not know a great deal about horses, I can tell which ones they are, because they are so like their mother.”
Young Walter, who had now joined us, reminded his father that there was a filly out of Maina that stood third as a two-year-old at Chicago, and later went to Canada and won a number of prizes; also that there was a yearling stallion out of Maina which stood well up in the futurity at Chicago the same year. I was glad that the lad spoke up and told what he knew, because the modest father was inclined to be a bit reticent concerning the record made by this mare in the showring, and as a breeder.
I discovered that Maina won the coveted honor of being the nearest model type of Percheron mare shown at the 1919 Percheron Breeders’ Show. From both father and son I found out what a truly wonderful mare the old matron was. And the best part of it all is that Maina actually belongs to Walter, Jr., another testimonial to the father’s farsightedness. To know that a bright, ambitious young man and a conservative father are uniting their efforts in one direction with no small measure of success is inspiring.
We walked back to the barn, where I saw an excellent two-year-old stallion out of this same dam, a growthy yearling, and a foal, which was just getting his milk, cafeteria style. I was still full of questions, but before we realized it, the last rays of the dying sun were gilding the cloud banks on the western horizon, and the milch cows were lowing in the lane. Reluctantly I said farewell to the gentlemen from Virginia and the old brood mare, which had carried their name and fame beyond the mountains and out across the prairies.
One day last fall, I fell in with a farmer wandering through the horse stables at the Illinois State Fair. Naturally enough we got to talking about the Percheron show. I was more anxious for an audience than anything else, and began unloading the story of the old mare in Virginia. I had no idea that I was talking to Dan Augstin. He lost no time in stating to me, in his own way, that bloodlines in Percherons have just as much significance as they do in Shorthorns, or any kind of purebred stock in which the pedigree goes back to Adam’s time. He took me to his stalls, and there told a story that dated back to the time of old Louis Napoleon, one of the first Percheron stallions ever brought to this country. He had been in the business decades longer than Mr. Simpson. I mentioned Maina again, however, and Mr. Augstin took me up on it. He told me about Roquette, which was reserve champion at the same show when Maina was champion. I was fascinated, because Mr. Augstin starts his story more than forty years back:
There, in the stall before us, stood Roseland. She was out of Coquette. Coquette was a black that held the record for a number of years as champion mare bred by exhibitor at the Illinois State Fair. She had for a sire Absalom, bred by L. F. Stubblefield, a first-prize winner at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Mr. Stubblefield came along just then. He could not resist prompting his fellow-breeder from time to time. He too goes back in her recollections as far as the beginning of Percheron history in this country.
Before we got through, I learned that old Coquette was sold at ten years of age, for $1,000 and that was four years ago, when mares were very cheap. She produced a colt every spring but two, after she was old enough. Like the Virginia mare, too, she had no chance to stay in the barn merely to keep looking nice; she had to put her head through the collar every day during the crop season. Two of her colts sold as three-year-olds for $700 apiece. The two best-known among her progeny were Rollerman, sold as a four-year-old for $2,000 and this mare Roseland. Rollerman was champion stallion bred by exhibitor at the 1916 Illinois State Fair. Roseland, I was told, had her own way in the aged mare class at the 1916 Illinois State Fair, and was also made reserve grand champion. Twelve months later at the same show she was reserve champion mare bred by exhibitor. In 1918 she was not shown. Her daughter was the only animal that had any chance of winning purple honors over her dam at the 1919 Indiana State Fair. Roseland won. At Springfield this year, good judges besides Mr. Augstin and Mr. Stubblefield told me that there was nothing that could beat this mare and her filly foal when shown together. At any rate, they sold for $3,500 before the show was over. Mr. Augstin took great pride in showing me Roquette, a daughter of Roseland, both of which are now owned by George M. Oyster, Jr.
Mr. Stubblefield told me the showring history of Roquette, and how she was reserve grand champion mare at three of the leading state fairs last year. I was suspicious that he was going to tell me that the had a better one at home. And that is just what he did. He may be right, at that.
I was so impressed with the stories which these men told of their mares that I could not drag myself away. Their ideas coincided exactly with those of Mr. Simpson. The fact that impressed me most was that these men had the showring records over a long period of years to prove their contentions. Furthermore, their experience extended back nearly half a century. Stiffened and battered by hard work though these venerable horsemen were, they had no difficulty in relating their ideas. Their homes and those of their children they literally owed to the fact that they always banked on well-bred Percherons, and stayed with the business through thick and thin, good times and bad. That is the kind of success we want for a pattern.
These ideas were just arranging themselves comfortably in my cerebral chambers when some one tapped me on the shoulder. There stood Ray Howell, from Missouri, and he wanted to show me a lot of things. He was fresh from the state fair at Sedalia, and chock full of big Missouri stories. He was bubbling over, and with good reason. He had not only taken unto himself a wife, but he had won the championship on Percheron stallions at the Missouri fair. And all within the short period of seven days. I soon found out almost everything that happened in the judging arena at Sedalia.
“Why,” said Ray, “you know that old flea-bitten gray mare of M. D. Allcorn’s they call Kate Ross? She and her colts and their sons and daughters won most of the prizes.”
I was not so surprised at this, because the old mare did the same trick last year. I happened to be at the show in 1919 and heard the boys about the barns discussing this old mare. I went out behind the horse barn and found Mr. Allcorn hitching the old gray mare to a wagon alongside her thirteen-year-old daughter, Bessie W. He had to go home to grind some corn. I looked at the clay-smeared wheels of the wagon and then at the team and guessed a part of the story. I studied the old mare; i.e., the oldest old mare. There were the hard, flinty bone, the well-formed hocks properly set, the legs well stationed under her, the nicely set pasterns, the hoof as hard as a mule’s, and the kindly expression on her face that told what sort of disposition she had.
“She is the mother of more than ten living colts,” replied Mr. Allcorn, to my question, “and several of her daughters have three to five colts each, so far. If you want to ask me questions, you’ll have to hurry. My wife says I must get home right away. The hogs need more corn. We use old Kate Ross on the grinder, even though she is nineteen years old. She knows how to grind the corn without a driver.”
At the 1919 Missouri State Fair, Dr. Carl W. Gay made Kate Ross first-prize mare ten years old or over. She beat her twelve-year-old daughter Bessie W. Her five-year old daughter won her class. The two-year-old filly class was headed by another of her daughters. The third-prize yearling filly was still another. And both first and second awards in the mare and foal class went to daughters of Kate Ross. The reserve grand champion mare owed her existence to this famous old mother, which kept the senior championship honors for herself. Her six-year-old son was the champion stallion bred in Missouri, her owner, anxious to drive on, remarked that he could give me the rest of the winnings of this mare and her colts, if he only had time. But I didn’t need them. I had enough facts to “show me” that it only takes one mare of the right kind to give a breeder a wide reputation. Many men have grown sick at heart and given up who otherwise might have become great breeders had they only started with the right kind of mare.
But what is the right kind of mare? The clearest and most definite answer I know is one enunciated by W.S. Corsa of Gregory Farm. Out of the depths of a remarkably successful career as a breeder, he said: ‘First, I want a mare on whose breeding I can rely as coming from the right kind of ancestors. Second, I want her to be sound, so that if she has any colts they will be like her in this respect. Next, I want her to be of the right type, so that no one will need to ask the breed to which she belongs. Prolificacy comes fourth, because if I have a mare with these other three qualifications, then I want her to have that natural characteristic of these faithful old Percheron matrons, which is to have a colt each year almost without a break. If a mare lacks the three qualities first mentioned, then the fewer colts she raises the better off financially her owner will be. The same can be said of the sire. Whatever success may sometimes be attributed to almost any Percheron breeder in America can usually be credited largely to this plan of action in selecting foundation stuff.”