the Joe Hancock Story
September 1957 Quarter Horse Journal - submitted by Lee Jones
In Joe Hancock individually, and in the Hancock family of Quarter Horses, the historian finds an outstanding example of something of which the knowledgeable horseman has been aware for a long, long time; which is, that such an outcross as produced Joe Hancock, more often than might be normally expected, brings forth an occasional outstanding horse of enormous vitality and prepotency, and frequently, as in this instance, a horse of ultra-handsome conformation and surprising speed.
At the same time it must be remembered that such horses have not come from designed breeding but from accident. And how surely those sometimes most positive and unwilling-to-reason of men, the too frequently smug geneticists, who are so certain of so many things, must inevitably be confounded should they undertake to unravel the marvel that was Joe Hancock; for assuredly he proved speed is not always produced only by breeding speed to speed. Given the advantages of today's faster tracks than he ever knew there probably was never a faster horse at the quarter than this grandson of a Percheron grandsire of the pure blood.
The discovery of the confirmation of these facts concerning the breeding of Joe Hancock has brought this writer an enormous amount of personal pleasure and satisfaction. It has been his contention, his thoughts established by considerable research and study, that the American Quarter Horse, the oldest of American equine breeds in one sense, is at once the youngest of them in another sense. This view shall be briefly explained.
The American Quarter Horse, first known as the American Quarter Running Horse, and developed in the Colonies along the Atlantic Seaboard in the late 1600's from horses of pure Arabian, Barb and Turk blood brought to North America by the Conquistadores, explorers and traders, was the first distinctly American breed of horses. At the time this breed reached its apogee, course racing, "in imitation of the English," was becoming the fashionable thing; the keeping of the Quarter Horse blood pure was neglected and the mares of the Quarter Horse breed were called upon to devote their procreative capacities to the development of other American breeds of which the American Thoroughbred was first, the American Trotter second, and then the American Saddlebred. The original American Quarter Horse breed also contributed to the creation of the crossbred general utility horses, many of them heavy-harness animals, so essential to the economic development of this nation. Thus was America's oldest horse breed almost completely absorbed by the newer breeds.
But throughout the Quarter Horse blood was the stronger and dominant blood, and for two centuries, as continues to be true today, there was, as there is now, ample ocular proof, as well as performance proof, of the superior and indestructible character of this Quarter Horse blood. It is for this reason that the observer finds so many Quarter - type individuals among American Thoroughbreds, but no Thoroughbred - type individuals where there is a concentration of Quarter Horse blood.
Then came the pronounced determination of a group of men and women to dedicate themselves to the proposition of saving the old-fashioned, original American Quarter Horse blood from complete and irretrievable assimilation by the other breeds, and to rescue the remnants of this blood, and the noble breed it represented, from over whelming extinction. This period may be historically designated as the dawn of the era of the modern Quarter Horse, for at this juncture there was not left alive upon the face of the earth a single horse known to be of pure and unadulterated Quarter blood. So it was that America's oldest breed of horses was transformed, in a manner of speaking, into America's youngest breed.
With the momentous decision to re-establish the Quarter Horse breed there was but one source from which to derive the necessary blood, and this source was individuals of the other breeds and admixtures of breeds, as well as what remained of the impure Quarter Horse breed, which carried the highest percentages of discernible Quarter Horse blood from remote Quarter Horse ancestors. Upon this foundation the modern Quarter Horse is being distinctly revived, improved and perpetuated.
Here we use those words "is being distinctly revived, improved and perpetuated," for in the opinion of this historian, that is the truth. As he observes the overall breeding program, the Quarter Horse of the present is not yet the desired perfection that will eventually evolve from today's continued efforts to improve the breed, or rather to restore it to its character previous to the time it was almost destroyed to build the other mentioned breeds. In a way today's Quarter Horse breeder occupies a position comparable to that of America's Thoroughbred breeders from one to two centuries ago who were importing "thoroughbred" stallions of Arabian, Barb and Turk blood to mate with mares of the American Quarter Running strain and from which coverings the American Thoroughbred, as he is known today, emerged, and then from him the American Trotter and the American Saddlebred, and from the latter the Tennessee Walking Horse, or three-gaited horse as he is sometimes called.
The Arabs, the world's greatest horse breeders, long ages ago learned that no less than five generations of breeding acceptable-type is necessary to produce the desired horse. On that plan, and even in greater numbers of generations, the development of the Quarter Horse of the future goes forward, as year by year the breed is being specifically and undeniably improved on the whole.
Certainly there is no reason to suspect that the maternal grandsire of Joe Hancock did not himself carry, and transmit, the genes of a remote Quarter Horse ancestry. The conformation and performance qualities of both Joe Hancock and his many splendid descendants is evidence in support of such a probability.
This background, in the form of admitted opinions of this researcher, is presented here in an effort to explain the phenomenon known in Quarter Horse records as Joe Hancock, one of the most eminent and impressive progenitors the breed has ever known either in its earliest days or in these, as is clearly attested by the records.
Breeders may look back upon the historic imported Janus as a miracle, but when the chips of analysis are down, was Joe Hancock anything less than a mystifying wonder himself? Time and tradition have a tendency to add glamour to the former, while today's nearness to Joe Hancock throws a most searching and revealing spotlight upon him. Janus could not have been a perfect horse, one no competent judge of horses could not fault on some point, and time obscures his short-comings, extolling only his virtues. Joe Hancock was near enough to the present hour for the whole of his character and qualities to stand manifest in unclouded truth. This writer does not subscribe to the theory that an intervening century or more is the only criterion by which a sire's true greatness can be measured. As "there were giants in those days" so there are giants today.
In the composite picture of breed improvement Janus is prominent as a pre-eminent progenitor, but in the same picture, as this writer views it, Joe Hancock is no less remarkable. And it is to be recalled that Janus was imported as a "thoroughbred" sire; that he was at least seven-eights, if not entirely, of Saracenic blood, and that in England he was a four-mile runner of some limited distinction, after which he was retired to the breeding paddock there. On the other hand, Joe Hancock was an extraordinary short-distance runner of obvious American Quarter Running descent.
Since the breeding of the dam of Joe Hancock has been mentioned, and will be discussed in greater detail, it is fitting that the reader also be given a look into the possibilities involved in the maternal ancestry of Janus since a semi-comparison has been made.
The Right Honorable Lady Wentworth, who owns the famous Crabbet Park Stud in England where she breeds Arabians, is the acknowledged leading authority on the origins of the Thoroughbred. She is the daughter of Lady Ann Blunt, who many years ago established that stud after a sojurn of years in Arabia where she acquired many fine Arabian horses and was largely responsible for introducing this breed to the Western world. Lady Wentworth, a most profound student of the history of the horse has produced from her research two volumes which quite comprehensively cover the subject, these being Thoroughbred Racing Stock and The Authentic Arabian Horse.
Lady Wentworth once wrote: "Americans have been accused of inventing certain pedigrees, but we have gone them one better ourselves by inventing a whole breed of non-existing English racing mares, so the less said about inventions the better." In this she was discussing the nature of the broodmare in that period during which Janus was foaled. In the same effort Lady Wentworth described how, with imaginative written records alone, "a number of Oriental foundation mares, well known as Arabians, Barbs and Turks were transformed into 'our celebrated Yorkshire running mares.' " Again , said Lady Wentworth in discussing bloodlines: "Purity is a complete myth and frankly nonsense." At other times she has pointed out that some of the English Thoroughbred foundation mares were Galloways, meaning they were Barb ponies of less than 14 hands; and that the so-called English "Royal Mares" received the designation of "Royal" only because they were owned by The King and not because of their breeding.
It has become quite obviously well known to the diligent student of equine bloodlines that in the foundation of the English Thoroughbred the mares on the whole were definitely of a quality inferior to the American Quarter Running mares who were used in the development of the American Thoroughbred.
As to the breeding of the dam of the imported Janus there is actually but little information of a reliable nature available to the researcher today. Almost the entire substance of this is encompassed in the accepted facts that his first dam was sired by Fox and his second dam was sired by the Bald Galloway. Nothing is known of the mares covered by Fox and the Bald Galloway to produce this dam and grandam, but it is known that many "native English" mares were used in the development of the English Thoroughbred, and that, as has been noted, many of these were distinctly inferior to the American Quarter Running mares of the same period. This writer is inclined to the belief that the dam of Joe Hancock was superior in breeding and otherwise to the dam of the imported Janus.
The true story of Joe Hancock, the horse, has recently been revealed to this writer by Joe Hancock, the man, who lives on his ranch on the banks of Red River a few miles north of Nocona, Texas.
This veteran Texas horseman, now more than three score years and ten, and whose pastures are yet grazed by descendants of the progenitor named for him, is a son of the late John Jackson Hancock of Ochiltree County, one of the northern-most ones in the Texas Panhandle.
"Left to right, the late John Jackson Hancock, who bred his mares to a percheron stallion one season, and breeder of Joe Hancock; (center) Billy Joe Hancock, son of Joe Hancock; and Joe Hancock, the man who owned Joe Hancock (the horse) and for whom the colt was named."
| At this
time Joe Hancock, not yet married, was living at home with his parents. Also
at home was his brother, Walter Hancock.
One day, several years after the John Hancock mares had foaled to the cover of the Wilson Percheron, a peddler of a well-known brand of household remedies, extracts and other items, made his accustomed call at the Hancock home, and in keeping with the fine traditions of Hancock hospitality it was insisted that he stay for dinner. At the table the talk, as a matter of natural course, turned to horses.
In the interim Mr. Joe Hancock had married and moved to the Montague County ranch on Red River, where he has since lived, and where this writer had the recent privilege of visiting him and receiving from him the true story of his equine namesake, much of which is being published here for the first time.
In 1924, at a time of the year when the colt was a yearling in full bloom, but still nursing his dam, which disproves the fiction he early became an orphan, Joe Hancock returned to his father's home for a visit. The tank at which the horses watered was in a trap near the house. The first afternoon of the son's visit some boys undertaking to catch a mule pastured with the horses passed into the trap from the pasture. Incited by the mule-catching efforts some of the horses started running and among these was the big brown son of John Wilkens and the half-Percheron mare. The colt struck the wire gate inflicting some slight cuts or scratches, which were not noticed that afternoon, though the colt had caught and held the eye of Joe Hancock.
"The next afternoon when the horses came in to water I was down there waiting for them," Mr. Hancock said. "That colt had attracted my attention and I wanted to get another look at him and to get my hands on him. That afternoon I noticed the wire scratches and called them to Father's attention. I suggested that we catch the colt and treat him. I was mighty anxious to get my hands on him, and Father said to go ahead. I caught him and haltered him without any trouble and in half an hour I had him leading perfectly. I knew right then that I was going to have to own that colt, and that I'd never be happy until I did. I was there about a week and kept that colt up and kept working with him every day. He was intelligent and he had a wonderful disposition.
"It so happened that when I moved down here I had left some horses at Father's place and before the week was out I had traded him two fillies for the colt. I knew that colt's breeding. I knew he was one-quarter Percheron, but I also knew he was exactly what I wanted. Now I was faced with the problem of not having a trailer up there and so tried to buy one. Dave Wilson, brother of Ralph Wilson, who owned the Percheron grandsire of the colt, had a trailer and insisted on loaning it to me but wouldn't sell it. I asked him how in the world he expected me to be able to get it back to him, that I lived more than three hundred miles away. He said it was all right, that we'd get it back some way. So I loaded the colt into that trailer and brought him down here with me. Then I dismantled the trailer so it could be easily assembled again and shipped it back to him in parts by express. It was an expensive shipment but by then I was so happy with my colt that I didn't care."
For many years Mr. Hancock has been quite justifiably annoyed by the rumors which have been so rampant that the colt was grossly, even cruelly, neglected by him. "I loved that colt," he said, "and there never was one that was treated any better. As to his feet being broken that never was true after I got him, nor while I owned him, and he was mine until he was six years old. They said he was poor, and that his tail and mane were full of burrs when he went to the trainer. That isn't true. Not a single burr ever stayed on that colt for even one day while I had him here. Here is a picture of him taken the day I started to Oklahoma with him. See that hose on the ground? Well, we had just used that hose to give him a bath. Did you ever hear of anybody giving a horse a bath with his tail and mane full of burrs? Does he look to you like he had ever been hungry in his whole life? I know the stories that have been going around, but I never said anything. I'm sure glad you came down here to see me, though, because I suppose that after all the true story about the colt should be told."
| Mr. Hancock
does not fault the colt on any point, though he says the colt's foot was
"a little broad. I suppose that Percheron put that there. Being broad-footed
he would sometimes slip a little in a race in soft going. But I'll tell you
something. A little Percheron blood doesn't hurt our Quarter Horses. It helps
them, and Joe Hancock proves that. Best of all it gives them appetite, and
you can't have a good horse unless that horse has a good appetite. A little
Percheron blood also gives them size and strength and stamina. I remember
Ralph Wilson saying that black Percheron was a race horse. He might have
been right after all, and he might have said it as something more than a
joke. Maybe he knew what he was talking about."
For years the story has been told that when Joe Hancock was a three-year-old he was taken to George Ogles, a trainer who lived just north of Red River, about 15 miles up in Oklahoma from the Hancock Ranch. Mr. Hancock corrects this.
"That colt didn't go to George Ogles," he explains, "but to Bird Ogles, father of George, and George didn't have anything much to do with the colt until I sold him the stallion when he was a six-year-old. He was trained and raced the first year by Bird Ogles, and then the next two years by Jim Ogles, brother of Bird's. The next year he went back to Bird again, and I think that is the year I sold him to George. It was while Bird had him that he named him Joe Hancock for me. Bird Ogles did live about 15 miles from here. I planned to lead the colt up there, but he had never been worked much and got tired on the trip and didn't lead very well after a while and so I had to get on him and ride him and lead the other horse.
"I've read how we had a hard time getting Mr. Ogles to agree to take him and give him a trial. That's not true. We didn't have to take that colt up there a number of times before we could get him in training because of the way he looked. I made one trip up there, without the colt, talked to Mr. Ogles about him and said to bring the colt right on up, which I did. He charged me a dollar a day for the training and I furnished the feed."
| Mr. Hancock
recalls that of the many purses won by the colt he never received but $50
of the winnings. He says he was offered two propositions. Under the terms
of one of these he could have paid one-half of the expenses for one-half
the winnings, and under the other the trainer paid all the expenses and got
all the winnings. He accepted the second because he was interested only in
giving the colt an opportunity to build the reputation he so rapidly achieved,
Mr. Hancock saw the colt race but three times. One of these was his first
race, an event arranged to give the colt a trial and experience, which he
won handily. Then the last year Mr. Hancock owned him he went to Pawhuska,
Oklahoma, where the colt had been entered in several races.
Joe Hancock's pedigree:
back to articles &
Get of Sire Records for Joe Hancock P-455.
Listing and records on all progeny sired by Joe Hancock.
Compiled from AQHA official records.
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