Interview Synopsis From The Documentary Heritage
The Wagon Wheel Ranch Breeding Program started with Fred G. Gist…
Fred G. Gist with Blue Valentine Heir
Originally Fred Gist began the WWR Program to produce rope horses that had the arena speed, quickness, agility and natural cow of Mr San Peppy and/or Colonel Freckles with the heavy duty size and bone of Joe Hancock or Blue Valentine that could win in any arena anywhere hauling night after night and/or could be used hard and heavy all day, day in and day out on the ranch and have the substance to handle the biggest bull walking on the end of a rope if necessary. So, he began the Wagon Wheel Ranch breeding program by breeding sons of famous stallions, who had proven they had such abilities and could produce these abilities in their foals. He focused on the horses that were the most dominate producers of their own traits, characteristics, and abilities. He chose what he felt to be the most influential sires in the Quarter Horse Industry, the Foundation Sires, so that he could preserve the best traits, characteristics and abilities of the Quarter Horse as it was in the very beginning. He researched and worked [hard] to find those greatest producers.
After he decided on the sires, that he was going to use in his line breeding program, that’s when the real work began, because that’s when he had to start locating the horses that carried the highest percentage blood of these famous sires. I know that his personal secretary spent countless hours, not only with AQHA trying to research and find the highest percentage individuals within these bloodlines alive, but also to find who had these individuals.
Of course they spent a lot of money with AQHA on this research, because you had to pay AQHA for the time used for this research. They charged people that did pedigree research so much per minute for their time to research these pedigrees and locate these horses. Once they found these horses and who owned them, then Fred Gist would get in the truck with a trailer and he drove all over the United States trying to find and locate these horses and get them bought. It was a very time consuming proposition, not only from the standpoint of him learning the importance of line breeding and genetics, learning genetics, but also the research of what he considered the greatest, most influential sires within the Foundation Industry.
Then you moved into the time consumed of having to locate these horses. A horse, just because he is in somebody’s name in the association doesn’t mean that that person still owns that horse. A lot of times, especially in those days back in the 80s, it was nothing to sell a horse and sign a transfer and hand the person a transfer and the papers, and they never transferred the papers into the new buyer’s name. They might sell that horse to someone else and he might sell again.
So, Fred Gist, he spent time on the road trying to run these horses down to be able to bring them to Wagon Wheel Ranch and develop his program, bring it into existence. The amount of time that was spent was astronomical, from his standpoint, from the beginning to actually acquiring the horses.
Then, he knew that as he began line breeding and inbreeding that there were going to be horses that weaknesses or the bad trait characteristics whenever he line-bred or he inbred that they were going to come out more dominate than the strengths. That’s just a part of breeding. Every breeder understands that that is part of the entire deal. So, he had to have large numbers of these line-bred horses to put into the program.
Then, he had to produce the foals to find out if these horses could reproduce the greatest strengths without reproducing the weaknesses. At one time, Wagon Wheel Ranch had over 1,000 head of horses that they were working with to develop this program. Of course, they had horses that did have some weaknesses and instead of completely culling those horses that didn’t have to be culled, Fred Gist worked to find a way to utilize those horses.
Going Deeper Into The Genetic System Used At The Wagon Wheel Ranch…
A horse has 32-pairs of chromosomes and through line breeding and inbreeding and intensifying the gene pool, you’re inbred co-efficiency rises. You get to a point where your chromosomes become identical or “matched.” Whenever you get a matched pair of chromosomes, those chromosomes can only reproduce what they are. So when you breed a stallion like King P-234 that had one match pair chromosomes to a mare that pair of chromosomes can only reproduce exactly what they are. That’s what makes those stallions dominate producers.
Whenever you start intensifying your line breeding, your genes within the horses’ gene pool become more alike. And what you do when you line breed, you’re actually concentrating your gene pool to make all of your genes specific and alike. The tighter that you line breed, the more specific that these traits and characteristics occur and they become alike.
The Great Yellow Jacket
The great Yellow Jacket, that was the biggest foundation on Wagner Ranch and one of the biggest cornerstones in the Quarter Horse Industry, he was also a stallion that four match per chromosome, out of the half-brother, half-sister cross. You take these line-bred individuals and whenever you out cross them to unrelated bloodlines—what they call line crossing, because you’re crossing different lines—you create a hybrid vigor. The more hybrid vigor that you produce within your colts, and within these individuals the more performance ability that they have, so you actually increase the animals’ ability as far as a using horse is concerned.
Also, there is more than one part to a line breeding program. You’re trying to set up a gene pool to reproduce specific traits, characteristic and abilities within producers. But you are also working to get producers that can not only reproduce their own individual traits, characteristics and abilities in a magnified gene pool and they become stronger within their foals; you’re also producing individuals that can reproduce themselves whenever you outcross them and they can add more performance ability into these line-crossed offspring. That’s where your hybrid vigor comes into play.
The more that you line breed the less hybrid vigor that you get, and whenever you begin inbreeding, as Fred Gist moved into from the line-bred program into the straight inbreeding program, the less hybrid vigor that you produce within your foals. That’s one of the consequences of inbreeding. Whenever you start losing hybrid vigor in your line breeding or inbreeding program, that’s when you can start having genetic defects occur within your foals.
Of course, one of the biggest things that you start seeing physically, whenever you start inbreeding intensely, you start losing size of bone. This is another reason that these tight line-bred horses are so good as far as out-crossing. Whenever you out-cross them, they add size, because of the vigor into their offspring. They’ll be bigger than their sire or their dam, and they’ll be faster have more athletic ability.
The Program’s Current Chapter As Of 2014…
Towards the latter of the breeding program that [Fred] was involved in, he had begun downsizing. He had started looking at the individual bloodlines that had produced the strongest for him. He didn’t have to do as much experimental crosses, because he had already proven it this time. So as he downsized to the individuals that he believed to be the best of the program that he had worked to develop, the Wagon Wheel Ranch Breeding Program became smaller, but it became more efficient. Because, the horses that you see today, there is no guess work in what they’ll produce whenever the crosses are made. They’re proven crosses every time, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
Then, when he passed and John took over [managing] the breeding program [for his mom]. John streamlined it even further. John went in and he picked out the individual animals that were his strongest producers that he could line breed on that he could maintain the concentration hybrid vigor needed to not have any inbred depression or defects occur. So, John went very deep to streamline the Wagon Wheel Breeding Program to the very best of the very best.
Joe Hancock courtesy of AQHA Hall Of Fame
The Hancock horses, especially, today that the Wagon Wheel Ranch, are the elite of the Hancock Horses. They not only have the speed that made Joe Hancock famous and desirable, but they have more natural athletic ability and natural athletic cow than an average Joe Hancock horse is being produced is 25% or above Joe Hancock line breeding… and, I say on average; I’m not saying of everyone line breeding Joe Hancock, but on average.
Not only did John streamline to the very best of the genetics that his father had preserved, but John also began researching and working to add more blood to the program. That’s when he started line breeding the Gooseberry Stallion, which was one of Blue Valentine’s very best sons, so he could take those horses back into other line-bred Blue Valentine and increase the performance vigor of the Blue Valentine Horses and the natural cow, as well as size and speed.
He was working to increase and intensify the ability of their Blue Valentine program to reproduce. Then, he brought in these Sonoita Mares, which were low percentage King mares as well, to breed over his high percentage King Stallions. The reason for this was to produce a low percentage line-bred King P-234 Horse that had extreme hybrid vigor, which would add more size, bone, [and] natural cow back into his King-breeding program. The importance of these type of crosses that John worked to produce is that can take those Sonoita King crosses back into his deep line-bred King genetics and add the performance vigor. He can add more size and increase their athletic ability and he can kill inbred depression with these crosses.
Then, he brought in the great Driftwood horses, some of the best rodeo arena horses in history. He brought in the Driftwood Blood to cross over his Blue Valentine Horses to increase the athletic ability in the Blue Valentine and also he could take those horses over his Blue Valentine Program add more athletic ability over his line-bred Blue Valentine with his hybrid vigor in adding the great Driftwood arena athletic, speed, quickness and agility.
Berry Sweet Whizard
Another addition that he has made, he has brought in Berry Sweet Whizard, which is 25% Hollywood Jac 86 and 12.5% Easter King. Whizard has one matched pair of chromosomes [and] 62.5 AQHA reining points. He is the most athletic, cat-quick, agile stallion or horse that I’ve ever ridden in my life. This horse can move like the wind. He produces all of his strengths and his natural abilities, his confirmation, his head, his intelligence and his disposition. He reproduces this in every one of his foals. He out produces every mare he has been bred to. This is a stallion, as he has the Hollywood Jac 86 Mares to him to preserve Hollywood Jac 86’s genetics, he will produce them stronger and reproduce exactly the genetics that built Hollywood Jac 86 in his legacy. These horse being Easter King and line breed King P-234, John can also take them back into his line breed King P-234 horses and add more athleticism to the King program than anyone has ever seen before. That’s how valuable that this one stallion is.
John has worked ever since he as taken over the program to increase the ability to carry forward these genetics, but also to make the genetics better. He has done a tremendous job of it. There is no other legacy in the world today that I know of that is concentrated on as many Foundation Bloodlines and preserving them and improving them as the Wagon Wheel Ranch Program has.
I don’t know of another breeder today that is working as hard as John Gist to make sure that he’s offering his buyers horses that they can take back into their line-bred program without fear of inbred depression ruining their program.
Why The Wagon Wheel Ranch Breeding Program Is Uniquely Valuable…
Mr San Peppy Courtesy of the AQHA Hall Of Fame
The thing about the Wagon Wheel Ranch, you can walk out into the pasture and if you wanted to reproduce Mr San Peppy’s greatest traits, characters, and abilities in specific in your foal crop, you can walk out in the pasture and look at [the] Mr San Peppy colts and know that you are loading a producer on your trailer as a colt. There was no guesswork about it. As far as genetically being able to reproduce specific traits, and characteristics, and ability, Fred Gist bred the horse that would reproduce “rubber stamp,” as he used to say, exactly what they were line-bred to be.
If you wanted to add performance vigor into a program, and you wanted the natural cow of say Mr San Peppy, or you wanted to add more size and bone from Blue Valentine or Joe Hancock, you knew if you walked out in his pasture and you picked a high percentage Joe Hancock colt that has matched pairs of chromosomes, [then] you took him home and put him in the breeding pen, he was going to be a producer of his line breeding. Also, he was going to add the necessary vigor to produce over unrelated or line crossed mares. He was going to be able to reproduce that vigor to make him an extreme performance individual.
Not only would he produce a superior performance individual, but these horses with this high percentage of hybrid vigor, as I said, some of those horses had up to 34% hybrid vigor, when you made that line cross, and you added that hybrid vigor, he could take those horses back into his inbreeding program either side. If he bred a heavy inbred King stallion to heavy inbred Leo mare. He could take that hybrid vigor individual and put him back into the King Program or into the Leo Program. He would increase the vigor within that line breeding program for making that one line cross, the out-cross. What he would do; he would replenish that blood of that gene pool and completely replenish it whenever you bring in that line cross individual and you add your size back, your bone, your athletic ability. You’re adding everything back that you’ve lost through your inbreeding.
The entire uniqueness is that no one else has ever pushed the envelope the way that Fred Gist did on the inbreeding program that he produced to get the highest number of matched pairs of chromosomes to get a horse that would reproduce exact [offspring]. He took Dr. Heimann’s genetic inheritance statistics system, which calculates the homozygosity, which translates into matched pairs of chromosomes. It keeps track of the hybrid vigor—the gain or the loss. With the inbreeding program, it’s the loss. As you keep records and you start seeing things, weaknesses or undesired traits come out, by using the Heimann System, as Fred Gist did, you can actually see where a lot of these defects occur. And, you know when to stop or where to stop, so you don’t push it when you’re running a breeding program.
At the same time, he pushed deeper than any one else ever has to find out exactly how tight he could inbreed specific Foundation Sires to produce a maximum number of matched pairs of chromosomes into a foal to be a producer. He pushed the envelope to produce a superior producing individual. Then, he made the out-crosses, the line-crosses, to prove that they would produce a superior performance individual. Then, he took those animals back into their line breeding program to prove that the vigor would replenish the bloodline, the gene pool, and it would kill inbred depression. It would give you back anything that had been lost through deep inbreeding.
In the end everything that he did came full circle, he proved everything and he put everything on the line to prove it. There was never a point where Fred Gist said, “I believe,” and left it at that. He believed and then he worked to prove that this did work.
No one else has ever pushed the genetic envelope as hard as Fred Gist did. He was a genius beyond a shadow of a doubt.
And now, John has added to the program, not only streamlined, but he’s also added to the program. He has increased the ability of the program, the versatility of the program. He has done a great job, a tremendous job in his own right of furthering the legacy of Wagon Wheel Ranch and increasing the versatility of the Wagon Wheel Ranch Quarter Horse as a producer and as a performance individual.
Anyone that’s looking at a horse program, the importance of the Foundation Genetics such as the line-bred King horses, the King Sonoita crosses, you take these horses back into your modern day event horses, such as cutting horses with the King Horses, you take these high percentage King Horses or these King Sonoita Horses and you breed them back over the popular today cutting horses, you can add size, bone, athletic ability, speed and natural cow.
The Gist Family – Elaine, John and Fred.
You can produce a superior animal by adding the great Foundation genetics back in to these hot “today” horses. The preservation of the great Foundation genetics to be able to reproduce what they are and what the Quarter Horse was meant to be, that’s one thing, but the ability today to be able to walk into a program and take these genetics and go into your performance programs such as cutting, reining, working cow horse and produce a superior individual…the only way that you can do that is through the Foundation genetics, and on average the Foundation Blood when you look at the Wagon Wheel Program you are looking at the elite of the Foundation Quarter Horses.
Today, as we look deeper into the Wagon Wheel Ranch program and you look at the boot print that John has actually left his own legacy, since his father’s passing and him taking over the program, you’re looking at horses that are not only bred to be producers and superior performance individuals, but they also have specific purposes to go back into their bloodlines to kill inbred depression and allow a breeder to be able to preserve these genetics without worry as they continue to line breed them of genetic defects occurring that’ll ruin their own programs.
This program has preserved these elite genetics like no other program has ever tried.
Randy Wright is an accomplished genetic engineer, rancher and consultant.