In the Beginning
Like most land grant colleges, from the beginning the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College was dependent upon horsepower, according to A History of the Oklahoma State University Division of Agriculture. Agriculture itself was structured around the horse; from pulling a wagon to pulling a plow, the horse was without substitute. Dependent upon this entity, the draft horse program was organized as a respected portion of the college.
"The draft horses were an important part of OSU's heritage," said Robert Totusek, animal science graduate and former department head. "In the '20s and `30s OSU had some of the best draft horses in the country with several studs and mares imported from Europe, both Belgian (pictured below: OSU's Grand Champion Belgian Stallion - 1938) and Percheron."
In 1902, The OSU Horse Barn(pictured below) was constructed which housed 40 to 50 head of draft horses.
After it burned in 1922, a new barn was constructed in 1926 which stood until the late 1970's. In the early 1940s, the draft horses were fazed out due to advancing technology. However, Clark "Andy" Kinkead who oversaw the draft program and also taught one horse production class, was a horse enthusiast and wanted OSU to keep horses as a part of its academic curriculum. With this in mind, the department head at that time allowed Kinkead to retain five Quarter Horse mares to continue the program.
"When I returned to OSU and began coaching the livestock judging team in 1952, we used those few Quarter Horses in teaching and in judging practice," said Totusek. "At that time, horse judging and livestock judging were one. Every livestock judging competition included at least two horse events, and those OSU horses were useful for preparation."
From the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, the horse program was essentially non-existent and was eventually shut down with the removal of the Horse Barn. After its removal, the present OSU Colvin Annex was constructed in its place.
A New Start
In 1977, due to a recognition of the enormity of the Oklahoma horse industry, the OSU horse program was resurrected with Totusek at the reins as the animal science department head.
"I recognized a need for a horse program, knowing that the Oklahoma equine industry has a greater economic impact than any other livestock species with the exception of cattle," said Totusek. "I was very fortunate to have a dean of the college of agriculture and a university president, Larry Boger, who also recognized the need."
Upon university approval, the OSU Quarter Horse program began with no horses and one faculty position. Doyle Meadows filled that position, taking on the job in equine class instruction, research and extension.
"Doyle got the program off the ground," said Totusek. "He grabbed the horse by the tail and ran with it."
Meadows, in conjunction with the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association, generated enough contributions from Oklahoma horsemen to build the current horse barn on the grounds of the OSU dairy in 1980. In addition, they remodeled the existing dairy calf research barn and converted it into the horse breeding facility and stud barn.
By obtaining a $25,000 grant, Totusek oversaw the construction of the white vinyl fencing that encloses the horse farm today. Oklahoma residents donated horses that became the foundation of the breeding program.
"The horse industry of Oklahoma made that program possible," said Totusek. "It was all done from donations. In reality, the program today is a showcase of the Oklahoma horse industry."
Following Meadows' resignation in 1983, Totusek lobbied for an additional staff position. Don Topliff and David Freeman were brought in the following year.
"Topliff and Freeman knew exactly the kind of horses they wanted to produce," said Totusek. "In the beginning they just needed horses; it didn't matter what kind. Using the donations, they skillfully used the available genetics to work toward a goal of quality. Some equine donations were quality and some were not. After the conception of the program, they had the freedom to keep and cull, and that is what they did." "At first we had just horses," said Freeman. "We would breed to whatever available stud we had, but we mostly bred our mares to outside stallions." That changed in 1984, when Harold "Huddy" Hudspeth from Bixby, Okla., donated a young stallion by the name of Harlan Okmulgee "Sonny." "He was a son of a well-known foundation sire, Harlan, and the first quality stud we owned," said Freeman. Harlan Okmulgee served as the cornerstone for the breeding program for seven years. In 1991, after producing 90 registered foals, Harlan Okmulgee died on location at the OSU horse farm.
"We had been keeping stud prospects back," said Freeman. "After Sonny died, we focused our program on one of his offspring, OSU Sonnys Slider. We started breeding to him in 1994, and he remains our keystone stud today." Today, as the OSU horse program celebrates the 25th year anniversary of its reinstatement, it consists of 60 horses maintained on a 50-acre farm located at the corner of McElroy Road and Western Avenue. A 120-acre pasture located at the OSU airport is also a component. Horses are used for laboratory experiences in undergraduate classes, research programs, judging practice and extension activities. In 1998, the addition of the OSU Women's Equestrian Athletic Program increased the number of retained riding horses. From the mid-1980s until now, a main horse stall barn, several outdoor arenas and a new equestrian team stall barn have been added to the horse farm. Freeman has remained as the equine extension specialist, and in 1998, Steven Cooper replaced Topliff as the equine teaching and research coordinator. "The success of the horse program of today can be found in two areas: the progeny of OSU Sonnys Slider and the industry success of OSU graduates," said Freeman.
Slider's Offspring Success
The OSU equine breeding program has gained national recognition because of the performance traits passed on by OSU Sonnys Slider (pictured above). "OSU Sonnys Slider is a quality producer," said Cooper." OSU Pistol Pete is an example of his siring ability." In 2000, OSU Pistol Pete, a son of Slider, became the AQHA High Point, All-Around, Junior Horse of the Year and in 2001 was the World Champion Senior Heeling horse. This award was the result of Pete's excellence in the roping arena.
"That is our niche at OSU," said Cooper. "We are seeing that Slider's offspring are excelling in the roping horse world." OSU Pistol Pete is not alone in showcasing the program. OSU Sonnys Slider has had 87 registered offspring, according to AQHA. Slider's offspring have earned a total of 1,299 performance points in the AQHA (948 in open events, 315 in amateur and 20 in the youth). Total AQHA incentive earnings for OSU Sonnys Slider's offspring are $21,567. To date, Slider has produced one world champion, OSU Pistol Pete, and two offspring that were in the top ten in AQHA roping standings and multiple world show qualities in the calf roping, heading and heeling.