Slate River Ranch mare named Pet Squirrel competing in the cutting pen
Cutting breeder Slate River Ranch’s leading money-earner is Pet Squirrel, who was ridden by Jim Vangilder to the Classic/ Challenge Non-Pro Championship during the 2008 NCHA Summer Spectacular. Photo by Ross Hecox

In Total Harmony: Slate River Ranch

The successful teamwork between Slate River Ranch owner Glade Knight and trainer John Mitchell has produced numerous champion cutting horses.

A “magic cross” may produce a champion performer that will reward his or her breeder with a ranking among the industry leaders. When it comes to Glade Knight’s Slate River Ranch, which ranks among the cutting industry’s leading breeders, there is more to the equation. Knight, who started riding cutting horses in the mid-1980s and Equi-Stat Elite $4 Million Rider John Mitchell, an Australian-born trainer who has managed the Weatherford, Texas, ranch since it was developed in the late 1990s, are a real team — from start to finish.

“John is just fantastic,” said Knight, a retired real estate developer from Virginia, where Slate River Ranch’s second operation is located. “He and I talk about the perfect cross all the time, and we are in total harmony. It’s hard to even explain just how much fun this [developing a successful breeding program] has been!”

Slate River Ranch is the third-leading cutting breeder of all time with money-earners that have garnered a total of $8,348,554. Notably, its top five performers were sired by five different stallions and are out of five different mares.

Ranked No. 1 among Slate River’s leading money-earners is Pet Squirrel (Playdox x Squirrel Tooth Alice x CD Olena), a 2002 mare with a lifetime record of $389,160. She is followed by Playin N Fancy Smart (Smart Little Lena x Playin N Fancy Peppy x Freckles Playboy); Sly Playgirl (That Sly Cat x Taquitas Playgirl x Freckles Playboy); Autumn Acre (Bob Acre Doc x Autumn White x Smart Little Lena); and Dont Hick Up (Bobs Freckle x Play Up Hickory x Freckles Playboy).

For years, Slate River Ranch stood its own stallions, such as Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Sire Mr Boonsmal To You (by Peptoboonsmal), Equi-Stat Elite $2 Million Sire Playdox (by Freckles Playboy) and EquiStat Elite $1 Million Sire Bobs Freckle (by Bob Acre Doc). Knight changed up the breeding program in 2014 when he sold the stallions and focused more on the mare power.

When searching for the right stallions to breed to the mares, Knight and Mitchell have been “right on” with many of their selections.

“I think we have made some wise choices in trying to match our mares’ conformation, speed and skill to the stallions we’ve chosen to breed to and it [the breeding program] has just evolved from there,” Knight said.

While breeding knowledge and years of experience are an advantage, they aren’t guaranteed passes to the winner’s circle.

“You can breed exactly the same way — with the same mare and same stallion — and sometimes they [offspring] are absolutely incredible, and sometimes they are not nearly as incredible,” Knight explained. “It’s just like with people and athletes. Not every kid in a family becomes an NBA player.”

An enthusiastic, yet humble cutting breeder, Knight loves horses and the sport of cutting.

“We have such great horses,” he said of the industry. “Just to be part of it and be able to choose [breeding matches] is exciting. Now I find that we really are recognized for having some of the great mares in the industry, and that’s what we have been breeding for!”

For Mitchell, who has contributed a great deal to Slate River Ranch’s breeding program over time, breeding is something he has followed since he was very young. As with his training skills, Mitchell learned a lot about breeding competitive cutting horses by watching horses perform.

“I’ve been watching horses work my whole life,” said Mitchell, who chooses bloodlines by what he thinks will fit him, as well as by the individual’s abilities and how cowy they are.

Knight had a passion for Freckles Playboy and Bob Acre Doc-bred horses before Mitchell began working for him. Once Mitchell moved to the United States, he, too, found them to be great quality lines that were suitable to him.

Sometimes they’d cross those bloodlines with something that was more fashionable, Mitchell said, and other times they’d cross them strictly on their pedigrees.

“When a horse is very successful, everybody leans that way,” said Mitchell, a confident and educated breeder. “I try not to follow that as a rule; instead, I try to consider the mares that we’ve done well on, look at pedigrees and so on.

“It’s basically a concentrated effort to try and breed a horse that has the structure and conformation that I like,” he added. “A lot of our horses get one great attribute from a [blood] line and a not-so-good one. We are constantly working on conformation but, obviously, in our sport, we cannot overlook the cow in the animals that we are trying to compete on. For Slate River Ranch and myself, our aim is really on the conformation structure, while always trying to better that and keeping the ‘cow’ [in the horse] that it takes to compete.”

This article was originally published in the February 1, 2019, issue of QHN.