An emphasis on genetics that produce strong performance horses steered Phillip and Lori Aaron toward Blue Valentine horses. Today, their stallion program includes some of the top sires in the country.
Winding down a narrow country road near Commerce, Texas, drivers can’t miss Aaron Ranch. Manicured pastures with well-fed, colorful horses and red barns trimmed in white announce – here is a ranch devoted to horses.
But not just any horses live there. Aaron Ranch is home to the legendary Peptoboonsmal, up and-coming stallions Blind Sided and A Shiner Named Sioux, and a host of blue roan offspring that trace back to Blue Valentine.
With a superstar lineup of stallions siring offspring out of broodmares on a who’s who list, Aaron Ranch is producing the kind of performance Quarter Horses that can work in the pasture sorting or roping cattle, then go to the show and win in cutting or cow horse classes. That is the dream Phillip and Lori Aaron had when they started breeding with one stallion and a handful of old school foundation-bred mares in 2010.
“This all started to build a cattle ranch with working horses,” Phillip said. “I wanted eight to 10 mares and one stud. We bought [Funny B Bluemuchaman] and four mares in 2010. Soon after, we went to a working cow horse show and my plan flipped upside down. My whole family went nuts for it, and look at us now.”
From that small start, Aaron Ranch grew to own, breed and train more than 250 horses on its Commerce property. Though it now produces money-earners in multiple events, the heart of the breeding program remains dedicated to a horse that can work the 1,200 cattle the Aarons run in East Texas.
In less than 10 years, Phillip and Lori not only found the working cow horse industry, they made their mark in it. However, their foray into horse breeding didn’t start out with the desire to produce athletic show horses. A longtime cattleman, Phillip wanted to make his dream of breeding horses to work his cattle ranch a reality. To do so, he and Lori sought out specific bloodlines: Blue Valentine paired with foundation Quarter Horse mares.
Blue Valentine was foaled in 1956, out of Beauty’s Rose, a daughter of Valentine. The colt was by Red Man, a son of Joe Hancock. He has a long and well-documented history of siring ranch horses and rodeo mounts, and nearly all with roan coloring.
“I’ve been a fan of Blue Valentine for a long time. Looking at the industry in general, there were a lot of things about breeding that interested me,” said Lori, who has a background in medical training and a successful medical supply business based in Rockwall, Texas. That background and a love of horses drew her to study the scientific aspect of horse breeding.
“I like studying genetics and trying to figure out what we could get [out of a breeding],” she continued. “I believe you have to look back at how people were breeding – what they chose to pair – to see the mistakes and see what worked.”
The Aarons both appreciated Blue Valentine’s unique coloring and trainable mindset. Yet, many of the Blue Valentinehorses lacked the muscling once associated with the cowy stallion. So, they found Funny B Bluemuchaman – by Leo Hancock Hayes, one of the last sons of Blue Valentine out of Doll 01, by Rip Rip (by Leo) – to combat this undesirable trait and enhance their herd.
They purchased Funny B Bluemuchaman and Rojo Goose (Rojo Berry x Junios Red Girl x Gooseberry) in 2010. Gooseberry was one of the most desirable descendants of Blue Valentine, and the Aarons zeroed in on Rojo Goose to incorporate a descendent of Gooseberry in their program. Gooseberry, a 1973 red roan son of Fox Hastings, by Plenty Coup, was only 18 when he disappeared from owner Chip Merrit’s pasture.
“There is a lot of speculation about Gooseberry, because there aren’t that many of [the stallion’s offspring] out there,” Phillip said. “Gooseberry was arguably the best stallion that Blue Valentine ever threw. [The owners of Gooseberry] turned their horses out in the mountains in the off-season. The horse was bred one season and turned out. When they gathered the horses in, no one found him. They imagine a bear ate him, but they never found anything. He was a young stud.”
“Rojo” added muscling to Gooseberry’s offspring, so the Aarons were pleased to be able to mix in the hard-to-find bloodline.
Then, they located and purchased mares that fit the traits they desired: solid foundation bloodlines with good conformation. Their original band included 1998 mare Tonys Royal Rose, who carried King in both her paternal and maternal lines, and the 1991 mare Dulces Delight (Holidoc x Doc’s Dulce Bar x Doc Bar), as well as two others.
“We found [Tonys Royal Rose] in a woman’s backyard in I-don’t-know- what-town down by Houston,” Phillip recalled. “We were looking at something King-bred, and a guy sent us her way. She was pretty old and had a colt on her. Skinny, but you could see she was built. She’s still producing today.”
In fact, “Rosie” produced Lori’s favorite 2017 foal, one by A Shiner Named Sioux. The mares the Aarons originally invested in are still part of their long-term breeding program.
By 2012, the ranch boasted three stallions: Funny B Bluemuchaman, Rojo Goose and the home-raised Stone Blue Valentine (Babes Blue Valentine x Blue Valentine Girl x Rowdy Blue Man). It appeared the Aarons were on track to kick off a solid working horse program, breeding prospects with the bone and size required to work cattle in the pasture or be competitive in the team-roping arena. Then, the Aaron family attended a working cow horse show. The excitement of the event electrified Lori.
“The years we were enhancing Blue Valentine, we weren’t into the working cow horse at all. In the beginning, we didn’t know it existed,” Lori said. “When I saw it, I enjoyed the excitement of the working cow horse. Phillip has always roped and our son, Nelson, has always roped, but that doesn’t excite me. Horse racing, it’s never excited me. But cow horse, that is exciting.”
That interest in cow horse led the Aarons to purchase a cow horse-trained stallion for an outcross on their Blue Valentine-bred mares. Jasons Peptolena, or “JP” as the stallion is called, added Peptoboonsmal blood to the Aarons’ herd. It also planted a seed in Lori’s heart that only continued to grow.
Phillip said all the couple’s horse buying started when he was rained out of baling his hay fields. But in truth, Lori was eyeing Peptoboonsmal bloodlines for some time before that.
The ranch had purchased embryos from his dam, Royal Blue Boon (Boon Bar x Royal Tincie x Royal King), that were inseminated by High Brow Cat (High Brow Hickory x Smart Little Kitty x Smart Little Lena). Additionally, she purchased Autumn Boon (Dual Pep x Royal Blue Boon x Boon Bar) embryos crossed with High Brow Cat and the great stallion’s son, Smooth As A Cat (out of Shes Pretty Smooth x Wheeling Peppy). It was all in an effort to incorporate the Royal Blue Boon line.
The “Pepto” line intrigued Lori with its quality offspring that had a combination of good bone and trainability, and that were pretty to boot. She wanted to add those assets to their program.
When the rain forced him out of work that day, Phillip had no other option but to horse shop. The couple went to see a young stallion Lori was eyeing at Carol Rose Ranch in Gainesville, Texas. It was there they met Blind Sided and trainer Jay McLaughlin.
“In the beginning of 2013, they bought Blind Sided and a mare named Shining Stuff. They also bought a youth horse for one of their grandsons,” McLaughlin recalled. “In August of that year, they bought A Shiner Named Sioux and some more mares.”
Lori said they were out to find a stallion prospect that was also a serious show horse. She looked to the Peptoboonsmal bloodline because of the small percentage of Doc Bar breeding. She found what she was searching for in Blind Sided.
“Every horse out there that is doing anything has Doc Bar, but [Peptoboonsmal] is only 12 percent Doc Bar,” she said. “You have to have something else in there – whether it’s Blue Valentine or Peptoboonsmal – because you can’t just keep breeding Doc Bar.”
When McLaughlin started working at Aaron Ranch as the head trainer and horse manager in September of 2013, he began with what amounted to a clean slate. There were roughly 20 broodmares and a group of about as well-bred stallions as a ranch could own, including Blind Sided and A Shiner Named Sioux.
Yet, Lori wasn’t ready to hang her hat on that stallion lineup.
“I kept buying Peptoboonsmals, like JP and Blind Sided, and I was breeding to ‘Pepto.’ But, I decided I needed [to buy] him more than any other horse because of what he contributes to his offspring,” she said.
Phillip was working the hay field when he got the call. Lori started the conversation by saying he would think she was crazy. “She told me she wanted Peptoboonsmal, and I laughed. I asked if he was for sale,” Phillip said. “He wasn’t, but here we are.”
In 2014, Aaron Ranch became the new home of Peptoboonsmal, an Equi-Stat Elite $27 Million Sire and the 1995 National Cutting Horse Association Futurity Open Champion. It wasn’t his marketability or the ability to sell his foals that pushed the Aarons to purchase, but instead, it was what he could add to their program.
“What I like most about the cow horse is that you have to have an all-around horse. He has to be able to do it all,” Phillip said. “You can do that on any of ours.”
“We have to keep that cow and that mind on them,” Lori agreed. “At Aaron Ranch, we have no use for a horse that has no cow. The Blue Valentine line is cowy. The Peptoboonsmal line is cowy. ‘Sioux,’ he is cowy. That is the first thing we look for, then we look for that good mind.”
Future in Focus
Curious roan, sorrel and palomino yearling fillies surround visitors as soon as they walk in the pasture gate at Aaron Ranch. Friendly, stout and athletic, these young horses are the future of the ranch’s breeding and training program.
“People ask us why we have so many horses,” Phillip said. “If we are going to breed them, we have to keep them, train them and see how they finish. If we get rid of all of them, you never know what you’re producing. It takes time.”
Though the Aarons have been in the breeding business since 2010, they are just now starting to see the fruit of their labor. Funny B Bluemuchaman’s first foal crop was started in 2017.
The Aarons boast their own breeding facility, with a veterinarian that stays on-hand throughout the season to artificially inseminate and check the mares. From the 20 broodmares the ranch owned at the beginning of the journey to the more than 60 recipient mares added since, the program has grown astronomically.
Lori isn’t breeding to flood the market, though.
“We limit the outside mares we breed. It is important not to keep the prices up [on sale horses], but to have an idea of the quality you’re putting out there,” she explained. “If you have so many offspring you can’t keep track, then you don’t know what your breeding is really producing.”
From the coupling of a mare to a stallion on paper through the breeding and foaling process, all the way until the horse starts training, the Aarons are involved. Each young horse is exposed both to the arena and to working cattle outside.
Phillip believes using young horses to sort cattle in the pasture is a good indicator of how cowy the horse is naturally and what its work ethic will be down the line. No matter if the prospect is sired by a Blue Valentine stallion, Blind Sided, Peptoboonsmal or A Shiner Named Sioux, they are all put to work.
“These horses are not just cutting horses or roping horses; they are bred to do it all,” he said. “We are breeders. We have an obligation to these horses bred here. If it doesn’t make a cow horse, it can make a big-name rope horse. You can’t be a shotgun breeder, just going to the last [most recent] winning horse and breed to it. That’s not breeding to improve.”
And improving the Quarter Horse industry through quality prospects is high on the Aarons’ list of to-dos. They are looking down the line, keeping frozen semen on their stallions and retaining at least one filly from each of their mares. After all, this is no flash in the pan breeding program, but rather a 16-year vision.
“Our breeding is just starting to unfold. We think the industry needs more bone and quality, because when we were shopping for stallions, we didn’t find many that had those desirable traits,” Lori said. “We go back to foundation, and Pepto goes back to foundation. When you look at old bloodlines, they were strong. Our goal at the end of the day is to help the horse industry.”
This article was originally published in the December 15, 2017 issue of Quarter Horse News.