National Reining Horse Association Million Dollar Sire Rowdy Yankee passed away on Friday, October 7, 2022.
He was a horse of great charisma and talent, and, as NRHA Hall of Famer Dick Pieper was quoted as saying, “If he was a person, he’d be the kind of guy that you’d like to sit down and have a drink with.”
Rowdy Yankee was bred, born, raised, trained, and promoted by Non Pro Keith Crawford, now of Circleville, Ohio. By all odds, the circumstances before his birth shouldn’t have produced such a great animal.
It all started when Crawford’s wife returned home from a horse show and handed him a torn piece of a brown paper sack with a phone number and the following words scribbled on it:
Two-year-old filly by Ready Chex eligible for the NRHA Futurity for sale. Cheap.
Crawford was pretty sure that it wasn’t any filly that he would be interested in, but after some encouragement from his wife, he called the number.
After he asked the man selling the filly about her, the man answered, “My wife and I show barrel horses, and we bought the mare in foal in a packaged deal. The filly is eligible for the Futurity, and we don’t show NRHA, so we thought we’d sell her.”
Crawford already had a trip scheduled that would take him near the man’s place, so he agreed to stop by and look at her. “She was a real pretty bay mare, and I was surprised,” Crawford said. “He threw a saddle on her and rode off across the pasture; there was just an open area there with three barrels sitting in it. She rode off quiet and calm, so I asked how much he’d have to have for her, and he said that he’s been asking fifteen. I was thinking $15,000, but then he said, ‘But nobody has really been calling about her, so I guess I’d take $1,200.’”
Crawford bought the mare registered as Nita Chex (out of Pinenita) and began training her for the futurities before disaster struck, or perhaps, it was fate. The filly chipped a bone in her knee, and her show career ended early. Crawford gave her a year off, but she didn’t improve.
After watching the stallion that would become an NRHA Seven Million Dollar Sire and NRHA Hall of Fame Inductee, Smart Chic Olena, show at the NRHA Futurity one year, Crawford decided to breed his mare to the proven cutting champion turned successful reiner, and the resulting foal was Rowdy Yankee, named for a member of Crawford’s other passion: Standardbred Racing.
“I raced out in California four winters, and there was a horse out there that I liked. He actually raced in New York and Chicago, some, but he was owned in California, and he was out there when I was. He was a beautiful Standardbred, and he raced on the trot and the pace, both gaits. He was just a really good horse. He was an open pacer, and his name was Rowdy Yankee. I always liked the name, too, so that’s what I named the colt,” Crawford explained.
As he grew, Rowdy Yankee would go through stages of extreme beauty intermixed with “ugly” stages. “I went in the house one day and told my wife that we needed to sell him. I didn’t think he was going to make anything. He looked long-backed and ewe-necked, then in about a month, he looked gorgeous again. So, I ended up starting him and training him, and he was probably the nicest horse I’ve ever put a leg over.”
Crawford went on to describe Rowdy Yankee as smart, willing, very trainable, and naturally talented. He said, “He almost learned it by himself. I trained him all that winter and started showing him as a three-year-old in the pre-futurities, and we won everything. We won them all. He ended up going on to win the NRHA Futurity, and I showed him as a four-year-old, and he won everything but the Derby.”
Rowdy Yankee finished his show career with $84,480 in NRHA Lifetime Earnings, shown almost exclusively by Crawford. Knowing that there were a lot of cow-type horses out west, Crawford sent Rowdy Yankee to stand at Boyle Ranch in Ione, California, but not long after, he was notified of a problem.
Barbi Boyle called him and said, “Keith, you need to come out here and show this horse. People need to see him so we can get some breedings.”
Crawford explained that Rowdy Yankee had been plastered all over the Reiner for the past two years, but Barbi retorted that people out there didn’t get the Reiner. Keith entered both the Open and the Non Pro at the first annual Reining By The Bay horse show.
“They had a $20,000 Open and a $2,000 Non Pro. People had made some comments that he was a nice horse, but he was just a Non Pro horse, so I felt like I needed to show them everything he was. I rode in there and put the hammer down and showed him like he was an open horse, and he marked a 232.5 to win both the Open and the Non Pro,” Crawford said proudly.
Rowdy Yankee changed ownership a few times before he was moved to the Equine Program at Feather River College in Quincy, California by Hilldale Farms. The 25-year-old breeding stallion was welcomed with open arms, and Equine Program Coordinator Crystal Anderson lobbied hard to get him.
Anderson liked what she knew of the stallion. Not only was he a champion in competition, but “he had such a sweet, kind disposition.” She knew his foals would be the same because she’d already worked with some that students had brought to the program. She was certain that they would be valuable assets both to the breeding and training programs. The college breeds its own horses, then foals and raises them until they are trained. Later, they are offered in the college’s annual Feather River College Production Horse Sale held in May each year.
At the college, Rowdy Yankee was treated like the celebrity that he was for his remaining years. He was given the best stall on campus which allowed him both indoor and outdoor access and was always deeply bedded with fresh, clean shavings. He enjoyed lots of turnout time when he first arrived and was hand-walked as his years advanced and his health declined.
Due to fertility issues, the campus was only able to get one foal crop out of the old stallion, but they are excited to work with the now-yearling sons and daughters of the Million Dollar Sire. “We’ll be excited to get them started under saddle this coming spring, and then, hopefully, we’ll have them ready for the sale in 2024,” Anderson said. “I wish we could have kept him going. I would have loved to have had a thousand of Rowdy’s babies in the program.”
She added, “He was loved by everyone. He was a stallion, but he never really acted like one. He was more like a puppy dog than anything. He was just so friendly to everyone; he was so kind.”
Rowdy Yankee was 28 years old when he passed.
Rowdy Yankee is owned by Blue Banks Farm, LLC, and his semen will be made available for purchase in 2023 at Oswood Stallion Station.