Doug and Nancy Dear of the Birdtail Ranch Quarter Horses in Simms, Montana, have earned themselves a place in the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. Their horses made a significant impact to the bloodlines that exist today, in the Northwest. The Western Horse Review would like to congratulate the ranch in being awarded the highest honour to any quarter horse breeder.
The American Quarter Horse Daily posted in their ‘Hall of Fame Part 1’, the Dear’s biography, which celebrated their commitment to breeding top quarter horse bloodlines. Their list of stallions included Classy Bar (Sugar Bars-Mokey by Leo), open AQHA Champion Two Eyed Fox (Two Eyed Jack-Foxy Buck by Pretty Buck), and open AQHA Champion Jay Page (Page Lee-Zella Hep by Tucson A).
… “It was said that if you bought a horse from the ranch near Simms, Montana, “you knew you got a good one.”
Married in 1947, Doug and Nancy were Montana natives, raised riding and ranching. It was Nancy’s father, Curtis Diehl, who first took an interest in the “Steel Dust” horses that had arrived in eastern Montana in the early 1940s. Curtis bought a dun coming-2-year-old named Charlie Russell (by Texas Blue Bonnet) – the first registered American Quarter Horse to come into their part of the country. Curtis bred him to U.S. Army Cavalry Remount mares, along with a couple of palominos.
His vision was to breed a horse that “would make better cow horses for us on the ranch,” Nancy says, a sound horse with a good mind and athletic ability in surefootedness and speed. After Curtis died in 1948, Doug and Nancy carried on, determined to buy the best Quarter Horses they could.
Nancy says she and Doug “pretty much agreed” on horses and cattle. In 1950, they purchased Shirley Hunt by Tommy Clegg and out of Lady Coolidge by Beetch’s Yellow Jacket – a full sister to American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Bert, bred by Bert Benear of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
Liking the Bert/Starway blood, in 1953, with Doug busy calving, Nancy returned to Oklahoma for the Nicholson sale. She came home with the stallion Bear Cat (Little Brother-Flying Mary, unknown sire); the mare N R Chipper (Tamo- Jane Hunt by Button) along with her weanling and yearling colts by Bert; and Little Dixie Beach (Tommy Clegg-Dixie Beach by Beetch’s Yellow Jacket), the dam of AQHA Champion Paul A. Those horses became the foundation for the Dears’ 60-year breeding program.
Eventually, with mare herds as large as 35, they were raising more horses than they could use. In the early 1950s, they began an annual sale on the ranch to sell foals; they would end up holding “close to 50” sales.
“At one time, we figured we had horses in about every state west of the Mississippi and five of the provinces in Canada,” Nancy says.
They kept a constant eye out for horses to buy – helped by Doug’s travels as an AQHA judge – and they kept good homebred fillies. Their mares through the years included Miss Gillette, Burt’s Lady, Boulder Bell and Silky Lena Bars.
“Bill Sellers, an inspector for AQHA, he always came to this part of the country,” Nancy recalls, “and he’d say, ‘I’ve got to go have a look at N R Chipper and Little Dixie Beach.’ … For the size of our operation … he just couldn’t believe how many good mares there was among them.”
Bred by AQHA Past President Bob Norris, Two Eyed Fox had also caught the eye of Hall of Famer Howard Pitzer when the Dears acquired the horse in 1972. The stallion crossed well on the family’s Bear Cat and Classy Bar mares, helping to put the Dears 12th on the leading breeders of AQHA Champions list. From fewer than 400 total foals, he sired the earners of more than 5,000 points and two Supreme Champions, 15 AQHA Champions and four Superior halter horses.
Birdtail horses excelled at ranch work and in the show ring: “We used to halter our horses as well as show them in two or three events, and I think that should still be true today,” Nancy says.
With a reputation for versatility and good temperament, they were in high demand for amateurs, youth and 4-H colt-to-maturity projects.
“(The horses) had to have a good disposition, because our market always went that way (toward amateurs and youth),” Nancy says.
The Dears’ daughters, Barbara and Dee Dee, made names for themselves in rodeo, 4-H and the American Junior Quarter Horse Association (now AQHYA), riding home-raised horses. Barbara married Russ Pepper, and Dee Dee married the late AQHA judge Lennard Rains and remained involved with the ranch.
In 1954, the Dears helped form the Montana Quarter Horse Association. Doug was an MQHA director and Nancy the secretary. Involved nationally, Doug was an AQHA director from Montana, and Nancy and her good friend, Mildred Janowitz, lobbied hard for an amateur division within AQHA: “We didn’t quit until we got it in there.”
Doug died in 1999. A scholarship in his name assists Montana students with their college education. Now 91, Nancy is still involved with raising horses and rides occasionally when health and help permit.
“A person would be most proud of the fact that so many people liked the horses,” she says. “I really can’t remember anybody coming to me and telling me that (he or she) did not like (one of our horses). … It’s nice to have it that way.”
The 2012 AQHA Convention in Las Vegas, will showcase the this year’s inductees including Gordon Hannagan, Walter Fletcher, Bob Loomis, Indigo Illusion, Streakin La Jolla and Hollywood Dun It.