Horse history highlighted

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— As evidenced at this year's Routt County Fair and Rodeo, team roping and team penning events are growing in popularity and offering a window not only into everyday ranch activities, but the key role horses play in accomplishing that work.

Many rodeo horses today, from those used as roughstock to impeccably training roping and reining horses, are quarter horses, an American breed initially developed to handle the rigors of ranch work.

An exhibit developed at the Hayden Heritage Center pays homage to the horses and the Yampa Valley residents who helped define the breed. Also known as the short horse, the broad and strong hindquarters of the breed, as well as other unique aspects of its physique, made it fast and versatile -- ideal not only for cutting and organizing cattle but also for racing.

"Everybody raced their horses for entertainment; It was part of their recreation," said Jo Semotan, a Routt County native whose father, Quentin, was among legendary breeders in the Yampa Valley whose horses provided the foundation for many quarter horse breeds today.

Semotan gives tours at the Hayden Heritage Center where she helped develop the exhibit, which includes trophies and ribbons garnered by Semotan family horses during the past 60 years as well as photos, historical accounts, tools and documents tracing the horses' blood lines.

"The heritage from the valley is what we're trying to present," said Donna Hellyer, who is a tour guide and also helps run the center, which is chock-full of agriculture and mining history, as well as information about the activities of early settlers in west Routt and other parts of the county.

Although there probably are more quarter horses in the valley than there ever have been, most are used primarily for recreation. But their suitability for recreational riding came from breeders' efforts to develop working ranch and cow horses with ideal confirmation, Jo Semotan explained.

One of the most famous quarter horse sires, Peter McCue, was brought to Routt County in 1913 by Hayden rancher Si Dawson, who searched throughout the United States for the horse after admiring one of its offspring at a racetrack in Denver.

In a short written history of Yampa Valley horse breeders, Jo Semotan's mother, Evelyn Peavy Semotan, explained why Peter McCue was such a desirable horse and how the quarter horse breed in general got its name:

"One time (Peter McCue) had five stop watches on for a quarter of a mile race. Three of the watches timed Peter McCue at 21 seconds flat. The other two timers a little less than 21 seconds. ... Coke (Roberds, another Yampa Valley resident) said 21 seconds was the fastest any horse on this earth had run a quarter of a mile," Peavy Semotan wrote.

Dawson and Roberds, who owned another famous horse, Old Fred, bred Peter McCue, who breed historians credit as having the greatest influence on the quarter horse breed between 1900 and 1940.

Quentin Semotan, the only one of the breeders who was a Routt County native, purchased a horse named Starduster in 1945. Of the 47 times Quentin Semotan showed the horse, Starduster placed first in all but one competition.

In addition to winning the grand champion title at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in 1948, the horse also was the champion of champions in Fort Worth, Texas.

Starduster went on to sire champion halter and work horses.

In addition to books and other information on Routt County's extensive horse history, the Hayden Heritage Center also has examples of tools used in the horse industry, as well as saddles owned by Routt County pioneers. The collection includes one saddle with a tiny hole in its seat -- the only sign of the lightning bolt that killed horse and rider.

The horse exhibit hopefully will be a permanent fixture at the museum, said Hellyer, adding that museum organizers will be adding more aspects "pertinent to the quarter horse industry" to the presentation.

The museum will remain open for several more weeks this season. It is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, until Oct. 3, at 300 W. Pearl St.

The museum will be closed for the season until May; however, school tours are possible during the off season. For information, call Board of Directors members Judy or Jerry Green at 276-3323 or Hellyer at 276-1658

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