High horses: Why North Texas has some of the most luxurious equestrian farms in the country

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Quarter-horse foals, descendants of world-champion reining sire Gunner, at Tom McCutcheon Reining Horses in Aubrey. Photograph by NAN COULTER

Quarter-horse foals, descendants of world-champion reining sire Gunner, at Tom McCutcheon Reining Horses in Aubrey. Photograph by NAN COULTER.

by HOLLY HABER / photographs by NAN COULTER

Kordelas is a champion pale gray stallion at Toskhara Arabians in Aubrey. Tethered at the massive barn and training facility, his large, dark eyes regard an unfamiliar visitor with interest. He stands quietly as she strokes his soft pink nose. Kordelas, whose shattered leg was successfully repaired with a steel plate in the same surgery later attempted for Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, has raced and showed but has only one job now: making babies. If you fancy breeding a mare with him, a pouch of his sperm can be shipped overnight for $2,500, which could be a good investment since his foals have sold for as much as $55,000.

Owner Dick Reed is as proud of Kordelas’ manners as his beauty. “He was born in Poland and has been all over the world,” explains the retired Frito-Lay executive, who shares a passion for Polish Arabians with his wife, Christine. “People think Arabians are hot-tempered, but we’re trying to dispel that. They’ve been living with humans for thousands of years.”

Kordelas is in good company among the 25,000 equine residents in Denton County, with another 15,000 in Collin and Grayson counties, according to the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau. The rolling, bucolic area is essentially a continuous field of top horse farms — more than 350 — sheltering champions of many breeds and disciplines, their progeny and the humans who adore them. In a state that has one of the highest horse populations by far, North Texas boasts one of the largest concentrations of breeding farms in the country. All of this has blossomed since 1975, when quarter-horse trainer Roger Daly realized the area’s sandy loam, then fertile ground for peanut farms, was ideal for horses because it dries lickety-split. Wet, muddy earth fosters infection and disease — not desirable, particularly when your equines are valued at tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or higher. North Texas’ warm climate is another boon: The horses can be outdoors most of the time. The majority of these local steeds are pedigreed quarter horses bred and trained to compete in the elite sports of cutting (separating cattle) and reining (sliding to a hard stop from a gallop and other challenging maneuvers). Among the area’s blue-ribbon operators are Tom McCutcheon, who has pocketed more than $1 million at professional reining competitions, and his wife, Mandy, an amateur whose winnings exceed $2 million. In late April, both scored spots on the U.S. Reining Team headed for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this summer in Normandy, France. Tom has already clinched three WEG gold medals; Mandy is the first woman and first amateur ever named to the squad.

The region also boasts flashy appaloosas and Andalusians, smooth-riding Paso Finos and Tennessee walking horses, towering warmbloods adept at jumping and dressage, and numerous other breeds. Enthusiasts such as Olympic jumping hopeful Taylor Reid haul their mounts to top shows all around the country. There is even an elegant thoroughbred racehorse property, Valor Farm, that looks straight out of Kentucky — its brick barns crowned by cupolas, its 400 acres partitioned by miles of picturesque wood fencing separating stallions and some 200 mares and foals. About half of Valor’s spring crop will burst from the gates on Texas racetracks in two years. Rare luminaries, such as the ambitious 3-year-old Fiftyshadesofgold, will collect high-dollar prizes at Churchill Downs. Her daddy, and Valor’s star, is My Golden Song, the leading Texas sire of stakes winners in 2013. My Golden Song and his six compadres enjoy lives of luxury: Each stallion has an oversize stall in an immaculate barn connected to Valor headquarters and spends most time out to pasture. Such equine pampering isn’t unusual in these parts. Quarter-horse stallions at EE Ranches have their own tornado shelter. Selah Ranch beds its quarter horses in stalls cushioned with five inches of shredded rubber as spongy as a mattress. The McCutcheons’ mounts are treated to romps on a therapeutic aquatic treadmill.

For horses — and their humans — it is quite the life.

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