Successful, good looking and with a spunky attitude to match, High Brow Cat was a rock star in the cutting horse industry. For more than two decades, the stud has had a massive influence over the sport by dominating bloodlines with his successful progeny.
High Brow Cat’s (HBC) offspring have earned a staggering $82 million in the show pen and that number continues to climb. As a paternal grandsire, his record is even higher, his sons have fathered the winners of $126 million and his daughters have produced more than $35.9 million.
Some of his greatest offspring include 2011 Horse Of The Year and highest money earner of more than $850,628, Dont Look Twice, and the incredible stallion, Metallic Cat, who won $637,711 and like his father, is also a proven producer.
At 31 years old, High Brow Cat was humanely euthanized in late October this year.
The man behind the legend – Jack Waggoner
For Jack Waggoner, the story of High Brow Cat started out with his love of the stud’s mother and grandmother. Waggoner said HBC’s grandmother was probably the best daughter of Doc Bar, smart with the ideal cutting horse build. Waggoner said the man who trained her told him she was probably one of the best horses, if not the best horse, he had ever ridden.
Waggoner began looking for her foals and found HBC’s moth- er, Smart Little Kitty. He purchased one of her foals and really liked it, so he decided to buy the mare herself from Hanes Chatham and Stewart Sewell in 1988. Smart Little Kitty was in foal with High Brow Cat or “Cat” as he was called when Waggoner purchased her.
Waggoner said you never know if any horse is going to be great, but HBC was built like a cutting horse should be built, just like his grandmother and he acted like her too. He was tough like his father High Brow Hickory, but never mean or aggressive. And he was easy to train said Waggoner.
Waggoner had owned other stallions before HBC but he didn’t like their babies. When he bred HBC, he said the babies came out smart like he was. In fact, his success as a sire was immediate. In his first crop of six foals, two of them made the futurity finals and by January, all six had earned money.
A lot of people initially shied away from breeding to HBC because his sire High Brow Hickory wasn’t popular. Waggoner was also told that no one would breed to HBC because he had so much Doc Bar in him.
To promote HBC, Waggoner sent his first six babies out to be trained and it went well. The next year he did the same thing and again proved their worth in the show pen. By the 3rd or 4th year, he’d captured the industry’s attention and the demand for breeding to him fired up. HBC’s dominance as a sire was cemented from then on, with his progeny winning about $5 million every year.
When setting the stud fee, Waggoner said he didn’t care about being competitive with other stallions. He wanted the expenses covered and then after that it was all about demand. With so many people wanting to Brought to you by: breed to HBC, the only way to slow it down was to raise the stud fee. When the fee was $10,000 they still had about 500 people wanting semen. Waggoner kept raising it until the number of mares leveled off to around 120 mares. The fee hit a high of $22,500.
Waggoner was able to show HBC. He remembered how at one show they arrived late and a confident competitor said, “Glad you showed up.” They put HBC and Waggoner at the end of the set where the pair marked a 75.5 to win the class by half a point.“They weren’t glad we showed up anymore,” Waggoner laughed.
Waggoner said people would come see HBC which made him nervous that the horse could be hurt or fed something bad. So Waggoner didn’t take issue with his tendency to bite. Someone would walk up to HBC and he would grab them by the shirt and they would step back. Waggoner said HBC thought that was fun and games. Waggoner said he didn’t want people to be hurt but wanted HBC to protect himself.
Despite building HBC into the industry’s most sought-after sire, Waggoner came to the decision to sell the stud in 2013. With over 200 horses, Waggoner said it was a 24/7 job to care for them and felt it was time to retire and sell everything. Waggoner said it was hard to part with “Cat” having thought that they would die together. They were still buddies he said, but it had to be done. Waggoner is glad he sold HBC to Darren Blanton, who was younger and could get the stud going again with a fresh promotional campaign. At 25 years of age, HBC was sterile but they had a lot of frozen semen still in high demand.
Waggoner’s fondest memories of HBC were when the horse would lay down in the stall and he would fall asleep with his head on Cat’s belly. Fortunately, Waggoner was able to visit HBC a lot at Blanton’s Fort Worth ranch. Off the top of his head, Waggoner’s favorite HBC offspring was Red Feather.
Waggoner believes that the next legendary sire will be a High Brow Cat son, grandson or great grandson. He recognized current industry favorite Metallic Cat is a good sire, but believes an even better stud will come along.
The trainer – Faron Hightower
Faron Hightower was training horses at Wayne Long’s in Decatur, Texas. A young team roper with no previous experience in cutting had started HBC. Waggoner asked Hightower to come look at the two-year-old and ended up taking the horse.
Hightower said all HBC wanted to do was crouch down and cow up. When Hightower started trying to put a foundation on him, he said he uncovered some holes and discovered a whole new layer of the horse. No horse could walk on his back legs like High Brow Cat could he said.
In contrast to Waggoner however, Hightower said HBC was a challenging horse to train, despite his talent and cowy instincts.
“He was kinda like a little kid, he didn’t like that word no,” said Hightower.
HBC was freakishly cowy. Hightower said he would crawl around trying to get that cow. He didn’t like it when you took him off the cow or tried to correct him. He was a horse that knew his own mind. “There wasn’t nothing easy about him” Hightower said but added in amazement how so many of his offspring you just point at a cow and they cut.
The sign of a good stud horse is one that out produces himself. HBC did this is in more ways than one. Faron said it wasn’t that he wasn’t good enough to win, but you had to lay awake at night trying to think of how you were going to stay ahead of him and out think him.
Waggoner came to Hightower one day and said, “Faron, we really need to win a major [show].” Hightower told him, “If this horse tried as hard as I did, we would be undefeated right now.”
Hightower would show him in a weekend class to get him in the game before a big show and he’d mark a 150, but very the next day at the aged event he might scrape through to the next round. Hightower said he was an unpredictable horse. Winning the 1993 Augusta Futurity on HBC as a 5 year old was Hightower’s most memorable win on him. Bill Freeman and Jody Galyean also showed him as a 5 and 6 year old, but interestingly, he only won $110,102 over his show career.
Hightower said HBC was not a mean horse, you just couldn’t trust him come show time. It wasn’t that he acted studdy Hightower said, he just had his own idea of how things should go. And Hightower didn’t lope HBC much before showing, but he said he took a lot of riding to get trained, often riding him for miles after they worked cows.
Hightower told Waggoner if he ever wanted this horse to win, he would have to geld him. But he said Waggoner didn’t like to geld his horses and just believed in their greatness. Hightower believes HBC gained such a massive reputation because of Waggoner’s persistent effort to breed and promote him.
Fortunately for Waggoner, HBC had the goods to deliver. Hightower never imagined how big of a deal HBC would become to the cutting horse industry and neither did anyone around him.
Continuing the brand – Darren Blanton
Darren Blanton purchased High Brow Cat in 2013 because of his love of competition. He said he wanted the advantage of owning the best stallion and the best mares.
Although Blanton never got to ride HBC due to his age when he acquired him, he got to know his character well.
He said HBC was a proud horse, at once, both playful and arrogant. “He acted like a rapper, he knew he was cool. One time we brought him into the futurity finals at night and he knew he was on stage. He was all cocky and prancing around. He loved the attention.”
Earlier this year, Blanton sold a partial interest in HBC to Beechfork Ranch, owned by Kelly and Madison Crum. He said he wanted partners that really understand breeding. Blanton believes the Crums have some of the best mares in the business and that Kelly is a student of pedigree and mare power.
Blanton is confident his team, which includes the Crums, their trainer Geoffrey “Spud” Sheehan, along with his own trainers, Grant Setnicka and TJ Good, will take HBC’s frozen semen and his legacy into a new era. The challenge involves competing with his own sons, popular sires like Metallic Cat and Smooth As A Cat. It’s also why they lowered the breeding fee to $10,000.
Blanton said he researched ways to extend the stud’s breeding career via technology used in humans. “If something is good, the best thing to do is to keep it in action and so we are going to be able to extend the breeding of this horse for years to come.”
They currently use ICSI (Intracytoplasmic sperm injection). Blanton said they were the first ones to commercialize the process, and they have bred over 600 foals using ICSI. Despite his passing, HBC’s legacy looks set to loom large. Blanton believes he’s going to be the quarter horse with the highest earning progeny very soon, surpassing First Down Dash, a race horse with around $84 million in progeny earnings.
Blanton said HBC spent the last six years of his life “in the Ritz-Carlton of horse stalls. He had a stall buddy, and he was happy as he could be.” That buddy was Blanton’s 2006 AQHA World Champion tie-down horse of the year “Luke.” The two horses are now buried next to each other on Blanton’s ranch.