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Taking the Reins: Crofoot Family makes lasting impact on Texas Tech Equestrian Center

AQHA, horse, cowboy
Born and raised on the ranch, "Dan," a three-year-old gelding, has been trained by Crofoot from the ground up.

Selling a third-generation feedlot was not an easy decision. However, when the opportunity presented itself, Terry Crofoot took the chance to pursue a lifetime dream of ranching and raising horses.

Crofoot, who resides in Lubbock, Texas, always had a passion for raising and showing horses. After selling the family feedlot in 1996, Crofoot and his wife, Kelly, purchased land near Clarendon, Texas, to form Crofoot Ranches, LLP. Soon after, Crofoot started pursuing his dream of raising horses and showing in versatility ranch horse competitions. 

As Crofoot expanded into the horse world, he reached out to others to become a better horseman. 

“I got to travel with a lot of [horse training] clinicians, and it was a very rewarding experience for me,” Crofoot said. “I actually put on a few clinics myself.” 

Spending time with clinicians and influencers inspired Crofoot to give back to the horse industry he had grown to know and love. 

In 2010, Crofoot began contributing to the Texas Tech Equestrian Center. At that time, the facility was more of a liability than an asset, nor did it have the funding necessary to help keep it maintained. 

“The people in charge didn’t really have a choice but to just kind of make do with what they had, and it was showing when I got there,” Crofoot said. 

Crofoot said he quickly started working with the Texas Tech administration to organize committees and funding to improve the equestrian center facilities. By 2016, with the assistance of other committee members, he formed an executive committee to regulate each subcommittee and served as the chairman of this committee until August 2017. 

It just creates an environment where you want to succeed.

“I felt like my main role was a liaison between the committee, the center and the administration at the university,” Crofoot said. “We had to educate them on what we were, so they would understand and try to help us. They’ve been very receptive. I’m really thankful for the people we’ve got in the administration right now. They are kind of fulfilling the dream I had for it.”

Looking back at his nine years with the Texas Tech Equestrian Center, Crofoot said he likes the facility because it is more than a physical location; it is a place for students to learn skills to use after college whether that is work ethic, time management, organization, or people skills. 

“All of those skills you wouldn’t necessarily think of in relation to horsemanship, but in this particular case with students that are interested in the horses, it’s an avenue. The horse is just a tool to accomplish all those things.”

Crofoot said the people at the equestrian center also contribute to the students by providing the right mental environment.

“Both staff and other students all have a common goal,” Crofoot said, “and it just creates an environment where you want to succeed.”

Moving forward, Crofoot would like to see the facility and its reputation continue to excel with the support of the university and the Lubbock community. 

“You know, it’s easy to say get bigger and better as a goal. Better is always a good goal, while bigger is not necessarily always a good goal. We’d like to see as many people that want to participate can, but there is a limit to the resources we have. We just need to use our resources wisely and provide the service to as many students as we can.”

Crofoot and his wife continue to be the top supporters of the Texas Tech Equestrian Center by donating their time and money to ensure the facility and students succeed. 

“I think that we’re blessed to have the connection with the Texas Tech Equestrian Center,” Kelly Crofoot said. “We love the way that they produce young adults to go out into the world with a sense of responsibility, a sense of accomplishment, and also a sense of pride.”  

Breeding for Gold and Fame

Dash for Cash Statue that stands outside the Four Sixes Ranch
Dash for Cash, one of the most famous studs to come from the Four Sixes Ranch, has a statue erected in his honor at the ranches’ headquarters.

Dawn breaks in Guthrie, Texas. It’s an overcast day as the staff of the Four Sixes Ranch gather for breakfast. Outside, cowboys are getting horses ready to begin moving and checking herds on horseback, a tradition the Four Sixes prides itself on. Then, it is off to do a day’s work on of the most legendary ranches in Texas.

The Four Sixes Ranch was founded by Samuel Burk Burnett in the 1870s and is currently owned by his great-granddaughter, Anne Burnett Windfohr Marion. This working ranch manages 10,000 Angus and Black Baldy cattle and annually breeds more than 1,200 Quarter Horse mares for the ranch use, performance and racing.

Tours on the ranch

Occasionally, the Four Sixes allows tours of the famous West Texas ranch, and if you are in the horse production course at Texas Tech University, you might just go there on a class field trip. During a tour, a visitor can learn about the history of the Four Sixes, its day-to-day activities, and their horse breeding practices. Visitors are shown around the headquarters, the stallion barn and breeding facilities, and sometimes staff will even take a stallion or two out of their stalls to give visitors a good look.

Kelly Riccitelli, Ph.D., an equine associate professor of practice in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech, takes her classes on the 95-mile field trip to the ranch every spring to show them a real working ranch.

“I think it’s important for students to see what is going on in the industry and what’s current in the industry,” Riccitelli said.

Texas Tech is no stranger to the Four Sixes. The Texas Tech Equestrian Center has sent horses to the ranch to be bred and even had the ranch perform an embryo transfer on a horse. Riccitelli said the Four Sixes is very progressive in their breeding practices and technology and have always been willing to help the Department of Animal and Food Sciences when needed.

“They’re as good at breeding horses as anywhere in the country,” Riccitelli said.

The Four Sixes’ Quarter Horse breeding program has cemented its name in ranching history with the use of advanced technology and a lot of experience. Dr. Glenn Blodgett, the Four Sixes’ horse division manager, is a prime example of tried and tested experience. Beginning his career with the Four Sixes in 1982, Blodgett credits technology for the increase in efficiency and productivity in the industry.

They’re as good at breeding horses as anywhere in the country.

“We’re breeding more mares total than we bred before,” Blodgett said. “We have more stallions on site and fewer mares on site but, yet, we breed more mares.”

Reproductive services

Some of the reproductive services the Four Sixes provides are artificial insemination, semen freezing and storage, mare management, embryo transfer, foaling and transported cooled semen.

Benefits of artificial insemination include reduction of disease transmission, more mares bred, less hauling of horses, ability to add extenders and antibiotics to semen, and decrease the risk of injury.

Freezing and storage of semen is another important part of the Four Sixes’ operation. The ranch is affiliated with Select Breeders Services, which allows them to offer on-site freezing and storage of semen to the public. The Four Sixes’ affiliation with SBS also enables their frozen semen to be shipped to Australia, Argentina, Brazil, the European Union, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay and Uruguay.

“We have a motility analyzer so we can actually see the semen swimming around on a computer screen,” Blodgett said.

Mare management includes basic upkeep of mares residing at the Four Sixes Ranch, for breeding, foaling or other management options.

Embryo transfer consists of taking an embryo from one mare and implanting it into a recipient mare. The Four Sixes maintains its own recipient herd to be able to do this specific reproductive service when needed. Embryo transfers are regularly used when a performance mare is still working and owners would like to use that mare’s genetics to create offspring.

The Four Sixes allows ranch mares to foal out in pastures that are monitored twice a day and has their racing mares foal in foaling stalls. Clients of the Four Sixes can choose either option based on their price point for their mare.

“The Four Sixes is unique because their ranch horse mares are still foaling out in the pasture,” Riccitelli said. “I think it shows a great balance of using technology where it’s needed but not overusing it when it’s not needed.”

The Four Sixes uses Federal Express, Network Global Logistics and its own courier service, Sixes Direct, as a way to transport cooled semen. Sixes Direct serves the Oklahoma City, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Weatherford/Stephenville areas. Blodgett said it is not uncommon for Sixes Direct to ship semen to a ranch in those areas, and on the same day, bring semen back to breed a mare at the Four Sixes.

“This is a more efficient way to get it the same day to those places we are trying to serve,” Blodgett said.

An impressive history

The Four Sixes’ dedication to providing the ranching, performance and racing horse industries with the best possible horses is one of the many reasons why the ranch has been so successful.

George Humphreys, who began managing the Four Sixes in 1932, started building a herd of horses to someday make “the best horses in the country,” according to the Four Sixes website. In the 1960s, the Four Sixes officially added an equine breeding program to its resumé.

One of the most famous stallions to come out of the Four Sixes, Dash For Cash, threw offspring that have earned more than $40 million. The Dash For Cash statue stands outside of the Four Sixes headquarters in Guthrie to remind visitors of the prestige of the ranch’s stallions and breeding program.

In 1994, the Four Sixes was honored with the American Quarter Horse Association’s Best Remuda Award. Now, people come from all over the world to attend the Four Sixes’ horse sales, like the famous Return to the Remuda. Riccitelli said West Texas even benefits from having the Four Sixes in the area because of the tourism the ranch generates.

Everyday advances are being made in the technology and practices used in the breeding industry and the Four Sixes is at the forefront of it all. Blodgett said there are not many businesses that have been around since the 1800s, yet the Four Sixes is still operating.

“We’ve seen changes in the cattle and the horses,” Blodgett said. “The way we raise them. The way we market them. We’ve seen it all change.”

Transforming Traditional

Students will spend time working in both the Lubbock Animal Shelter and the Haven Animal Shelter to develop an understanding of both public and private sectors of the animal shelter industry.

On a cold winter day in 2014, three Texas Tech animal science faculty members scribbled notes on a napkin in a Lubbock coffee shop. Their goal was to move the department beyond its traditional agriculture focus, by giving it a new and unique dimension.

The Department of Animal and Food Sciences is located amidst vast stretches of farm and ranchland, influenced by the agricultural resources of the West Texas, and dedicated to livestock. The department, true to its agricultural roots, is ideal for students looking for a traditional livestock-focused program.

However, the department is also home to a group of students who do not fit the traditional livestock mold. Because the department’s animal science program lays claim to being the most popular pre-vet option, it has accumulated many students from urban backgrounds who are interested in studying companion animals, which include dogs, cats and horses.

During the fall of 2013, Dr. Michael Orth, chair and professor of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, recognized this growing group of non-traditional animal science students, passionate about animals that do not fall into the livestock category.

“Obviously we have this very rich tradition with judging teams…and an incredible number of national champions,” Orth said. “We have outstanding programs in those areas. But, I picked up that if you aren’t in one of those areas you kind of feel like, ‘Well, what do I do?’”

In two short years and with the help of two other animal science faculty members, Drs. Guy Loneragan and John McGlone, Orth set out to integrate a new, unique area of study into the department that would meet the needs of these students and set Texas Tech above the rest.

A New Concentration

Due to the efforts of the three dedicated faculty, Texas Tech’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences now has a companion animal science concentration within the animal science major. It is one of the world’s first universities to integrate this concentration within an animal science department and is one of the few universities to focus on human- animal interaction.

In the shelter management course, students will use local animal shelter facilities to gain experience with routine medical procedures.

Orth said the addition of the companion animal concentration gives the department a fourth area of research, opportunities for new grant funding, and the ability to cater to students who do not want to go the traditional animal science route.

“It gives these students some opportunities to do experiential learning that they would not have had, and so I think that’s big,” Orth said.

According to Orth, in this concentration the term “companion animal” refers primarily to dogs with some attention to horses and cats. Through hands-on research, students will explore canine well-being, behavior, olfaction, nutrition, training and management, as well as equine and canine human-animal interaction.

Orth said the concentration is broken into two course tracks. Students may choose to follow the general companion animal science option or the pre-vet option with a companion animal emphasis.

The general option is designed for students who want to work with companion animals, but are not interested in vet school. The course track is heavily focused on identifying alternative career opportunities through practicums. The pre-vet option remains true to the traditional pre-vet course track, but allows students to substitute some livestock courses for companion animal courses.

With the knowledge and experience gained through this concentration, students are well prepared for both industry and non-profit jobs in areas such as military dog training, nutrition and shelter management.

Nathan Hall, Ph.D., assistant professor of companion animal science, said many students want to become veterinarians because they know they have an interest in working with companion animals, but with time and exposure to alternative routes, many discover a career better fit for their passion. All courses have been created with the intent to open doors that may not have previously existed for students.

Hall said exposing students to a variety of career options within the companion animal industry is a goal of the program.

“We will hopefully try and spark that intellectual passion that will match with their passion for working with dogs and cats, or horses, or any other companion animal,” Hall said, “so that they can sort of marry those two aspects into a career and not just some sort of job here and there.”

However, students who do choose to pursue a career as a veterinarian will leave the program exceptionally prepared and equipped with a very unique knowledge base.

Sasha Protopopova, Ph.D., assistant professor of companion animal science, said the companion animal concentration exposes undergraduate students to ideas and insights only veterinarians will be exposed to through experience.

“Students will be very well prepared for veterinary school as well as other fields and industries within companion animal science. Students will learn to be critical and forward thinkers, with a community-based mindset.”

Additionally, students are offered the opportunity to study how horses serve as companions through equine mental assisted therapy. Katy Schroeder, Ph.D., assistant professor of companion animal science, said the animal assisted therapy industry is growing exponentially and horses are playing an important role in human health and wellness.

“Horses have a special place in the program,” Schroeder said. “I think horses do get lumped into [the program] as companion animals, but they serve a special role in terms of their connection with human beings.

Schroeder said she will add a mental health component to the equine therapeutic programs already being provided by Texas Tech.

None of them have an animal science degree, but they’ve got an appreciation for animals.Michael Orth

A Thriving Industry

As the largest single segment of American agriculture, it comes at no surprise the cattle industry has over an $88 billion economic impact nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. However, the pet industry also has a hefty impact on America’s economy.

Companion animals have created a multibillion-dollar industry consisting of the products and services created to keep pets alive, healthy and happy. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent approximately $62 billion caring for their pets in 2016. With well over half of the country’s homes owning a pet, the industry is booming and full of opportunity for entrepreneurship and employment.

While the difference between cats and cattle may be drastic, the integration of a companion animal focus into a traditional animal science department has been subtle.

In the shelter management course, a service learning course, students are required to spend two hours per week throughout the semester assisting with various duties at an animal shelter.

When considering the impact of the new concentration, Orth reflected on the department’s motto, “discovering solutions, empowering students, and serving society.”

“It’s the empowering student aspect,” Orth said. “It’s letting them do things and be involved in projects and classes that five years ago they wouldn’t have been able to do if they came here.”

Orth said the addition of a unique area of study took nothing away from the department’s traditional roots, but simply added another piece to the pie.

“We have brought in three faculty members,” Orth said. “None of them have an animal science degree, but they’ve got an appreciation for animals. These individuals bring in some different thinking about animals and how you can interact with students, and different perspectives on things that, quite frankly, the rest of us wouldn’t have. I like that diversity of thought in the department. I think it’s good.”

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