Quarter Horse Hall of Fame honors legendary Pawhuskan

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
Quarter Horse Hall of Fame honors legendary Pawhuskan

Shorty Garten will never forget the day Ted Wells tripped his first steer.

“He’d been a calf roper his whole life, but after he moved back to Pawhuska, he decided to try steer roping,” Garten said of Wells. “I think he was about 72 years old at the time, which was in 1994.”

“I’ll always remember it, because my son, Brady, tripped his first steer that same day,” Garten added.

Brady Garten has since become a professional steer roper like his father. He ended last year at No. 8 in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association steer roping final standings.

Wells, a renowned horseman who had retired after training and breeding some of the country’s top American Quarter Horses, competed in steer roping events for nearly a decade following his one-day training session with Garten. He died September 16, 2011, at the age of 87.

This Saturday and Sunday, the fourth-annual Ted Wells Memorial Steer Roping will be held at Bar K Arena west of Pawhuska. The event is sponsored by the Osage County Steer Ropers Club in honor of the former member.

During decades as the trainer, breeder and owner of winners in some of America’s biggest races, Wells developed a deep understanding of horses. The late Osage County rancher will be forever remembered for these unique contributions to the equine world as he was recently inducted, posthumously, into the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame in Amarillo, Texas.

Five great horses and four horsemen (including Wells) were recently added to the membership roster of the hallowed Hall during March 7 ceremonies held as part of the annual AQHA convention, which this year was held at Fort Worth. Wells’ lasting legacy is the fact that his keen eye for horseflesh was largely responsible for the selection of one of the HOF’s new equine inductees.

Foaled in 1962, Azure Te was retired from the track after bowing a tendon at age four. Azure Te went on to become one of Quarter Horse racing’s first syndicated Thoroughbred stallions in 1968. Wells had played a primary role in identifying Azure Te as an ideal outcross sire for Quarter Horse broodmares. He also helped negotiate the purchase of Azure Te and then set up a breeding operation for the Thoroughbred.

It did not take long for Azure Te’s progeny to confirm Wells’ assessment of the Thoroughbred’s quality as a stallion. Three foals from the initial Quarter Horse crop of Azure Te qualified to run in the All American Futurity, which was soon became known as the country’s richest race,. At the time of his death in 1983, Azure Te rated as the all-time leading Thoroughbred sire of AQHA race horses — and he continued to hold the distinction for much of the decade that followed.

Wells inherited some of his knowledge on what to look for in a Thoroughbred sire. After returning from military service in World War II, Wells had transported future AQHA Hall-of-Fame stallion Leo from Carlsbad, N.M., to Oklahoma on behalf of his father, Ted Wells, Sr., and one of his father’s partners, Gene Moore.

The two Pawhuska horsemen bought Leo as a 4-year-old and ran him in area match races, but they later sold the horse “before he got famous” as one of Quarter Horse racing’s all-time greatest sires. (Outside of Perry in Kay County, the AQHA has placed a highway marker to note the nearby location of the ranch where Leo stood.)

Early in his training career, Wells, Jr., campaigned some of the first colts produced by Leo. In fact, Wells won his initial race as a trainer with Leo Jr. And , the race he won was at Ruidoso Downs, the New Mexico track where the prestigious All American series takes place. Wells, incidentally, also is a member of the Ruidoso Downs Hall of Fame.

Wells, Jr., also worked for a short time at the famed 6666 Ranch in Guthrie, Texas. During the 1950s and ’60s, Wells trained for legendary horseman Walter Merrick. Stakes winners of Merrick’s who were conditioned by Wells included Bob’s Folly, Easter Rose, Lena’s Bar, Captain Dick and Little Zeke.

Wells and his father were members of a Pawhuska Quarter Horse commitee that in 1954 started the Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping, which continues annually under sponsorship of the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association.

Wells achieved major success as a trainer in 1965 with Savannah Jr, who won the All American Futurity, Oklahoma Futurity and Sunland Park Futurity and was named Two Year Old Colt of the Year. Savavannah Jr also went on to be the World Champion Three Year Old of 1966.

As his attention shifted from race training toward the breeding industry, Wells continued to have success at the track. Three of the top 10 qualifiers for the 1971 All American Futurity were bred at his ranch in Alex, Okla., where Savannah Jr, Easy Six and Azure Te were the leading stallions. Wells-owned homebreds Three Two Yankee and Divine Liz scored notable victories. In all, Wells won the Oklahoma Futurity three times — twice as a trainer and once as an owner.

Wells involvement with the horse industry’s governing bodies also deepened during the 1970s and 80s. He held positions nationally with the AQHA and at the state level. While president of the Oklahoma Horsemen’s Association, Wells served on a committee that was influential in bringing pari-mutuel racing to the state.

Wells has also been elected to the Oklahoma Horse Racing Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.