Baby Doll Knew Bulldogging

She may have been small, but Baby Doll Combs was everyone’s favorite bulldogging horse.

She may have been small, but Baby Doll Combs was everyone’s favorite bulldogging horse.

By Crystal Phares

Baby Doll Combs Quarter Horse
Baby Doll Combs was said to have known bulldogging better than some of the cowboys who rode her. Journal photo.

Headlines across the country billed her as the “Horse Famed for Tossing Cowboys Into Money,” and she was even the focus of two features in Life magazine.

Baby Doll Combs was foaled in 1947. Her sire was Oklahoma Star Jr, by foundation sire and American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Oklahoma Star, and her dam was a Bert mare named Miss Boctick. The blaze-faced bay weighed 1,030 pounds at maturity and stood 14.1 hands.

In 1955, Willard Combs of Checotah, Oklahoma, bought Baby Doll Combs from Bill Odum of Pryor, Oklahoma, for $3,200. When she carried Willard to the world championship in bulldogging in 1957, she was also the regular mount of the men who finished second through fifth.

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From 1953 through 1960, the little mare earned more than $400,000 for her riders, and she was ridden by seven of 15 bulldoggers at the first National Finals Rodeo. The famous all-around cowboy Bill Linderman was quoted in Life magazine as saying, “ ‘Baby Doll’ knew bulldogging better than some of the guys who rode her.”

Late in 1957, the same year Willard won his world title, he noticed Baby Doll wasn’t looking as athletic as usual. Willard realized she was in foal. She’d been bred to a grandson of Tommy Clegg and Grey Badger II. Cowboys across the country waited for Baby Doll’s first and only foal, Checotah Star, who also made a bulldogging horse when he matured.

In August 1960, after a bulldogging at a rodeo in Salina, Kansas, the little mare broke out in a sweat and showed all the signs of colic. Baby Doll died that night with a ruptured intestine. Her owner loaded her into his trailer and drove the 350 miles back to Checotah to give her a proper burial.

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The November 7, 1960, issue of Life magazine ran photos of 11 bulldoggers at a graveside service for Baby Doll Combs. She was honored in 1979 as one of the first horses inducted into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Hall of Fame. In 2004, she was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.


5 thoughts on “Baby Doll Knew Bulldogging”

  1. I had a black mare that was small 14.1 1/2 with shoes on and a 1/2 ” heal. She was registered QH and also had a pony card for Hunter Jumper shows. Was my champion Barrel and Pole mare as well as a babysitter to any kid or adult who didn’t know how to ride. She could jump her height, run on the flat and beat any horse who challenged her. Had a heart that never quit!! I still miss her even to this day and I lost her to a positive coggins in 1974. She had 2 foals after that and they both were like her just bigger. Her dam was a chamion cutting mare and her sire was a halter and cutting horse. I can see why this mare was so wantedwith her bull dogging talent. She reminds me of her…

  2. Baby Doll you were living proof… GOOD things come in small packages as the old adage has been my experience also the smaller stock is more often blessed with great agility and what they lack in stature is made up in HEART…give me a 14 hander any day.
    I’ve often seen them out-jump their taller,bigger competition and stay sound doing it! Tough all around horses.

  3. I was just a kid learning to bulldog when Baby Doll was in her prime. I never got to ride her,but watched her go many times. She gave the last dogger the same jump as the first one. She was one of a kind.

  4. Baby Doll’s gravestone is now in the gardens at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. I had the privilege of going to Checotah to see Willard Combs (“Kingfish” as Jim Shoulders called him) before he passed away and loading that headstone in my pickup for delivery back to the Museum, as Willard wished. He was a remarkable guy, and wanted her headstone to be where more people could see it and come to know that great mare. While still buried at Checotah, her headstone joins the grave markers for Dale Smith’s Poker Chip, Shoulders’ Tornado, etc. in the gardens.

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