Horse Breeding

Henny Penny Peake

October 1, 2010

She was an eye-catching hackamore horse and movie star.

Henny Penny Peake in her starring role.

By Honi Roberts in The American Quarter Horse Journal

“She was a real pretty mare, with a lot of class and pizzazz, “reminisces legendary reinsman Johnny Brazil Jr. “And Jimmy Williams made her into one of the top stock horses of the day.”

She was Henny Penny Peake, the 1949 Driftwood daughter out of Sage Hen by “One-Eyed Waggoner” (registered with AQHA as Waggoner). She was the Pacific Coast hackamore champion in 1953 and 1954, and high-point stock horse of the year for the American Horse Show and the Pacific Coast Hunter Jumper Stock Horse associations. In the 1940s and 1950s, her daddy, Driftwood, was one of the most sought-after sires of using horses on the West Coast. Foaled in 1932 in Texas, Driftwood spent his early years in Texas and Arizona as a match racehorse that few could best. His calm and resilience under pressure and in tough conditions were nearly as admired as his speed.

His status was enhanced when, while he was owned by renowned racehorse breeder Ab Nichols, Driftwood reputedly outran Clabber, the 1940-41 World Champion Quarter Running Horse. Later, Driftwood was sold to world champion roper Asbury Schell, who campaigned Driftwood successfully in every available timed rodeo event under the name “Speedy,” a nickname that stuck.

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Then in 1943, the 11-year-old blood bay stallion was purchased for $1,500 by Channing and Katy Peake of Lompoc, California, who owned him for the rest of his long and productive life. In their quest to build a strong breeding program, the Peakes had already brought several One-Eyed Waggoner mares home, including Henny Penny Peake’s dam, Sage Hen, who was destined to become a top producer for them.

The young Driftwoods were immediate favorites for rodeo and ranch, a preference that endures among many savvy horsemen today. Many colts sold sight unseen. One trainer who knew them well, the late Jimmy Williams, described those Driftwood colts in Hoofs and Horns: “They are the best. You ask ’em to do anything, and they’ll do it. I think Speedy is as good a sire as there is any place.”

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Henny Penny Peake was trained by Jimmy Williams, and shown by him and occasionally by a young woman named Luann Beech.

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“I judged Henny Penny Peake quite a bit, and she was certainly a good one,” said Dick Deller, former AQHA director, National Reined Cow Horse Hall of Fame member and author of “One Man’s Opinion About Spade Bits.” “The mare was a beauty and dead broke, exactly what you’d expect from Jimmy. He sure knew how to get the best out of a horse. He’d get them light and soft in the hackamore and keep them that way, never pulling on their mouth. He had a lot of feel for a horse, and Henny Penny Peake was outstanding.”

“Jimmy was a character, a helluva nice guy and probably the greatest horseman we’ve ever had,” said Johnny, himself an icon and NRCHA Hall of Famer. “He did it all and did it well, from stock horses to jumping. And Jimmy really rode that mare into the limelight.”

Following her show career, Jimmy also rode Henny Penny Peake into the spotlight Hollywood-style. In 1957, she starred in the Walt Disney production “The Horse of the West” as “Bay Lady.” Jimmy also appeared in that film and more, frequently doubling for Tyrone Powell and others when horseback riding was required.

Her starlet days over, Henny Penny Peake retired to the broodmare band at Driftwood Quarter Horse Ranch of Grass Valley, California. She produced six foals. One, Jimmy Wood by Super Charge, earned his open performance Register of Merit, and Silky Peake, by Silky Sullivan (TB) had 17 starts on the track.

Two of Henny Penny Peake’s full brothers also became premier performers of the era. Red Button, aka “Roany,” was one of the top tie-down and heel horses of the day, appearing in rodeos up and down the coast. And Poker Chip Peake, a standout gray owned by Dale Smith, president of the Rodeo Cowboys Association, is acknowledged as one of the sport’s all-time great tie-down roping mounts.

Today, 60 years after her show pen triumphs, Henny Penny Peake – a bay dazzler who was light in the bridle and quick on her feet – remains unforgettable to all who knew her.

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