Record Setter

Miss Jim 45 did everything pretty.

Miss Jim 45 did everything pretty.

Many consider Miss Jim 45 the greatest halter mare that ever lived. AQHA file photo.

From America’s Horse

As Frank Merrill thumbed through the pages of the May 1969 Western Horseman, his eyes stopped on a small picture of a man in a cardigan sweater posing a red dun mare. The mare gave him goose bumps. “Miss Jim 45, shown by Matlock Rose, Grand Champion Mare of the Houston Livestock Show,” it read.

A 20-year-old Michigan State student and aspiring Quarter Horse showman, Merrill knew Rose by reputation and knew he lived in Gainesville, Texas. He decided to give him a call.

“Mr. Rose,” he began, “You don’t know me, but I’m Frank Merrill of Fremont, Michigan, and I’ve just seen this picture of you and Miss Jim 45. I’d like to know if she’s for sale.”

“Are you sitting down?” Rose asked. “Because we want quite a bit of money for her.”

How much?” Merrill quietly asked.

“Thirty thousand dollars,” Rose replied.

“Mr. Rose, I’m coming out west after school gets out in June,” Merrill said. “I may not buy her, but I’d sure like to see a $30,000 mare.”

When June rolled around, Merrill and a friend loaded their gear in a truck and two-horse trailer and headed for Texas. They stopped at several places along the way, pricing mares – the best they saw were only $15,000. At Joe Kirk Fulton’s ranch in Texas, Merrill saw the mare currently leading the high-point halter standings, and he asked her showman, Wayne Pooley, how she’d stack up against Miss Jim 45. “In all honesty,” Pooley said, “this mare couldn’t even warm her up.”

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Two weeks after his trip began, Merrill arrived in Gainesville, looked up George Tyler and Matlock Rose, who owned Miss Jim 45, and asked to see her. Rose ordered a hired hand, Leo Huff, to bring her out. “All Leo got out of the stall was her head and neck,” Merrill said. “I knew I had to have her.”

After asking if she could ride – at which time Huff threw a saddle and hackamore on her, and showed Merrill the prettiest trot and canter he’d ever seen – Merrill offered Tyler $20,000 for Miss Jim 45. “Son, that’s the best offer I’ve had today, but I believe I’ll turn it down,” Tyler said.

The very next morning, Merrill obligingly paid $25,000 for Miss Jim 45.

A 1966 red dun mare by Jim Harlan out of the Waggoner Ranch mare Miss Paulo 45, Miss Jim 45 was bred by James Nance of Oklahoma City. As a yearling and 2-year-old, Nance showed her to the Oklahoma high-point filly title for her ages, before selling her to Tyler and Rose in early February 1969. By the time Tyler and Rose sold her to Frank Merrill, Miss Jim 45 had been shown 69 times, with 65 firsts, three seconds and a third.

“After I bought her,” Merrill said, “I asked Matlock, ‘Mr. Rose, isn’t a lot of this mare’s success due to the fact that you’re showing her and know all the judges and they respect you?’

“He said, ‘Son, anyone could lead this mare into the ring and do just as well as me.’ That was exactly right. All I ever did was lead this mare into a class. Judges just about had to use her.”

Tyler added his two cents worth.

“I got a mini-clinic from The Master,” Merrill said of George Tyler’s lesson. “He showed me how to set her and get her ears up. He gave me three pieces of advice. First, he said, ‘Either be the first horse in the class with this mare, or the last, because inevitably, the judge is going to compare everything he has seen with this mare. Give him a good impression.’ Second, he told me, ‘You’re going to have to hide this mare until right before a class. If people see her, they’re liable to pull their mares out of the class.’

“Finally, Mr. George said, ‘A mare like this, you show in a plain leather halter. For the idiots out there, put a brass nameplate on the side that says ‘Miss Jim 45.’ ”

Armed with this knowledge and a simple halter, Merrill showed Miss Jim 45 throughout the summer of ’69, giving horsemen nervous fits in his home state of Michigan. When the Chicago International Livestock Exposition rolled around, the self-proclaimed “kid from the sticks” and the already famous red dun mare were in line as Jack Kyle judged. Kyle casually glanced at the mare, placed her first in the 3-year-old mares and grand champion of the show. “Afterwards,” Merrill said, “Jack walked up to me and said, ‘Son, I don’t know who you are, but you’ve got the greatest mare I’ve ever laid eyes on.’ ”

Praise from master horsemen kept Merrill daydreaming, so he enlisted the help of veteran showman Stretch Bradley of Ohio and set out in 1970 to win the high-point halter title. Throughout 1970, Bradley and Merrill showed the fabulous mare at the biggest shows, against the stiffest competition. Their journey took them 120,000 miles, to 153 shows. Their record: 139 firsts, 12 seconds a third and a fifth, and grand champion mare at every show but 16. “We had a hot rod El Camino and a two-horse trailer,” Merrill recalled. “We’d get so many trophies, we’d stop at gas stations and give first-place trophies to kids. We kept all the grands.”

At the end of the year, Miss Jim 45 had earned 436 points, more halter points than any mare had ever earned in AQHA showing. (AQHA Champion Magnolia Gay holds the record for most halter points – 941 – earned by a mare in the open division. However, Miss Jim 45 still holds the record for most halter points earned in one year in open showing.)

More than 30 years after Miss Jim 45’s high-point campaign, old-time horsemen still stretch their memories trying to find comparisons to the great red dun. Over the years, Al Dunning, Matlock Rose, Larry Sullivant, Jerry Wells, Jack Brainard, Jack Kyle, Harold Hudspeth and the late George Tyler and Stretch Bradley have attested to her greatness. Many consider her the greatest halter mare that ever lived, and those who never saw her, ask for descriptions.

”All the time, people come up to me at horse shows and ask, ‘Could you tell me about Miss Jim 45?’ ” Merrill said.

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“She was the prettiest red dun mare you ever saw,” Merrill said. “She had tiger stripes down her legs and back. She had the kindest eyes, pretty little ears and a sharply chiseled head with nice flare to her nostrils. A real pretty, feminine head.

“She had the prettiest neck,” he continued, “which came perfectly out of her shoulder. A really slender neck, feminine and trim in the throatlatch. During the time I showed her, it was in vogue to roach manes, so the majority of the time, she was shown roach. She had a perfectly sloped shoulder, a pronounced wither, nice depth to her heart, a short back and a long, bulging croup.

“Her V was so sharp, and her forearm so well-conformed in how it tapered into her knees, well, you couldn’t stand her up anyway but straight. Her stifle wasn’t overdone, but just right, and her gaskin was as big as you could make it. It was all natural, though – balanced, but not overdone. Even with all her expression of muscle, she could really move – prettiest little trot and canter you ever saw.”

And in a voice so soft and musing he seemed to have gone into a trance, Merrill thought a moment and added, “Everything Miss Jim 45 did, she did pretty.”

Miss Jim 45 only had one foal, a colt by Boston Mac named Mr Colt 45. He was never shown in halter, but had seven race starts. Miss Jim 45 died in 1994. She was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2000.

24 thoughts on “Record Setter”

  1. One of the best stories I have read on here to date. Stories such as this never cease to amaze me. Completely gratifying is all I can say. I would love to have seen this mare in person myself!!!

  2. I couldn’t get enough. I felt like I was right there. I was drooling as I read this story thinking of my Dun mare who often takes my breath away…sigh! Happy Friday and better still Happy Trails!!!

  3. I have to agree with Pam (above). This is one of the best stories I’ve read here. Maybe someone should write a “Miss Jim 45” book. A book about all of the events mentioned above, but much more elaboration; The inclusion of Stretch Bradley the 12,000 miles, the 150 some shows, why she only had one foal. I know it would be a good read. The T-breds do it all the time… Books on Ruffian, Go For Wand, etc. Think about it. I know I’d buy a copy.

  4. Just saw a mare halter class during yesterday’s AQHA show. They cannot compare with this perfect mare. She looks so well conditioned and fit. Not overwight to hide flaws and greased to the max. I would have loved to have seen her in action. Loved this story.

  5. Well, I happen to know the person who wrote this story and will have to tell her to read the comments. She will be very pleased!
    I have to say, I was hanging on every word and wanted it to not end. Like Dawn says above, this story could go on and on and would be an excellent, exciting read. I would buy the book too Dawn. And I personally think she should do it! Will have to mention that to her as well.

  6. loved the story sorry it had to end would love to here more or read more on this great mare. love the mares

  7. I grew up with a Mom who adores and showed foundation bred Quarter Horses, one of which was a very nice lineback red dun mare. I inherited her love of foundation quarter horses, and I found the article to be amazing. Even though I have a lot experience with certain bloodlines, I had never heard of this exceptional mare. I was fascinated with the whole story, and would LOVE to see a book with more photos.

  8. I was just learning to show in youth classes. I remember Stretch Bradley showing this mare. She was beautiful. I remember the impact of the plain show halter with silver buckles & finally got one for myself this year. No horse to show halter but I’ve wanted one since the 70s.

  9. Beautiful mare. Just lost my 29 1/2 year old Waggoner bred dun mare this week. Very cool to see the similarities.

  10. I love horses, and I think that everyone should love horses as much as me. Then I don’t think that anyone would even think of slaughtering horses.

  11. Wonderful story. I just wonder why she was only bred once to have been so beautiful. I was showing in 1969 & I must have followed her.

  12. Lovely story. My son is just getting into halter with his filly. I love the fact that Miss Jim 45 is pictured in a natural state. The QH is a beautiful horse as is.

  13. Miss Jim 45 was a very special mare and showed back in the day along with many other outstanding individuals. The best part about it they all had their own identity and you could lead them in the morning and ride them in the afternoon.

  14. I have a beautiful little red dun quarter horse mare. She has the dark mane and tail with zebra stripes on all legs. She also has the bar markings on her withers and face. Maybe I should show her?

  15. She had a busy show career is probably why she never had more then one colt. I have a outstanding cutting mare Gym Sox who only ever had one foal. By the time she was pretty well finished showing she wouldn’t carry to term. And remember this mare was around during different times. If you wanted to bred to a good stud you had to haul your mare to him. There wasn’t shipped semen and embryo transfer. This is a great story I love reading all the stories about great horses and people. : )

  16. My Dad Shorty Brock Bought Mr. Colt 45 as a yearling. we did show him in halter as a baby , but he did not get very tall . we did just about everything with him, You could show him in a pleasure class and run barrels on him all in one day , he was an awesome very well mannered stud horse , I showed him in the smaller shows in Arizona, and my brother raced him. my Dad got sick and we sold him at the age of 10. you would have never known he was a stud by his manners, he was just like having a gelding. we could even haul him next to a mare and he would be a gentleman. and to Ryan’s comment they did not want Miss Jim 45 to get out of shape but she was an awesome Mare . and I am very proud to say we owned her only foal. If we just could have stretched his legs a little he was just as beautiful as his mother!

  17. SHE WAS AWESOME THE FIRST HORSE I EVER FELL IN LOVE WITH .AS A KID I SPENT ALOT OF TIME AT STRETCH S IT WAS ALWAYS THE FIRST THING I DID WAS RUN AND SEE HER .SHE HAD A TOOTH PULLED WHILE I WAS THERE ONE DAY AND STRETCH GAVE IT TO ME I STILL HAVE IT IN A BOX SOME PLACE .EVERYTIME I SEE HER PICTURE OR HEAR HER NAME I SMILE SHE WAS GREAT

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely storey! She was/is the most beautiful horse I have ever seen…. It would have been a pleasure to know her and her owners…. Thank you for sharing!

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