Horseback Riding

The Mixer Horse

October 22, 2012

No, he’s not your grandpa’s horse, Wimpy, The Ole Man, or any particular horse.

Mixer Horse

Orren Mixer created the icon of the American Quarter Horse based on his idea of the ideal Quarter Horse.

By Lesli Groves in America’s Horse

The icon of the American Quarter Horse is a painting known around AQHA headquarters as “The Mixer Horse.”

At the 1967 AQHA Convention in New Orleans, the public information committee resolved to commission a portrait of an “ideal” Quarter Horse for promotional purposes.

Renowned artists weren’t grappling for the assignment. An artist’s best work is done for his own satisfaction, not someone else’s and certainly not a committee’s. Could a group of ranchers, racehorse men and show-ring regulars ever agree on what was ideal in a horse?

Orren Mixer of Oklahoma wasn’t the first person hired. But Darol Dickinson of Colorado, a respected equine artist, couldn’t read the collective minds of the committee. His masterpiece was rejected, and Mixer inherited the conundrum.

Orren hauled his ideal Quarter Horse to Amarillo for the committee’s inspection in June 1968. Warren Shoemaker of New Mexico, known for his savvy breeding practices said there was only one thing wrong with it: The horse wasn’t carrying Shoemaker’s brand.

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“I wanted to paint a horse that would please the majority, because I knew I couldn’t please everybody,” Orren said. “I’d painted some great horses – Otoe, Kid Meyers, Three Chicks, The Old Man, Tiny Watch – but for the AQHA horse, I didn’t use any particular horse for a model. This one came out of my imagination.”

Orren Mixer

Orren Mixer created artwork using many famous American Quarter Horses. AQHA file photo.

Personally, while helping out at the AQHA booth at big events, I’d heard it differently. I once wasted 10 minutes trying to convince a lady at the World Show that the free print we were handing out wasn’t a portrait of the Thoroughbred Three Bars. Others have told me that their uncle’s horse posed for the portrait, or that Mixer copied a photo of their horse.

“Roy Browning has said right in front of me that I used The Ole Man,” Orren said. “I don’t care. Lots of people say I must have used their horse, or that they’ve got one just like him at home. If it makes them feel good about their horse, well, that’s great by me.”

For 30 years, horse lovers have tacked up reproductions of the painting in feed stores, cafes, barns and college dorm rooms. AQHA has distributed hundreds of thousands. They’ve been framed, decoupaged and printed as post cards.

Just as the sight of Old Glory means more to an American, the impact of the Mixer original depends on your background – whether or not you colored the image in an AQHA activity book as a child and put a Quarter Horse window decal on your first car. Sometimes people write in saying it’s time to turn the old horse out to pasture. They say he no longer fits the Quarter horse image. The length of his tail is a typical target. Too much muscle. Not enough muscle.

They might be missing the big picture. It’s easy to do in this era of specialization.

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A subcommittee to refine the standards for judging halter classes met a couple of years ago. The members included a Ph.D., a veterinarian, halter specialists and breeders of performance horses. As they sat around the long table in the President’s Room at AQHA headquarters, they struggled to describe criteria upon which they could agree. Then Jerry Wells spoke. Jerry had shown 60 AQHA World Champions at halter and one in calf roping, had bred barrel futurity champions and won more than a million dollars with a racehorse everyone else overlooked.

“I’m looking for a horse like the one in that painting,” Jerry said as he pointed to the Mixer horse on the wall.

The committee totally agreed.

Orren, who died in 2008, is a member of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.