El Alazan Viejo: The Story of Old Sorrel

The “plain old cow horse” of King Ranch.

El Alazan Viejo: The Story of Old Sorrel - The "plain old cow horse" of King Ranch. - Bob Kleberg, manager of the King Ranch, walked out to look over a...

Old Sorrel was never a “plain old cow horse” and created a dynasty at King Ranch. PHOTO: AQHA File Photo

Courtesy of AQHA

Bob Kleberg, manager of the King Ranch, walked out to look over a jump course that carpenters had constructed in one of the pastures. His wife, Helen, who raised hunter-jumpers, had ordered the construction of a course worthy of the Olympics and asked Bob his opinion.

“I have a plain old cow horse that could jump those things,” Bob said.

Helen looked skeptical as her husband asked a cowboy to bring in a particular stallion. As Bob took the chestnut stud in hand, Helen asked if he needed a saddle.

“Never mind the saddle,” Bob answered. He swung up on the stallion bareback and legged the horse through the course, clearing every jump.

“How did you know that horse would jump?” Helen asked.

“It was easy,” Bob explained. “The way he can jump prickly pear and mesquite showed he would have no trouble on this easy footing.”

Bob was right on all accounts but one – the stallion was no “plain old cow horse.” First of all, he was bridlewise enough for neck reining. Secondly, his smooth gait allowed him a bareback hand gallop. Lastly, he was athletic enough to clear the jumps. Of course, Bob already knew these things, as did nearly every other King Ranch employee. As veterinarian J.K. Northway remembered, “I saw Richard Kleberg (Bob’s brother) and George Clegg rope off him and ride him all morning and then race him in the afternoon. His daily work consisted of regular ranch routine with the remuda. Bob had made him into a superior cow horse.

“You could rope, cut or do any other ranch work on him, and he was not just adequate – he was superior.” The Kiñenos, or “King’s Men,” as the historic horsemen that worked for the King Ranch were called, were particularly awed by the stallion. They marveled at how he handled the still, dusty heat and humidity of south Texas while gathering cattle in the thorny mesquite, how he worked a rope tripping the wildest steers or dragging the smallest of calves, his good disposition and his ability as a sire. In the Kinenos’ native tongue, he was called el Alazan Viejo … the Old Sorrel.

Old Sorrel was bred by George Clegg and foaled on his ranch near Alice, Texas, in 1915. A rancher fond of match racing, George owned a one-eyed son of Peter McCue named Hickory Bill that he mated to a Dr. Rose mare. Years later, Dr. Northway said, “Old Sorrel’s mother was supposed to have been a Thoroughbred mare that was bred and raised in Kentucky. A friend of mine, a Dr. Rose, owned and operated some ranches in Mexico and practiced dentistry on the side in Del Rio, Texas. He was interested in improving his horse stock, so he went to Lexington and bought a carload of mares. I think he got them for $125 each. He took them to Mexico, and they lost their identity. He turned them out on his ranch. He later became horse-poor and sold a carload to a rancher in Alice, Texas.” That rancher was George, and one of those mares produced Old Sorrel.

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