Ozark Golden King

Students of Missouri Fox Trotting Horse breed history recognize that two-thirds of the thirty-eight World Grand Champions in open performance trace to Old Fox (foaled 1913) through two of his offspring: Ozark Golden King and the B. Mills mare. This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Ozark Golden King's birth.

Ozark Golden King was foaled April 15, 1938. He was registered with the Palomino Horse Breeders of America, Inc. before MFTHBA was established, and his popularity as a sire in the 1940's had more to do with the public's fixation on golden color than interest in the fox trot gait. Nevertheless, the stallion played an important role in the survival of Fox Trotters in the Ozarks.

Ozark Golden King was sired by Old Fox out of Lady, a palomino mare reputed to have been Copperbottom and Gold Dust breeding by the wrangler in charge of driving her, along with forty or fifty other horses, through Christian County on a trek from the drought stricken West to government land near Willow Springs, Mo. in 1923 or 1924. Lady was purchased by a mail carrier from Ozark, Mo. who drove her to a buggy on his mail route. Willie Hedgepath, a local cattleman, was so impressed with the mare's good looks and stamina that he tried to buy her, but she wasn't for sale.

Like his sire, Ozark Golden King was an Ozarks-style cow horse. He was owned by Ray Hedgepath, a cattle buyer and partner in a commission firm at the Southwest Regional Stockyards in Springfield, Mo. The stallion was ridden and managed for twenty years by Ray's brother, Willie Hedgepath, of Nixa, Mo. People were often confused about which brother actually owned the horse. In fact, his ownership would have been reversed if a verbal contract had been honored.

In 1937, a couple who had gotten lost while driving to the School of the Ozarks sought out Willie Hedgepath and enlisted his aid in locating a palomino colt they had seen somewhere southeast of Ozark, Mo. Although they were unable to retrace their route, the couple gave Willie a general description of the area.

Willie located the colt on the Rube Melton place. He was surprised to discover that its dam was Lady, the palomino mare that he'd admired a decade earlier. Old Fox was the colt's sire. Unfortunately, the colt had already been sold to John Blackwell of Springfield, Mo., but Lady was again in foal to Old Fox. Willie contracted to buy the foal she was carrying.

In the spring of 1938, Ray Hedgepath came home all aglow over a newborn palomino colt he had purchased for $110.00 cash (a princely sum in Depression times). As Ray talked, it became clear to Willie that his brother had bought the colt that was supposed to be his.

The Hedgepaths always believed that the mare owner wanted Ray to back out on their deal, because Ozark Golden King was starving when Ray picked him up after weaning. Nora Hedgepath took one look at the expensive weanling her son brought home and dubbed him "The Goat". The boys had to admit that the moniker fit the shrunken, shaggy palomino at the time.

Ozark Golden King blossomed under Ray's care. He stood 15 1/2 at maturity and weighed 1,200 pounds. He exhibited true palomino characteristics with dark eyes, dark skin, golden color, and white mane and tail. He had a star in his forehead and a white sock on his left hind leg.

When Ozark Golden King was two years old, Ray placed him in a prominent trainer's barn in Springfield. In the spring of 1941, Ray hauled the three year old stallion to Willie. Willie rode the horse then informed his brother that King wasn't even bridle wise.

Under Willie Hedgepath, Ozark Golden King became locally famous for his ability to work cattle. No horse in the area could out run or out turn him, and his remarkable agility enabled him to carry a rider safely where other horses couldn't travel.

Ozark Golden King covered 157 mares in 1941. He was in demand the year around during the height of the palomino craze. Willie showed him in fox trot classes whenever they were available and under flat saddle in Plantation Classes.

As World War II wore on, life in the Ozarks changed. Gold fever cooled and horse numbers declined steadily as all breeds lost their places in the region's economy.

Ozark Golden King was in his twenties when Ray and Willie Hedgepath gave him to a ranch for homeless boys operated by John and Bill Rice in the state of Tennessee. He left behind a charismatic son, Golden Governor F-107. It was Golden Governor and his owner, Dale Esther of Lebanon, Mo., that sparked renewed public interest in Fox Trotters and reorganization of MFTHBA in 1958.


copyright  by Janet Esther