Darol Rodrock: Raising the Right Kind
There is a select group of people who achieve single goals with their equine partners which are the highlight of their lives; a World or Congress Championship, an honor roll title, or producing offspring that go on to a successful career. Then, there are the rare individuals whose achievements span a lifetime. Such is the case for Darol Rodrock of Rodrock Ranches in Bucyrus, Kansas. Rodrock is well-recognized for decades for breeding, raising and showing national award winning quarter horses in western pleasure and cutting.
Additionally, he served as a national director for AQHA and President of the NSBA. This, in itself, is more than most accomplish in a lifetime. However, it barely scratches the surface of Rodrock’s remarkable journey with horses and moreover, in life. He describes his passage from a childhood where he twice lived in an orphanage to his eventual success in real estate development as “overcoming the shadows through the love and power of Jesus Christ.”
Early in the conversation, Rodrock clarifies, “the awards are a blessing, but the real achievements are the relationships built in the process.” Asked about his guiding ethos for success, he quipped with a deep chuckle, “It’s my little saying, maybe you have heard of it, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
In this spirit, Rodrock moved the discussion towards acknowledging people who shared in this labor of love that has ultimately impacted an entire industry. These relationships include a who’s who of AQHA’s most accomplished horsemen and women. Gil Galyean, Cleve Wells, Greg Wheat, Jon Barry, Joe Jeane, Nancy Sue Ryan, and Sandy Vargo all contributed to Rodrock’s vision of developing and raising western pleasure bloodstock that would transform the breed for generations.
Almost forty years ago, the notion of the “western pleasure” horse, as it is known today, was emerging with Zippo Pine Bar’s offspring leading the way. Multiple World Champion Cleve Wells cites Darol Rodrock’s foresight in purchasing five mares that had no relational blood to each other to outcross on the legendary stallion and create western pleasure broodmares. Wells goes on to say, “Darol bred pleasure horses but raised them like normal horses. He let them mature in the pasture and learn to live in a herd. The result was horses with strength and heart.”
Karen Rodrock recounts, in the beginning, we “bred mares to create a better broodmare.” While curious to some that mares were skipping the show pen and going straight to breeding, it was with deliberate intent the Rodrock’s honed their selection process to create a band of broodmares that enriched the western bloodstock and evolved into today’s modern pleasure horse.
Darol credits Karen Rodrock’s dedication and involvement, saying they foaled out hundreds of mares and it was her hands that wiped them down and provided their introduction to humanity. The love each has for horses is palpable in conversation. When asked what kept her motivated through the years, Karen’s gentle reply was simple, “the wonder, amazement and joy of watching a new life come into the world.”
As a former history teacher, Darol gave great credence to understanding genetics and the philosophies of great horsemen in the past as he embarked on the journey of breeding a horse for the future. His success as a home builder gave him a keen eye for structure and how to improve conformation. Karen emphasized selecting mare’s whose temperament would positively shape the personality of the foal. Their collective efforts resulted in the genetic propagation of the great broodmares, Sophisticated Sue and Foxy Contessa.
Gil Galyean, NSBA’s all-time leading western pleasure money earner, esteems Rodrock for being an inspiration. He says, “Darol can project things 10 or 15 years ahead. He is a motivator, and you can’t be around him without wanting to do your very best.” Galyean described Rodrock as a big-picture thinker with the commitment to see it through. He says, “Darol has impacted the quarter horse industry as a whole, and it is better for his involvement.”
Rodrock’s contributions to the western pleasure horse’s pedigree are equally matched by his contributions to the careers of trainers who developed them. Sandy Vargo and Greg Wheat both emphasized how Rodrock’s loyalty impacted their careers.
Vargo, who trained numerous futurity champions for the Rodrock’s, described Darol’s trust in the people he hired as an integral part of his success and theirs. “Darol wanted the best for people and expected the best from them. He identified talent and was as committed to the professionals he worked with as he was to the horses.”
Wheat, trainer of multiple NSBA, AQHA and Congress champions, has maintained a relationship with the Rodrock’s since the mid-1980’s. Longevity of that kind is a cherished commodity in this business according to Wheat. He credits Darol’s knack for always being a coach at heart for successfully bringing together horses and people. Wheat said, “Just like Darol wasn’t afraid to try different crosses, he also wasn’t afraid to match horses and individuals to bring out their best. He maintained relationships with various trainers and respectfully moved horses to people until he found the right person to develop the talent.”
Nancy Sue Ryan, whose success breeding, raising, and showing world champions goes generations deep commented, “Darol purchased great mares and kept going.” Ryan expressed the importance of the bottom side and concurred Rodrock recognized this and made it a cornerstone for influencing the modern pleasure horse.
Joe Jeane (pictured right with Zips Chocolate Chip), the former manager of legendary stallions Zippo Pine Bar and Zips Chocolate Chip, considers Rodrock a friend and said he respects him immensely as a horseman. Jeane reflected on the early days, “I was impressed with him in the very beginning. Darol thought it was more important to invest in great horses instead of fancy horse trailers.” Jeane credits Rodrock with being focused on blue hen mares for western pleasure twenty years ago. He said, “Darol has had more good ideas for the industry and the horses than I can count and he is always thinking about what he can do better tomorrow.”
Rodrock continues on today with the same fortitude with which he began. True to his nature, he is cognizant of the past but remains steadfastly looking toward the future breeding the next generation of pleasure horses with four impressive stallions; Certain Potential, Only In The Moonlite, Huntin For Chocolate, and A Scenic Impulse (APHA). World champion and producer of world champion’s, Cool Lookin Lady (AQHA) is providing the mare power (pictured below right). She is the dam of two-time World Champion, Cool Krymsun Lady and two-time Congress Champion, Cool Blazing Lady, along with other top performers. “We are thrilled to own one of the greatest western pleasure mares of all time,” said Rodrock. “She is the only mare to our knowledge to be an Open World Champion and to produce an Open World Champion pleasure horse.”
In his people-first style, he framed his vision with the individuals who are making it a reality.
Multiple APHA World Champion, Mike Hachtel said, “there are lessons to be learned from Darol if you pay attention.” Hachtel described how Rodrock integrated breeding Zippos Sensation (APHA) broodmares with A Scenic Impulse (APHA) by first out-crossing them on Certain Potential (AQHA, pictured above). He said, “The result is incredible, almost hard to believe until you ride one and find out just how good they are at their job.”
Hachtel repeated Rodrock’s affection for the horses when he shared a story of a visit Darol paid to the training barn. He said, “I was showing him a two-year old that only had a couple of rides. Loping correctly was just so easy for her. I looked up to see Darol had tears in his eyes; he was so proud of the filly. After all the great horses he has raised, to still see him be moved like that shows how much he loves the horses.”
Kim Dean, manager of Rodrock’s stallions for the past four years, describes Darol as “one of the great one’s.” She elaborated on this description by saying, “he has dedicated time, resources and passion to improving our industry through breeding great horses and his longevity in the business is a reflection of his care and concern for the horses and the people who surround them.”
Rodrock’s stallion offering boasts get with more than 100 World, Congress and NSBA championships and reserve championships combined and more than 3 million dollars in money earned. Offspring of Rodrock’s broodmares and stallions have earned over 55,000 AQHA points.
Equally important as their impressive records, all of the stallions meet the requirements refined by Rodrock’s lifetime commitment to “raising the right kind.” Rodrock and Dean stay in close communication with mare owners and trainers to ensure they are creating the best possible crosses, which will not only be the winners of today but the bloodstock of tomorrow.
Interestingly, Rodrock speaks as if he is just getting started. “I am very excited about what is happening with our current crop of stallions. I think their impact is yet to be realized,” he said. (pictured left, yearling by A Scenic Impulse and out of Cool Lookin Lady)
Careful to keep the enduring focus of what motivates him, Rodrock stresses the points, earnings and awards are just symbols of the greater goal; building relationships with people by bringing great horses into the world to perpetuate the enjoyment only a horse can give.
If the sentiment is true that rising tides raise all ships, then the tidal wave that is Darol Rodrock continues to elevate those around him. A coach, a historian, a businessman, a humanitarian and most of all, a horseman, Rodrock concluded by explaining there is no greater purpose he can strive for than building relationships and recognizing God’s gifts in his life. In his words, “it is the objective that drives me to pour into the lives of others. My cup is not half full or half empty; my cup runneth over.” And the horse show industry is better for it.
CLICK HERE to view Rodrock Ranches’ ad in the March 2017 issue of GoMag.
About the Author: Amy Haymes is a graduate of Texas Tech University with a B.S. in Agricultural Communications. She is currently the resident trainer at McNair Farms in Claremore, OK riding offspring of World Champion Hot Impulse. She studied in three of the nation’s top AQHA performance horse training barns, successfully worked in the oil and gas business and lived abroad with her husband of five years before her recent return to the United States. When she is not riding a horse, she is writing about it.
Photos © Kelly Graphics and Impulse Photography