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Though Dr. Splan is a bit camera shy, we did manage to get a quick sit down with her to discuss the importance of the Sul Ross and Wagon Wheel Ranch Partnership Program.

What does Sul Ross plan to do with a herd of Foundation Quarter Horses?

Fred Gist had the foresight and vision to realize that the versatile, good-minded, and durable working cow horse forged in the early days of the American Quarter Horse might be lost to time and specialized breeding. The latter half of his life was dedicated to protecting the genetics behind some of the best ranch and rope horses, so they would continue to the modern day. We are wholly committed to preserving the valuable Foundation bloodlines that are Mr. Gist’s legacy, and our breeding goals are the same: to produce outstanding, family-friendly horses that can earn their keep during the week and take home a paycheck on the weekend.

What are your research aims with the new program?

Our program is centered around the working cow horse, and as such, our research program is largely geared toward finding applied solutions to challenges faced by this segment of the industry. Although we are not a major research university, we have excellent facilities for data collection and analysis, including a large research barn with a reproductive suite, a high-speed treadmill, and dedicated laboratories and equipment. Additionally, we have strong collaborative relationships with scientists at universities across the country and within the equine industry. These resources allow our students and faculty, along with those of our partner institutions, to answer a variety of questions related to nutrition, exercise physiology, reproduction, behavior, genetics, and sustainable ranch management.

What are the objectives of the new program?

The primary goal in the equine science program has always been to prepare the next generation of equine scientists and industry leaders by combining modern approaches and state-of-the-art technology with respect for, and commitment to, our strong ranching heritage. With this new initiative, centered around the Wagon Wheel Ranch Breeding Program, we will be able to offer unprecedented learning experiences for our students.

This merger perfectly aligns with the larger Sul Ross State University mission of providing high-quality, transformative educational experiences rooted in the distinctive surroundings and history of the West Texas’s Big Bend Region.

We also realize that relocation of the herd to Alpine, and corresponding facility improvements, gives us a unique opportunity to have greater engagement with our local community and ranchers in the area. We are exploring ways this new program can provide additional outreach and services that go beyond the Sul Ross campus.

How is this program different from those at other universities?

The program we’re building is truly one-of-a-kind. In terms of sheer numbers, this will be the largest university-owned Quarter Horse breeding program in the world. Combined with the unique genetic profile of the herd, our commitment to its stewardship, and our exclusive focus on versatile ranch horse, this means we can offer a student experience unlike any other.

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