Three Bars TB
Three Bars TB -- born 1940. For the record, Three Bars TB had progeny that spanned 24 breeding years. He lost several early siring years at the race tracks. Here it is; progeny had 9,077 race starts; 1,584 race wins; 176 stakes wins; progeny race winners of $3,214,682; 308 Register of Merit; Superior Race Awards 36; World Championships 24; Pokey Bar was leading money winner at $162,632; progeny AQHA halter points won 1,544; performance points 584; AQHA Champions 29; Supreme Champions 4; Super Halter Awards 5; AQHA points won by progeny, all divisions 2,129; point earners all divisions 107; dollars progeny won at cutting $3,242.56.
Most of Three Bar' life he was owned by Sidney H. Vail. Vail stood him to TB and QH mares in Arizona and Apple Valley, California. Walter Merrick was the major life-long lover of Three Bars. He leased him for two years and bred him at his Sayre, OK ranch early in Three Bars career. While at Merrick's the stallion Midnight Jr reached over the fence and bit part of Three Bars; nose off. He had a goofy shaped nostril from then on. The two years at Merrick's gave Three Bars the mares he needed to begin a celebrated life long status, then Vail took him back.
I first saw Three Bars May of 1959. On my high school senior trip I forfeited all votes involving selections of California amusements for the one vote to take me by Apple Valley and see Three Bars. The other class-mates were unimpressed, but I was exploding with excitement. Sid Vail took us to his stall and we looked in the door.
Just months before I was there, Three Bars had been stolen. Right as Vail was about to harvest the highest stud fees in the industry, the golden horse was stolen. There was an all out search for him coast to coast. Someone had a breeding season of Three Bars foals -- I don't know if that mystery was ever solved. One day at first light Vail looked out his window, and Three Bars was grazing in the drive way. He was back, looked worse for wear, skinned up, but breeding season was over.
The years of high dollar stud fees made Vail a very wealthy man. Rumor was that Vail resented Three Bars because of the demands on his life and time. Vail had to guard Three Bars. He had to show him to fans. He had to be handled with kid gloves for breeding. He controlled Vail's life. He was on the phone all the time to horse people. Vail's twenty plus years owning Three Bars demanded that he had no personal life of his own. Walter Merrick was there to help. Every year Walter would make a serious effort to acquire custody of the business of Three Bars, finally at age 25 Walter got him.
The second time I saw Three Bars I was photographing horses in California. I had taken a large original painting with me of Straw Flight to help sell commissions. Vail invited me in his huge home and I brought the painting to show him. He also showed me a painting that was done for him of Three Bars, a gift. Several people did paintings of Three Bars as gifts for Vail. I tried to sell him a Darol Dickinson original -- no luck. I wasn't really surprised, Orren Mixer had also set in the same room with Vail and couldn't sell him an Orren Mixer original either. Vail liked the free paintings.
The third time I saw Three Bars was at Quanah, Texas at the J Bar B on the south side of Texas highway 287. Walter was breeding him his 25th year. Over 100 mares were waiting their turn. Walter could turn the crank when booking mares. I took 2 mares to breed to Three Bars. The fee was $5000 each. One was a cash payment, the other $5000 fee I traded for a 30" X 36" oil painting of the horse himself. Walter was a lot easier to deal with than Vail.
For a half hour every day Walter would personally lead Three Bars to a grass plot where Walter continued his Three Bars love affair while the horse ate grass. No one got to lead Three Bars but Walter himself.
Three Bars had a large book of mares, celebrity mares, every year. His normal pattern was to start the season shooting blanks. Three Bars was not for the faint of heart. For about a month his semen quality was on the edge of a heart attack for his owners. He did it year after year. Then about 30 or so days into the season, bang, everything came out okay. At Merrick's he had the most professional AI vet in the nation. Walter was a nervous wreck during the first 30 days. I recommended Walter do two breeding seasons, one the normal spring breeding at the full rate, then offer "off season breedings" at a reduced rate for the rest of the year. A few years later no one would care when Three Bars foals were born.
Vail never had to worry about Three Bars again. The stallion died two days shy of his 28th birthday on Merrick's ranch. Walter prominently hung the Three Bars painting in his living room -- the only painting ever paid for of Three Bars. Even then, Three Bars bought his own painting.
Author: Darol Dickinson