Ranger Horse Origin and Characteristics

The Ranger horse is a breed that was exclusive to areas of Nebraska and Colorado in the early 20th century. Today, more than 6,000 horses have been identified as being part of this breed, but registration rules are very stringent.

Mike Ruby founded the Colorado Ranger Horse Association in 1935. The original registry placed limits on the number of horses that could be registered. That meant many owners who had Rangers would end up having their horses identified as being Appaloosas because of those limits.

Ongoing pedigree research is working to discover horses that may have been excluded by the original registration limits. Because of the history of this breed with the Appaloosa, Rangers can be dually registered. About 90% of Colorado Rangers are also registered as being an Appaloosa horse.

Colorado Rangers are often thought of as a color registry, but they are not. It is a bloodline registry. 

What Is the Origin of the Ranger Horse?

Two stallions were given to President Ulysses S. Grant in 1878 by Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Turkey. The first stallion was foaled in 1874 and was named Linden Tree. The second was foaled in 1873 and was named Leopard. Both of these stallions were gray, but Linden Tree was a Barb and Leopard was an Arabian that had been bred in the desert.

These two stallions arrived in Virginia in 1879. They were then kept with the breeding herds of Randolph Huntington, who was known to produce excellent roadster horses. In 1896, Randolph would lease the horses to General Colby, who was a friend of President Grant.

Colby would use the stallions to breed horses on his Nebraska ranch. The offspring were excellent ranch horses with good cow-sense. Several ranchers in Colorado put their money together to purchase a group of the offspring from Colby, including a stallion. Every mare that was purchased came from the two imported sires from Turkey.

Linden Tree and Leopard were so influential on the breeding program that their offspring were used to improve traits in other breeds. These two stallions are listed in Thoroughbred and Arabian breed associations in the United States in addition to the Colorado Ranger Horse Association.

The horses that were purchased from Colby would be used to improve the existing ranch stock in Colorado. It is the offspring from these horses that created the Ranger horse. Breeders emphasized physical traits and spotting patterns on their ranches, with leopard-spot stallions holding the most value.

A Barb stallion named Patches was imported from North Africa in 1918 to improve the breed as well.

Mike Ruby loved these horses and acquired the two stallions to create his own breeding program. He kept impeccable records of his activities, creating the initial pedigree for the Ranger horse association. By 1934, Ruby had been invited to bring two of his stallions to that year’s Denver Stock Show.

Because the spotting pattern is similar to the Appaloosa, it is believed that up to 1 in 8 registered Appaloosas could actually be Ranger horses. About 100 new horses are registered every year and can be found throughout the United States and Canada. 

What Are the Characteristics of the Ranger Horse?

Rangers can be of any color, but pinto horses are not allowed within the breed. Horses that would be classified as Paints are not allowed within 5 generations of a horse’s pedigree if the individual is registering as a Ranger. Pony and draft horse parentage within 5 generations are ineligible for registration as well.

Because the Ranger horse is a bloodline registry, color and markings are not part of the registration eligibility. Ancestry is the primary requirement.

Horses that do not qualify under the first guidelines, but do have a direct ancestry to the two stallions that established this breed, can still apply for registration. It requires a unanimous vote of the board of directors to include the horse. 

Ranger horses can be up to 16 hands high, with adults often reaching a minimum height of 14.2 hands. The horse should have a facial profile that is straight, supported by a neck that is muscular and long. The chest should be deeper than average, with a croup and shoulders that slope to complement a shorter back.

Most Colorado Rangers are still used as ranch horses in the US West or Midwest. Some Rangers are being shown in various riding disciplines, but they are more popular as a recreational horse. Their excellent disposition and overall athleticism makes this breed an excellent trail horse.

Every Ranger is a descendant of either Max #2 or Patches #1 in their pedigree. The association is quite liberal in how registered Rangers may be bred, allowing Appaloosa, Arabian, American Quarter Horse, and Thoroughbred bloodlines. Horses that are 50/50 Arabian and Appaloosa can also be bred to a registered Ranger.

Although all Rangers can be registered as an Appaloosa, an Appaloosa cannot register as a Colorado Ranger unless they have the proper lineage. 

The Limits Placed on Ranger Horses

Mike Ruby served as the President of the Colorado Ranger Horse Association until his death in 1942. A corporate charter was granted to the association in 1938. As part of the initial founding of the association, a member limit of 50 was set. Since there were many more breeders that were working with Rangers at the time, the number of horses that could be registered was extremely limited.

The member limit would remain in place until 1964.

Although the breeding standards are liberal compared to other breeds, it has been becoming more conservative over the past few decades. Lusitano bloodlines used to be permitted, for example, but now they are not.

The association offers Appaloosa owners access to a free pedigree check to determine if their horse qualifies to be a Ranger. Several Appaloosa bloodlines automatically qualify the horse to be a ranger.

Any Appaloosa that is a descendant of Recurring Dream, Pleasant Dreams, Zip Me Impressive, State of Dee Heart, Captain Zip Ahoy, Mr. Big Bucks, Ima Touch DZ, and Shy’s Blue Boy can all be immediately registered with the Colorado Ranger Horse Association.

If research must be done, the Appaloosa must have a pedigree number that is lower than 279999. It takes about 30 days to determine if an Appaloosa qualifies for Colorado Ranger registry.

Ranger horses are part of the heritage of the western United States. Although this breed may still be in its early stages, the foundations have been set for it to have a bright future.