Sask. horse ranching family is born to ride

On the Farm: Horses produced by the King family are used for ranches, rodeos, trick riding, equine events and pets

CORNING, Sask. — John King can’t put a number on how many horses he’s ridden over the years, but it’s a lot.

“I was training my first horse when I was nine years old. I rode a lot of colts to begin with from the time I was old enough for Dad to throw me on,” he said.

“I’ve been horsing around my whole life.”

Armed with a dream and determination, his parents, Tom and Jean, laid the foundation of Diamond K Ranch in the mid-1960s. Saska Sonny Boy, their first registered quarter horse, and two registered mares formed the nucleus of an award-winning herd.

“Dad just had a real love for the horse and tried to figure them out. He would work them in a manner that a lot of people just kind of overlooked. He would try and read the horse instead of break the horse,” said King.

“I said at his funeral (four years ago) that he was round penning when round penning wasn’t cool. Or horse whispering when horse whispering wasn’t cool.”

Jean devised the name and brand, which seemed to write itself.

“Our last name is K for King and I like diamonds,” she said.

Now with more than 50 years of equine ranching experience under their belts, the King family near Corning, Sask., are well known in North America for producing top quality foals from mares and sires that prove themselves at horse shows, on working ranches, at rodeos, in mounted shooting competitions, trick riding, equine events or as family pets.

John and his wife, Bernice, have three daughters, Erin, Kayla and Shelby. All are married with children of their own.

Breeding and training horses remains the central focus for the four-generation family on their 3,500-acre mixed grain and cattle operation.

They are also established in the pregnant mare urine (PMU) industry, which has supplemented their farming income and remains a financial cornerstone.

They have about 170 horses of various ages, including 118 broodmares. Another 100 foals round out the herd.

“We count foals separate because they’re only here for a few months and then most are sold in our production sale at the Candiac Auction Mart,” John said.

This year’s sale was scheduled for Sept. 27. The family planned to wean the foals the day before the auction, which was to include a virtual sale ring this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our foals are so versatile and just anyone can start them and anyone can handle them. They’re for any age, so you have people that are like nine to 89,” said Shelby.

Added John: “The more disciplines and type of people that they fit, the more successful our sale is.”

Kayla said her grandfather’s feel for horse and rider was always key.

“One of the biggest things with Grandpa is somebody would bring a horse here and if he knew it wasn’t a right fit for them, he would find a horse that was way better. And he would always take the loss. So he would take a horse that the value was less than what he was going to get back for trading a new horse,” said Kayla.

Diamond K was recently awarded horse of the year in the Saskatchewan High School rodeo for one of their mares now owned by a local Corning female student.

Nominated and voted on by the student’s peers, the five-year-old mare was outstanding for her versatility in various events such as barrel racing, breakaway roping, pole bending and goat tying.

Their quarter horses have also become fixtures at the annual Saskatchewan Equine Expo’s Trainer Challenge in Saskatoon, where they are invited back each year to supply three-year-old fillies.

The contest involves three horse trainers and three fillies that are halter broken. Over the course of four days, trainers and horses go through several intense one-hour sessions and judged on their progress and performance.

“We’ve always strived to raise good minded, good disposition horses that most people could get along with. For the trainer’s challenge you need that type of horse,” John said.

Added Kayla: “When you’re riding them it’s a lot of timing with your hands and your legs and getting a feel for them. Dad can really feel them out. My mom, dad and grandpa have a heavy influence on how we all ride and have taught us how to feel horses.”

John concurred.

“You’ve got to be able to really feel it in your body and pay attention to what’s going on. And timing is so important too: knowing when to pull a rein, when to put a leg in, when to back off and just let them be. There’s so much involved.”

When all is said and done, it all comes back to family, which John said is his greatest prize.

“I’m just so thankful that I have my family close to me, that we can all still get together on a frequent basis and share in each other’s lives. And that’s the only thing that I want,” he said.

“If you don’t have your family, then all the money in the world is not important to me at all.”

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