Bill Austin grew up in Comstock, where the rural environment allowed his family to maintain a stable of quarter horses.
“It goes back to my granddad and all the way past him, even,” Austin said. “I’m sure I’m at least the fifth generation to have quarter horses.”
Vicki Austin, meanwhile, recalls the excitement that always came with going to Sturgis to visit her mom’s cousin, who just happened to raise quarter horses.
“From as young as 4 years-old, I can remember spending hours and hours around those horses,” she said. “It’s a fond memory … I fell in love with horses at a very young age.”
Bill and Vicki were destined to become a couple and Fate did indeed intervene, bringing them together in the 1980s, in circumstances related to their love for horses.
Vicki was looking for a horse on which she could participate in barrel racing – an agility-and-speed competition that requires a horse to weave quickly through and around a row of barrels. She needed a horse that was agile, fast, and experienced. “Everyone I talked to told me to go see Bill Austin: ‘You gotta go see Bill Austin,’” she said. “So, I went to see Bill Austin.”
The two had much in common, their courtship unfolded and was eventually formalized in a 1988 wedding. Together, the Austins not only raise quarter horses at their Brady Township farm just outside Vicksburg, they also own and oversee the Foundation Quarter Horse Registry (FQHR).
The registry, Vicki said, is a supplement to the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA); the Texas-based AQHA is the world’s largest equine registry and membership organization.
Founded in 1994, the FQHR consists primarily of a database of quarter horses that meet standards similar to those adopted by the AQHA. Vicki said the FQHR will not register a quarter horse unless it has already been recorded with the AQHA.
“We purchased the registry four years ago and found that it’s not unusual for people to double-register their quarter horses, first with AQHA, then with our FQHA, after that.” Vicki continued, “There’s a standard in place to protect both the owner and the organization – an assurance that at least 75 percent of a horse’s lineage is of true, quarter horse bloodlines.”
The FQHR also provides a lineage history. Vicki said the ancestry of some horses registered with the FQHR has been traced as far back as the 1940s.
FQHR registration is $15 and requires a $30 membership. Registration and membership allow quarter horse owners to enter their equine into a FQHR-sanctioned shows and events.
“Our shows are a little different in that we’re judging only the horses, not the rider or what the rider is wearing,” she added. “It’s all about the horse, its features, and how closely it represents the standards by which quarter horses are judged.”
Vicki said those traits include confirmation, balance, slope, shoulders, hips and legs, as well as the fluidity with which the horse moves.
“It has to look as if it’s ready to go on a ranch and start working,” Vicki said, noting that quarter horses are ideal for ranching because they are bred for short bursts of speed. On the other hand, thoroughbreds, such as race horses, are bred for endurance over a sustained run.
The Austins keep anywhere from 25 to 30 quarter horses on the 40-acre, W Avenue farm that Bill Austin has called home for more than 40 years. They conceded that they treat their horses, and the horses they are boarding, as their own children.
“Line ‘em up side by side and we’ll tell you the correct name of every one of them, their personalities and anything else you’d want to know,” said Bill, who is also a member of the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department posse. “Each horse is in a 10-by-10-foot stall, is well fed, and spends a lot of time out to pasture. We make sure they’re comfortable.”
With so many responsibilities, the Austins don’t leave town much. Vicki, however, is a well-respected quarter horse judge. She and Bill drive to locales around the country, leaving their horses in the care of a dependable family friend. Vicki has judged at the Nebraska State Fair and at large shows in Oklahoma, Kansas and other states.
“We don’t really take vacations,” Bill quipped. “I guess you could call it a vacation if you count when we go to a show where Vicki’s judging.” We have five kids between the two of us, and a whole bunch of grandkids, too, so we’d just as soon stay here, mind the horses, and let the grandkids have fun out here when they come to visit.”
The FQHR Web site is: http://www.fqhrregistry.com