It’s 5 a.m. at the historic 7S Stuart Ranch, and Terry Stuart Forst is leading a blaze-faced sorrel horse to the barn.
The horse follows behind her and stands quietly where he’s tied every day while she brushes him quickly then tosses a saddle over his back as s. The morning feels like it’s going to be a hot one, with the warm smell of horse filling the air.
Terry tugs home her latigo with a snap, pulls a bridle on over her horse’s ears, and swings a leg over his back. She sidles up to a gate, easily unlatches it, and sets out. Her gelding trots out smoothly, covering plenty of country.
It’s almost sunrise, and Terry is riding out to check mares, just as she has all her life, just as all her ancestors have for generations. It’s not just a way of life—it’s a legacy.
On the Stuart Ranch
In 1838, Robert Clay Freeny, age 26, arrived at Fort Towson in the Choctaw Nation in the state now known as Oklahoma. He married the daughter of a Choctaw man. Today, their descendants live on the 7S Stuart Ranch—the oldest ranch in Oklahoma still under continuous family ownership.
Terry’s sons, Robert and Clay Forst, who work with her daily, are the sixth generation on the 40,000-acre ranch. They even bear the name of the ranch’s founder, Robert Clay Freeny. Robert and Clay’s children will be the seventh generation.
They all know what every rancher knows: The land, horses, and cattle don’t care about legacy. Today’s ranchers must prove they’re up to the job every day, then again tomorrow, and the day after that. The ranch work must get done, just like it did 10, 20, or even 50 years ago.
“It’s our lives,” Terry says. “It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months of the year. It is a commitment that we take very seriously. I think that providing food for this world is a huge responsibility. We feel very much that we are stewards, not owners. And I think we have a responsibility to improve what we are given and to leave it better for the next generation.”
The Stuart Ranch Horse Division
Since the 1920s, horses have been the shining stars of the Stuart Ranch.
Increasingly well-bred horses have taken Stuarts and Forsts from one end of the ranch to another for decades, but in recent years, it’s the show pen where they have excelled.
Terry and Robert began competing in ranch-style competitions about 15 years ago. The roping part of competition came easily for both mother and son—the finesse of reining came harder.
“There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of messing up,” Robert says. “A lot of what I know today has been messing up and learning how to fix the mistakes.
“There were probably two or three summers when I would leave here at 12 o’clock at night and get down there at 2 o’clock in the morning, then work horses till we got done, then turn around, come back and work a few more here and then turn around and go back,” he continues.
People who are raised horseback, Terry adds, think they know what they’re doing. Learning new techniques can be harder, but Robert figured it out.
Early in his training career, he handed off Seven S Indian Maid, fondly called “Gypsy,” to his mom. He and Gypsy hadn’t been getting along, so he decided to try a new rider.
Terry took the mare to the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) Futurity that year, winning the Intermediate and Novice Non Pro divisions and becoming reserve champion Non Pro exhibitor.
“She turned around and won gobs of money on the mare!” Robert says with a laugh. “I tell my help all the time that if you’re having a problem, it might be you. That’s something I learned.”
To date, Terry has more than $68,590 in NRCHA winnings, while Robert has eanred $68,144.
One of the winningest Stuart-raised horses is Seven S Crazy Horse, called “Batman,” who has two NRCHA reserve world champion titles. Rising roping star Trevor Hale also rode Batman to two National High School Finals Rodeo champion cow horse titles and one NRCHA World’s Greatest Youth Horseman reserve champion title.
About 30 foals are born each spring on the ranch. Like Batman and Gypsy, each one is a four-legged advertisement for the Stuart reputation, Robert says, whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent.
“They’re raised here, they’re trained here, and we sell them here,” Robert says. “We don’t want to mess them up. Even if it takes four or five days longer, a week longer, a month longer to get a maneuver, we take that time. Because as long as there are soft eyes and forward ears when they leave here, we’ve done our job.”
The Legend of Misty
In 1949, the Stuart breeding program got a big bump when Bob Stuart—Terry’s father—bought two American Quarter Horse stallions, Big Shot Dun and Breezy Buck, to cross on ranch-bred mares.
In 1961, a filly was born, a daughter of Breezy Buck out of the Stuart-bred mare Pretty Sally. At that time, Terry was a youngster who had been reading Marguerite Henry’s books about Misty of Chincoteague.
“I wanted to name the filly ‘Misty,’” Terry said. “My dad thought it wasn’t a ranch name.”
And so the filly wasn’t named Misty. She was, however, registered as Miss T Stuart—which when drawled together in an Oklahoma accent, sounds quite a bit like “Misty Stuart.”
The dun filly was never trained to be ridden and spent her life in the broodmare band, living a somnolent life under the shade of mesquite trees, just another mare in a herd of mares.
Her foals, however, went to town and saw the sights.
Miss T Stuart produced three American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Champions—a respected, hard-earned title that requires conformation and performance in the show arena—in crosses with Son O Leo.
But it was when her daughters started producing that horse people sat up and took notice.
Miss T Stuart’s bloodlines are in the pedigrees of top performance stallions across western disciplines, making her the marvel of a mare who never left the ranch but was inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame in 2014. That achievement marks one of the highest honors possible for an American Quarter Horse.
Most mares on Stuart Ranch have Miss T Stuart in their pedigrees.
In 1995, AQHA recognized the quality of the mare band and breeding program by naming Stuart Ranch the Best Remuda Award winner.
“We take the quality of our horses very seriously because it’s our reputation,” Terry says. “Our mares are our program. I mean, we have built our program on a set of broodmares that are generational, just like us, and that’s extremely important to us. That’s what our program is going to be going forward. We are raising some stallions right now that we are going to use and incorporate back in the program. It’s a really exciting time.”
Outfitting, Beef Jerky, and Corriente Cattle
Stuart Ranch’s commercial cattle division currently includes Hereford and Angus cattle. The cows are DNA-tested to identify which ones are likely to be better producers with an eye to improving the herd.
“You always have a bottom end,” Terry explains. “I don’t care who you are, you have a bottom end, but if we can keep raising that bottom end, we can make the bottom end better than it was last year.”
Being better is always the goal for Terry and her family.
“We take care of our business efficiently and carefully,” she says. “We’re very proactive as far as our vaccination protocols and how we manage things because we do really care about how our cattle are raised and how they are managed. A safe, responsibly cared-for food supply is important to us.”
Most of the commercial cattle go to market, but some of them are processed for Stuart Meat Co. or Stuart Ranch-branded beef jerky. Those products are still in the early stages, but they’re another area where the family can diversify.
Most cattle producers prize their beef cattle above all, but the Forsts have made a place for a different type of cattle on the ranch: Corriente.
Corriente calves, prized by ropers, go to team ropings and rodeos, not the beef market. They’re hardy, need less supplemental feed and less care, and they have a built-in market.
“All three of us are involved in the cattle,” Terry says. “It’s hard to explain a day-to-day schedule because each day is different. We just got through with spring works. We calve both fall and spring. So we got done with branding and spring calves, and we’ve just wrapped up weaning the fall calves.”
Another Stuart family endeavor is outfitting, which involves hosting, guiding, and assisting game hunters on the ranch. That’s all Clay’s responsibility and has been for the last 12 or 13 years.
“My hunters are here from September through the first part of May,” Clay says. “Each day really consists of picking hunters up, taking them out, hunting, then taking them back and starting all over again the next day.”
The same hunters come year after year, always ready for more. On any given day, Clay might guide the hunters in a search for whitetail deer, turkeys, feral pigs, ducks, or geese.
So far, the hunters have been housed in nearby Waurika, Oklahoma, but today, a lodge is being built on the ranch where the hunters can stay.
“Clay has taken the outfitting to a level that we never thought of,” Terry says. “We’re building dreams and putting them together and making them viable for the future.”
The Future and the Past at Stuart Ranch
Terry was widowed when Clay and Robert were quite young.
“In a lot of ways, all three of us have gotten thrown to the wolves,” Terry says. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes and learned from them. We want to be the best we can be at anything we do. Excellence is a big part of this operation.”
All three of them are long-term thinkers, she says, adding that “sustainability” is not just a buzzword.
“If we hadn’t been sustainable, we would not be here for 154 years,” Terry affirms.
Clay and Robert have four children between them. There will be a place for each one who chooses to stay on the ranch, Terry says, but it’s not the life for everyone.
“For example, one day, we took some steers to the back side. We’d had thunderstorms that morning, and we had a big ice storm coming in that afternoon,” Terry says. “Well, we rode back in sleet. We broke the ice off our leggings and our hats. You’ve got to be willing to go out on those days because the cattle need to be fed and the horses need to be fed and the ice needs to be broken so they can drink water.
“And heifers never have problems calving except on Sunday at 7 o’clock in the evening, and mares are the same way. Very rarely do we have problems, but when we do, you drop what else you’re doing, and this is what you go do. That comes first. That’s your priority. You take care of what you’ve been given.”
Success, as they say, is a journey.
“My oldest son’s going with me quite a bit on horseback now,” Clay says. “I can just say, ‘Hey, Arlington, I need you to go just trail those cows up. I’ll catch up with you on the back side of this draw.’ I trust him on Batman enough now that I’m able to do that.”
They measure success in such daily blessings of good horses, good cattle, hard work and family connections.
“Could success be the fact that we have generationally maintained ourselves and generationally we’re prepared to go to the future?” Terry says. “Success for all three of us isn’t about the money. It’s about our life, our tradition and our heritage.”
Can You Be A Rancher?
Terry Stuart Forst and her sons have been living on the same land all their lives. They know what it smells like when rain is coming, and they know when to move the cattle to higher ground.
Robert and Clay are already teaching their children the same way of life.
But it’s possible, they say, for anyone to become a rancher—even someone who wasn’t born on a ranch.
“People have done it,” Terry says. “In this country today, if you want to do something, you still have the ability to get it done. But the big catch is that it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of time and it’s those days when those storms come rolling in and there’s ice on the ground and, or it’s 20 degrees below zero, and you don’t get to stay inside by the fire.”
Leasing is one way to start, even if it’s just 20 acres.
“There’s always a way as long as you’re creative and willing to put in the time,” Terry says. “There are a lot of programs and a lot of people out there who are willing to help people, but you’ve gotta be willing to work and you’ve gotta be willing to work hard.”
Recognition And Honors
- 1995 Genuine Redbud earns the AQHA Superhorse title, an award given at the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show for the top-performing open horse. The Miss T Stuart granddaughter was bred by the Stuart Ranch and owned by Eric Storey.
- 1995 Stuart Ranch earns the AQHA Best Remuda Award
- 2007 Terry Stuart Forst is inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame
- 2009 Terry Stuart Forst becomes the first woman to serve as president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association
- 2012 Stuart Ranch is inducted into the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Hall of Fame, the first ranch to earn that honor.
- 2020 Terry Stuart Forst is inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
This article about the Stuart Ranch appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Western Life Today. Click to subscribe!