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From someone who knew Rita Crundwell

PRINCETON — Gary and Julia Yaklich of Princeton have been horse enthusiasts for years. They clearly know the horse business, and they also know Rita Crundwell. The Yaklich couple have raised and shown their horses — many times in the same show ring as Crundwell.

Gary and Julia attended the recent auction of Crundwell’s horses and property in Dixon, hoping to buy at least one of Crundwell’s broodmares, however, the couple came home empty-handed. Gary chatted with the Bureau County Republican about his thoughts on the auction, the horses and the Crundwell situation. Following are the BCR’s questions and Gary’s answers:

BCR: How did you know Rita Crundwell?

Yaklich: I’ve probably known Rita since the early ‘80s. When you show horses, you come in contact with the same circle of people. When we showed more, we would show with/against her mostly in Illinois and Wisconsin. We attended her past production sales and visited the ranches over the years.

BCR: Why did you want a Crundwell horse?

Yaklich: Rita was able to develop one of the top broodmare bands in the country. She then either raised or bought studs that crossed well on these mares. She had about 200 mares and over 10 studs, so she would try different crosses to perfect the desired traits or abilities necessary to win at the highest level. Everyone was aware of the crosses that worked the best, so they were the ones most sought after by the horse show industry. This was the opportunity to capitalize on the proven breeding program and carry on what was started in Dixon. On Sunday and Monday, I bid on several of the mares in the sale, however, the bids on the mares I liked shot up past my limit.

BCR: Did you think the prices were fair?

Yaklich: The top sellers were all horses that will have an impact on the quarter horse industry for decades. So, given their future in both the show ring and in breeding programs, the top sellers were definitely worth the money. There were also average horses that would be competitive on the local level, and this was reflected in the prices they brought. There were really only a few “off bred” horses in the sale, and they, of course, were on the low end of the price range. Actually there were horses sold suited for all levels of competition with sales prices to match.

BCR: What made Crundwell so good at what she did regarding the horses, and how do you think the money played into that?

Yaklich: Well, obviously to be consistently competitive in so many disciplines, the money was key. Rita bought the best, raised the best and aligned herself with the top showmen in the industry to train and show her horses. This takes a lot of money, but she knew what a great one was, and without that you can’t accomplish what she did.

BCR: When it comes to horses, how do you classify those that Crundwell owned?

Yaklich: The best in the industry. Of course, Rita “obtained” the money necessary to be the industry’s top breeder, but there had to be more. The money certainly helped, but you have to know what a good one is, if you want to raise a good one … and she did. Horses that she either bred, raised or owned have won the nation’s top shows year after year, and many have consistently led the nation in a variety of events.

BCR: What does it mean splitting up a herd such as Crundwell’s?

Yaklich: I think it will actually benefit the industry because now these well-bred horses will have even a better opportunity to be crossed on a larger variety of bloodlines. Anyone willing to pay tens of thousands for Rita’s broodmares will most likely breed them to other top studs in the nation (other than Rita’s). This will be a chance to further enhance a breeding program that produced over 60 world champions.

BCR: What do you think being a Crundwell horse will do to the prices of these horses in the future?

Yaklich: A good horse is a good horse, no matter where it comes from. So, being from RC Quarter Horses will only be a topic of conversation for a short time. What will matter, will be what the horses from the program accomplish … That’s what breeders and show people will really care about going forward.

BCR: What does this issue do to the quarter horse industry, in general. Does it tarnish the industry or bring attention to it?

Yaklich: It definitely brought attention to the industry. Both horse people as well as the general public have been talking about this story for months. I really don’t think it will tarnish the industry, but the big fall shows like the Congress and the World will definitely have a somewhat different feel to them. With Rita’s absence, the economic impact will probably be noticed some, but on the other hand, many people feel that now others may have a better chance for one of the top awards at the bigger shows … I guess time will tell.

BCR: What was the general feeling in the crowd during the auction?

Yaklich: There were a lot of mixed emotions from what I could see. Many people were somewhat shocked of the magnitude of the horse operation itself; then there were, of course, people that were shocked that what Rita is accused of went unnoticed by Dixon city officials. And, yet other horse people that see this as an end to a major chapter in quarter horse show history … be it good or bad.

BCR: Was there a general feeling about Crundwell that you could detect?

Yaklich: It really depends upon who you talk to. There are so many layers to this story, I think feelings that folks have toward Rita kind of overlap. I knew her as someone who was very supportive of organizations within the industry (such as youth programs) and a fairly “regular person” at the shows etc. ... but if the accusations are true, there must be another side that many people did not know.

BCR: How would you characterize her as a person and as a horse person?

Yaklich: Friendly, unassuming and generally just a nice “regular” person. She was a very competent showman; she always presented her horses to their fullest. Her horses definitely came first, and it seemed like she truly loved them all. Even with the sheer number of horses at the ranches, they were all extremely well taken care of and always in great condition.

BCR: How many horses do you own? Are any of them from Crundwell’s farm?

Yaklich: Right now, we just have one mare at home, and earlier this year, we had to put down “Panners Pride,” a great old horse the kids were showing. I also just sold a mare to a family in Michigan. Actually, she was a Hunt Seat mare that I bought at one of Rita’s production sales in Beloit a few years ago. Rita began having her own production sales at the Dixon Ranch every other year to sell over 100 of the horses she raised. Those sales were also well attended and gave the public the chance to buy some of her young horses at pretty fair prices.

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See: Dismantling of Rita's empire

See: Crundwell motor home auctioned off for $800k

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