News Articles

White Horse Ranch once again breeds horses & faith in Neb.

NAPER, Neb. (BP)–The home of the American White Horse, the only horse breed native to Nebraska, is thriving once again, as is the historic ranch’s Christian witness.

The White Horse Ranch, about seven miles southeast of Naper, Neb., was founded by Cal and Ruth Thompson in 1938. Devout Christians unable to have their own children, the Thompsons started a training and riding school as an avenue for ministering to children.

They began touring with their White Horse troupe, with the children doing the performing, and in its heyday during the 1940s and ’50s, the White Horse Ranch also became a showplace that attracted 400-500 visitors monthly.

But in 1963, the vision of the White Horse Ranch seemed at an end with the death of Cal Thompson. Due to health reasons, Ruth Thompson had to close the ranch, lease the pasturelands and sell the equipment and unique herd of horses.

With the ranch’s proud past a fading memory, its buildings fell into disrepair.

Today, however, the White Horse Ranch is enjoying a physical rebirth thanks to Dean and Carley Daugherty, a dedicated Southern Baptist couple. Not only are they restoring the buildings and raising White Horses, the two are carrying on the ranch’s spiritual legacy.

Carley Daugherty was one of the children touched by the Thompsons. She was their foster daughter and lived at the ranch from 1947-49 and then came back in the summers.

“By the time Carley was 8 years old, she had performed [with the White Horse troupe] in 46 states,” her husband said.

The Daughertys came to Nebraska in 1989 to start fulfilling Ruth Thompson’s dream of restoring the White Horse Ranch. Dean retired that year from his career with the Maricopa County sheriff’s department in Phoenix, Ariz.

“It was in really sad condition,” Daugherty said of the ranch when he and his wife arrived there from Arizona. “We had quite a challenge.”

However, Ruth Thompson only got to see the beginning of her dream come true. She died in 1990.

“It’s payback time,” Carley said as she recalled how the Thompsons touched her life as a young girl.

Along with their work at the ranch, the Daughertys are active in ministry, both at the ranch and in the area.

Soon after they arrived in Nebraska, Carley contacted the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists to see what Southern Baptist ministries were available in the area. Southern Baptist work was just getting on its feet in this part of Nebraska, so the Daughertys have been a part of several cutting-edge ministries.

Dennis Hampton, church planter in the Nebraska Sandhills, started a Bible study at the White Horse Ranch in 1991. The Bible study has since moved into Naper to be more easily accessible, especially during winter. The group has an average attendance of 12-14 people and is planning to start a new group.

The White Horse Ranch also has been the site of Vacation Bible School every summer for the past five years. This year’s VBS is scheduled for June 19-23.

Vacation Bible School is held in the “long barn,” which was a cow barn in the ranch’s early days. The barn has a spacious wood floor salvaged from a schoolhouse in South Dakota.

Children come from as far away as 25 miles to attend VBS. The Bible study then follows up on contacts made through VBS.

In addition, the Daughertys carry on the Thompsons’ legacy by opening the ranch to such groups as 4-H and Future Farmers of America.

When the Bible study first began, Hampton used the popular “Jesus” video, based on the Gospel of Luke. Through this, Dean realized he had never asked Jesus to be his Savior. He was later baptized in the pond at the ranch.

Soon God called Dean to preach. He received training through the Heartland seminary extension program offered by Sandhills Baptist Association and Platte Valley (now Oregon Trail) Baptist Association. He completed the six courses in 1996 and received a certificate.

The Daughertys attend Green Valley Sunday School, a Southern Baptist ministry located 12 miles southwest of Atkinson, Neb., and a 38-mile drive from the White Horse Ranch.

Dean assists Joel Wentworth, coordinator of Sandhills Baptist Association, in preaching at Green Valley and Dorsey Community Church, 30 miles northeast of O’Neill. The Dorsey church is a 64-mile drive from the ranch.

In addition, Dean does supply preaching for three small Presbyterian churches near the White Horse Ranch. The three churches are all served by one pastor and are now pastorless.

“It’s been a great experience,” Daugherty said of his ministry with the Presbyterians.

Despite preaching frequently, he is discovering he would rather teach the Bible.

“My preference is teaching rather than being a pastor,” he said. “Being a pastor is hard work.”

The Daughertys spend winters in Arizona, where they kept their house. Their home church, First Baptist in Peoria, Ariz., licensed Dean to preach in December 1997. While in Arizona, they lead Bible studies in mobile home parks inhabited mostly by retirees.

Going back and forth between Nebraska and Arizona is an extensive undertaking — “like moving twice a year,” Dean said. They take several horses, a large collection of tools, among other things.

Thus the Daughertys are now trying to discern God’s will about future ministry opportunities, considering living in Nebraska full time, yet content to living each day by faith and being a part of God’s work.

Additional (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library. Photo titles: NATIVE NEBRASKANS, WHITE SATIN, HORSES & PRAYER, UNIQUE BREED.

    About the Author

  • Eva Wilson

    Eva Wilson is editor of the Baptist Digest, newsjournal of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. Retired editor Tim Boyd contributed to this report.

    Read All by Eva Wilson ›