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Stephen J. "Tio" Kleberg

46th National Golden Spur Award Recipient
Kingsville, TX | King Ranch, Inc.

Tio and Janell Kleberg - Maria Langmore.jpeg

Photograph by Maria Langmore

Stephen J. “Tio” Kleberg of Kingsville, Texas, has been selected as the 2024 National Golden Spur recipient for his contributions to the ranching and livestock industries. Kleberg will receive the National Golden Spur Award at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center in Lubbock, Texas, during the annual National Golden Spur Award Honors on Saturday, October 5. 

Kleberg served as the vice president of agricultural operations for the legendary King Ranch from 1971-1998. He then served on the board of directors of King Ranch, Inc. from 1998 until 2021. During his more than 50 years of service to King Ranch, Kleberg revitalized the American Quarter Horse breeding program, contributed to the development of the Santa Cruz breed of cattle and implemented sweeping wildlife conservation efforts.  


“As the manager of the livestock operations at the family’s King Ranch Properties in South Texas, Tio made a tremendous contribution to the Quarter Horse breed by introducing the services of Buster Welch and the stallions Mr. San Peppy and Peppy San Badger to the extremely talented band of King Ranch mares,” said Red Steagall, the 2018 recipient of the National Golden Spur Award. “The King Ranch horses took control of the equine industry for several years. Those bloodlines continue to influence the Quarter Horse breed today.”  

In addition to his contributions to the success of King Ranch, Kleberg tirelessly served the ranching and livestock industries. A longtime director of the American Quarter Horse Association, Kleberg served as one of the youngest AQHA presidents in 1985. He was inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame in 1997. Kleberg was also a director for the National Cutting Horse Association and the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.   


Kleberg’s commitment to wildlife conservation is legendary, having served on the boards of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute and the East Foundation. Kleberg has been recognized by his peers with multiple awards, including being recognized with the Texas Tech University distinguished alumni award, and by both the Texas House and Senate with resolutions recognizing his contributions to Texas agriculture. Kleberg received an honorary doctorate from Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He was honored with the Phi Delta Theta fraternity Legion of Honor award in 2015.   


“Tio was a cowboy first and then became a cowman, a horseman and, ultimately, the leader of the agribusiness operations for King Ranch, where he became the face of King Ranch throughout his tenure,” said Jay Evans, who worked for Kleberg at King Ranch and now manages Bridwell Ranches. “I can best describe his character and values by pulling from the cowboy/western culture code, which is summarized as strong faith, honesty, fairness, loyalty, hospitality, a deep respect for the land and its animals and a rock-solid work ethic and being a man of his word.”  


“Tio, by his own words, always wanted to be a cowboy,” said Steve Stevens of Houston, Texas. “He represents the fifth generation to have lived and worked on King Ranch. Following graduation from Texas Tech University and service as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Tio was heavily involved in the management of all operations of King Ranch, including serving as a member of the board of directors. He has been successful in achieving his goal of working on the ranch to service in the board room.”  

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