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Thursday, Apr. 17, 2014

Spotted horses: Classic style that's here to stay

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Did you know horses are as subject to the whims of fashion as high heels or, heaven help us, hip-huggers? This can be a good thing -- it introduces the world to a new breed or a new aspect to an old breed. I remember when I was a young girl, about 9 or 10, and Stud Spider took the world by storm.

Now if you're not an Appaloosa aficionado, you're probably saying "Stud who?" Stud Spider was this amazing black App with a white blanket, and very clearly defined spots. He was also owned by the very hot actor James Brolin back in the 1970s. Breyer's made a model of him (the horse, not Brolin, although I think Mattel missed the boat by not making a model of Brolin.) Disney came out with a movie called "Run Appaloosa Run!" and all of the sudden, the world was seeing spots.

All of the horse-crazy girls in my age group were determined to own an Appaloosa. At the time, since the breed was only just recovering from near-extinction, the horses were fairly rare and extremely expensive, so only a few of us actually got one.

I got the Breyer's version and a 10-year-old walking horse pony with more bad tricks than an airport lounge magician -- and I think I got the better end of the deal.

The problem with a horse coming into style is that people will run out and get one without really researching the characteristics of the breed. Appaloosas can have striped feet that require special care. They are not ... and I repeat ... not gaited horses, which means comfort takes a backseat to color. They can also be stubborn -- it takes a special personality type to be able to deal with Apps and my father was wise enough -- and broke enough -- to realize I was not one of those types.

They're great horses -- they just aren't for everyone, and I wonder how many little girls got discouraged and left the horse world because they were mismatched with the wrong breed. I had one friend who gave up on horses because her walking horse was too calm -- if she'd had an Appaloosa, she'd probably be competing today.

Another problem with horses coming in style is that there are always unscrupulous breeders who will breed often and unwisely just to produce mass numbers of the popular breed. Luckily for the horses, they're not prone to litters and they're limited to one pregnancy a year, so they don't suffer quite as badly as the dogs in the puppy mills, but the end product can be diluted or inbred, with far too many inferior representatives of the breed appearing, sold off to unsuspecting newbies who only recognize the printed pedigree, not the finished product. I saw far too many Arabians come out of this wave, and I'm glad to see that trend has been curbed lately.

Now the spotted saddle horse is the hot ticket, and looking at pros and cons of popularity, I've got to say, I couldn't be happier. These are amazing animals. There were very few around when I was a 13-year-old rider, but I wish there had been more. Back then, if your horse had "broken" color, there was usually a Shetland pony or a mustang in the woodpile and the sturdy, quarter-horse rounded animal was called a "pinto" or a "paint." You only rode it Western and I think it was required by law that you name it Comanche, Apache or Tomahawk.

There was one at the barn where I boarded my pony, a tall, rangy buckskin with a splash of white arcing across shoulder. He was named Cheyenne, I think. Or Cherokee? Choctaw ...

When his owner told me he was a Tennessee walking horse, I didn't believe her. Walking horses were black, everyone knew that.

But after I rode Choctaw, I had to concede defeat. I knew a running walk when I sat one. (I also know one when I see one, which is more than I can say for some folks ...)

Most of the spotted saddle horses back then were smaller, so when I outgrew my pony, we couldn't find one tall enough for me except Choctaw, and his owner wasn't selling.

Since then, the Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association has done an excellent job of bringing the breed up, improving the size and stride, without sacrificing quality or personality.

The breeders have created an all-around horse that just about anyone could enjoy. As sport horses and on the trail they can keep the hey-go-mad riders happy, and with their gentle natures and easy gaits, they can keep the worried moms at ease.

The horses are excellent ambassadors for the gaited breeds, colorful and calm, both "on the rail and on the trail," as their riders like to boast, and I only wish they'd had more of them way back when.

Some fashions come and go, but the classics stay around for ever -- and the spots, my friends, are definitely in to stay.

Mary Reeves
Mother Mayhem

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