Calling for Spots

It had been more than fourteen years since a baby horse was born on my dad’s hobby farm in Leesburg, Georgia. So, when I heard him delightfully sing over the phone, “She is here and she is perfect,” the morning of February 23rd, he nor I could have been more thrilled. Her golden coat and precisely even hind socks were the back drop to a rump-covering, white blanket— appaloosa perfection!  As I carried on through the longest workday ever, I thought about how much of my life is attached to an appaloosa.

For most families, horse ownership goes one of two ways; either the parents have horses and raise their children in the horse community, or a child wants to ride and the parents support them in the same way they would support a kid who plays soccer. My scenario began as the latter, but quickly became a family affair. At the age of ten, I begged my parents, “Please, please let me take riding lessons.” And, by the age of twelve I owned my first horse, a spotted appaloosa gelding named Magic.

While I was smitten with quarter horses and paints (really anything with four hooves and a tail), I associated an appaloosa’s spots with acceptance. It was okay for my horse to be different, so I didn’t have to worry so much about fitting in myself. For his own reasons, my dad quickly caught my obsession with the appaloosa breed, too.

Each afternoon, I rode the school bus to the boarding facility from which my dad would pick me up to go home. He enjoyed the barn like I did and would often hang around to do barn chores and help feed. On weekends, we would work together building fences on our property with the ultimate goal of having horses at home. So, I distinctly remember the day he handed me a Polaroid picture of a blue roan, foundation-bred appaloosa mare standing next to a soft brown colt. “This is Sandy and her new foal, Dusty. She should be bred back to the stallion. I bought them today and they are being delivered to our farm next week,” he told me somewhat matter of factly. In less than a day, we had gone from one horse to a four-horse family with a mini-farm.

Throughout high school, I continued to ride and show while my dad raised baby horses. He kept Dusty as his personal horse. Sandy had in fact been bred back and gave birth to a blanketed colt we named Bump, who would later become my husband’s horse. It seems like a glimmer now, but I made it through the arduous task of high school on the backs of my horses.

I was in college when my dad bred Sandy for the last two times. The first year, she gave us a pretty bay filly with one white hair in her tail, just enough for us to know she would eventually varnish. We named her Kamir. The following year, Sandy gave us her last baby, a solid black filly we affectionately call ‘Sissy’. After college, I got married and moved around a bit before finally making it back home where my dad and horses were waiting.

In 2007, I’d just started my new job, so I couldn’t join my dad with Kamir at the Appaloosa Nationals. I remember sitting at my office desk and being so thankful to have the opportunity to watch his showmanship class via live stream. Sissy and Kamir continued to give us incredible rides, and as they became more seasoned, I was able to use both of them to teach lessons. They helped me earn a little extra income while giving several more young people the same confidence I felt with my first appaloosa. But, in the blink of an eye, both fillies went from young show horses to retired pasture pets. Kamir is now completely varnished and has lost much of her vision. Sissy is still ridable, but can no longer keep up with the strenuous regiment needed for today’s western pleasure horses. As if my youth was connected to my horses, I entered my mid-30’s feeling ring sour and ready for a change.

Last year, I quit my job to begin a new career. My dad retired. And, together we made a pact to choose happiness, which for us meant that we would continue to enjoy our appaloosa horses. But, that also meant we needed a new crop of appaloosa horses. It was time for our mini-farm to have another baby horse.

Fortunately, we know much more today about color genetics than we did when my dad was breeding Sandy. However, there is still no guarantee when it comes to spots, which anyone who’s ever bred an appaloosa knows. Based on her color profile, I decided to breed Kamir with a solid quarter horse and set out to find her perfect boyfriend. By chance, I met a quarter horse breeder who was retiring his palomino stallion and allowed me to go old-school with a pasture breeding. With her advanced age and because she was a maiden mare, we didn’t have high expectations for Kamir to catch. But, she did!

What we found by her side that February morning was the most beautiful palomino filly we could have ever asked for. Unfortunately, Kamir couldn’t see her new baby very well, so a family friend jokingly said we should put a bell around the baby’s neck. What a great idea! My dad quickly put together a leather strap with a cow bell attached and fixed it around the baby’s neck so Kamir could hear the baby ring alongside her.

Now three months old, Baby Bell is the highlight of our little appaloosa horse farm. Her antics bring us joy and she has given us renewed affection for our beloved breed. As my dad and I look forward to showing Call Me Untouchable later this year, I hope my horse show friends understand just how valuable her spots are to my family and me. Our beautiful Baby Bell reminds us of the many wonderful memories we’ve had with our horses as well as the many memories we have left to make.

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