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Colour is HOT!! Colour Horses Surge in Popularity

Colour is HOT!! Colour Horses Surge in Popularity
Riders Find Paints, Pintos, and Appaloosas Unique and Exciting.
by Tammy Thielman

Snow-capped rumps, blue eyes, spotted sides, splashes of colour -- colored horses have risen in popularity over the last ten years. Paints, pintos, and appaloosas are admired for more than eye-catching coat patterns. Colour horse breeders strive to produce horses with desirable temperament, conformation, and attitude. "Colour is the icing on the cake," says Jennifer Henry of Pritchard, B.C., a breeder of Arabian/Q.H. crosses for 22 years.

For the past ten years at Tuscany Park Arabians, Henry has raised colour crosses that succeed in reining, endurance, Pony Club, 4H, and Mini-eventing. A Tuscany Park - bred stallion is being prepped for the famed American Tevis Cup Endurance Race. Jennifer explains, "Colour horses must be extremely conformationally sound. Colour should enhance the positive aspects of a horse: a sound mind and body, athleticism, and an excellent temperament."

Colour is exciting. An increasing number of riders, of all ages and disciplines, are looking for unique horses. Third generation rancher and life-long horsewoman Laurel Griffin, owner of Twin Springs Ranch in Cochrane, Alberta says, "colour horses are in demand. English riders want flashy looking jumpers that stand out in the crowd." Laurel raises warmblood/paint sport horse prospects. Last September, a Griffin horse was among the top sellers at the Prairie Classic Sport Horse Sale.

Solid colors can be, well . . . . boring. Colour stirs that renegade, rebellious soul we all have; even the most conservative-at-heart, dark-bay-lovin' rider hears a deep down whisper, "I want to ride that horse!" when a colour-coat canters by. Paints, pintos, and appaloosas carry colour like an interesting map: You can't take your eyes off 'em. "Paints offer riders everything that a Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred can offer, with the pizzazz of colour," says Jane Leamy of North River Paints in Kamloops, B.C.

Colour horses are appearing in new areas, in increasing numbers. Colour sport horses are making entries into dressage, hunter, and jumper arenas. These sport horses are respected for their talent and skill -- their multicolor appearance is a bonus. "Responsible visibility," is the term breeder Katherine "Kit" Anderson calls her dedication to "quality first, then colour." Anderson manages the Equine Studies Program at B.C.'s Kwantlen College, and raises pinto hunter-jumper prospects at her Celtic Colors Farm. "Ironically," says Kit, "the colour isn't most important. First, breed horses with great minds, athletic ability, and conformational soundness. Add colour on top of all these qualities, and you have a unique product."

Colour horses add spice to a competition, especially in the well-ordered hunter division. Precise and well-paced, conservative hunter riders and their horses can look a lot alike: immaculately turned out and in large numbers. For spectators, a talented colour horse livens up a hunter class. Though rare, colour hunters "are crowd favorites," says A-circuit judge Debbie Garside of True North Stable in Calgary. Garside, who judges A-level shows throughout North America, warns "hunter is about tradition. If a rider (on a colour horse) is going to defy tradition, the horse must be good, and move like a hunter. At the A-level most hunter competitors only show a colored horse that will win. Competitors won't show a mediocre colored horse," explains Garside, who rode pinto T.B./ Q.H. paint mare "Blizzard" who went on to compete successfully in Florida. Colour hunters at the A-level aren't numerous, but they're giant in popularity. Garside describes two Canadian colour hunters, "Scout" and "The News," who became famous in the last decade. Colour horses, which meet hunter-type specifications are rare, but in demand, according to B.C. breeder Kit Anderson, "as rare as elite hunter-types are, colour elite hunters are rarer."

Dianne Tidball, owner of Thunderbird Show Park in Fort Langley, B.C., the site of five annual hunter-jumper shows, admits she hasn't seen many colour hunter entries, "I would gladly create a novelty class for colour hunters," says Dianne, whose been involved in showing for 30 years. Tidball adds enthusiastically, "Crowds would love to watch spotted and colored horses jump a course."

Winning hunter rider, Kirsten Baker, of Armstrong, B.C., has shown pintos, appaloosas, and paints. Baker describes her current show hunter, 16.2 dark bay "Forrest," a 5 year old, breeding stock paint, as "a really cool hunter." Kirsten says proudly, "He's won a lot of Hi-Point awards in the B.C. Paint Horse Club, in the Open classes." Kirsten attributes her success with colour horses to hard work and training: "my horses are flashy," admits Baker, "but we work so hard. That's why we do well." This show season, the junior rider is showing a sorrel overo and a buckskin tobiano.

Historically, colour horses faced a prejudice in the show ring. Now, this bias is virtually gone. Judges with conservative taste considered colour horses 'flashy,' because their markings distracted from their performance. "We've never encountered any problems with prejudice against our horses," says Tuscany Park owner Jennifer Henry. Henry explains, "In the old days, when many Arabians were imported from Britain, purebreds were faulted for high white on the legs, and body. Now, white is considered attractive," says Jennifer.

"More colour horses are competing in different disciplines, from eventing to dressage to rodeo. They're being accepted," says Kay Evans, organizer of Colourama 2001, the popular multi-breed horse show that was held in July in Cloverdale. For Appaloosas, Pintos, and Paints, Colourama offers three judges, three days of showing, English and Western futurities, and Open classes. Organizers expected over 150 equine entries, "Colourama grows by about twenty horses per year," says Kay, a loyal Appaloosa rider who likes the "excellent temperament" of colour horses.

Shows like Colourama, and A.P.H.A. sanctioned shows, are becoming increasingly popular. Rider Kirsten Baker finds paint shows "fun and more relaxed than open shows." A member of the B.C. Paint Horse Club, Kirsten loves competing in "the positive environment at paint shows. They're an awesome learning experience," says the young rider. "Everyone's helpful. I would love to go to the World Show, one day."

Reasonable entry fees help make shows like Colourama popular, says organizer Kay Evans. Evans points out that, for a horse that is double registered as a paint and pinto, showing in ten classes, at the pre-entered price of $255.00, the price-per-class works out to $8.00 per class. "That's showing in front of three different judges, for reasonable per-class price." Like Baker, Evans likes the positive atmosphere, where "we meet a lot of American riders, and have a chance to become friends."

Colour horses require a lot of work to keep show-ring ready, admits Jennifer Henry, who points out "turn out is extremely important. Colour horses have to be kept spotless." Liz Hickling, owner of Aspen West Paint Horses in Tofield, (near Edmonton), Alberta says, "the rider's tiny mistakes, not to mention major ones, are noticed when you ride a horse that stands out," says Hickling, who has shown at the World Paint Horse Show in Texas. "A huge number of people want to touch my horses, and are fascinated by their coat patterns," says Liz proudly. Hickling sells many 'loud' T.B. cross paints to owners who plan to show colour horses in eventing, jumper, and open hunter shows in Canada and the U.S.

For rancher Laurel Griffin, her favourite show ring moment came when she rode her beloved 90% white tovero stallion Bermuda Straw, at Spruce Meadows. Laurel and her stallion rode in Battle of the Breeds and the Parade of Nations in the famed International Ring at Spruce Meadows. Bermuda Straw "has a real aptitude for jumping," says Laurel, "He's quick, careful, and a true working partner, as good as any thoroughbred or warmblood. He has a heart as big as Texas," she adds lovingly. In 1995, Bermuda Straw won the Open Jumper class at the World Paint Show in Reno, Nevada. Griffin now crosses her stallion with young Holsteiner mares to produce colour sport horse prospects. "Colour horses have super temperaments," says Laurel, "they're quiet and good natured."

As paints and pintos boom in popularity, the loyal Appaloosa needs more support in Western Canada. The popularity of the spotted horse isn't necessarily rising along with that of the paint and pinto: "Myths about the Appaloosa still exist. We need to dispel them," says experienced Appaloosa breeder Moe Gates. "The Appaloosa has stamina, but is friendly, and easy-going." Moe and husband Rick own Meadow Creek Ranch in Lavington B.C., where the couple raises performance-calibre all-round family horses. Moe hopes the future of the Appaloosa horse will take a more positive turn. "There hasn't been an Appaloosa club in our area for years," says Gates. Two Appaloosa clubs do exist in the Lower Mainland of B.C.

Appaloosa breeder Harold Jackson of B.C. Appaloosa Centre in Prince George, wants to see the Appaloosa horse experience the popularity the breed achieved "in the sixties and seventies." Jackson has owned Appaloosas for over thirty years, and is the vice-president of the Appaloosa Horse Club of Canada. At Jackson's Appaloosa Centre, the breeder raises "true Appaloosas that are at least four generations Appaloosa on both sides." Like Moe Gates, and other Appy admirers, Harold says, "The Appaloosa is a wonderful, versatile horse."

In 2001, traditional attitudes about colour horses have evolved. The APHA is the second-largest breed registry in the U.S. In the years of the Western frontier, colour horses were valued because they fit in with the landscape, like horses in a Bev Doolittle painting. Though the show ring version of the colour horse is groomed and tidy, the thrill we get seeing these horses is comparable to the one we get watching a herd of colored range horses, boldly marked with splashes and spots.

On a horse, colour can symbolize something primitive and bold. Native Indians and cowboys have used colour horses throughout history. Horses of colour were believed to be blessed, and marked for bravery by Native Indian gods. As for cowboys, they admired the colour horses' hardiness and ability to camouflage.

Now, as an increasing number of modern riders dare to stand out, colour horses are filling a new niche -- in every area of riding.

Other articles by Tammy Thielman

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