Vickie Ives, Of Karma Farms in Marshal Texas, is the Vice President of the Horse of the America's Registry. Though Texas is a long way from our horse lot many of our horses come from horses that were bred at Karma Farms. I met Vickie and Tom and Doug Norush when we conducted the HOA inspection of the wild horses of Shackleford and Corolla (see the HOA Web site for Vickie's report of that study). She has long been a hero of mine and much of what I know about the history of the Colonial Spanish horse comes from her. This e-interview was conducted in 2009
What drew you to mustangs?
My first was a BLM that we rescued from a horrible starvation case in Pittsburg, TX. I was the first trained large animal investigator on the scene and called in the Feds when I saw their BLM brand. 33 horses were dead on the ground. We moved another 100+ to Black Beauty Ranch in Brownsboro, TX to rehab. Titus Unlearning came to me from that group, given to me by the BLM for my work in helping to rescue that herd. “Ty” is still alive today at coming 29 years old and is still sound to ride! He was our first NATRC National Champion and was ridden by my oldest daughter Victoria when she was just starting her career with horses at junior high age.
Ty made me want “the real thing” so my second was Choctaw Sun Dance—he went on to become the most decorated CS Horse in his day. With starters like Ty and Dance, I was quickly hooked!
What do you look for in a Colonial Spanish Horse?
Correct CS conformation (I usually prefer the light or Southwestern type personally) with good Spanish type motion and plenty of extension, superior hooves, then temperament. I look for large intelligent eyes, a curious nature, desire to be with people—then color is fun, too! But I try to match the horse with the job and the rider. What I’d look for as an endurance prospect for a seasoned competitor sure might not be the same horse I’d pick for a first-time CS buyer who wanted a pony hunter and pleasure trail mount.
What about the criticism that most Spanish Colonial Horses are too small for adult rides? (How big is Rowdy Yates?)
Rowdy is 13’ 3” and weighs about 820 in distance riding condition. Most of the standard suggested height measurements and weights for horse size compared to rider size are just so much “hogwash” when Colonial Spanish Horses are the subject. Rowdy carried me nearly 1000 miles in Open division competitions in NATRC. With my weight plus my tack and other stuff, he usually carried 220 pounds or so--or over 25% of his own body weight.
Talk a little about NATRC. How many miles have you put into competitive trail riding?
I have something over 3,000 miles in NATRC competitions. Would have to check with NATRC to be perfectly accurate. Still competing and have a new stallion to start this year. What fun! NATRC is a great way to begin distance riding—and at the end of every ride, you get a scorecard for both rider and horse so you can see what the judges marked you down for at each judging point. NATRC is a great way to learn this sport and also just to learn good horsemanship and safe horse camping. Our horses excel at it. See www.NATRC.org for more info on competitive trail.
With so many strains of Colonial Spanish Horses recognized by the HOA, which ones are your favorite and why?
Wow—such a hard question as I have loved horses from several strains and have some new strains (new to me, anyway) now that I have only had for a short while. I am especially fond of the little Grand Canyons for our younger riders and my new Corollas will be great kid horses, too, I firmly believe. Anyone who saw Steve Edward’s young riders perform at the HOA meeting in VA saw dramatic proof of how wonderful the Banker Ponies are. But the Gilbert Jones horses have long been a favorite of mine, esp. the Choctaw and Huasteca strains carried by Choctaw Sun Dance. His offspring continue to make my living for me—none are more trainable, and their striking colors make them favorites for so many Mustangers.
Let me say that as much as I love all our strains, I believe that the best horses are created when the best are bred to the best, regardless of strain. I like to put Brislawn on Jones, for example—many of Rowdy’s best known sons and daughters are out of Choctaw Sun Dance mares. At Karma Farms we breed superior CS Horses, and if we add new bloodlines, we use the best horses of the type we needed to fill a particular niche. CS Horses are rare enough in my book. I respect and admire the breeders of pure strains, but I am not one of them. For example, when we bred a good Cap Yates to a good Northern Rancher as we did when we bred Buck’s Girl to Rowdy Yates, we got Meet Virginia, Tomlyn’s champion mare who is as nice a horse as I’ve ever seen.
Both for herd inspections and individual inspections what does the HOA look for in determining whether to accept a horse or a herd into the registry?
See conformation info on the HOA website. Yet the answer to this question should include not only conformation, but also history and DNA studies of herds. We prefer to use ALBC list of approved CS horse strains but have added some before ALBC and others later at ALBC’s suggestion.
Tell us about Choctaw Sundance. What traits made him special and how well did he stamp those traits on his offspring? Tell us the same about Rowdy Yates.
Dance was a sheer genius, and after all these years of working with this breed, I have met some very wise and wonderful horses, but none that were his equal in sheer understanding of what was needed in a given situation. He was my best friend and soul mate. His sons and daughters, and now grandsons and granddaughters, carry on his legacy of brains, ability and a rainbow of color. His extended trot was once clocked by a car on the road beside as we trotted beside it on the road shoulder—17 mph! He could jump anything he could put his head over. He could stand on his hind feet and walk along the bottom board on his pen with his front feet hooked over the top board—amazing! He knew about 30 different verbal commands and a number of hand and body cues when he was doing his trick routine. He is still the backbone of the Karma Farms breeding program.
Rowdy is quite another cat—our friendship took a while to develop as he was nervous of handling, a stout bucker and very unsure that life under saddle was worthwhile. But once we were bonded and on the trail, no horse I ever rode was tougher, smoother or more determined to give his all. Where Dance was lazy, Rowdy was a fireball. Mr. Yates has the best hooves I ever saw on a horse and did many of his rides barefooted with ease. His natural P&R’s needed little conditioning. He could run a hole in the wind. Anyone could ride Dance, but Rowdy never cared for anyone on his back except me and a very few others. Someone at our first trip to Breyerfest said that it was a shame that Rowdy didn’t become a Breyer model earlier in his life. I laughingly responded that it was a good thing that he hadn’t because when he was young, he’d have never put up with hundreds of kids wanting to pet him. Rowdy is a horse that is all business, very serious most of the time, but Dance had a sense of humor a mile wide, and pretty much loved everyone he ever met.
100 years from now do you think the Spanish Colonial Horse will still be around and if so do you expect the numbers to increase or are we destined to remain on the edge of extinction?
This is the question that has kept me from getting the back to you sooner, Steve. It is intuitive and reaches pretty deeply into whom I am and what my life has been about.
If in 100 years these horses AREN’T still here proving the heart and soul of the Colonial Spanish Horse as well as their historical forbearers, it will be our fault. That is, it will be the fault of the breeders. We have to do more than preserve these horses; we have to promote them, ride them, get them in front of the public and SHOW the world what a real horse looks like. If we let petty b. s.--politics, egos, prejudice, past grievances, past mistakes, even arguments over things as irrelevant as color—if we let any of this kind of stuff stand in the way of our learning to work together to promote all the strains, all the breeders, then maybe our ponies won’t be here.
I can’t believe that can happen even though I see the continued partitioning of the gene pool into more registry Stud Books when we should be working to build one correct and precise one for the entire breed. We have to wake up, shake hands and quit the bickering and in-fighting.
We need to go to work together to create meaningful competitions, exhibitions, award programs and whatever else it takes to catch the eye of new people. To sell more CS horses so that breeders dare produce more, we have to seriously expand our market. We have to do things that intrigue people with a breed that carries some of the oldest equine mtDNA lines in the world and yet still can thrill the heart of a modern rider. If we can do that job, we can sell our horses, and if we have a good market, there will be new breeders interested in preserving America’s First Horse.
Being sure that these horses are around for generations yet unborn is what I am about. Getting us all to work together to do that is what HOA is about. Can I get an “Amen”?
Of your long rides, which have been the most memorable and why?
Well, of course the ride across South Australia and Texas is the most famous, and my book Saltbush and Sagebrush sums it up pretty well. It was called the Jubilee Overlanders Ride in honor of the 150th birthday of South Australia and Texas. We rode about 1200 miles on two widely disconnected continents, from Port Augusta, South Australia to Birdsville, New South Wales, then flew to Texas and rode from San Antonio to Presidio. We rode horses from the Mungarani Station in Australia and my own horses in Texas. In those days I only had a few Colonial Spanish Horses and none old enough to use long distance except Dance. We couldn’t see how it would be a good idea to camp out on the roadside with a stallion and 10 or 12 other horses so Dance had to stay home. In Texas, I mostly rode Rhiannon Everwin, my modern Indian Horse mare; Titus Unlearning, my first Mustang, the hero of my book Little Big Horse; and SF Numero Dos, my little Spanish mule bred by Nanci Falley, AIHR President and owner of Rancho San Francisco.
You have developed a program to teach natural horsemanship to kids. Tell us about your program and whether you think such programs can be successfully copied across the country.
You bet they can—in fact, I have copied a lot of what Steve does with the really little ones since I’ve seen him work with them at Mill Swamp and read his book. So from Virginia to Texas, we are copying your programs already. *grin* Listen, I’ve been teaching “natural horsemanship” to kids for years with great success, although I usually refer to it as “unnatural horsemanship”. Our Tejas Indian Horse Club has a number of young riders who I’ve coached to train their own horses this year including Noah Halupa who won his girl Sombera in the HOA essay contest—and rode her to two national Championships at the 2009 AIHR/HOA National Show. Jason and Noah have proven that kids taught by folks who love and respect our horses can do wonders.
Our horses are superior animals for bonding with kids and taking remarkable care of them, too. Young riders just need careful, clear (and sometimes entertaining) instruction and lots of desire to do it-- plus the right horse. Not every CS Horse is a candidate for this kind of training. Not every kid has the patience and fortitude for CS horse training either. But there is nothing like the look on the face of a young rider sitting on a horse he or she has trained themselves. That makes it all worthwhile.
Vickie Ives and Rowdy Yates