“The Appy Of My Eye”

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Dakota owned and loved by Carol Merritt

Spotted and special!  February is Appaloosa Month on YourDressage!  Easily recognizable for their colorful, spotted coat pattern, this American breed finds its origins with the Nez Perce Native American people. Join us as we celebrate these beautifully marked horses as our Breed of the Month, where we will share stories and photo galleries from Appaloosa enthusiasts across the country.

Dressage competitors who ride Appaloosas have the opportunity to earn special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as Appaloosa Horse Club is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a Region 1 rider shares her journey to the dressage ring, and the Appaloosa unicorns who joined her on that journey.

By Melissa Long

Appaloosas have always been a favorite of mine, ever since I was a young teenager. I didn’t start riding until I was about fifteen years old. I wasn’t the horse crazy little girl that most horse lovers start out as, but once I was properly introduced, I was hooked. All I wanted to do at first was learn how to ride like in the westerns, long trail rides and cool looking horses. I had no idea what the horse world had to offer me at the time and only knew of a few breeds of horses; Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, ponies, and Appaloosas – but only because they came with some of the most amazing “spots” and colors. They definitely stood out. So that was the horse I wanted; it was fancy in my world, flashy!

The first Appaloosa I encountered was a reddish roan mare with a smaller spotted blanket on her rump, from what I can remember… I am 41 now, so yeah! She came to the barn as a boarder and was only staying for a few months. I squealed at the sight of her and was just so excited to see one in person! I was offered the chance to ride her in a couple of my lessons. She was plump, sturdy, comfy like a couch… and stubborn! I learned to ride bareback on her, and she was the horse I fell off of in front of my mom, as she was watching me ride for the first time. It’s a memory I hope I never forget and where I truly understood the saying “when you fall off, you get back on.”

Bomber and Melissa Long

I would later meet the Appaloosa unicorn of my life, and then another amazing Appy steed that would bring me into the most perfect “insta-family” I could have ever imagined. My first horse was actually a palomino Quarter Horse named Mr. Ed, and he was just the perfect beginner horse for me at that time.

About six years ago, I met my now really good friend and dressage trainer, Kim Robbins. She was looking for a groom to help her at a new barn she was going to be training out of. I had basically, by this point, been a groom most of my life. It was always my second job, and I knew how to polo wrap the horses legs! So this is where I crossed over to the dressage world from being in hunter/jumper land most of my riding career. I really liked what I saw, and Kim was very knowledgeable and great with the horses. We have quite the “Motley Crew” of horses in our group.

Kim Robbins, Me, Bomber

One of these is Catch A Smooth Jet a.k.a Bomber, a Third Level school master extraordinaire! He has done just about everything under the sun, and I was going to show him at Training Level my first year showing dressage! I was just learning this strange, but oddly satisfying, new way to ride, and I just clicked with him. He took care of me, while mostly bossing me around demanding treats! He is an Appaloosa X Thoroughbred. To most he doesn’t look like much – he’s now 23 years old and grayed out. But while showing, we were asked many times, “What is he?” We now respond with “A unicorn” because when we would say he’s an Appaloosa, peoples’ response, even the judges’, was “Really?!?!”

When he moves, it’s not at all what you would expect to see, earning scores in the high 60% and even a 71%! (Yay me!!) Last year, he was even able to partake in a Century Ride (where your age and the horse’s age equals 100 years) with one of our riders, Jill Spiers (78). I should also add that his owner has had him since he was four, and she has graciously shared Bomber with us while she finishes her surgical residency, all while also being a “supermom”. So, thank you Sarah Diaz! If that doesn’t say everything about the longevity of the breed, I don’t know what does! He just instilled confidence in me while riding with his level head and “smooth” gaits.

Dakota and Melissa Long Schooling show September 2021

Now for the “bonus” Appaloosa in my life… (We don’t use the words “step” children, we like to use “bonus” children)… About 2 years ago, I had finally met the love of my life (in human form) and one of the many best parts of him, besides his amazing kids and lovable family, is that his mom, Carol, had a horse and was riding dressage. What are the odds of that?!? This could go one of two ways, but lucky for me, it brought another Appy into my life. Dakota, a 16-year-old  Appaloosa X Percheron is what you would consider your typical Appaloosa, with a perfect blanket of colors and spots and an eagerness to please and work hard. We have been bringing him along slowly this past year, and we were able to show our first schooling show at Intro Level A & B, earning a respectable fifth place. Our goal is to start Training Level by the end of this summer. We were actually told by a pet psychic that he was ready to strut his stuff in the dressage arena. Yes, that is for real! Dakota has been the perfect family horse for Carol’s granddaughter Ila to advance in her riding skills. He takes pretty good care of her and lets her add gold sparkle spray to his already busy and shiny coat.

Over the past few years, I can say I have been even more surprised and impressed about the adaptability of this breed! The colors can pull you in, and they show strength and kindness to anyone who shows them the same. They are so very Appy-aling!! Sorry, I just had to!

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