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.
We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special. Here, a lifelong lover of the breed shares about her Appaloosa Mark, and the lessons she learned from his competitive career as well as through a severe injury.
By Sandra Marrujo
My journey in the world of horses started with up/down lessons at age 9, with my first horse not coming to me until I was in my 20s. After that, I segued through lower level hunter/jumper to eventing (to Preliminary Level) and eventually dressage. I bought my first horse in 1969 – an Appendix Quarter Horse mare. I had a Thoroughbred after that, but from 1977 until the present, I have had only Appaloosas. The first two were eventers, then a race-bred horse that I started over fences, but turned to dressage and competed through Second Level with moderate success.
In 2006, by now in my early 60s, I decided that my next horse needed to be more purpose-bred for dressage, but still an Appaloosa. I had admired the horses of Confetti Farms in Bakersfield, and bought Mark (Confetti’s Magic Marker – Aul Magic (AHA) x Confetti’s Red Rose by Chocklate Confetti (ApHC)) to California as an unstarted 2-year-old. His breeder, Mellanie Burkhart, produces wonderful Appaloosa Sport Horses – straight Appaloosas, Thoroughbred crosses, Warmblood crosses, Arabian crosses…exceptional horses, deriving from her Foundation sire, Chocklate Confetti.
Mark is a BIG personality AND a big mover. Learning to sit his trot was an exercise in really improving my seat. My happiest memory when showing was trotting around the outside of the show arena, and the judge – Hilda Gurney – stood up as I passed the booth and exclaimed, “Nice trot!!” (She gave him an 8 on gaits) He is a total charmer, but a bit on the hot side. He manages to combine being somewhat spooky, with easily and willingly doing many of the things some people have problems with: good for the vet and farrier, trailer loads without question, follows me around like a dog, and “Will do tricks for treats.” He loves being groomed but keeps a careful eye on me (nose to shoulder “rub here, it itches.”). I worked for many years with Jill Munro as my instructor, and we were fairly successful through Second Level, winning or placing in the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds for Appaloosa Horse Club every year shown.
In late 2011, however, disaster struck. After a good training session, I decided to hack around the property where I then boarded. I was riding on the buckle when something spooked him, and I wasn’t able to get the reins back quickly enough to get him under control. I went off HARD (fortunately, only bruises and a minor bone chip that didn’t even need treatment). He ran off down the driveway and did a 90 degree turn at full speed on pavement. He didn’t go down, but he badly damaged a hind suspensory. I was devastated. Once it was ascertained that while it was serious, it was not, at least at this point, life-threatening, I had to contemplate what lay ahead. We had just started working on changes for hopefully showing Third Level. That was now off the table completely.
Over the years since then, it has been a long, slow rehab. He has had several shock wave treatments, but complete healing to the point of going back into real training is not possible. He is now serviceably sound, and I am content with that.
He’s really a “pocket pony,” if you can say that about a horse that is 16.2 hh and weighs in at around 1,300 pounds. Everyone where I board is in love with him. He’s mellowed a bit, but let’s say that if he were a wild horse, he would be the herd sentry, warning all others – “Wild turkeys! Bobcat! Coyote!! Person carrying a bucket…oh my god does she have horse cookies?!?!?” We still school basic dressage and do some lateral work and a very little bit of cantering. That’s a lot compared to when we started 7 years ago with very limited exercise and no surety that he would ever be allowed to canter again.
It has been a long journey since his injury, and yes, on occasion I wish I could retire him to pasture and get a new horse (vet says NO – too much possibility of severe re-injury if he gets running around), but given the circumstances, I am content with my situation and love him dearly. He lives in a foaling stall with an 18 x 40+ paddock, so he can move around, but not get up to any dangerous antics at speed. Do I mourn the fact that I wasn’t able to get my USDF Bronze Medal? Well, yes, but I have had years of joy with this beautiful horse, and he has taught me a lot, both with regard to dressage and horsemanship in general – I had an easy time with my previous horses and Mark has kept me on my mettle! He has an extensive dressage pad and matching ear bonnet wardrobe. I joke that he is my “Equine Barbie.” When we do our Century Club Ride in 2025, I think we’ll go for navy blue to match the as yet unused navy show coat I bought the last time I spectated at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event!