By Roanna Leckey
I have been an Appaloosa advocate since I was kid – I grew up with a poster of Navaho Breeze on my wall, spent hours riding my grade Appy gelding, and finally purchased a leopard Appaloosa gelding when I became an income earning adult. He and I went on to have many amazing adventures and solidified my love of the breed. As time moved on and my interest in eventing grew, I thought it would be wonderful to raise my next spotted partner from a foal. In 2005, I started my search for an Appaloosa sporthorse colt. That September, I was smitten by a colt on Mellanie Burkart’s Confetti Farms website. He was a bouncy, blanketed colt by Butterwap Confetti (Chocolate Confetti) out of an Oldenburg mare, Pinjara (Panache/Pink Floyd). I had to meet him – so I hopped a plane to California. He was definitely “Stryking!” He had to be mine – the next month he made the long journey from California to our farm in northern Illinois.
My ‘plan’ was that Stryker was going to be my next event horse. We were going to focus on dressage to get a solid foundation, then learn correct jumping technique, and finally move on to eventing. But you know how plans can go…..
As raising a horse is a partnership, I wanted to do all of the training with him myself. As a youngster, we did it all, from trail walks to in-hand trail classes to Great American Insurance Group/USDF Breeders Championship Qualifier classes. I enjoyed running the triangle with him – everyone else would hire a runner but to me, the joy was being the one to run him.
As we started out under saddle, we did a variety of activities – dressage, trail rides, cow clinics, and obstacle days. When he turned 5, we went on a huge adventure with our best friends to a clinic with Walter Zettl in Canada for 5 days. It was a priceless experience! The next few years, we focused on jumping – my goal morphed from eventing to the jumper ring. However, Stryker had a different plan. He is a beautiful jumper, but the variety of jumps in the jumper ring unsettled him – not to mention the Rolex timeclock… so we backed away and played with some local level CT’s. It started to become clear that Stryker loved dressage. My rule with my boys is that we have to do something that they like. So we morphed again – this time to dressage.
I am insanely fortunate that my close friends are dressage enthusiasts. Heidi Wright of Long Meadow Farms is our ring leader. She has this amazing knack for arranging clinics with some of the finest instructors in the world. I would often audit, but she finally twisted my arm into riding in a clinic with Christoph Hess. I was quite apprehensive about riding a spotted horse in a dressage clinic. It went really well! That is when I started to realize that maybe we could do this.
Our real progress came when we started to clinic with Martin Arnold of Concordia Dressage, who teaches at Long Meadow Farm each month. Stryker and I started to learn so much in our clinics. Martin is brilliant in helping his students believe and grow. He is a true cheerleader of “Spot” as he calls Stryker. Both Heidi and Martin encouraged us to try and get our scores for our USDF Rider Medals. We may never be able to compete against the big warmbloods, but we can compete against ourselves, get our scores, and move up the levels. So we jumped into the proverbial dressage pool, and it has been a wonderful journey. With Martin’s guidance, we steadily moved up through the levels. We would clinic with him on a weekend and then practice at home until the next clinic. As we moved up, I made a couple of soft goals – an Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Award and a Dover Medal. We managed to accomplish both of those, and then we snagged our USDF Bronze Medal! Wow – I never thought that would be me!!
We kept going, earned our scores at Fourth Level, and now have Prix St. Georges in our future. We would love to be one of the few Appaloosas to reach the FEI level. To me, it is something special to see Spotties half passing across the arena!
Stryker is a great ambassador of the breed – full of heart and ever-changing color. As a young horse, he had stunning black blanket pattern but with maturity he has morphed into a white leopard. With his color, we garnish a lot of attention at shows so he has to be on his best behavior. The one thing about having spots – folks remember you – so they need to remember you for the right reasons. He can be quirky and spooky at home but at a show he really shines – he loves being in the “spot”light.
In my experience, Appaloosas are versatile, hardy, have great hearts, and can make your dressage dreams come true.