by Mary Marshall
The golden palomino
coloration of the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse has been preserved
for generations by the horsemen of yesteryear and today who admired
the coveted "golden horse" not only for it’s spectacular color but
smooth gaits and inherent ability to perform any task in the show
ring, farm, field, and on the trail.
Richard Palmer, who
currently resides in Sadieville, Kentucky, is best known for
perpetuating the "golden horse" of the KMSHA, with his influential
foundation stallion Major I (circa 1957), a bright palomino with
four stockings sired by the legendary breed shaper Tobe. Charlie
Brown, and Major II, both sired by Major I, were also palominos with
spectacular white markings. Major I, typical of the bloodline, lived
to the advanced age of at least 30. The "Palmer stock," branded with
a number to denote their origin, became well known for their
striking golden color, gentle intelligence, versatility, and smooth
and stylish gaits.
Modern foundation mare Hope
Spring’s Blossom, bred by Palmer, was sired by an unnamed stallion
and mare listed as Palmer stock. In turn, her sire and dam were both
recognized as being by and out of Sam Tuttle’s foundation stock. An
influential broodmare, Blossom will leave a lasting legacy as the
dam of the Grand Champion stallions Joe Banjo, J. Lee’s Rockit,
Cotton Eyed Joe, Black Jack Cowboy, and Stoney B Walker.
Richard, a native of
Beattyville, Kentucky, began trading horses at the age of 11 after
his father passed away, as the family needed additional income. He
found that he had a true knack as a horse trader, and he became a
source for horsemen seeking smooth-gaited saddle horses in a variety
of colors. Palomino, the most coveted color in a variety of breeds,
became the signature of Richard’s breeding stock.
As an adult, Richard
concentrated on breeding the palomino coloration into the foals that
he produced for his nurse mare business. Nurse mares, for those
unfamiliar to the term, are broodmares who have just foaled that
become surrogate dams for orphan and rejected foals. In Kentucky
there is a high demand for this type of business due to the vast
numbers of Thoroughbred nurseries. The nurse mare foals are normally
raised on a bottle or a bucket of milk supplement, and sold as
riding prospects. Richard’s stallions were always palomino, but the
mares were "a little bit of everything," in bloodline and color
according to Richard. "You’ve got to have a good mare to get a good
foal," Richard said. "The mares that were bred to Major (I, II, and
III), Charlie Brown, and the likes were of no particular recorded
breeding. A little bit of this and that. However most of them were
gaited, and they always had good conformation. We’d raise those
foals up on a bucket after their dams were gone, and they’d all do
just fine. People caught onto them as riding and show horses, some
did really well in the ring as racking horses. Why the dam of Major
II was a Standardbred mare. When you crossed that breed with that
(sire) line it really gave them a big lick, and a flashy gait."
"Nowadays, you don’t see the
Mountain Horse with much nod to his head," he continued. "Back then,
Major and the whole bunch would just nod the head (at a gait) like
Richard is proud of the fact
that Major I, although he was a small horse of approximately 14.2,
was a big horse in the show ring. Palmer won many blue ribbons
aboard the "big-little horse" that he describes as "a speed racking
horse like you’ve never seen." Major II, a larger version of his
spectacular sire at 15-plus hands, was more of a style racking
horse, but also collected his share of ribbons and trophies
A 25-year-long friendship
with prominent Thoroughbred consignor and breeder Joe Taylor, the
founder of Taylor Made Farm near Lexington, cultivated a prosperous
business for Richard as the manager of his hay and tobacco holdings.
Richard also worked for John Gaines, the founder of Gainesway Farm
"Why at one time the old
Major (II) horse was over there at Gainesway," Richard recalled.
"Joe Taylor, who managed Gainesway before he started Taylor Made,
became a good friend. I never heard anyone say a bad thing about
Daughter Kim Palmer, also of
Georgetown, is the proud mother of Sara Palmer Moberly, born YJOD on
December 5. She hopes that her daughter will carry on the Palmer
"Daddy (Richard) has already
given her a mare, Old Sally," said Kim. "I rode the horses as a
child, but just don’t have too much time anymore. Hopefully, Sara
will continue the tradition."
Palmer continues to breed
the famed palomino descendants of Major and Charlie Brown on his
rural farm in Sadieville, near Georgetown.
"We don’t breed as many as
we used to," Palmer said. "Those were certainly the good old days.
However we do have a few good colts down here right now, and they
are always looking for good homes."
Although breeding records
were handed down orally by the pioneers, many who were unable to
read and write, it is believed that the origin of the palomino
coloring evolved from the Narragansett Pacers and Scottish Galloways,
whose ancestry was Iberian in origin through the ambling Spanish
Jennets ridden by the aristocrats of Spain.
According to Frank
Forester’s volume II of The Horse in America, published in 1857, a
Dr. Anderson described the Galloway as a "breed of small elegant
horses in Scotland, similar to those of Iceland and Sweden, which
were known by the name of Galloways. Their origins, believed to have
begun with the Jennets that swam ashore (to the British isles) from
the Spanish Armada. I had a small, golden colored little creature I
rode for 25 years, and he ambled and paced his way over a hundred
and fifty miles at a stretch, except to bait. Their pace was
generally of the walk or canter, but moved more in a shuffling
style. One which I rode, called old Sage ambled so fast as to keep
up with the hand gallop of a Thoroughbred mare, in company with
which is was constantly ridden. A noble fellow indeed, whose golden
color made him the standout of his day."