Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News

2008 January/February

Stallion Issue


KMSHA Foundations:
Richard Palmer and His Golden Palominos


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 nobody’s business."

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 throughout Kentucky.

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 in Lexington.

"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 him."

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 tradition.

"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."