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'App-y' Birthday

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Local breeders ship distinctive Appaloosas worldwide

By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

“Welcome to the maternity ward,” said Linda Ellis, who owns Rockin E Stables with her husband, Jeep, where they specialize in breeding Appaloosas, prized for their varied coat designs.

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Right now it’s the busy time for the retired school principals. Four mares have given birth over the past month or so, and eight others are with foal and projected to deliver over the next few weeks, according to the charts.

The newest arrival doesn’t even have a name yet. The 1/2-quarter horse and 1/2-Appaloosa cross just entered the world Wednesday.

Gunner, just 2 weeks old, is a full Appaloosa with a mostly white “blanket” color pattern similar to his father, Apollo, a champion show horse now retired to stud on the Ellis’ farm.

Apollo seems a bit exuberant Friday morning, and perhaps even a little bit more happy to see visitors than normal, Linda said.

“I think he’s going to breed later this afternoon,” she added, which makes his excitement seem all too understandable and sensible.

Apollo, who’s 9, is the veteran of the Ellis’ two studs. Shadow, who has what Linda calls a “black-and-white few spot” pattern, is 4. Dozens of ribbons from the respective horses’ show-ring days line the walls of the Ellis’ office, which also doubles as a studio apartment and monitoring station in the winter months when the mares have babies on the way.

“We have constant eyes on them once the mares get close,” Linda says, waving to the closed-circuit TV feeds that cover each of the stalls. “One sleeps; the other watches the screens.”

While it may not be the cold, harsh reality of curling up on a cot in the corner of a hay-lined stall, even modern upgrades to the business of horse breeding don’t take away all the stress that comes with birthing season.

Several days pass at a time between chances to sleep in their own bed inside their house, and actual days off are few and far between. A “mom-and-pop” operation, to be sure.

“It’s hard to find people to work with stallions,” said Jeep, a third-generation breeder who showed his first horse at age 3 and raised Appaloosas to help pay his way through college. “It sort of leaves me here to mind the store.”

Appaloosas were brought to North America by the Spanish, but the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho proved to be master horsemen and helped the distinctive horse take root in the New World as a breed that excels at speed and endurance, and is strikingly good-looking as well.

“It’s always exciting to see what color they are,” Jeep said.

“No two are alike,” Linda added. “They’re like a car with lots of chrome.”

Rockin E Stables has a diverse client list, with about 20 percent of its sales going overseas.

The Ellises have six kids and 16 grandkids, but Jeep said they enjoy having their equine children around as well.

“Every day you see a baby hit the ground you think, ‘Well, maybe (we’ll do this) another year … .”