Macfarlane credits CH CCV Casey’s Final
Countdown’s brilliance, charisma, athleticism
and power – his being a magnificent stallion –
for helping him win at Louisville.
(Editor’s note: A complete list of all People’s Choice winners is posted in a separate news item.)
by Ann Bullard
Horsewoman extraordinaire. That phrase only begins to describe Michele Macfarlane. Quietly unassuming, seemingly somewhat shy to those who don’t know her well, the chatelaine of Scripps Miramar Ranch has dedicated much of her life to the horses and sport she and her mother, the late Ellen Browning Scripps Davis, loved and shared. The designation goes far beyond her many championship victories, beyond the breeding program she and her mother developed. Her love for and dedication to the American Saddlebred and its future puts an exclamation point behind the word extraordinaire.
World’s Grand Champion CH CCV Casey’s Final Countdown is the latest in a collection of great horses from the family’s legacy. Unlike with her two earlier world’s grand champions, CH Sky Watch and CH Memories’ Citation, Macfarlane brought him to the states from half-way around the world.
But first, she started life on her family’s beautiful ranch near San Diego, Calif. Contrary to what some might believe, Macfarlane wasn’t the pampered child who had everything handed to her. Her father, the late Everett Con Davis, had his law office in San Diego. She, her mother and sister, Vickie, worked the ranch. They collected eggs, milked the cow and rode horses. Early on, the youngster, who concedes that at the time her allergies made her uncomfortable with the animals, literally was dragged along [on her pony] for the ride.
It didn’t take long for Macfarlane to enjoy the family passion. “I had to. It was survival. My mother, father and older sister rode – that’s what we did,” she said in an earlier interview.
“When I was little, every free moment I had I would spend with my pony,” she continued. “When I was grounded, the punishment was that I couldn’t ride her. I would go play with and ride the milk cow because that wasn’t off limits.”
The story of Scripps Miramar Ranch and its legacy has been well documented. Her great-grandfather, E.W. Scripps was a Saddle Horse enthusiast as was his half sister for whom Macfarlane’s mother was named.
The Davis family lived at the Miramar Ranch. Mrs. Davis stepped back from the show world and from deep involvement with horses until after her children were born and she decided she wanted to ride again. She purchased pintos for her mount of choice.
“We had more than 1,200 acres; we could ride all day and not see anyone. Mother would trail ride with my sister, Vickie, and – at times – with my father. My mother put me on my pony and dragged me around behind her,” Macfarlane said with a smile.
Riding simply was something the family did. Several times a year, they joined an organized trail ride. The ride in such areas as Palm Springs, Calif., or from Vista to Palamar Mountain became a family ‘event.’
“That went on until I was seven or eight,” Macfarlane said, adding they also competed at pinto shows. “Mother got the idea to do street parades, bought a silver saddle and put it on the pintos we were using for trail horses.”
They made their first Rose Parade appearance in 1959 or ’60. Two years later, Macfarlane joined the family parading unit.
“My mother gradually tried to purchase nicer pintos. Since she had a Saddlebred background, she naturally gravitated toward people who had pintos with Saddlebred bloodlines,” Macfarlane said. “She went back to her aunt, [Nackey Scripps Meanley] owner of Scripps-Meanley Stables, got the Registry books and searched for pintos. There may have been 10 or 15 Saddlebred pintos still alive. Mother purchased them and began raising purebred American Saddlebred spotted horses.”
Miss Stormy Weather, a chestnut and white daughter of Anacacho Empire and out of a bay and white mare, was one that moved to California. Bred to Ensign’s Storm Warning, she produced Tropical Gale. Her 1977 CH Yorktown son, Chubasco, and his offspring put the Scripps Miramar spotted horses on center stage.
Macfarlane traveled an interesting road from trail riding around the ranch to teaming world’s champion Saddlebreds. She credits UPHA Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Lewis with teaching her to win.
Much has been written about Macfarlane and the Scripps Miramar Ranch history, particularly during this past year. Two of Macfarlane’s three world’s grand championship five-gaited rides came aboard horses that already had won the title. Trainer Mitchell Clark introduced CH Sky Watch to Louisville crowds in 1979 winning the Two-Year-Old Five-Gaited Stake. The 1981 Junior World’s Champion of Champions and his trainer won the ‘big one’ in 1982, ’83 and ’84.
CH Memories’ Citation and Clark won the Three-Year-Old Three-Gaited title and a Reserve World’s Grand Championship 1992. The following year, they won the roses – after qualifying by winning the Junior Three-Gaited Stake.
Macfarlane spoke of those special horses. “When I brought Sky Watch home from Kentucky, I didn’t have anything else to ride. I thought, ‘Maybe we can do this.’”
She credits Don Trunk, her companion of 25 years, for helping bring Sky Watch back to world’s championship form.
On Aug. 27, 1988, after having won the Five-Gaited Stallion Stake, Macfarlane challenged 10 professionals in the Five-Gaited World Grand Championship. That class, which culminated in a three-horse workout between the reigning world’s grand champion CH Imperator, with Don Harris in the irons, CH Callaway’s Mr. Republican with Rick Wallen, The Phoenix with John Conatser and Macfarlane aboard Sky Watch. When the tanbark settled, Macfarlane had won the first of her world’s grand championships.
“Sky Watch was kind of incredible for the time. He was trained. Anyone could have ridden him that night and won that class,” Macfarlane said modestly.
Memories’ Citation was a little different story. After his world’s championship victories, she brought him home and racked him. In 1996, she brought him back to Louisville to win the Five-Gaited Gelding Stake and Grand Championship. Two years later, they added the Three-Gaited Over 15.2 crown and a Reserve World’s Grand Championship to his storied history.
As important as Macfarlane has been – and is – to the show ring, the contributions she and her mother have made to the breed as a whole are even more impressive. They helped prove spotted American Saddlebreds belonged in every division. Macfarlane concedes they ‘chased points’ to help establish Chubasco’s place at the top of the American Saddlebred sire ratings. Still, his offspring more than held their own in the toughest competition. Of his 263 registered get, 58 individuals won 171 ribbons at the World’s Championship Horse Show. Three of his progeny, CH Sprinkles, CH Like Thunder and CH Fiasco, earned your votes for the 2007 People’s Choice champion or reserve champion winners.
Macfarlane celebrates the Saddlebred as much more than a show horse. He is a horse that can do it all. The Rose Parade tradition her mother started so many years ago continues today. Macfarlane, Trunk and their friends annually expose millions in the United States and around the world to the beautiful, versatile Saddlebred.
In 1998, the Scripps-Miramar team stepped onto an even bigger stage. Macfarlane’s close friend, Elisabeth Goth-Chelberg, received an invitation from Rick Howa to participate in the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. With the Winter Games moving to Salt Lake City four-years hence, organizers wanted something uniquely American. Macfarlane happily joined her friend, providing authentic Abbott and Downing stagecoaches and the spotted Chubasco offspring to pull it. She even taught Chelberg to drive the team while she rode shotgun with Trunk and Howa seated beside them.
The team included: CH The Fire Fox, winner of the 1995 and ’96 Adult Country Pleasure World’s and World’s Champion of Championships and the 1989 Adult Show Pleasure World’s Championship and Reserve Champion of Championship; CH Astra Music, dam of Swatch Watch, CH Bonnie Buck and Suki Snowlet; CH Wysteria, CH Unexpected Turbulence, CH Like Lightning, CH Thunder Country, Belize, CH Nobody's Business, CH Dilettante and Artistry.
They brought down the house and did so again at the opening of the 2002 games. The publicity given the American Saddlebred – its versatility and pizzazz simply could be labeled priceless.
After her parents’ tragic deaths, Macfarlane’s world dramatically changed. She and her mother had proven the value of spotted horses. They had put Scripps Miramar Ranch at the top of the sire rankings and of the Saddlebred performance world. No longer did a caravan of 50-60 Saddlebreds with a group of sophisticated ‘gypsies’ traverse the country. At many shows, Macfarlane, Trunk and Aguilar set up a simple tack room, far from the ‘main attraction,’ content to enjoy and show their horses and enjoy one another’s company.
Aug. 25, 2007: 19 years after Macfarlane won her first Five-Gaited World’s Grand Championship, she again was standing in center ring at Freedom Hall. After all the official whoopla, theirs was a quiet celebration, back under the stadium stands. The previous three years had been a challenge: going to South Africa to look at CCV Casey’s Final Countdown was only the beginning.
Macfarlane always is looking for the next great one. She saw a picture of the stallion on the Internet, and later was impressed by a video of him in the show ring. She and Trunk traveled to look at him together.
Her first ride was a disappointment. “He wasn’t broke the way I thought he might have been,” she told Alan Balch in an interview for The American Saddlebred. Chris and Ruelda Viljoen, of Si Si Stables, were “so nice we went back to look at him the next day.”
The second day, Macfarlane tested the horse. Rather than ride in a small arena, about twice the size of a bullpen, she took him to a football-size field. Although he wasn’t what she wanted for herself, the Vilojeans and Macfarlane were convinced he had a future in America. They worked out a partnership and Countdown was ready to begin his long journey to world’s grand championship honors.
Countdown was difficult – to say the least. “When we first got him, I didn’t know if I’d be able to deal with it. He was pretty wild; over there, they didn’t have sophisticated ways of doing soundness examinations. Don went over to do flexion and couldn’t get within 10 feet of him,”
Getting any horse – and particularly a stallion – through quarantine and into the United States is a challenge. The first stop: Germany, where Lisa Heres-Rosenberger supervised his care and training.
“When we got him, he was kind of mean, a little difficult to work around,” Heres-Rosenberger said. “We put keg shoes on him and let him pretty much be a horse for a little bit. He was fairly stressed and wasn’t conditioned for the American show circuit. We started long-lining, guiding and riding. His attitude seemed to change. We lived on the corner of some woods. I took him on trails and let him relax.”
It worked. “When I had the opportunity to ask Lisa how he was to handle, she told me, ‘Oh yeah. He’s no problem. I got him fixed,” Macfarlane said.
“He was wonderful,” Heres-Rosenberger added. “He’s a very, very intelligent horse. By the time he left he was very sweet, a nicely mannered stallion.”
After several months in Germany, Countdown again went through quarantine in Davis, Calif. It was March 2004 before the stallion arrived at his new home. Aguilar and Macfarlane had a challenge ahead of them. First, they developed his trot. Then, as Macfarlane put it, “we needed more dash at the rack.”
June 2004, Countdown began his U.S. career. Early shows at Charity Fair and Santa Barbara provided light competition. At Louisville, he tied fourth of 10 in the stallion stake. The team kept working. Next August, he moved up one spot.
In 2006, Countdown concentrated on the West Coast, leaving the challenge of Louisville ahead. He kept getting stronger, more consistent.
The year 2007 it all came together. Macfarlane and Aguilar found the stallion’s dash – and then some. Countdown showed from California to Kentucky, to Colorado, home again and to Kentucky. After a reserve in the World’s Champion Stallion Stake, he and his determined owner put it all together on Saturday night.
Macfarlane believes Saddlebreds should enjoy life.
She and her friends trailer their horses to a beach
near the Mexican border. The look on her face as
Countdown splashes through the surf says it all.
But Macfarlane had more to celebrate in August 2007 than Countdown’s victory. The year marked the 16th anniversary of the arrival of Chubasco’s first foal crop. In that group CH Caravelle amassed six world’s championships and three world’s champion of championships in the five-gaited pleasure division from 1985 through 1991. CH The Fire Fox dominated his divisions in the late 1980s and 1990s. CH Sprinkles, CH Like Thunder and CH Fiasco headline his winning progeny today.
CH Like Thunder won his first world’s champion of championship with Macfarlane showing him to the Kentucky Amateur Weanling Futurity and a reserve in the Open Weanling Futurity in 1990. Already a winner in every non five-gaited division there is, including a 1997 Country Pleasure Driving World’s Championship with Trunk on the lines, he had nothing left to prove. In 2006 and his owner began aiming the 17-year-old toward a new career in western pleasure.
“Being retired just wasn’t working for this horse. That’s one reason I brought him up and started working him western. He’s every bit the show horse he was at two or three,” she said of the senior gelding.
Settling CH Like Thunder into western pleasure presented a new challenge to Macfarlane and her team. Getting him qualified for the invitational western pleasure competition at Louisville was another. They showed from California to Colorado, garnering 15 blues and tricolors. They flew from California to Louisville for Rock Creek, where CH Like Thunder won both the Western Pleasure qualifier and championship. He rested the following week while Countdown and CH Sprinkles each won qualifiers at Charity-Fair. Afterwards, Macfarlane, Trunk and Aguilar loaded all three and made the drive to Denver, Colo., for the Almost Summer Horse Show. They came home with three blues, three championships.
After a disappointing fourth-place tie in the Country Western Pleasure Invitational qualifier, Like Thunder came back to tie reserve to the 2006 champion – and his brother – CH Fiasco.
From show horse to parade horse –
CH Like Thunder can do it all. “I rode
him in the Rose Parade last year and
he gave me fits. He was just fidgety
and nervous. This year I rode him and
he was a pretty good boy,” she said.
Elegant is the only way to describe CH Sprinkles. From the time she paraded in her first yearling futurity class to her victory pass in the 2007 California Futurity’s Five-Gaited Amateur Stake, she has been a consistent champion.
The chestnut and white mare has dominated the five-gaited show pleasure division since first appearing at Louisville in 2001. She trotted into Freedom Hall with five world’s championships and three world’s champion of champions titles in her resume. After winning her qualifier, CH Sprinkles left Freedom Hall with the red-dominated tricolor flying.
CH Sprinkles and Macfarlane have
dominated the five-gaited pleasure
division the last six years.
When you speak with Michele Macfarlane, she quietly turns the conversation from her and her family’s accomplishments to her horses and, even more important, to the future of the industry.
“There aren’t very many people like I am showing American Saddlebreds,” she said. “In other breeds, there are a lot of Micheles, amateurs who successfully compete [against professionals] and are the doers.”
While she has ideas for the breed’s future, she emphasizes that she doesn’t advocate changing the way the industry is today, simply expanding on it. “A lot of people who gravitate to the American Saddlebred want to show up, let the trainer do all the work and have the fun of showing. More power to them; that’s the way the American Saddlebred always has been.
“I think that American Saddlebreds are so popular and well accepted in the Midwest, the Virginia area and Kentucky that people in those areas aren’t as concerned about what’s happened in other parts of the country,” she added. “When we were chasing points with Chubasco, one year we went to 27 horse shows and futurities together. In Colorado, we’d show in futurity classes with entries in the teens; pleasure class had 15 to 20 entries and the gaited stake had nine or 10. Now at those same shows we’re lucky to have more than two or three in the gaited stake. Sometimes we don’t have a harness class at all – or have one or two in it.
“I think we need to something to make our breed more popular among horse enthusiasts everywhere,” Macfarlane continued. “I feel as though trainers direct and run the business today. That’s OK. I think we have to broaden our sights. We don’t want Saddle Horses to become localized in the Midwest, Kentucky or Virginia as show walking horses have become [in the South.] We need to step into the future and make this breed interesting to other horse enthusiasts.”
Ideally, Macfarlane says kids should have horses available to them to play with. “When I was young, I had a pony at home and a Saddlebred in training. I’d show up, show it and take my lessons. I think one reason hunters and jumpers and western are so popular is that the kids can go hang out and spend all day with their horse.
“If we had a show in Los Angeles, I’d get my mother to take me,” she continued. “If I happened to be riding English that day, we’d find one where there were English classes in the morning and another with English classes in the afternoon.”
One area Macfarlane would like to explore is making Saddlebreds more of an ‘international horse.’
“Another reason hunters and jumpers are so popular is because of the [international] dream. In the back of some people’s minds, they see themselves competing for a medal. Children go learn gymnastics and dream of a medal. Everyone knows that only a slim percentage ever gets that chance, but that dream makes people want to do it. If we had that dream, it would help us,” she said.
She spoke about judging. “Frankly I think one of things that’s difficult is that in judging you have to be such an expert to see the subtleties between first and eighth place. You have to be immersed in it. There aren’t all those subtleties with jumping and eventing. I would like to see us do an international sport in a way that would be acceptable to FEI and the international community. I think the Quarter Horse people are so brilliant about joining up with the USET [United States Equestrian Team] and including cutting as an Olympic sport.”
She concedes this won’t be easy. “It will take a lot of brainstorming to come up with the way an international goal should be structured. Horses could show internationally without a set tail. We might have to limit what we do with shoeing to one or two pads. But if everyone is playing with the same rules…
“Saddlebreds are versatile. Perhaps we could structure it so entries would show in harness, then five-gaited and do another discipline,” she added. “If we include the rack and trot with action and speed, how they are judged would be understandable.
She again emphasized she does not want to change the way horses in the U.S. perform. Rather, “this will add another facet to what we do with the American Saddlebred. It’s going to take a different horse. We are going to create a market for that other type of horse, too.”
As Ellen Scripps-Davis established Scripps Miramar traditions, Macfarlane has more than carried on. She has blazed new trails, set new standards and opened new areas for thought.
A worthy legacy, indeed.