From the Archives: Tattoo the Appaloosa

Holly Wilson

From the April 2018 Issue

By Branigan Kuhns

Appaloosa horse

The most interesting part of our story is not about how I am his trainer and he is my first colt, but when I walked into the barn the morning of Tattoo’s birth… I knew in my heart I was never going to be the same.

Three people stood inside the stall, and the minute I walked up, the breeder ushered everyone outside and let me go in to imprint on the colt for the first time. Alone.

I have never been alone or up close to a colt before. The little thing was just sound asleep, until his mother nickered to me, causing him to wake up. It was then that I fell in love with him. He was all legs and tiny spots. He was beautiful, and I could instantly see why the Letham’s had buyers so quickly. The little colt took to me instantly, letting me kneel next to him and pet his baby fuzz.

Fast forward a week later, I was begging my parents to go see the babies. I wanted to show them the work that I was doing and how proud and excited I was about my college internship. My parents were very apprehensive about me being around the colts, but they agreed to come see the foal that was the ‘most beautiful, kind, loving, and sweet’ that I had ever met.

My mother was very unsure about me actually wanting to start a colt, even though I had been riding and showing for 17 years, I will still apprehensive being around young horses. My parents finally came to the barn after constant pleading and begging. It was then that they saw how serious I was about the colts. My mother admitted to me later that she had cried secretly to my father about seeing me love baby Tattoo so much, when she knew that my job would separate us. My job was to condition the babies to be sold to loving homes, and I knew that loving Tattoo was wrong, but I still did. I couldn’t help it. 

I worked, sweat, cried and loved Tattoo with all my heart that summer. John even let me give him a barn name (they gave him the registered name Shining Royse). I chose ‘Tattoo’ because it means ‘a rhythmic beating of a drum’ and he played a beat on my heart that I had never felt in my life around horses. I knew that he had sold to someone a month before my internship was going to end. John had broke the news to me gently, and I was brave and happy for Tattoo, but I told John that when my internship was over and I would come back until Tattoo left the property for his new home. John only smiled and wished me luck in my new semester of college. 

I had started my sophomore year of college that fall and my summer internship ended. I thought about Tattoo every day and hated that I could not go see him. He had my heart, but I was scared of losing him. It was my parents that encouraged me to go see Tattoo. They said that I needed to go see him and show him love because he was probably missing me too… I was his second mother after all. Tattoo was so excited to see me the next day that he whinnied and came running up to me. He had just celebrated his seventh month birthday! He was already tall, and halo-spotted, and so beautiful that it physically hurt me to see him. But I felt my heart being pieced back together just by having his neck in my arms. 

John came to greet me. It had been 3 months since I had seen Tattoo but it felt like a lifetime. I asked John if I could keep working Tattoo, just until he left for his new home, with people whom I had never met. He agreed that it would be the best for Tattoo and me.

Fast forward to Christmas of 2014, Tattoo was eight months old and such a smart horse! I had taught him so much that fall and winter, and I nearly forgot that he would be leaving in the spring. 

Christmas morning, my life changed forever. My parents gave me a Christmas gift box with a halter, a leopard Breyer horse model, a cute picture of Tattoo and a grooming bucket. At the bottom of the box was a picture of Tattoo and his registration papers with my name as ‘New Owner’.

Tattoo was officially mine. He had been mine since the first few weeks of working with him. I had no idea that my parents had been paying him off in secret for me. I had kicked myself and cried over the horse that was sold when I was his owner all along! Even to this day, telling this story makes my eyes water. 

Appaloosa horse

Tattoo and I accomplished a lot more than I ever imagined in a very short time. At a year and a half, he was titled Color Breed Congress Champion in Lunge-line Yearling, Lunge-line Non Pro, and Appaloosa Halter Yearlings. With him by my side, I know that Tattoo and I will go far! He is my whole world.


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