Friday, December 28, 2012

Isaac's Dolly Varden

Isaac Werner arrived on the Kansas prairie without a horse.  While neighbors broke sod with horses, mules, and oxen, Isaac traded his labor in exchange for using his neighbor's stock and equipment.  Between his arrival in 1878 and 1886, he focused on planting and tending trees, doing the weeding by hand with a hoe.  Without a horse of his own, he broke little sod.  However, he also stayed out of debt, raising enough sod corn and garden produce to survive without much cash, but also missing the early years of the 1880s when grain prices were higher. 
Fig. 1, Alexander Kastler photo
At last, a neighbor by the name of Gullet, who had run up a stable bill in St. John that he could not pay, offered to sell his mare to Isaac to get the money to pay the bill, preferring to sell her to Isaac over having the stable take her for non-payment.  Isaac borrowed three hundred fifty dollars to buy the mare for one hundred fifteen dollars, needing the balance to buy implements, lumber, and seed now that he had a horse.  It was the beginning of his borrowing, but he believed that with a horse the money would soon be repaid from the crops he could now raise. 
He named her Dolly, and only one place in his journal did he leave a clue regarding his choice of name.  Throughout the rest of his journal he calls her Dolly, or Doll, but on that one occasion he uses her full name--Dolly Varden.  It was only natural that Isaac, who loved his books, should have chosen a literary name for the mare he had wanted to buy for so long.

Fig. 2, Frame Overo

Dolly Varden is a character known for her colorful wardrobe in the Dickens' novel Barnaby Rudge.  That character's costume has led to the use of her name for colorful objects and people.  For example, the Dolly Varden trout has greenish sides and a white belly, but there are also pink and yellow spots on its body and red spots on its lower sides.  It is believed the trout was named in reference to the Charles Dickens' character.  Likewise, I presume that Isaac named his mare for the same reason. 
There are no photographs of Isaac's Dolly, nor does he describe her appearance, so we are left to imagine what markings and coloration might have inspired Isaac in the choice of her name.  Horses have many coat colors and distinctive markings from which to choose, with a specialized vocabulary that has evolved to describe all of the variations.  In this blog I will share some of the more distinctive ones. 
Fig. 3, Anna photo
I will begin with the Gray.  While not as colorful as some of the other varieties, their characteristics are interesting, for they have black skin with white or mixed dark and white hairs, and they generally lighten as they age.  Further, they may be born any color, gradually lightening as they age.  The famous Lipizzaner horses are typically born bay or black, but they will be pure white by the time they are ten years old.  The Dapple Gray is a dark colored horse with lighter rings of graying hairs, called dapples, scattered throughout the coat.  A Flea Bitten Gray is an otherwise white horse with develops flecks of red hairs throughout the coat. The image (Fig. 1) created by Alexander Kastler of a champion Arabian mare with the classic "flea bitten" red speckles is a beautiful example.
The Pinto is a multi-colored horse with patches of brown and/or black on white, but there are many specific variations among the pinto horses.  An Overo has sharp, irregular markings, usually more dark than white, and often the eyes are blue.  The Image (Fig. 2) shown is an example of Frame Overo from  Another type of pinto is the Tovero, characterized by dark pigmentation around the ears (sometimes called "Mexican Hat" or "War Bonnet,") dark pigmentation around the mouth which may extend up the sides of the face and form spots, chest spots that may extend up the neck, as well as flank spots and spots at the base of the tail.  The image (Fig. 3) taken by Anna,, is of a blue Tovero.  Among other pinto horses are Paint horses with known Quarter Horse and/or Thoroughbred bloodlines, treated as a separate breed.     
Fig. 4, Francois Marchal photo
A Roan is a color pattern in which white hairs are evenly intermixed with the other color, and there are Red Roans, Bay Roans, and Blue Roans.  Unlike grays, the roans do not generally change color or lighten.  When Isaac bought a second mare in 1887 that he named Jule, he described his mare as a gray, and he referred to her colt as a "roan colt" without indicating the color.  The image, Fig. 4, taken by Francois Marchal, is of two Blue Roan mares. 
Figure 5, taken by Jean-Pol Grandmont, is of a Pinto on the left and an Appaloosa on the right.  Several breeds of horses are represented in a group of coat patterns called Leopard, caused by the leopard gene complex.  Among the leopard patterns are Blanket, so called because of white over the hip that may extend to the base of the neck; Varnish, which is a mix of body and white hairs, and the similar Frost, distinguished by the white hairs only on back, loins, and neck; Snowflake, which is white spots on a dark body; and Leopard, which is dark spots of varying sizes on a white body. 
Fig. 5, Grandmont photo
The Appaloosa is known for its leopard-spotted coat patterns, with great variety in body types revealing the history of multiple breeds in its bloodlines.  Of particular interest to me was the discovery that the Nez Perce developed the original American breed.  The tribe lost most of their horses after the Nez Perce War of 1877.  Could Isaac's Dolly Varden have carried some of the leopard spots from interbreeding with the Nez Perce horses?  Since Isaac provided no description of Dolly's coloration, we are left to our imaginations, but I think picturing Dolly as a beautiful Appaloosa mare is my choice.  
The lovely images at the beginning and conclusion of this post are of mares with their babies at Decker's Red Eagle Appaloosas stables located twelve miles west of Eugene, Oregon.  You may visit their website at where you will find more beautiful images of their horses.  For those of you interested in more than pretty pictures, you will enjoy reading about their careful blending of genetics, blood lines, and good old "horse sense" to produce champions.  If you are lucky enough to be near Alvadore, Oregon, the Deckers invite you to visit them.

 (Remember, click on the images to enlarge.)

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

All new stuff to me about horse coat colours. I did know that the Nez Pierce developed the Appaloosa, which according to a Quarter Horse enthusiast, they rode to war so they would be mad enough to kill when they got there. The response is that people ride Quarter horses because they can't afford Appaloosas and are to proud to ride a Holstein.