Updated: Aug 9, 2019
Posted on July 26, 2017 by Stacy Pigott
Shared with permission of Quarter Horse News.
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Her dam wasn’t purchased for any reason other than because she was a cutting-bred mare. She wasn’t bred to excel in any particular discipline. Her foray into the breeding world was a last-minute back-up plan. And yet Myo Starlight has quickly become a rising star, finishing 2016 as the No. 1 dam of reining horses while also producing money-earners in the reined cow horse arena.
Few would have recognized Myo Starlight’s name prior to the first week in December. She’d been a minor money-earner as a reiner, and up until that point, a decent producer. That changed in 2016, when her son Lil Dreamin Magnum set out on what would become a highly successful derby season. Then, on Dec. 3, when her son Spooky Whiz won the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity Level 4 Open.
“After it happened, I told everybody I always had a dream of raising good horses that did well, but raising one that won the [NRHA] Futurity was not on my radar,” said Spence Bell, who bred both Spooky Whiz and Myo Starlight. “It’s so hard to do. It was a complete surprise and a huge blessing.”
“A blessing” is how Bell and his wife, Kristin, who operate Rafter Bell Ranch in Purcell, Oklahoma, often describe Myo Starlight, whose success has come from a mixture of fate, smart decisions and good old-fashioned luck.
In 1995, Bell was a self-described “poor college kid” attending Clarendon Junior College in the Texas Panhandle. Raised on a ranch in New Mexico and Colorado, his earliest experiences were with cow horses, cutters and good using horses.
“We always had mares and babies when I was a kid. Then, when I was about 10 years old, we moved to Colorado, and the place that we moved to wouldn’t take any mares,” Bell explained. “So we had to sell all the mares, all the babies, everything, and we only took the geldings.
“When I left home after high school, I bought Myo’s mother [Shegottabea Herman], and I have had mares and babies ever since,” Bell continued. “I tease my dad and tell him he’s responsible for my addiction. I love horses. They’re just part of our life.”
Bell’s father, Mike, also played a big role in his son’s purchase of 1986 mare Shesgottabea Herman (Smooth Herman x Vals Melisa x Doc’s Val D’Or). Smooth Herman was a 1973 son of Jet Smooth, a stakes winner and halter champion who was a full brother to Walter Merrick’s legendary racehorse and sire Easy Jet.
Those were the days of versatile horses that could – and did – do everything. Smooth Herman was a top cutting horse, earning an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Superior in Cutting and ending 1977 as the AQHA High-Point Cutting Horse. But he was also a winning racehorse, hitting the board in six of 10 starts, and a point-earning halter horse.
Former National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) president and AQHA Hall of Famer Jimmy Randals, of Montoya, New Mexico, stood Smooth Herman and, in 1985, bred him to Vals Melisa, producing Shegottabea Herman. Randals sold Shegottabea Herman to Houston McKenzie in 1988, and he still had her when Bell’s father called looking for a mare for his son.
“My dad’s best friend owned her, and I wanted a mare. He said, ‘Well, she’s not doing anything here. If you want her, I’ll sell her,’” Bell recalled. “I had to borrow the money to buy her. It wasn’t like she was a lot of money. I bought her for $2,000. Then, because I was a college kid, I didn’t get to do much with her. She was a lot of fun to ride, but I didn’t get to show her much.”
Instead, Bell bred the mare to the best stallions he could afford. In 1998, having graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in animal science, Bell completed an internship with Dr. Glenn Blodgett at the famed Four Sixes Ranch, in Guthrie, Texas. In 2001,, The Sixes added Paddys Irish Whiskey to its stallion roster.
“My wife and I got married in 1998, so we were already kind of involved in breeding cow horses and reiners. I got to breed her [Shegottabea Herman] to Paddys Irish Whiskey the first year he stood to the public.”
The resulting filly was born on Cinco de Mayo, May 5, 2002. Bell dubbed her Myo Starlight.
A varied career
“I already had some other fillies out of Shegottabea Herman that I kept until they were old enough to ride, and decide that I liked this one the best,” Bell said of “Myo.” “So I sold everything else and basically put all of our financial resources into her.”
Bell started Myo as a 2-year-old before handing her off to reining trainer Troy Heikes, of Scottsdale, Arizona. David Zimmerman, who worked for Heikes, showed the mare as a 3-year-old, finishing sixth in the Limited Open and 10th in the Intermediate at the Rocky Mountain Reining Horse Association Summer Slide Futurity in July. The next month, they were fifth in the Limitd Open at the Kansas Reining Horse Association Sunflower Slide Futurity.
“She was shown at the [NRHA] Futurity, but like a lot of them, she didn’t have any success at the Futurity. Then I showed her through her 4-, 5- and 6-year-old years in the reining,” said Bell, adding that Myo was the first horse he ever showed in NRHA competition.
Together, they earned $11,207 in reining. They won several ancillary classes from 2006 to 2008, and turned in a good showing at the 2007 NRHA Derby. Bell and Myo finished fifth in the NRHA Derby Limited Non-Pro, tied for eighth in Intermediate and were 11th in Non-Pro. That success attracted the attention of several potential buyers.
“I had her sold as a reining horse, and it wasn’t for a lot of money,” Bell remembered. “The deal fell through, and they didn’t take her.
“Those things happen for a reason,” Bell continued. “I was ready to sell her because that was kind of a crossroads. We were trying to figure out what we were going to do.”
With the mare still in his barn, Bell continued to show her in reining before mixing things up a little bit.
“One day I decided, ‘Well, I think I’m just going to show her in the cow horse.’ So I took her and worked her on cattle for about 30 days and then took her to a show. I got her qualified in one show and took her to the [AQHA] World Show.”
Bell and Myo finished 11th in Amateur Working Cow Horse at the 2008 AQHA World Championship Show. The mare qualified for the World Show again in 2015 in the Amateur Working Cow Horse Level 2 and Youth Boxing.
“She’s been a blessing to Kristin and I,” said Bell, whose 14-year-old daughter Lydia, 12-year-old son Pake and 7-year-old daughter Kynley have all ridden Myo. “My daughter showed her in 4-H, my son showed her in 4-H, and we rope steers on her and calf rope off of her. My son won two saddles off of her roping. All the time she’s been raising babies, as well, by embryo transfer.”
As of early April 2017, Myo has NRHA earnings of $12,021, plus an additional $1,245 banked through the AQHA Incentive Fund. She has 49 Amateur points and .5 Youth points recorded with the AQHA, and she’s not done yet.
Building the family
While her show career would have made her a top broodmare prospect, Myo’s broodmare career had started uncharacteristically early. Her first foal was on the ground before she entered her first futurity. In 2004, Bell had secured a breeding to Playin Stylish for Myo’s dam, who died unexpectedly.
“I didn’t have any broodmares, so I was forced to use that breeding on Myo at a young age. That kind of propelled her into embryo transfers,” said Bell, who bred Myo for the first time at age 2. His education and professional experience as a breeding manager at a halter horse farm paid off, as he has expertly managed the mare’s career ever since.
“The very first baby she had, Playme Stylish, is by Playin Stylish. He made the Youth World Show; he’s a calf roping horse and was the 2016 National Junior High Finals Rodeo Boys AQHA Horse of the Year. He was shown at the cutting futurity, too,” Bell said. “Then she had a couple that made money and died at a young age. She’s got the one by Lenas Wright On, Wright Oledo, that made over $10,000 in the cow horse. Several of them have made rope horses. And then she has Lil Dreamin Magnum – he was the biggest performer up until Spooky Whiz won the Futurity.”
Sired by Magnum Chic Dream, Lil Dreamin Magnum started his career in 2014 by tying for eighth in the Level 3 Open and seventh in Level 2 at the All American Quarter Horse Congress Futurity. That show set him up perfectly for the NRHA Futurity, where he was sixth in the Level 2 Open and seventh in Level 3.
As a 4-year-old in 2015, Lil Dreamin Magnum was the Carolina Classic Derby Level 3 Open Champion for owner Kathy Biesecker. With trainer Jeremy Gates in the saddle, he also claimed co-championships in the ABI Derby Level 3 Open and Pink Ribbon Derby Level 3 Open. Last year, Lil Dreamin Magnum went on a winning streak with championships or co-championships in the Carolina Classic and ABI Derby Levels 4 and 3 Open, Firecracker Classic Derby Open, Central New York Reining Horse Association Derby Levels 4 and 3 Open, and Virginia Reining Horse Association Summer Slide Derby Levels 4 and 3 Open.
The year that Lil Dreamin Magnum made the finals of the NRHA Futurity, a younger half-brother, Spooky Whiz, was offered in the NRHA Markel Insurance Marketplace Sale. When the bidding stalled at $8,000, the Bells bought him back.
“Nobody would touch him because he was so small, so I took him home and I started him myself,” said Bell, who then sent the colt to Eduardo Salgado. “He and his help rode him for six months, and then we sold him to Andrea [Fappani].”
Breeding good horses and selling the foals has been part of Bell’s plan from the beginning. Fourteen of Myo’s babies have gone through the sale ring, selling for prices ranging from $1,800 (Wright Oledo at the 2009 NRHA Breeders Showcase Sale) to $18,500 (Lil Dreamin Magnum at the 2012 NRHA Markel Insurance Marketplace Sale). When sold, they’ve averaged $7,633, a figure that is sure to skyrocket with Myo’s new status as an NRHA Futurity Champion producer.
“I’ve wanted to keep some of her daughters, but I just haven’t. We have to sell them,” Bell said. “The ones that people want, we sell. Hopefully I’ll get to keep a couple of them and start over again.”
In the meantime, Bell is excited about Myo’s younger foals, which include 3-year-olds by Sophisticated Catt and Magnum Chic Dream, 2-year-olds by Magnum Chic Dream and Wimpys Littlecolonel, and yearlings by Electric Code, Wimpyneedsacocktail and HF Mobster. At press time, Bell was waiting for Myo’s 2017 foal by Spooks Gotta Whiz, which will be a full sibling to Spooky Whiz. He already has the mare bred back to Spooks Gotta Whiz for a 2018 foal, as well.
“Myo is a really good-minded horse,” Bell said, adding that the trainers who have ridden her offspring often say that is their favorite thing about Myo’s foals – they are all good-minded. Bell also appreciates her athleticism and her pedigree, which gives him carte blanche when it comes to selecting stallions.
“One of the really big benefits to her is that she is completely off-bred for the reining industry, and even most of the cow horse industry, so I’m not limited by stud horses,” Bell said. “Reining horse people don’t go looking for a daughter of Paddys Irish Whiskey that’s out of a daughter of Smooth Herman to raise babies out of. That’s not what they do.”
But Bell did, and the result has been nothing short of amazing.
“Myo has been a huge blessing. It’s not anything in particular that my wife and I did – God’s hand has been over it,” Bell concluded. “It’s just a humbling experience, for sure.”