Heartwarming Story



The heartwarming story below was fondly written in 2010 by Bonnie Hodge as a human interest story for print in several well-known horse magazines. It is a true story about the author and an exceptional mare.



 "My Love for a Special Matriarch"

© Copyright 2010


Many people have a mental picture of that special horse they wish to own someday. For me, it has always been a purebred Rocky Mountain Horse mare with the oldest and purest bloodlines. In my mind, my breeding program was "one mare away from perfection".

I owned two stallions and two mares that were excellent producers, with conformations, gaits, and dispositions that met or exceeded breed standards. However, after extensively researching the history of the breed, I yearned for one of the few remaining breedable mares from the oldest of the Sam Tuttle lines.

Knowing that my stallions crossed best with mares from the bloodline of a stallion known as Sewell’s Sam, by Sam Tuttle’s foundation stallion "Tobe" (dob 1942), I was confident that my dream Rocky mare would be a matriarch from that line. I already owned a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter of this stallion. However, living direct daughters of Sewell’s Sam were few and far between, let alone any in breeding condition. A quick search on the internet for lineage data revealed less than a half-dozen direct daughters in existence that were still young enough to breed.

One of my friends found a direct daughter of Sewell’s Sam named Cleo that she considered purchasing. Cleo’s lineage was phenomenal and the best I had ever seen (then, as well as now). Her dam was China Blue, one of the last mares Sam Tuttle kept on his farm before he passed away in 1988, and the one mare he claimed was "genetically the best-bred mare he ever owned".

At that point in time, Cleo had a foal at her side. Because she was in poor condition and had no milk for the foal, my friend declined to purchase her. I would have loved to purchase Cleo back then, but my husband talked me out of it, saying that we needed another horse like a hole in the head. Financially, the timing was totally wrong as well.

As Chance Would Have It

I never forgot about Cleo. I dreamed about owning her and giving her a good home for life. She is such a rare and special mare. I believe that matriarchs like her need to be treated with respect and deserve only the best. She is part of her breed’s original history that was quickly fading away. Her genes need to be preserved via as many offspring as she can safely and comfortably produce.

Through an unforeseen turn of events, my life crossed with Cleo’s again in 2008. In the spring that year, a different owner advertised her for sale. The price was more than I could afford, but I telephoned the owner to explain how I felt about Cleo and how I hoped she would be sold to the best of homes. Then, I prayed Cleo would get the home she so deserved.

Eight months later, I received an astonishing e-mail from Cleo’s owner. She was a very kind, Christian lady who stated that because she recognized Cleo was a special mare who deserved only the best of homes, she decided to let me have her for practically nothing. I had to pinch myself to believe this could really be true!

Owning Cleo was not only a dream come true, it helped to fill a huge void in my life. I was experiencing a deep depression and mourning the death of my beloved husband of thirty-three years. I had no ambition and desperately needed a purpose in life. I adopted Cleo as my winter project, and her care occupied my time and mind.

Cleo was sixteen years old when I got her. She needed to put on weight and gain condition for breeding in the spring. I took on this project with such enthusiasm, love, and joy. It gave my life meaning, and I cherished my time with Cleo every day. It was during this time in my life that my faith in God was strengthened like never before.

When I first got Cleo, I spent hours bathing, brushing, clipping, meticulously grooming, and bonding with her. I made a science out of her daily nutritional needs. She was fed small meals of specially mixed grain several times a day, with unlimited access to hay, water, free-choice loose minerals, and winter grass. It was such a joy to know that the fruits of my labor would be a perfectly content horse.

In the beginning, Cleo ate her grain in a frantic haste, fearing it was her last meal. After about a month, she stood quietly and waited for her grain, then ate very slowly as she closed her big brown eyes and relished every mouthful. There was no mistaking how content she had become. Now when I go out to feed my horses, Cleo is nowhere in sight as I reach the corral gate. As soon as she sees me coming, she immediately goes behind the barn, stands beside her feeding station, and waits patiently for me to finish feeding each of the other horses along the way.

"Old Dogs Know Many Tricks"

Certain old horses hold a special wisdom and love that young horses have yet to develop. Cleo was the loving, gentle, sweetheart that I suspected she would be, and she had the smooth, consistent gait that I suspected she would have. However, Cleo surprised me with her unusually keen intelligence and confidence, as it was more on the level of stallions I have known, rather than mares. She learned everything so quickly that I was taken back. I could actually see her "thinking" about different situations. Because she feared nothing and had a bold curiosity, she was a blast to ride on the trail. She would go anywhere, anytime, by herself, without being the least bit herd-bound.

Cleo knew how to open gates and loved being free as the wind. One cold winter day as I was working in the pasture, she noticed the gate was accidentally left open, and she bounded through it with my other two mares directly behind her. Cleo definitely enjoyed being in the lead, and the others were quite content to follow. Every time I approached to catch them, Cleo immediately ran off with the others in tow. Normally, my mares are extremely easy to catch, but Cleo had them under her spell.

I knew if I got close enough to grab onto the mane of my mare, Diamond, then I could easily lead her back to the barn without a halter, and the others would follow. When the three mares finally settled to graze near a fence at the pond, I approached slowly, thinking I had them cornered. The mares were lined up in a row along the edge of the pond, each with two front feet in the water. Cleo was on the far side, and Diamond was nearest to me.

As I stretched over the water to reach for Diamond’s mane, Cleo took off knowing the other mares would follow. I barely touched the hairs of Diamond’s mane with my fingertips when she whirled away from me to follow Cleo, and I lost my balance and fell into the deep, frigid water. I stood up and leaped out of the icy water as fast as I could. As I stood on the bank, dripping wet in my winter clothes and water-filled muck boots, I knew Cleo did that on purpose, and she was having a good laugh on me! Needless to say, after I finally caught all the mares, I double-latched the gate.

The Best Was Yet To Come

By spring 2009, Cleo was a sight to behold. Her coat glistened in the sun, her muscle tone was prominent, her eyes had an energetic gleam, and her attitude was appreciative of her new life. She happily grazed alongside my other Rocky mares in the pasture. I bred Cleo to my stallion and was delighted to hear the news from my vet that she was indeed safely in foal.

Cleo’s close connection with the history of the breed is best phrased in a story a friend told me about how she felt when hunting for arrowheads in freshly plowed fields with her brother. When they would find one, they knew that the last person who handled it was a Native American many years ago. Knowing this gave them such a sense of history. Such history passes through my hands every day when I touch Cleo. She is a perfect treasure that is only a whisper away from Tobe and the history of the Rocky Mountain Horse breed. I believe with all my heart that Cleo is a gift from God, and when I watch her handsome 2010 colt following in her perfectly timed "hoof-steps", I know he is too.


Footnote: Another example of Cleo's extraordinary intelligence and cleverness was told in a story entitled "You Can't Have Just One", written in 2004 by one of Cleo's original owners- the late Kathy Parrish of Florida.  Here is an excerpt from her story of Cleo:

"….Once I had the money, I quickly started calling about the horses I had found. My first pick was a dark bay mare {CLEO} that was …. smooth as glass. Most importantly, something had clicked between her {CLEO} and me. I knew she was the one."… "She soon arrived in Florida. Of course the foal’s birth was only a month away, so I did not get to ride her. As the day drew near, I put her in the yard around the house so I could keep an eye on her. Instead, she ended up keeping an eye on me. I was very nervous about the birth of the foal, so it did not help when she decided that she should know where I was at all times. As I would move from one room of the house to the next, she would run around the house looking in the windows until she found me. I ended up getting a good book and some pillows and going into one of my back bedrooms. I opened the window and read for the next three days while she stood just outside. At night, she would move to my bedroom window in the front of the house.

Of course, she had the foal right under my bedroom window during the night while I slept. By the time I awoke, it was strong, healthy, and getting ready to stand for the first time. Cleo had a filly that I later named Mirror Image because she looked just like her mother, except she had a white sock on the opposite hind leg. Cleo is still my favorite horse to ride…and the smoothest."


 Sadly, Cleo passed away on November 24, 2017.

We will forever miss her.


CLEO -2014