Sunday, August 15, 1999

Horse breeders fondly remember 'daddy' of Rocky Mountain line


Ohio stallion increased numbers

BY SHEILA McLAUGHLIN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SALEM TOWNSHIP — His name was Chocolate Sundown. The gentle, brown Rocky Mountain horse was the Big Daddy of his breed.

        After all, it was his prolific feats on horse farms around the Tristate that branded him something of an equine legend.

        “He was still all boy the morning that he died,” said Charles Kilburn, who raised the stallion from birth on Shiloh Farm here.

        “I moved his stall inside because he was sick and he got around the mares. He had other things on his mind.”

        Today, six months since Sundown's death Feb. 19 at age 31, more than 100 horse breeders will gather at the stallion's grave site on Charles and Freda Kilburn's Waynesville Road farm to pay tribute.

        He was so good at what he did, he rescued the Rocky Mountain breed — known for its smooth, easy ride — from extinction, breeders say.

        “I would say he is almost totally responsible for it because without him our link to Old Tobe would be almost non-existent,” said Rea Swan, a Lexington, Ky., horse breeder who, with Mr. Kilburn, founded the national Rocky Mountain Horse Association in 1986.

        Sundown happened to be the grandson of Old Tobe, an original Rocky Mountain horse who stood apart because of a unique four-beat gait, gentle temperament and sure-footedness.

        It was Old Tobe's job to cart tourists along rugged trails at Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Kentucky.

        In 1981, Mrs. Swan began searching for remnants of the breed and came up with Mr. Kilburn's name from the widow of Old Tobe's owner, Sam Tuttle.

        “Charlie had some of the last breeding population of Rocky Mountain horses,” Mrs. Swan said.

        After four years and 100,000 miles on her car, Mrs. Swan was able to trace only 33 Rocky Mountain horses in the United States — and 32 were linked to the Tuttle farm.

        Today, with the help of Sundown, his sons and grandsons, there are close to 6,000 registered Rocky Mountain horses in the United States, Germany and Canada, she said. Nearly half can be traced to Sundown's bloodline.

        The association patented the Rocky Mountain name in 1986 and created standards for the breed, which is primarily used for pleasure riding.

        While it is unclear exactly how many stallions and mares Sundown sired, Mr. Kilburn estimates them at 600. For nine years, beginning in 1970, Sundown spent each spring through fall at the Tuttle farm in eastern Kentucky, where he was used as stud about 200 times.

        Since the national association formed, Sundown was bred 32 times a year to promote the breed, Mr. Kilburn said. In 1998, with his health beginning to fail, Sundown sired four foals. The last, a yet-unnamed colt — was born May 22 on Shiloh Farm.

        Gail Shumaker, a horse breeder from Richfield, Ohio, near Cleveland, has compiled a 20-year history of Sundown's lineage. She has seven of his fillies and colts, and the blood lines of 22 of her horses can be traced directly to him, she said.

        Mrs. Shumaker will be a guest speaker at today's memorial service at Sundown's grave at Shiloh Farm.

        “He was probably the greatest sire of the breed,” Mrs. Shumaker said. “I got every opportunity I could to breed to him. He had great temperament. He was a pretty dominant sire. His offspring looked like him. They had his gait.”

        While a black granite tombstone pays tribute to Sundown as “Father of the modern-day Rocky Mountain horse,” Mr. Kilburn saw another side to the stallion who was favored for breeding because of his exceptional traits, chocolate-brown coloring and flowing black mane.

        Standing beneath a sycamore tree where Sundown is buried in his favorite pasture, the 70-year-old horse breeder wiped away tears as he recalled his bond with the stallion.

        Of all of the animals he had raised on his farm since the 1950s, only Sundown and a hunting beagle, Sally, were worthy enough to be buried there.

        “I probably will never get another one like Sundown. I loved him,” Mr. Kilburn said.

        “We had something great going. It was just a man and his pet, I guess.”

       



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