If turning heads was a competition, Mother Ofall Dragons would be breaking necks.
The gritty Appaloosa mare tore up the Lazy E Arena in the second round of the Barrel Futurities of America Derby on November 18. The people of the internet approved, too, watching the masterful run more than 125,000 times in a few days.
“She’s definitely has her own way of doing things,” owner and jockey Angel Rae Miller said. “You’re not going to force her to do anything. She’s going to do it because she absolutely wants to do it. You’d never be able to demand anything from her.”
The pair finished No. 12 in the Derby Average at the BFA, running a 16.102 and 15.619 for a 31.896 average and $1,486 in earnings.
Similar to ‘Dragon’s’ spice, Miller is unapologetic about her barrel racing choices, no matter how unconventional they may seem. Riding her mare in a quick stop hackamore, glue-on front shoes and no bell boots, there was a lot to process besides the rank run Dragon threw down in the second round of the BFA Derby.
“People see an easy-stop and say, ‘Oh my God that horse must be terrible,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, you can actually ride her with your finger with a string around her neck,'” Miller said. “You’re not leading their nose [with a quick stop]. You bump them in a certain way with whichever finger. It’s going to give you that lateral lift, shoulder lift or the ribcage lift – or just the nose. I’m completely obsessed with them, and I think you have to be to be able to ride in them at a high rate of speed.”
Dragons’ nimble derby run looked simple, with her muscular 15-hand body churning under her varnish Appaloosa coat. But her color wasn’t a priority for Miller when she went searching for the mare – it was her pedigree.
More Than Color
Sired by BP Phoenix Reign (by PYC Paint Your Wagon) and out of Indigo Ice (by Darkelly), Dragon was an unusual combination of run and color. Motivated by friend Cassy Morgan – who came from the Appaloosa breed show world – Miller was willing to give a race-bred app a shot.
“I originally told [Morgan] I would not ride an Appaloosa unless it was bred to do the job,” Miller said.
Then, she started riding Morgan’s 2016 mare Paint Me Dark, a full sibling to Dragon.
“When I rode her I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to find another one,’” Miller said.
Miller tracked down Paint Me Dark’s breeder and learned a full sibling, Dragon, had been sold to someone in Oklahoma. With persistence, Miller brought her home to Micanopy, Florida as a long 2-year-old.
“She was barely touched and wild as a snake – still kind of is,” Miller said wryly.
A Way With Dragons
Dragon was started by Millers’ brother in law Shane Kuhn, and began a regimen of pole bending, riding around the Central Florida property and attending barrel exhibitions with matter-of-fact Miller at the helm.
Miller discovered Dragon stumbled and tripped more with bell boots on and decided to forgo them. She also made the call to shoe the mare herself with glue-on shoes up front after Dragon continually abscessed with traditional metal shoes. The ‘big picture’ of Dragon is unusual, but Miller said the mare is happily in her element.
“When she sees the trailer getting hooked up, she gets a foot taller,” Miller said. “She does get a little bit on the hyper side. To keep her quieter, I let her do her natural thing the first few minutes of riding. Just letting her swing her head, kick her feet up and do whatever the heck she wants to do.”
Appaloosas aren’t common in the barrel pen, with many riders opting for tried-and-true Quarter horse and Paint pedigrees.
“They have to be so talented to do this job and there’s proven [barrel] lines,” Miller said. “So why not just breed the same as everybody else?”
A true competitor, Miller had to be made into Appaloosa advocate. She believes a lot of the Appaloosa lines are bred with breed showing in mind and to some extent, flashy color. She thinks any stereotypes about the athleticism and movement of Appaloosas may have stemmed from non-racing-bred Appaloosas running barrels, with traits like smaller feet and bodies bred for elegant breed showing hindering their performance.
“You can’t make a halter horse into a barrel horse because their bred to stand still and look very beautiful,” Miller said. “The girls that we have were bred specifically to go to the racetrack, so they’re bred to go straight and fast.”