Silver Oaks Saddlebreds
SILVER OAKS SADDLEBREDS probably started before I was even born. My grandfather, Claude Swango and his brother Roy Swango, hopped a freight train in Kentucky and headed to Oregon. Members of the Swango family had settled in Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois, and there are still Swango's living in those states. Harrison Swango discovered a mineral spring on his farm in 1895 near Hazel Green, Kentucky, and people traveled from all over for healing from the hot springs. The hotel and buildings burned down in 1910, mineral water was shipped from Swango Springs until 1943.
Claude came west, married Maude Murphy, and he and his father-in law worked in Weed, California logging with horses. Claude spent his early married life logging, at one time there were 1,000 head of logging horses in the camp. Claude was the one who had a gift with horses, in healing them, keeping them sound, and teaching them to work. Claude spent his life healing animals and he could teach an animal to almost be human. The animals loved him, he suffered a stroke in 1957 and was in the hospital not expected to live. Around 2:00 am., the dogs started howling, they woke the entire family. I heard my dad tell my mother, “Claude just passed away, the dogs know”, about 30 minutes later the hospital called to tell us that had happened. The Murphy's and the Claude Swango family purchased land in Coburg, Oregon, and settled down to farm and raise a family.
The second thing that established Silver Oaks is that a doctor in Eugene, Dr. Merle Howard, purchased a farm adjoining the Swango farm in Coburg, and his love was American Saddlebred horses. Sometime in the 30's he drove a 2 horse trailer to Kentucky to purchase two of the best bred American Saddlebred mares to bring back to Oregon. One mare was Lucky Boots, sired by Carnation Chief, the other mare, Majorette, was sired by Lee Rose McDonald. Dr. Howard built a beautiful big horse barn for his wonderful horses, and begin raising foals, Des Moines Supreme breeding. All those wonderful horses were next to our farm.
I was born in 1938, and Dr. Merle Howard was my mother's physician. Dr. Howard depended on Claude to take care of any sick or debilitated horse. I went along with my grandfather and even though we usually had 8-12 horses on the farm. I was the little girl who was enamored with how beautiful Dr. Howard's horses were, and I dreamed of someday owning one of those incredible horses.
I was 11 years old when I went with my grandfather to Dr. Howard's farm as he had called and said a little filly had gotten hurt and would Claude see if he could save her. Oh my goodness, she was skin and bones, it was a miracle she could walk to our farm. She had been kicked in the head and the pouches of her jaws were horribly descended. My grandfather called the local veterinarian and he said her jaw had been broken, her nose crushed, and that the filly had been living on the juices from her hay for quite sometime. The veterinarian was pulling fermented hay out of her jaws, then running out side to throw up. He said it was a miracle that she was alive. My dad had constructed a hay mill where he was grinding hay and grain for his cattle feed lot, and he made a special ground mixture of hay and grain for Sheila so she could finally eat. She was so thin we had to massage her skin away from the bones.
She got well and being to fill out, and of course I loved her and pleaded with my family that I wanted her. Her registered name was Lucky's Rosebud, I named her “Sheila”, and used every ploy to convince my family to buy her. She was a surprise Christmas gift, they purchased her for $150, and she ended up being one of the most beautiful horses Dr. Howard ever raise. She raised me, I rode her everywhere, worked cattle on her, took her in the house when my parent's were gone, rode her in the hills and spent every free minute on her back. She lived for 36 years.
The family were hard working farmers, money was always tight, I wanted to raise a foal and joined 4-H to raise a steer to sell at the auction to have the money to breed Sheila. I had her bred to Chief Thundercliff, a stallion in Eugene. Sheila raised two foals sired by him, a mare I named Fantasy Fair, and a stallion I named Country Count. They won everything in Halter and as soon as I started teaching I took them both to Bert Corby to be 5-gaited. My dad was upset every time they won more ribbons as he complained to everyone, “Those horses keep winning, she'll never quit raising horses”.
Fantasy was gorgeous, she was halter champion every year in Lane County and won at the State Fair. She was beautiful in the ring. Country Count was much bigger and super powerful. He would out rack every horse in a 5-gaited class, but I had a sore back trying to keep his head up. When I retired him I rode him in the mountains working cattle. He was rank when I first started him and we sometimes cleared the arena of all other horses. Thank goodness an old time horseman helped me teach him some manners. He ended up being so well trained I took him everyplace, even to the school where I was teaching to show the school kids all about a 5-gaited horse.
The next chapter in Silver Oaks was my meeting Georgia Dale and Mrs. Dale. At every show the Dale horses were superior. They had several wonderful trainers and incredible American Saddlebred horses. Georgia introduced me to Standard Poodle dogs. We became friends and Georgia let me have two of her prize dogs however her poodles would fight and you almost could not get them apart. She had several in old cars and if they got loose they would fight all up and down the hillside. I told Georgia I would take her female poodle, Silver, home for few days as she would especially fight her black sister. Silver wouldn't eat when I took her back to Georgia's and so Georgia gave her to me. Then Georgia raised a litter of pups so I could have a male. My "Plum Dandy" dog, the biggest thief you ever met when it came to food. More people came up missing their dinner and wouldn't even notice what he was doing. He was one sharp dog. I didn't ever tell Georgia that Silver had destroyed my brand new sofa the first time I left her alone in the house, I came home to a room of shredded foam. She was worth it, what a wonderful dog, and those two dogs saved me at midnight one night working horses at the fairgrounds. A released con grabbed me and those dogs took him, he left on the run.
Georgia Dale and Ms. Dale kept telling me about their horses, Stormy Dale, Dusty Dale, and other horses they owned winning all the prizes with Sonny Cannon in California. You couldn't fool Ms. Dale on a horse, she knew a good one and they had the best. When I first met the Dale's they had 7 residences, some farms and several homes. The Dale's were robbed continually by the shyster attorneys, real estate agents, and farm managers. One attorney in Eugene had cyclone fencing for miles around his farm, everyone said, “The Dale's paid for it as he represented them." I ran into that attorney several times having lunch with the opposition. Imagine that!
The Dale's couldn't pay the bills
on the horses in California, it seemed every time they
sold some property they didn't get the money.
They decided they had to bring the horses home.
They purchased an old van and went to California to
bring the horses back to Oregon. Sonny Cannon kept
many of their horses, they brought the Marvel's
Miss Flash mare home, and most of the
horses out of that mare, especially Stormy Dale, Dusty
Dale, and Oh My of Ellendale.
knew the two horses had to remain in training, so
Stormy Dale and Dusty Dale went to Portland to
Georgia's friend who had also been shoeing her horses
for years. He also was shoeing my show horses and I
would haul my horses to Portland for their shoeing. He
would ride Dusty Dale for me, most ever time he'd get
dumped, and Dusty would get loose and put on an
incredible show. He was the most beautiful and
talented horse I'd ever seen, trotting above center
with his head set to perfection.
Georgia called me one day, months later and asked if we would take our horse trailer and help her bring one of the horses back to Springfield. She said the farrier had sued her for her long standing bill and was attempting to keep both horses. She told me she had mortgaged her last farm and had a $30,000 check to give him. She could only take one of the horses, he would get possession of the other horse. We talked, and I told her to take the stallion, Dusty Dale, she had mares to breed and could raise some foals. It was a difficult decision for Georgia as most every trainer thought Stormy Dale had the potential to be a WC Fine Harness horse.
We loaded Dusty Dale in the trailer and left Stormy Dale in Portland. On the way home Georgia and Mrs. Dale were distraught. They told us that owning those two horses and “paying off all the trainer's with bills on just those two horses had cost them over $100,000”. They didn't know what they were going to do with a stallion, and Georgia told me: "We will never have the money again to buy them back as everyone was attempting to take possession of their horses". We took Dusty Dale to Springfield and put him in a stall at Ellendale Acres, the last farm they still owned.
On the way home that day, my husband Gene, had talked with the Dale's about letting us purchase Dusty and standing him at our new farm we'd just purchased in Silverton. They would be able to breed all their mares for the lifetime of the stallion at no charge, and we wouldn't ever sell him. They could call us and let us know. I don't think I slept or ate while waiting to see if they would call. The world stood still.
About 3 weeks later, Georgia called me. They were
beside themselves, she told me Dusty was kicking the
stall apart, they were sleeping in front of his stall
to keep him quiet, and their hired hand had left. They
would sell me the horse under the terms we had
discussed. We hooked the trailer and went to the
farm. Dusty didn't have a halter on and was
wild. I had a neighbor's stallion attack me, I knew
about the dangers of a vicious stallion. I
wanted that horse so badly I went in his stall, put
his halter on, and loaded him in my trailer. I didn't
care what he did, Dusty Dale was going home with
me! Sonny Cannon never referred to me by my
name, it was always: “That
%$%(*&^&*(*&^%$# school teacher that got
that great horse”. And in 1968 Dusty Dale became mine
and the true beginning of Silver Oaks Saddlebred.
As soon as possible, we sent Dusty to Bud Tucker, in Corvallis, so we could show and promote him. Bud brought him out at the Eugene Horse show, Roy Register was the Judge. He entered the ring and the crowd stood and gave him a standing ovation the entire class. Mr. Register called Mr. Tucker several times with a big offer. I refused to sell him, I had mares to breed.
Dal Hope heard about Dusty, and he contacted Mr. Tucker several times with an offer to us of $50,000. Dal was planning to send Dusty to Kentucky and stand him at the Man O'War farm. Dal's offer was bonefied as Dal had to fly to Salem to testify in Lane County Court of his offer as to Dusty's value.
Refusing an offer of $50,000 for a horse in 1971 was not conducive to good martial relationships. Not agreeing to sell him for such a large sum of money caused the divorce. I believed Dusty was the future of Silver Oaks Saddlebreds, and how could I sell him and violate the trust and promise made to Georgia and Mrs. Dale.
I had gotten my hands on
some incredible mares, pouring over Saddlebred
pedigrees and books for the kind of horses I wanted to
raise. I was going to breed him to the best mares I
could acquire, the Dale's bred one of their mares. The
divorce meant working 3 jobs to pay for Dusty and
being able to keep my farm. I drove to Seattle and
talked Bud Tucker out of Touch of Enchantment, a
daughter of Dusty's sister, Oh My of Ellendale, for
line breeding. I drove to Scapoose in 4 inches of snow
when Stardust Sensation had put her owner out of the
stall again, "for the last time", and I had to take
her that day or ELSE. I had to lead her up the steep
hill in the snow, we had to stop often, she was in
Dusty was at my farm in Silverton, I was waiting to be
able to send him back for training when my horses
started getting sick. I lost Touch of Enchantment and
Stardust Sensation before my veterinarian suspected it
was botulism from the feed. More horses became ill and
the veterinarian sent blood samples to Davis College,
they confirmed botulism. My dad had me go to the feed
store and purchase all the bags of the remaining feed.
We purchased a horse at the auction and my
veterinarian sent that horse and the feed to Oregon
State. The horse got fat and sassy, in three weeks he
dropped to the ground and they couldn't save him. The
college said they "forgot to take blood samples"
probably because they assumed I was going to sue the
feed company? The feed was alfalfa pellets and my
veterinarian believed a decayed animal had been ground
with the pellets and the pellets had not been
processed correctly. I do not feed any pelleted
feed to my horses.
Dusty went down on Christmas Eve, he couldn't get up and he couldn't swallow for 6 weeks. We built a hoist in his stall and lived with him, getting him up every time he wanted to get up. We'd hoist him up in the sling, always front legs higher with a horse, stand him on his feet until he got feeling back in his legs, and take the sling off. He'd lean against the wall until he was exhausted, then stay down and rest, and we were right with him to get him back up before he started to struggle and would have exhausted himself. I might have saved those two mares had I known what to do.
For six weeks the
veterinarian came night and morning to give Dusty
I.V.'s. I massaged
his throat continually. He
finally could swallow just at the
time the veterinarian couldn't find a good vein
left to get a needle in for the I. V. Dusty was
a mass of bed sores, skin and bones, but I finally
could get him up myself with
a halter and rope. It was a miracle he had survived
and the veterinarian said he could die at any time. I
slept with an inter-com plugged into his stall for
years. I'd jump up and go to the barn if anything
sounded not quite right.
We were 4 years going to Court
against the feed company. At the trial the entire
Court room was filled with the feed companies
attorney's. I took a settlement at my attorney's
advice as the Judge wouldn't allow
the Davis College tests as they were “out of state”.
One of the jurors told me they would have awarded me
the full amount but I took my attorney's advice. I put
half of the settlement in the bank for the sole
purpose of sending two horses for training, the horse
that became WGC Big Bird, and the black mare out of
Stardust Sensation, Candida of Silver Oaks. I thought
Candida was even better than Big Bird but she got
spoiled at the canter, you took your life in your
hands at the reverse canter. I thought she might have
been another Gift of Love, Candida is the grand dam of
My Dreamboat Annie.
Big Bird showed 5-gaited at the American Royal and trainer's raced to his stall to purchase him. He was sold and went to Kentucky. He won some of the top Amateur 5-gaited classes. I was told there was a collision in a ring and he became tough to show for an amateur. He was entered in Open 5-gaited in Louisville at the World Championships. I flew to Kentucky to watch him show. I was so excited as everywhere I went people were talking about “my horse” and could he beat Imperator? He hit the ring and several trainers told me later, “Your horse was winning the class at the first trot until he ran away and had to take the gate.” Tom Moore took him in training and started showing him in Fine Harness.
In 1981, Tom Moore showed Big Bird and he won the
WC Stallion & Gelding class in Fine Harness, and
he was Reserve World Grand Champion Fine Harness. The
Judges didn't call for a work off in the Fine Harness
Stake. Tom Moore couldn't wind him up too soon or he
couldn't hold him, he was waiting for the work off.
Tom told me he couldn't hold a drink for a couple of
hours after any class, the horse was a powerhouse. Big
Bird won all the polls as the Greatest Fine Harness
horse in American in 1981, and he was listed for 3
years as one of the top Fine Harness horses in
After losing the dam of Bird Bird, I managed to get Marvel's Flashing Queen, a daughter of the great Marvel's Miss Flash, again line-breeding. She produced Skybird of Silver Oaks. He won the Jackpot as the best NWSA Futurity horse in his 3 years showing. Later I had an opportunity to sell him for more money than I had been offered for Dusty. I had to take the horse to that party's arena. I had sent Skybird to a trainer in the beginning and that trainer had told them horror stories about Skybird running away and trying to kick his head off. I had a trainer with me who was helping me with my horses, when they hooked Skybird to the buggy I looked over and the man was shaking. I ask him if he'd rather that I would drive him. I drove him with a draw rein first, and then with a straight line. They didn't purchase him that day as they had been told he would be difficult to train. I've never claimed to be a professional, I showed Skybird myself in Fine Harness at several shows afterward. I was showing him down in Grants Pass once and the warm up ring was a huge field filled with hot air balloons, cars honking horns. I'll admit, I said some prayers but he was fine. I stopped working him as we couldn't keep him sound. I was told he had taken out a 2'x12' bullpen when he had been at the trainer's. He had a longer neck than Big Bird with every bit as much talent. I kept him for breeding, mares sired by him are still part of my breeding program. Keeping him was a blessing for me. Skybird was an incredible horse, not a mean bone in his body and always a gentleman, a super great horse.
I married Don Duncan, who had helped me save Dusty. He closed his business for several weeks, built the hoist to get Dusty on his feet, and stayed with me around the clock for several weeks. At first it took 5 people to get him up and then two of us could do it be ourselves. My school didn't renew my teaching contract that year, they told me: “No one took two months off from their teaching job just to save a horse.” I took a job in Salem, they gave me a $5,000 raise and tremendous benefits. The school sent the chairman of the board to my house a couple years later to tell me they would give me my job back and they had made a mistake”. I remained teaching in Salem.
Life wasn't easy, I had lost two of the best mares, and 4 other horses were debilitated. It was several years before they recovered and never to be show horses. Dusty Dale lived to be 25 years old. The last year of his life he started breaking down in his hocks. He would be down in the stall and I would tell him to "lay down,"and he'd roll over on his side. I'd take a metal milk carton, he'd put his hind legs one at a time on the milk carton for me to give him "Reiki" treatments. Then I'd wrap his hind legs, tell him he could "get up" and we'd go for walks. What a wonderful marvelous horse.
Owning Dusty was a gift. People who had been in the Saddlebred business for years let me have their best mares because they wanted the mares bred to him. I was able to acquire 3 of the best mares of Bridlewood Farms, the Bob Hoskin's. I purchased the Enticer mare (full sister to WC Main Glitter) from Mr. Miller, talked Dick Reed, a very knowledgeable horseman out of his best mares, Sunshine Melody and Reveler's Miss America, and I acquired the protege' of Tailored to Taste from Lenise Kilbourne. Those good mares helped put Dusty Dale on the map. People still call and want their mares here for the breeding program, which is why I have so many now.
Dick Reed had raised some exceptional horses and had sold several of them to Dal Hope. Dal wanted Sunshine Melody, he said she was one of the fastest racking and trotting horses he'd ever ridden, and of course he was out to win World Championships. Dick wouldn't sell her, he was keeping his best horse as he wanted to show again. It was sometime later when I was down in Eugene watching my Candida mare work on a Saturday. Oh my goodness, Candida was a freak, she was awesome. Candida 's dam was the 5-gaited sensation, Stardust Sensation, whose dam was Sunset Melody, a half sister to Sunshine Melody, both out of the same dam. I'm watching Candida work and I get shivers up and down my spine. (Dick had put Melody up for sale recently at a training barn, Dal was no longer training horses). I immediately went to the telephone, called Dick asking him if he would sell me Melody. He finally agreed and I told him to have the papers ready, I was leaving immediately to go to his home near Portland. I purchased Melody that day.
Another teacher that I worked with had her daughter taking lessons learning to ride a 5-gaited horse, the barn where Dick had Melody. On Monday morning as I was walking into the school, the teacher came running out to greet me all excited. She said, “Susan, you will never believe it, grandpa sent a check on Saturday to purchased Melody and we're going out to buy her tonight. They offered me a great deal more money. I couldn't sell her, she was going to be bred to Dusty Dale, he deserved the best..... “Never let any grass grow.....”
Dale bred to Sunshine Melody was an unbelievable
cross, those two horses put my farm on the map. Dusty
Dale and Sunshine Melody's protoge won halter classes
at the NWSA and Spokane Futurities. At a Futurity in
Spokane one year they had 3 judges and we brought home
over 30 trophies. Dusty Dale was 3rd in the
National Futurity ratings in 1983 and 5th
in 1984, most of the winning were from the
magical cross of Dusty and Melody.
The marriage with Don Duncan provided a great
blessing, my daughter, Lisa Duncan. However,
when Lisa was almost 4 years old, her dad collapsed at
his work and passed away. We were alone on the
farm. After teaching all day I would bundle her
up, take her up to the barn in order to care for at
least 25 horses. I would put Lisa on the back of
one of the broodmares, usually Fantasy. Several times
I looked up and Lisa was sound asleep on her back. I
knew I was the most horrible mother in the State.
I started taking Lisa in front of me in the western saddle on Country Count. We rode all over the country side. I think that is where she learned to rack a horse, every time we would hit a nice smooth surface, we would slow gait and rack. Not many people can rack a horse as true and as quickly as Lisa. If you want kids to learn something, give them experiences when they are young.
Lisa was in
the barn helping even when she was tiny. I was able to
get her a pony, Penny, and she lived on the back of that
pony. Her first show was when
she was 6 years old. She showed western and English
and she was posting in English like a champion. I
brought the horse Cachet' home from Kentucky and had
been showing him 5-gaited. Lisa started riding him on
a lounge line. The worse thing parent's can do
to discourage their kids about horses is “over-horse
them” and not give them lessons to keep them safe.
We had taken the Commander's Velvet Breeze mare in on a trade as a broodmare. Lisa pulled her out of the pasture in May, started working her and won both Pleasure 5-gaited classes against tough competition in August at the State Fair, Don Harris was the judge. Lisa gave me a bad time as I went to show her something and Breeze threw me way over her head. She wasn't an easy horse to work. Dick Boettcher was at the show to cheer her on and his hands were shaking he was so excited.
Lisa then took a beautiful
filly, Rubies 'N Dust, and started working her. She
started showing, winning, and sold Ruby for a large
sum of money. One of my friends had purchased a
broodmare from the Hoskin's called Pacific Power. He
gave that mare to Lisa for Christmas. She started
raising her own foals and training them.
Lisa's first star was Yankee Rose of Silver
Oaks, and she won Rosie's Ch Championship with a
multitude of wins. She trained
more of her colts out of Power; Angelique in 3-gaited,
Apache Rose as 5-gaited, and my Dutch Chocolate horse
in Park. They were the horses to beat on the west coast.
My cousin, Gary Gustafson, invested with us in
the horses and Lisa gaited the Dusty's Magic Moment
gelding out of his mare Magic Evening. Lisa won in
Amateur and then on to compete and win with him as a
Professional. What a great horse, so hot that
Lisa usually had to get on him in the stall, and even
after winning the class, sometimes the biggest
challenge would be getting off of him. That horse was
a sight we sent him to Kentucky to be sold and there
was a training accident. He had the ability to
maybe have been a World Champion.
Gary was a part of our team and we had
some unforgettable times. He was always fun and such a
character. Once Magic won a big 5 gaited Championship
in California. Gary was yelling and so excited
that he tripped over the farrier's shoeing
box. He jumped up to go out
and put the blue ribbon on Magic, he had chains in his
elastic waste band pants and ran to the ring losing
his pants. He got more applause than the horse. Gary
passed away last year, we miss him every day. Gary
showed and won in Parade classes all over California
with Raindust of Silver Oaks, riding his
beautiful sterling silver parade saddle. He
truly loved showing and attending all the horse shows.
Lisa was responsible for our starting to raise spotted horses. She agreed to sell her gaited mare, Apache Rose, providing she could purchase a spotted mare. When we took Apache Rose to her new owners, we had made arrangements to look at pinto mares for sale on the west coast. We were especially interested in one, Ch Flying' Fish, by Chubasco and out of Catfish Lizzie, a daughter of Stormy Dale, owned by Tori Thompson. We wanted line-breeding.
We had made arrangements to visit Tori Thompson in
Grass Valley. We drove to her farm
and when we walked in her barn, we wanted those
horses. Tori was making a package deal on 2
other horses along with Fish, including a spotted
mare, Spot My Assets, in foal to Monaco. She told us
she believed the horses were already sold, we stayed
with her visiting for 6 hours. We told her Lisa had
cash, if she decided to sell them to us, we would come
We drove home to Silverton, we had been on the road for several days and were exhausted. We were only back home in a few hours when Lisa came and said that Tori had called and would sell the horses to us. It was already late at night, we had the trailer hooked back up and were on the road back to California immediately. We drove all night, paid for the horses, had the papers in hand, loaded the horses before 8:00 a.m., and headed back to Silverton. Lisa and I are of the same mind, "Never let grass grow under your feet". It was the decision of a lifetime.
Tori had been
diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was not good.
She was a remarkable woman, it had been her goal to
raise the best spotted horses in America. She believed
in crossing Buck Rogers and Sky Watch breeding and
that she could achieve that goal. She had purchased
the horses she wanted for her program. I really bonded
with that woman and we kept in contract by sending her
pictures and updates on what we were doing. Tori even
went to Reno to watch Lisa show horses. She became a
very special friend. Lisa and I agonized over Tori's
cancer treatments, they had almost killed her several
time just with the radiation treatments, chemo., all
the medications previous to her passing.
The friendship with Tori resulted in our acquiring Las
Vegas Showgirl, who had just foaled a chestnut colt
sired by Sky Watch. We purchased
that colt sight unseen. He was named Scripps by
Tori. (I have saved 4 mares sired by him). Lisa showed
him 5-gaited and he was incredible. I was in Portland
for medical treatment when they called me that Scripps
had been hurt. One of the stable men had let the
Flamethrower stallion get loose and he had charged
Scripp's stall, they had fought though the stall bars.
The guys were afraid and couldn't get Flamethower
away. Scripps had reared up and caught a shoe
attempting to go over the stall wall, hooked his shoe
on the top of the stall and broke his shoulder. The
rule of the barn has always been; "Keep all the
stallions on ties in their stalls when you take one
out so they won't attempt to fight". I was not on the
farm so that hadn't happened. We were sick.
Tori knew she was terminal. She called me one morning and told me about Chicago Park. She said she had spent a fortune purchasing his dam, Some Are Flowers, and told me that she had been required to purchase 5 breedings to be allowed to breed to Monaco. She said Chicago was born perfection however they had left a halter on him at 5 days old and he had caught the halter and hung himself. They managed to save him and she had taken him to Davis College. They told her he had damaged his neck and spine, they didn't think he would ever completely recover. She said he was in her pasture, he walked funny, he was 2 years old and was becoming a handful. She asked me if I would take him if she would give him to me. She didn't know if he would ever be able to breed, she was hoping we could continue her legacy to breed wonderful spotted horses.
She didn't have to ask me twice, so Tori took him to
Reno where Gary and Lisa were showing horses. Chicago
had hardly been handled, he was a pill. They had
spent several hours attempting to load him. They were
trying to call me to leave him for Tori to come back
and get him, they didn't know her number. They
couldn't find me, thank goodness! Finally they
got him in the trailer to bring him to Oregon. I took
him out to the track the next morning. He may
have been crippled however his front legs were going
way above center. He had a limp, wasn't quite right
behind, but what a sight! And he was the beginning of
our love for spotted pinto horses at Silver Oaks.
My farm in Silverton had been for sale for 9 years. I had numerous contracts from developers and no one came up with money. I had leased a farm in Molalla in 1995, it was beautiful country and I moved all the breeding stock over to Molalla and kept the show horses in Silverton. Some developers had signed a contract to purchase my farm, they stalled, attempting every crooked method to lower the price. That was a blessing because I couldn't go ahead and purchase that farm. Our horses started getting sick and none of the veterinarians could find the cause. Some of the broodmares started to foal and the foals flopped on the ground. The yearlings had diarrhea and I lost 4 colts. None of the veterinarians could understand the cause after all kinds of treatments and medications. A 5th and 6th colt died on the same day and I told my veterinarian, “Cut them open, I want to see inside.” Their intestines were black with rotted holes leaking into the body cavity.
I knew it was chemicals, my dad had almost lost the farm in the 1960's because they built a huge motel complex about a mile away who dumped all their waste and chemicals down the irrigation ditch onto our property. His sick cattle had the same chemical burns and damage in their intestines. My family sued the motel complex as their sewage treatment plant was a pond and they were dumping all the chemicals and waste into the irrigation ditch. College veterinarians testified in the trial; “We have tests that prove animals thrive on drinking sewage water, it has more nutrients.” The Judge denied my families claims and we had to get out of the cattle and sheep business.
When I saw the chemical burns and black intestines in the colts, I served notice to the owner of the property that day, and immediately started actions to move back to Silverton. An investor purchased that property a few months later and found a massive dump of buried chemicals at the top of the property, the chemicals had leached into all the ditches. The neighbors called me and told me there was over $200,000 in fines and cleanup cost. The man who had attempted to sell me that property was sued and had to pay all those costs. It cost us 2 years of foals but we were lucky.
After 9 years of listing my farm for sale in Silverton, I gave up and took the property off the market. I had agreed to several contracts and they had all tanked. I thought I would be substitute teaching for the rest of my life.
A developer called me on a Thursday night in April, 2006. He told me his people were purchasing the entire hillside, 5 different properties and they wanted my farm. We agreed on the price and he said he wanted a written contract by Saturday morning. I called my attorney for the contract and he told me he was leaving immediately for Hawaii, I would have to wait at least 2 weeks. I ask for permission to write the contract myself subject to his approval.
I had been teaching Russian students for several weeks
(I don't know a word of Russian) so I couldn't started
writing the contract until Friday evening. I finished
at 3:00 a.m, Saturday morning. I went to
bed and woke up in less than an hour. Something told
me; “Sell and move”! When the developer walked in the
door I ask him, "How much less do I have to take
for you to close and pay me within 60 days so I can
build an arena and barn for the horses during the
summer without rain.” He agreed to close within 60
When November came, the date the developers had wanted
all properties to close, the market all over the
United States had tanked. Silverton had 400 plus
homes for sale, and sale of all the other properties
folded. The city refused to annex any of those
properties, and none have ever been developed to
date. Higher powers must take care of people who raise
Saddlebred horses, I was certainly blessed.
The property, now Silver Oaks Saddlebreds, in Carlton,
Oregon, has been a dream come true. I had searched all
over for something suitable to no avail. The pictures
on the internet didn't show any of the inside of the
facility but it said it had a multitude of
stalls. I made an appointment to see it. I met
the Real Estate agent in Lafayette and was following
him towards the property when I got strange feelings
that I was going to be living in Carlton. The
listing stated it had an old 1930 house, a huge
arena, lots of stalls, several other barns, and quite
a few paddocks. When I drove in, I saw they had
built everything first class for the horses.
They didn't live on the property and the old
house was used for help.
The farm is 71 acres of beautiful
land with beautiful trees, a small
creek. They had built a beautiful
70' by 180' arena with all lighting so it could be used
at night. The stall area attached to
the arena is 60' by 180' with 25 stalls, cement
aisles, office, laundry and restroom, tack
rooms, etc. It had an underground
water system with expensive feed boxes, hay managers,
and stall mats.
Another 60' x 180' barn area was
built adjoining with 23 stalls, tack room, 2 wash
rooms, and storage
for 50 tons of hay and 12 units of sawdust. It had
been idle for several years, needed new mats and
repairs, but I knew the cost to
build which is why I had made the offer to purchase
that first afternoon. It was unbelievable, they had
been reducing the price as it had been
for sale for several years. People told me I got
all the buildings for free. “Never let any grass
In August of 2006, PERS of California started purchasing acreage around Carlton, making huge investments in wine property and the price on all surrounding properties escalated. Had I been 6 months later, I would have never been able to purchase the property. I have 34 wine-tasting buildings within 2 miles, I've been twice to sample wine.
The people had built various paddocks, an additional barn with 11 stalls, a cemented storage area for equipment, and it had a huge old shop. We gave the shop away for room to build the house, and I built a new shop and a huge hay barn with a 24' by 140' lean-to for broodmares.
Last year I took out the portable
stalls in the hay barn, fenced the 60 acre hay field,
and made a larger double feeder shed. The mares come
in at night during the winter, they are in during
storms, and they go out in the pasture during the
day. We can clean it with the skidster or
tractor, it saves on labor and the mares stand and eat
hay in big bales, always warm and dry. It is as
simple a facility as I believe you can have to
maintain horses economically, and the horses love
being in the herd.
The person who has maintained Silver Oaks and kept the
farm running has been my “better half”,"Tom
Birch. He is amazing. He repairs the equipment,
helps me save horses, always taking over in any
emergency. He finished some of the new
house. He's a genius at any auction, always getting
super bargains. When Lisa and
I broke down on the freeway with a trailer full of
horses, he's the one who arranged the emergency help
in the middle of the night. He worked all night
once to replace a clutch in the truck that the hired
man hadn't told me he'd burned up
during the day so we could make it to San Diego just
in time to show the horses. He jumped in my dump
truck, shoving it
in gear as I started it down the
hill, a disgruntled person had cut the brake lines. He
kept me from crashing over the steep
banks and probably ending in the
lake. He has always been there! He is one of the
best body men in the State, rebuilding and restoring
classic cars. People bring him automobiles
dipped in acid removing the rust. He can mold any new
fender and replace any body part,
and build an engine from buckets of
parts. He's raced his fancy '59 Sprite in the
Salem car club with 85 members and won the
championship against the new fancy cars. He won the
championship at the Bible Hill Climb on a road at the
coast that I didn't even want to ride up when he
wasn't racing. He's raced his dirt bike and has
trophies. He can fix and build computers, there isn't
much he can't do. The nicest thing is that he took two
weeks off from his work and took care of me 24/7 when
I had my hip replacement. He is a blessing every
day, a super fine man. He has his own business
now, Restoration and Fabrication.
Some adorable babies have been born and raised at
Silver Oaks Saddlebreds.
The horses we've bred have truly
been promoted with Lisa Lesch's
training. She maintains her barn in Silverton, Spring
High Stables. When I first moved to Carlton I hired
several trainers and let them all go. I don't believe
in abuse, mule bits, barb wire, tying legs to their
heads for hours, bitting them up until they
can't breathe, jerking on the bits for punishment,
abusing them in any way, etc.,
etc. I could you tell you horror stories and I
have little respect or patience for
some of the abuse that happens to horses by trainers.
Silver Oaks horses have won in most all divisions. Ch
Tyger Luv of Silver Oaks has been one of the top
Hunter horses in American, Braveheart of Silver Oaks
one of the top Western horses in American, and Clear
the Sky, a champion Parade Horse who now carries
some disabled children when he's not showing
off. The nicest thing is that the
horses are appreciated, I love the letters, phone
calls, videos, and e-mails telling me that The Silver
Oaks horse has been their best friend and their
greatest joy. I have raised a multitude of
horses, what is the song, "all the beautiful girls and
I've loved every one"! That applies to the
stallions also, in fact, that song applies to all the
horses at Silver Oaks.
Silver Oaks Saddlebreds
Champions over the years
I have always raised manx cats. They are ferocious, extremely intelligent, more like having a dog. When living in Silverton a huge feral multi-toed male, such as Hemingway raised, moved onto the farm "enamored" with my manx females. I couldn't get rid of him and the polydactyl bob tail kittens that started appearing were adorable. Now I have a specialty breed and people love them.
This year we plan to breed some of the mares and raise
foals for 2016. I truly believe we are in for
big changes in American. I know Lisa has some
super talented horses ready to hit the show ring for
Visitors are always welcome at
Silver Oaks. We keep the gate locked for
security, the phone number is on the Silver Oaks
sign on the fence. Please call for an