|Retirement brightened by colorful Paints|
by Fran Sharp
Whisnant, 57, could have bought a Miata or gone off to Tahiti to live among strangely dressed native women, but he chose to make his life more colorful by breeding and raising Paint horses, a breed sanctioned by the American Paint Horse Association (APHA).
Paints come in an endless variety of patterns and colorations in combination of white with the basic colors common to horses, that is, black, bay, brown, chestnut, dun, grulla, sorrel, palomino, gray and roan. Breeding for what one wants is a challenge Whisnant appreciates and enjoys.
The Paint comes in three pattern types. Whisnant raises all three, overo (o-vair-o), tobiano (to-be-yah-no), and tovero (to-vair-o).
The overo is the chosen horse as far as Whisnant is concerned. Coincidentally or not, its pattern is the most difficult to obtain. In the overo, the white (known as chrome in the business) usually will not cross the back of the horse between its withers and its tail, and the white is irregular, rather scattered or splashy. Head markings are distinctive, often bald-faced, apron-faced or bonnet-faced. The horse may be either predominantly dark or white. Generally, at least one and often all four legs are dark.
The third pattern, tovero, is a combination of the overo and tobiano, and that brings us to what fascinates Whisnant about this breed: the genetics of coat color inheritance is still not readily understood.
Why would anyone want to undertake take raising these horses as a "sort of hobby" after he has completed several other careers?
"I like a challenge and I love horses," Whisnant replies. "When I was a boy, we would travel from the farm to Oneonta on Saturday afternoons for groceries. That was when they still had the old mule barns there and I just loved them. These old men would be sitting on worn benches, whittlin’ and telling tales and the smells coming from the leather and the old wood mixing in with the animals, I just knew that I was in my place. I’ve always loved horses after that. I’m like an old Australian [human] blue heeler - cattle and horses."
After more than 20 years of cattle farms, chicken houses, and a stint in the oil business, Whisnant bought some horses to "kind of familiarize myself with them again and then I started buying mares; bought my first Paint mare in 1992. At that time, Paints were high and a lot of the mares I bought as weanlings, out of Quarter Horse mares that were by world champions. In the Paints, you have the regular stock and the breeder stock Paints. I bought a lot of breeder stock fillies because they weren’t as expensive.
Whisnant’s 40-horse herd, including about 25 paints, some breeder stock and Quarter Horses, roam his 40 acres and another 200 he leases in the Beeson Cove community near Ashville. Newly-weds of two years, Harold and Deborah Whisnant like to trail ride when they can find the time. His daughters and granddaughters are enthusiastic supporters of his Paints.
The St. Clair County native does business with the St. Clair Farmers Co-op in Ashville, buying supplies, feed, medicines and getting free moral support from its employees. Fellow horsemen, Chris Duke, who is also the Co-op manager, and Johnny Barksdale, who’s been there 20 years, are not hesitant to brag on Whisnant’s horses.
"Harold won’t tell you," Duke said, "but I know the quality of good horses and he’s got as good a herd started in here as there is anywhere around. There are a lot of people definitely paying attention. He’s sold horses to several states and is building an excellent reputation for Paints."
Barksdale agreed, adding his friend has improved the horse business in the area with his dedication to quality. "He’s willing to continue to learn and that’s important. A horseman never knows everything and the horse industry keeps changing so you have to keep up with it. Harold knows that."
Whisnant firmly believes in buying young stock with quality bloodlines versus so-called trader lines. He says no matter what kind of successful business you’re talking about, quality is not cheap and Paints are no exception. If he has a philosophy about his horse business, it would be a quote he kept on his desk while managing a cattle operation for a local doctor for more than 20 years. ‘The essence of any purebred program is the predict-ability of their offspring.’ "It’s true with horses, too. I believed it then and I believe it now."
He’s nearing his goal of having "What a horse!" To date, he counts his current set of fillies as his greatest accomplishment, citing their conformation and disposition as being right on target. "I’ve got lots of loud colored babies right now but it doesn’t happen every year like that. I know it was six or eight years before I got anything special. You breed for a certain thing, but then it depends on some luck, too. In the overos, if you get 50-60 percent colored, that’s tremendous. This year I have only three solids out of 20 babies. That’s 17 coloreds, where last year I only had six colored out of 20 babies, almost the exact reverse. This is my best so far. It’s not an overnight operation if you’re going to raise what you breed."
Does he have advice for the horse breeder wannabe? "Sure, it’s free," he said. "Go small, get somebody with some knowledge to help with the buying and take your time." He lowered his voice slightly, "We already said it’s expensive, didn’t we?"
Whisnant says he doesn’t worry about being rich and famous. "I just want to finish out my life doing this. It’s in here," and patted his heart again. "When I’m 90, I hope to still have a few good horses around me."
Fran Sharp is a freelance writer from Alabaster.