An accomplished rider and professional trainer, Wes Studi has no trouble taming the Tiger Horse.
Wes Studi first started working with horses in the 1950s at the Candy Creek Ranch in Oklahoma, where his father was a ranch hand. “The ranch was owned by an old oilman named Skelly, a founder of Skelly Oil,” Studi says. “He was probably the first rich man I’d ever seen. During this time I was surrounded with horses but not allowed to ride them for several years. So of course I started to sneak around and ride them when no one was watching me. I became sort of helpful as a hand, going on cattle drives and helping with the branding.”
His upbringing instilled a lifelong love of horses, which continues to this day — now in New Mexico instead of Oklahoma. Studi has been training horses for almost a decade at the Annandale Tiger Horse Ranch in Santa Fe, where C&I was privileged to watch him work with the gaited breed.
Studi came to know Tiger Horses several years after moving to Santa Fe when he met neighbor Victoria Varley, a former equestrian Olympian from South Africa who founded the breed and registry in 1992. Descended from an extinct breed once used to hunt the Siberian tiger, the Tiger Horse is thought to have arrived in the Americas 300 years ago from Spain.
“These majestic spotted horses, similar to the Appaloosa, have the same conformation as the Chinese horses you see in Chinese restaurants, with crested necks and shortened tails,” Studi says. “They’re big and sturdy — anywhere from 15 to 16 hands — and are built to have a smooth and very comfortable gait.”
Varley, he says, has been breeding for that conformation and gait for almost 25 years. “Right now, Victoria has the epitome of the big Chinese flying horse in a beautiful mare named Carbon Copy and her daughter Chloe.”
Tiger Horses have a four-beat, evenly timed gait called the running walk, during which they keep at least one foot on the ground. Since they are transferring weight to different legs but never suspending themselves in the air as non-gaited horses do at a trot, they seem to be almost hovering above ground and gliding across the terrain — walking at a very fast speed and covering a lot of distance, while giving a comfortable and ever-so-smooth ride.
And that’s exactly the visual now: Wes Studi and Carbon Copy moving smoothly across a field looking for all the world like partners in a well-choreographed ballroom dance. Studi’s all elegance and doesn’t move from the saddle as Carbon Copy — a beautiful, bold black mare accented with a small white blaze and random white spots — glides across the pasture.
“Carbon Copy was my first introduction to the Tiger Horse breed,” Studi says. “I trained her from the ground up. She’s an easy horse to love. She’s extremely intelligent, communicative, and very good with people.”
Likening Carbon Copy’s smooth extended walk to driving a Rolls-Royce, Studi extols her single-foot gait: “She has the ability to do a long single-foot that is so comfortable — your body is moving back and forth with no bounce to her movement. She also has a great head carriage, a big crested neck, and moves so powerfully striding that single-foot at about 13 miles an hour. Other horses frequently have to canter to keep up with her.”
Lately he’s started to train Carbon Copy’s 2-year-old daughter, Cloud 9 Chloe, who makes a pretty picture with her pale red roan coat pattern. “I put my leg over her back and sat on her for the first time two days ago,” Studi says with a smile. “Like her dam, she offered no objection.”
Read our August/September cover story on Wes Studi.