A little history about the Founders
In 1992, South African born Victoria Varley, and her New Zealand born husband Mark, began experimental horse breeding on their Arkansas farm. The initial attempt was made to bring back “el Caballo Tigre” ie, (The Tiger Horse) which had its start in Spain but then disappeared into the Americas. Thousands of early imports from Spain to the USA via the Americas in the 1800’s were reported to have been gaited and spotted. There are no originals alive today as many have been bred by a variety of people to represent what they want in their spotted horse. This has resulted in rescuing the leopard coat patterns which is a good thing, but the bad thing is lots of unwanted genetics have also been rescued.
Fortunately history has a habit of repeating itself and the Varleys embarked on a weeding out program to extract as many of the original qualities of spotted gaited horses from Spain, and discarded many of the unwanted genes. Not all of them, but certainly the most obnoxious. Their successful breeding program produced over 110 spotted gaited horses, most of which differed vastly from the horses or breeds that were used to produce them.
Originally an Arabian horse breeder, Victoria competed internationally as an open rider in 1986 with the USA team at the first world championships 100 miles in 1 day horse race, near Rome, Italy. The following year Victoria and the same Arabian, Miss Lexa, were once again nominated to represent the USA internationally. This time she was a team member and brought home a gold medal from The European National Championships 100 miles in 1 day horse race in Germany. Eventually tiring of having to rise and fall in the saddle on a trotting horse, her thoughts turned to gaited horses. Her first mare was a palomino Missouri Foxtrotter, not that different from her Arabians, spirited but in a controlled way and as smooth to ride as floating on a cloud. She was hooked. The new Tiger Horse breed in her future would be smooth to ride, gaited of course but based on the wonderful athletics of the Arabian horses she had owned and loved for so many years. Now her breed would take on a completely different profile. Concave faces would be replaced with convex ones. Fractious dispositions would be replaced with calmer sensible dispositions but their ability to go the distance compared favorable with that of the Arabians.
Extracting spots from modern day “Few Spot” Appaloosas to breed to talented long distance gaited stock was the easy part. Finding antique pheno-types in either group, quite another story. During her research she wondered where Spain had acquired their spotted horses, and discovered that large groups once grazed the Siberian plains at the foot of the Heavenly Mountains district on the China/Siberia border. Some were said to have been used to hunt the Siberian Tiger, and were known by many names including; “Heavenly Horses,” “Horses of the air,” “Blood Sweating Horses,” “EL Caballo Tigre,” “Magical Horses,” and on and on but the large herds that once grazed in “paradise,” were now extinct including other breeds that had been developed on their backs. Because of their exotic beauty, their genes have traveled to several continents and countries. One group to Spain and then on to the USA via South American breeding stations, and these are the horses that made it possible for The Tiger Horse breed of the 21st century to develop.
China had obtained only a few Heavenly Horses during the Han Dynasty but 220 years later began breeding the offspring of those few, to Draft horses and produced a magnificent horse named SOULON. The Soulon was a much celebrated animal. Used for parades and such, its memory lives on in art even though it went extinct some 2,000 years ago.
From the start of the Varley’s Tiger Horse breed, a few individuals were born that closely resembled the ancient Soulon of China but how could this be? There was no connection other than a very distant one and mostly for the spotted coat gene. It didn’t take long to trace the roots of today’s Appaloosa horses and realize that when the Indian tribes who owned them were forced to give up their nomadic ways and revert to farming, they could no longer afford to keep horses that needed to move with the seasons, so turned them loose to fend for themselves. The Military did the same thing. Thoroughbreds (similar to the Han Dynasty development) and Draft Horses (similar to those used during the T’Ang Dynasty), and there was the answer. It took thousands of years for China’s Soulon to come into being but only 300 for The Soulon Tiger Horse of the USA. Same combination. One by man, the other by nature.
Clearly all Victoria needed to do was stay with the program and the momentum could continue. Today 19 of Tigre’s registered Tiger Horses qualify for Soulon recognition. The Tiger Horse Breed Registry protects and promotes the new breed but emphasizes a preference for Soulon type. Soon all Tiger Horses will be recognized as Soulon Tiger Horses especially if breeding continues to favor using individuals that bear the many aristocratic markers of the T’Ang Dynasty Soulon.
The Varleys have reached retirement age but continue to breed for Soulon perfection. As of August 2012 they own 6 Soulon Approved individuals one of which is not gaited but she will be bred to a gaited stallion and if she has a daughter, it will inherit most of her magnificence and all of her sire’s gait. That’s how gait is inherited, fathers to daughters and mothers to sons. You heard it here first.