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Equine Genetic Deafness

Written by Susan Morrison on .

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Foals by Colonels Smoking Gun (Gunner)
    It’s certainly more than speculation that splashed white Paint Horses, or any horse with blue eyes and excessive white markings over its face, can be deaf. However, very little scientific research on the subject has been done.
    When a young Paint gelding was presented to the veterinary clinic at Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., about five years ago, it was the first deaf horse seen by many. But the horse presented a challenge and an opportunity for Dr. Allison Stewart, who was interested in studying equine deafness. She had already been working on brainstem auditory evoked response testing in horses with neurological disorders or brain trauma, and knew the same testing methods could be used to determine deafness.

    “There was nothing in a journal or textbook,” Stewart said. “They’d published how to do it, but there was no definite diagnosis in horses.”
    Auditory response testing checks a horse’s brain waves and the wave patterns that change in response to noise.
    “We tested a normal horse first and showed the characteristic wave forms that you see in response to noise,” she explained. “The machine generates a series of clicking noises. You hold headphones to the horse’s ears, and you have tiny electrodes that you place just under the skin, over the face and skull, and those measure the brain waves. There is a characteristic series of five peaks that you see that corresponds to normal hearing.”
    Stewart said horse owners can do simple tests at home if they suspect deafness – clapping your hands or making noises behind the horse and gauging its reaction, or the lack thereof. But determining deafness is only a small piece of the puzzle; she wants to do further research on the genetics of deafness.
    “It would be wonderful to take this instrument to a big Paint show and offer testing,” she said. “If we could test 500 horses – confidentially – then you’d be able to work out [the genetics]. It would be interesting to follow the genetics and see if they’re more likely to have deaf offspring. If you could work out the genetics and inheritance, you could take blood samples from individuals and work out a genetic test.”
    Stewart said one thing is apparent even without genetic testing: The deafness is caused by a lack of pigment in part of the inner ear.
    “The pigment in the hair cells in the ear is necessary for them to work properly,” she said.
    The veterinary researcher has spoken with European researchers about genetic testing, and said they all suspect that “there probably isn’t going to be a single gene involved, like with hyperkalemic periodic paralysis. It’s probably going to be associated with a lack of pigment, therefore, the color markings,” she said. “If a horse has pigment in the hair cells on the inner ear, it’s going to be fine. If it has pink skin in that inner ear, it’s going to be affected.”
    The horse’s markings may include a white face and solid-colored ears, but the pigmentation on the inside of the ear may still be lacking. And even though the gene for that lack of pigmentation is likely inherited, the result is going to depend on “where those pigment cells end up in the markings,” Stewart said.
    “If you have two affected horses and you breed them together, you’re not going to necessarily get an affected offspring,” she explained.
    Dr. Gary Magdesian, who has done extensive research on coat color genetics, also has done BAER testing in horses. In the more than a dozen horses he has tested, all the deaf horses have had white on their faces and at least a partial blue eye.
    Magdesian, a researcher in the Department of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said he doesn’t believe that a single gene is responsible for equine deafness related to the splashed white coat pattern, because not all splashed white horses are deaf and a deaf horse can produce a hearing horse.
    “Coat color-associated deafness appears to be associated with an absence of melanocyte-like cells in the stria vascularis of the cochlea of the ear,” he said. “These cells are derived from the neural crest region of the embryo. Interestingly, the melanocytes that produce coat color pigment also are derived from the neural crest.”
    Therefore, horses with the gene that leads to the splashed white pattern have defective melanocyte migration to the nonpigmented regions of the head, and that also involves abnormal migration of the cells that play a role in the development of hearing in the inner ear, he said.
    Dr. Malte Harland, a German researcher who also has studied the genetics of deafness, said limited research has been done on horses.
    “There is a lot on dogs and cats, and the genes that cause deafness in them have been named. But on horses it’s still not known,” he said. “There is some information, but the [genetic] link between color and deafness in horses is still missing.”
    Harland said the findings behind the published studies on deafness in dogs and cats “should be the same in horses, but it’s not proven.”
    “The researchers find all the same problems in the ears of dogs, cats and even humans, and it should be the same in horses,” he said. “I think that’s why most people are not interested in finding the gene. They know the problem, they know how to test it, and say there’s no need for genetic testing like there is with the lethal white disease [in horses and dogs].”
    A study published in 2006 in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine looked at 2,597 border collies and showed a link between coat patterns and deafness. The research showed that “deaf border collies had “higher rates of merle coat pigmentation, blue iris pigment and excess white on the head than normal hearing border collies.”
    Dogs, in fact, have been studied extensively, since many breeds carry a gene that causes deafness. Dalmatians, Australian shepherds, Australian cattle dogs and bull terriers are known to carry the gene. In fact, Stewart said, about 8 percent of Dalmatians are deaf in both ears and almost 22 percent are deaf in one ear. With Australian shepherds, when two merles are bred, the lethal white gene causes 25 percent of puppies to be born totally white with blue eyes – and those puppies are most often deaf and sometimes blind. Even white cats with blue eyes frequently are deaf, as proven in scientific studies.
    The lethal white gene also affects Paints, but is different than the lack of pigmentation that can cause deafness. The gene that causes lethal white syndrome was identified in 1998 by researchers at the University of Minnesota, in a study partially funded by the American Paint Horse Association. However, lethal white foals also have other physical problems, including fatal defects in their intestinal system, and seldom live longer than a few days.
    Although extensive research has been done on coat color genetics in Paint Horses, mention of deafness is secondary. The APHA’s “Guide to Coat Color Genetics” refers to deafness in a section on the splashed white pattern – that of Gunner. “Some people have observed that many splashed white horses are deaf,” the booklet states. “This is not much of a problem if the trainer realizes the limitations of the horse in question and modifies the training program to meet the horse’s special needs. Many of those horses go on to lead normal and productive lives.”

Gunning for Glory
    Colonels Smokingun, better known as Gunner, has always been a crowd-pleaser. From the time he claimed the Reserve Championship at the 1996 National Reining Horse Association Futurity with Clint Haverty riding until his final winning show-pen performance at the 2001 United States Equestrian Team Reining Championship with Bryant Pace in the saddle, Gunner incited reining fans into tumultuous cheering and applause.
Gunner never heard any of it.
    The charismatic sorrel stallion – with his bald face, blue eyes and floppy ears – has been deaf from birth. His lack of hearing was hardly an impediment to his natural athletic ability; he earned $177,226 during his stellar career. Gunner, now 14 and owned by Tim and Colleen McQuay, Tioga, Texas, is already leaving a legacy of talented offspring. Those that share their sire’s white head and blue eyes often have also inherited his deafness.
    Although it’s rare among horses as a whole, deafness has become more frequent in the reining arena as Gunner’s descendants and relations show off their talent. Trainers who have ridden them say their schooling just requires a bit of creativity. A horse that can’t hear “whoa” needs to learn different cues than a hearing horse.
    But the desire for a talented reining horse seems to outweigh the challenges of dealing with deafness. Gunner stands to a full book every year at a $7,500 fee, and mare owners are well aware of the chances of getting a deaf foal. There is no question he is a prepotent sire; a pasture full of Gunner babies at McQuay Stables leaves little doubt about their parentage. The only mystery about Gunner revolves around where his deafness came from – although there are some solid clues.

    Parental influences
    Katie Gun has always done more than what was expected of her. She certainly did that March 18, 1993, although it might not have seemed so at the time.
    The 6-year-old mare, by John Gun out of Bueno Katie by Aledo Bueno Bar, had her first foal that day. Owner Eric Storey, Henagar, Ala., bought Katie Gun when she was a 2-year-old and sent her to trainer Charlie Hutton in Tennessee. She turned out to be a successful and versatile show horse, with wins in reining, working cow horse, trail and Western riding. When her show career ended, Storey bred her to his stallion, Colonelfourfreckle, by Colonel Freckles out of Miss Solano by Doc’s Solano. The result was something of a shock.
    Storey sent Katie Gun to Carol Rose’s in Gainesville, Texas, to foal and then be bred to Zans Diamond Dude. On that mid-March day, she had a colt – a wildly marked, lop-eared, blue-eyed baby that – to say the least – wasn’t quite what Storey expected. With too much white to be registered with the American Quarter Horse Association, the colt was tagged Colonels Smokingun with the American Paint Horse Association. (When the AQHA’s “white rule” was later revised, the horse got his AQHA registration as Colonels Smoking Gun.)
    While he may not have been the horse Storey envisioned, Gunner was the sort of colt that could grow on a person. By the time he was 2, he’d also begun to grow into his own looks. His floppy ears were there to stay, but by training time, he was filling out and showing the best of both his sire and dam in conformation. It was about that time when Storey noticed Gunner couldn’t hear.
    “When he was 2, we got him out of the pasture and up in the barn, and started messing with him,” Storey said. “We noticed you could walk up to the stall and he wouldn’t turn around. Then we’d bang a bucket or something, and he’d just stand there.”
    The deafness didn’t change Gunner’s training routine.
    “We just kept riding him,” Storey recalled. “We treated him like the others.”
    The breeder said he never researched the possible origins of Gunner’s deafness, but Katie Gun is known to throw color. She has produced 15 foals since Gunner. Several have prominent white markings, but only a few have extensive white on their heads as Gunner does. Katie Gun’s dam, Bueno Katie, is a daughter of Aledo Bueno Bar by Aledo Bar. Nothing on her dam’s side screams excessive white. However, her sire, John Gun, is by One Gun, a son of Mr Gun Smoke – a stallion known for siring numerous cropout Quarter Horses.
    One longtime trainer said he believes there were several Mr Gun Smoke offspring that were deaf, but couldn’t recall any specific horses. The 1961 sorrel stallion did sire 68 APHA-registered offspring, including 41 overos, according to APHA records. The vast majority were out of Quarter Horse mares.
    Without genetic testing, it’s mainly speculation that puts the blame for the deafness on the Mr Gun Smoke line. What is certain is that the splashed white coat pattern and blue eyes that give Gunner and many of his get their distinctive facial markings have been linked to deafness, but no scientific research has been published on the subject. (See “Research on Equine Deafness is Limited,” Page XX.)
    Wherever the roots of his deafness lie, it never slowed down Gunner. Late in his 2-year-old year, the stallion was sold to Paul and Pam Rohus, Royse City, Texas. He ended up with trainer Clint Haverty, Krum, Texas, a move that would prove fortunate for all involved.

    Training trials and tribulations
    Paul and Pam Rohus had long been involved with horses, but their focus didn’t shift to reining until a trip to the AQHA World Show in 1995. When the couple decided to venture into the sport, their search for a horse didn’t take long.
Tennessee trainer Charlie Hutton told them about a nice 2-year-old colt that had too much white to be registered as a Quarter Horse. Since Hutton concentrated on showing Quarter Horses, the colt just didn’t fit into his barn. In December 1995, The Rohuses made a trip to see Hutton, and as they watched him ride the colt, they couldn’t help but notice an odd trait.
    “He was different. His ears kept flopping back and forth, and at that time, we didn’t know what it was,” Paul Rohus said. “But with his pedigree, we ended up buying him.”
    The colt, of course, was Gunner. The couple took him to their roping-horse trainer, Pat Crawford, but Crawford thought Gunner had exceptional talent and should go to a reining trainer. That didn’t prove to be a simple task.
    “I called around and got blown off by about four trainers because he was a Paint,” Paul recalled. “We were inexperienced in the reining, and we talked to John Hoyt, who said we needed to get Gunner to Clint Haverty.”
In February 1996, they made the trip to Haverty Ranch in Krum, Texas, with Gunner in tow. They left without him. Haverty immediately spotted the potential in the flashy sorrel colt and had no hesitation about taking the promising Paint prospect. And, in Haverty, Gunner found his Muse.
    From the start, Gunner was different than any 2-year-old Haverty had seen. The trainer remembers that Gunner slept quite a bit, and absolutely nothing bothered him.
    “I knew pretty quick he was deaf,” Haverty said. “I’d go over there and go to banging on the stall and whistling and hollering, and he’d just stay asleep.”
    A visit to Dr. Alan Donnell, a veterinarian in nearby Pilot Point, confirmed the long-suspected deafness, but didn’t change the plans for Gunner. It did, however, make Haverty revise some of his training methods to accommodate the horse’s lack of hearing.
    “It was quite a trip trying to figure out how to ride him,” Haverty said. “Obviously, he couldn’t respond to the word ‘whoa,’ but I still used the word.”
    Gunner wasn’t very sensitive to his trainer’s legs and feet when he arrived, Haverty recalled, but the colt got better every day.
    “I think they mature slower, both mentally and physically,” he said of Gunner and his offspring. “Gunner himself didn’t start getting mature physically until he was almost 5. He was probably 4 1/2 before he started maturing mentally. That year he really grew up.”
    But maturity didn’t change Gunner’s unique personality.
    “He always had his quirks about him, even after he matured,” Haverty said. “When he was lying down, I could walk in and scratch him on his belly and he’d never get up. And just how he’d react to you. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, goody, goody!’ It was more like, ‘Oh, hi, how are you doing? Glad to see you.’ It wasn’t a childish mannerism; it was an adult mannerism.”
    The colt’s laid-back attitude and willingness to accept training made him pleasant to be around. The fact that his mind and body were maturing at different speeds meant that training sometimes had to go slower. In the long run, Haverty said, that was a good thing.
    “Some horses are overachievers. You get them ready too quick,” he said. “You see that all the time – those guys are riding their 2-year-olds around and they know all the tricks, but they don’t have anything left for the futurity.”
    Gunner’s slow and steady progress continued, and by the summer of his 3-year-old year, he was ready to take a trial run through the show pen. His career began at the Paint-A-Rama, which was intended to be a schooling show. Gunner won his class. The next stop was the APHA World Show Futurity, where he added another win to his record. Next was the NRHA Futurity.

    Winning friends, influencing people
    The Rohuses were beginning to understand that they’d made a good purchase, and Gunner was beginning to make quite an impression on those who saw him. But as newcomers to the reining business, they didn’t realize exactly how good Gunner was.
    “People were telling us what a great horse we had, and we had no idea,” Paul Rohus remembered.
At the same time, though, they had tremendous confidence in their horse and in Haverty.
    As the NRHA Futurity go-rounds progressed, the couple had several inquiries about purchasing Gunner. One person in particular was so taken by Gunner’s talent and unique looks that he didn’t want to leave Oklahoma City without him. Not long after the finals – where Haverty rode Gunner to a 222 and ended up Open Reserve Champion, earning $72,091 – a deal was struck with Dr. Kim Sloan and his wife, Debra, Newfoundland, N.J., and the horse had a new owner. Rohus described it as “a real tough sell.”
    “Gunner put us in the horse business,” he said. “We were scattered everywhere; we didn’t know what we wanted, we just knew we liked horses. When we bought Gunner, it made a big impact on our life. At the time, we didn’t know whether we should have sold him; we just did. We sold him for a lot of money, and I kept five breedings a year to him.”
Haverty continued to show Gunner for the next two years, winning the Open class during the 1997 Southwest Reining Horse Association Futurity (with a remarkable score of 156) and the 1998 Florida Reining Classic, and splitting second at the 1998 Arizona Classic and the NRBC. Kim Sloan showed with success in non-pro classes, and one of Gunner’s career highlights was his USET Championship in 2001 under the guidance of trainer Bryant Pace.
    Gunner’s unique looks, unflappable demeanor and undeniable talent made him a crowd favorite. In 2002, the year after his USET Championship, his likeness was immortalized in a limited-edition Breyer model horse. Gunner unofficially had a fan club, and an enthusiastic one at that.
    His consistency in the show pen was appreciated by Haverty.
    “He didn’t know the difference,” Haverty said. “He ran just as hard and did everything the best he possibly could. He was a trouper.”
    His USET victory capped off Gunner’s show career, and he headed back to the breeding barn at the Sloans’. His dam, meanwhile, was continuing her own production line.

    Colorful brothers
    Gunner was just the beginning of an illustrious broodmare career for Katie Gun, who now ranks as Equi-Stat’s fourth-leading dam of reining horses. The mare has produced 16 registered foals with an impressive list of credentials in the performance arena, and her offspring have earned $336,554. Katie Gun shows a marked preference toward colts; she has produced only four fillies, one of which is a 3-year-old by Nic It In The Bud.
    Among her offspring are Gun Spun, an AQHA Open Register of Merit earner by Zans Diamond Dude; Heres Your Shine, a deceased stallion by Shining Spark that earned his Open Superior and Open ROM, along with AQHA honors in working cow horse and reining; No Guns Please, a stallion by Chic Please, a money-earner in NRHA and NRCHA, an AQHA Reserve World Champion in junior tie-down roping, and a World Show qualifier in reining and heeling; and Night Time Nic, a 4-year-old stallion by Nic It In The Bud, owned by Storey and shown by Todd Bergen to earnings of more than $30,000.
    Her second-highest money-earner is Dun Gotta Gun (Dun It Gotta Gun in AQHA) by Hollywood Dun It. The striking 9-year-old stallion shares Gunner’s white face (although to a lesser extent) and blue eyes, and his athletic ability. Dun Gotta Gun earned more than $50,000 in NRHA competition and was the 2001 NRHA Futurity Non-Pro Reserve Champion with Mandy McCutcheon in the saddle. He later earned multiple wins with both Tim McQuay and owner Jerry Kimmel, Granbury, Texas, riding. The horse has earned $59,499 in the reining pen, according to Equi-Stat. He now stands alongside Gunner at McQuay Stables.
    Another telltale Katie Gun son is Spooks Gotta Gun, a 2002 bay stallion by Grays Starlight. Originally trained and shown by Haverty, and purchased earlier this year by Duane Hicks, Marietta, Okla., he is the earner of $12,016, according to Equi-Stat. The compact bay has an equal helping of his sire’s good looks and his dam’s color, along with the athletic aptitude of both parents. He was an Open finalist at the NRHA Derby and the 2007 APHA World Championship in junior reining with Abby Mixon riding; they won the class by a seven-point margin. His standout performance prompted numerous calls from mare owners, Hicks said, who purchased “Spook” to anchor his breeding program.
    Both the flashy stallions share their half brother’s talent – and Spooks Gotta Gun shares his deafness.
Hicks said he was well aware of Katie Gun’s history of deaf foals, but said he never hesitated about buying Spooks Gotta Gun and the stallion’s deafness hasn’t changed the daily routine at his ranch.
    “The only difference is, when you go into the stall, you just make sure he knows you’re there. They will get startled if they’re turned the other way or sleeping, and all of a sudden you show up,” he said. “But he always knows what’s going on, and it’s not that bad of a problem.”
    With his first foal crop born this year, Spooks Gotta Gun is passing along his bald face and, sometimes, his deafness. Hicks said he has four foals that are deaf and two that may be.
And as he’s followed Gunner’s career and sire record, Hicks anticipates more good, white-faced reiners will be seen in the shown pen for years to come.
    “Look at the sales – they look really good and they sell good,” he said of the Gunner offspring. “They do their thing. I hope to do the same with Spook.”
    Multiple offspring, multiple sires, but an obvious link to the splashed-white gene that lurks in Katie Gun’s DNA. Marked with a blaze that widens under her eyes and having three socks and one white pastern, the bay mare hardly flashes those colorful genetics for the world to see. All the talent – and all the color – continue to surface in new generations.

    An eye-catching legacy
    When Gunner was a 3-year-old in training with Haverty, the Rohuses decided they would sell him for the right price. A reluctant Haverty showed the horse to an interested trainer: Tim McQuay. With Haverty suffering from back pain and unable to ride at the time, he could only explain to his fellow trainer how to ride Gunner.
    “I couldn’t show him how to stop him … thank goodness,” Haverty recalled with a smile.
    When McQuay dropped his hand and said “whoa,” Gunner kept going. Needless to say, he didn’t take the horse home. After seeing him at the Futurity, though, McQuay couldn’t get the horse out of his mind. It took nearly 10 years, but Gunner finally moved to Tioga. McQuay and his wife, Colleen, purchased Gunner from the Sloans in April 2005. The stallion’s deafness wasn’t even a consideration; his talent and already proven ability as a sire made him a sure bet.
    “We had no hesitation about buying him,” McQuay said.
    In two short years, Gunner’s impact at McQuay Stables is undeniable. Visitors only have to take one look at the pastures full of mares and foals to see the stamp he puts on many of his babies. White faces, blue eyes and inquisitive looks are everywhere. Some of the foals have their daddy’s floppy ears. A few look like their faces have been dipped in white paint to just above their eyes, with a straight slash of sorrel starting where the white leaves off. Most with those distinctive markings can’t hear.
    But it’s those babies that hold some of the most promise for McQuay, who has earned more than $2 million in NRHA competition. The death of his NRHA champion and leading sire Hollywood Dun It in 2005 hit McQuay hard, and the buckskin stallion’s stall is still vacant, marked by a brass nameplate and obvious reverence. Gunner has taken up residence in the next stall, where he has begun a new chapter in his life as a sire. Through October 2007, Gunner had sired 274 registered Paints and 190 registered Quarter Horses, with obvious overlap between the two associations. For the past two years his book has overflowed: About 130 mares were bred to him in 2005, and another 150 were bred in 2006. This year was no different, with Gunner standing to a full book.
    “Time will tell,” McQuay said of Gunner’s legacy as a sire. “We got so lucky with Dun It because through his whole life, it seemed like somebody was always there, trying to be a superstar. He spoiled me.”
    Although the trainer has up-and-coming Hollywood Dun It offspring, and frozen semen from the stallion so he can continue to raise his foals, McQuay is excited about the prospect of Gunner as a sire. He had already experienced success aboard Sorcerers Apprentice, a 2001 stallion out of KR Anniegityergun by Gun Start, before buying Gunner. The horse is Gunner’s third highest money-earning offspring and now belongs to Pat Warren’s Rancho Oso Rio, Scottsdale, Ariz. Sorcerers Apprentice tied for sixth place in the Open at the 2004 NRHA Futurity and has earnings of $74,372. In November, he won the AQHA World Championship in Senior Reining with Randy Paul riding. The gelding’s hearing is normal.
    But Gunner’s second-leading money-earner, Snow Gun, is deaf. It didn’t stop her from reaching more than $110,000 in NRHA earnings and heading to Germany to compete in the 2006 World Equestrian Games with trainer Francois Gauthier. The 7-year-old mare’s deafness may have been an advantage at the WEG, where a raucous crowd and loud music made a few horses nervous.
    “It was the noisiest show we’ve ever been to,” said McQuay of the WEG reining, attended by an estimated 8,000 spectators. “Snow Gun walked in and just never picked her head up. It didn’t bother her. She’s been great.”

    A tradition of talent
    There is no doubt about Gunner’s ability to sire winners. Many are not deaf, but there certainly are some standouts that are. Francois Gauthier has ridden Snow Gun, out of Natrasha by Trashadeous, since she was a 2-year-old, and said she “never had a bad day. She’d just do it.”
    The Canadian trainer described the mare as “very, very feely and sensitive.”
    “You think about something and she does it,” he said. “She’s very sensitive to any of the cues. It was difficult for her to change leads because I’d take off my leg and she’d slow down right away. She had to learn the difference.”
Gauthier said deaf horses simply need to learn to trust their trainers, and the trainers, in turn, need to be sensitive to their horses.
    “They need to trust you a little bit more, and you don’t want to confuse them,” he said. “You have to be very specific on your cues. Every cue has more meaning.”
    Trainer Mike McEntire, Perry, Ga., has had a couple of good years with Gunner offspring, both of whom are deaf. He won the 2006 Dixie Futurity on The Great Guntini, a Paint stallion out of Miss Wicked Filena by Great Pine, and went on to place third in the Open at the NRHA Futurity. In 2007, they were Open Reserve Champions at the Bill Horn Single Shot Derby and NRBC Open finalists. The stallion tops Gunner’s list of money-earning offspring with $138,898. He tied for the 2006 Tradition Futurity Championship on Miss Gunny, a Paint mare out of Spin Some Majac by Jacspin. The mare, now owned by Rancho Oso Rio, has continued her show-pen success with Tim McQuay and Randy Paul riding, with earnings totaling $8,310.
    McEntire agreed that the Gunner offspring who can’t hear make up for it in spades by learning to sharpen their other senses.
    “They tune in to your body movements more than one that can hear,” he said. “They really start looking for those. It’s a little bit different getting them to stop real pretty at first because they don’t hear ‘whoa,’ and that’s a big part of my program. Getting them to run to the stops clean and on a loose rein is tricky. But when you get it on them, it’s no problem.”
    McEntire uses more leg cues since the horses don’t hear a cluck of encouragement.
    “In the spins, you have to have a little cue to speed them up without just getting into them,” he said. “With Miss Gunny, if I want her to go faster I move my leg twice. When she feels my leg twice, she knows she needs to go on and get busy.”
    As McQuay rides more Gunner offspring, he also finds that they pick up on cues other than his voice as training progresses.
    “The big difference is, in my basic training I teach ‘whoa,’ so when you’re riding them you’ve just got to be very consistent about your moves for a long time,” he said. “We don’t change anything when we’re training them. We run down, say ‘whoa’ and move our bodies the same way. You’ll pick up on them when you don’t expect them to listen to ‘whoa.’ But with some of them, you can just take the slack out of the reins. It’s just like any good horse that really wants to stop. When they find out that is what you want, that’s all it takes.”
    Haverty, who not only rode Gunner but also has ridden many of his offspring and another Katie Gun son, Spooks Gotta Gun, said he thinks the Gunners are really intelligent, but sometimes slow to mature.
    “Some of them are a little bit slow about getting the maneuvers, but they certainly can all stop and turn,” he said. “They all travel about the same, they’re all kind-eyed. There’s not a mean one in the bunch. They’re all nice horses.
“I’ve heard of people not liking [the deafness], but I just kind of forget about it. Obviously, you want all the tools you can have, but sometimes … it’s not a bad idea to have a deaf horse. When the crowd gets really crazy, it’s not bad.”
    Haverty admits that even though he thinks a lot of Gunner’s offspring, there will never be another quite like the original.
    “Gunner spoiled me,” he said. “I went for two or three years comparing everything to him, and it like to have ruined me. I had to realize that each horse is an individual.”
    Paul Rohus, who, with his wife, Pam, owned Gunner through his early glory days, today stands a telltale Gunner son, Colonels Lil Gun, an APHA World Champion and NRHA Futurity Open finalist out of Clabber Lady Oil by Duce Eyed Oil. Rohus said the Gunners are all special, but the ones that inherit their sire’s markings and deafness are even more so.
    “Raising them is different,” he said. “When you halter break, they’re the easiest ones. They grow up late. In fact, when we had Gunner, Clint didn’t know if he was going to get him shown. We didn’t even put him in the Futurity until October. But they’re better in the show pen than in the practice pen.”
    That reputation for trainability and good sense continues to make Gunner’s offspring valuable – and sought after. The second-highest seller at the Legacy Sale at Green Valley Ranch, Aubrey, Texas, in October 2006, was Lil Annie Gun, a yearling mare out of GS Anniegityergun. The yearling, who brought $46,000, is a full sister to Sorcerers Apprentice. Another Gunner colt, Hes A Loaded Gun, out of the Steady Tradition mare Slidin Miss Daisy, brought $46,000. At the 2006 NRHA Futurity, a Gunner daughter topped the Breeders Showcase Sale. Gunflower, a 2000 mare out of Slidin Miss Daisy by Steady Tradition, brought $46,000 for consignor Rancho Oso Rio, Scottsdale, Ariz., from Green Valley Ranch.
This October, Mistress With A Gun, a Gunner daughter out of Shiners Mistress by Shining Spark, was the high seller at the Legacy Sale, bringing $75,000 from singer Lyle Lovett. The mare will be in training with McQuay. Eight offspring of Gunner sold at the sale, bringing a total of $271,200 for an average of $33,900.
    The Gunners are often unmistakable for their distinctive markings, laid-back attitude and tremendous athletic ability that pays off big in the show pen. According to Equi-Stat records, the stallion has sired earners of $1,034,496. In October, the NRHA recognized him as a million-dollar sire. With more Gunner-sired horses entering the show pen every day, there’s no doubt his stock as a sire will continue to rise – whether his offspring can hear or not.
To some, like Rohus, the Gunner-bred horses are practically priceless. Every time he sees a new baby with a white face and blue eyes, it raises his hopes.
    “I breed for them, and every time I get one it’s just a blessing,” Rohus said. “I think, ‘Man, there’s another special one.’ ”

The article appeared in the Dec. 15, 2007 issue of QHN