Myo Starlight and the Bell family (left to right): Lydia, 14; Pake, 12; Kynley, 7; and Spence and Kristin. • Photo by Beth DeLozier

A Rising Star

Her dam wasn’t purchased for any reason other than because she was a cutting-bred mare. She wasn’t bred to excel in any particular discipline. Her foray into the breeding world was a last-minute back-up plan. And yet Myo Starlight has quickly become a rising star, finishing 2016 as the No. 1 dam of reining horses while also producing money-earners in the reined cow horse arena.

Few would have recognized Myo Starlight’s name prior to the first week in December. She’d been a minor money-earner as a reiner, and up until that point, a decent producer. That changed in 2016, when her son Lil Dreamin Magnum set out on what would become a highly successful derby season. Then, on Dec. 3, when her son Spooky Whiz won the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity Level 4 Open.

“After it happened, I told everybody I always had a dream of raising good horses that did well, but raising one that won the [NRHA] Futurity was not on my radar,” said Spence Bell, who bred both Spooky Whiz and Myo Starlight. “It’s so hard to do. It was a complete surprise and a huge blessing.”

“A blessing” is how Bell and his wife, Kristin, who operate Rafter Bell Ranch in Purcell, Oklahoma, often describe Myo Starlight, whose success has come from a mixture of fate, smart decisions and good old-fashioned luck.

The foundation

In 1995, Bell was a self-described “poor college kid” attending Clarendon Junior College in the Texas Panhandle. Raised on a ranch in New Mexico and Colorado, his earliest experiences were with cow horses, cutters and good using horses.

“We always had mares and babies when I was a kid. Then, when I was about 10 years old, we moved to Colorado, and the place that we moved to wouldn’t take any mares,” Bell explained. “So we had to sell all the mares, all the babies, everything, and we only took the geldings.

“When I left home after high school, I bought Myo’s mother [Shegottabea Herman], and I have had mares and babies ever since,” Bell continued. “I tease my dad and tell him he’s responsible for my addiction. I love horses. They’re just part of our life.”

Bell’s father, Mike, also played a big role in his son’s purchase of 1986 mare Shesgottabea Herman (Smooth Herman x Vals Melisa x Doc’s Val D’Or). Smooth Herman was a 1973 son of Jet Smooth, a stakes winner and halter champion who was a full brother to Walter Merrick’s legendary racehorse and sire Easy Jet.

Those were the days of versatile horses that could – and did – do everything. Smooth Herman was a top cutting horse, earning an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Superior in Cutting and ending 1977 as the AQHA High-Point Cutting Horse. But he was also a winning racehorse, hitting the board in six of 10 starts, and a point-earning halter horse.

Former National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) president and AQHA Hall of Famer Jimmy Randals, of Montoya, New Mexico, stood Smooth Herman and, in 1985, bred him to Vals Melisa, producing Shegottabea Herman. Randals sold Shegottabea Herman to Houston McKenzie in 1988, and he still had her when Bell’s father called looking for a mare for his son.

“My dad’s best friend owned her, and I wanted a mare. He said, ‘Well, she’s not doing anything here. If you want her, I’ll sell her,’” Bell recalled. “I had to borrow the money to buy her. It wasn’t like she was a lot of money. I bought her for $2,000. Then, because I was a college kid, I didn’t get to do much with her. She was a lot of fun to ride, but I didn’t get to show her much.”

Instead, Bell bred the mare to the best stallions he could afford. In 1998, having graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in animal science, Bell completed an internship with Dr. Glenn Blodgett at the famed Four Sixes Ranch, in Guthrie, Texas. In 2001,, The Sixes added Paddys Irish Whiskey to its stallion roster.

“My wife and I got married in 1998, so we were already kind of involved in breeding cow horses and reiners. I got to breed her [Shegottabea Herman] to Paddys Irish Whiskey the first year he stood to the public.”

The resulting filly was born on Cinco de Mayo, May 5, 2002. Bell dubbed her Myo Starlight. 

A varied career

“I already had some other fillies out of Shegottabea Herman that I kept until they were old enough to ride, and decide that I liked this one the best,” Bell said of “Myo.” “So I sold everything else and basically put all of our financial resources into her.”

Bell started Myo as a 2-year-old before handing her off to reining trainer Troy Heikes, of Scottsdale, Arizona. David Zimmerman, who worked for Heikes, showed the mare as a 3-year-old, finishing sixth in the Limited Open and 10th in the Intermediate at the Rocky Mountain Reining Horse Association Summer Slide Futurity in July. The next month, they were fifth in the Limitd Open at the Kansas Reining Horse Association Sunflower Slide Futurity.

“She was shown at the [NRHA] Futurity, but like a lot of them, she didn’t have any success at the Futurity. Then I showed her through her 4-, 5- and 6-year-old years in the reining,” said Bell, adding that Myo was the first horse he ever showed in NRHA competition.

Together, they earned $11,207 in reining. They won several ancillary classes from 2006 to 2008, and turned in a good showing at the 2007 NRHA Derby. Bell and Myo finished fifth in the NRHA Derby Limited Non-Pro, tied for eighth in Intermediate and were 11th in Non-Pro. That success attracted the attention of several potential buyers.