Spence & Kristin Bell standing next to eachother

A Ringing Success: Spence & Kristin Bell

Spence and Kristin Bell’s small breeding operation at Rafter Bell Ranch relied upon a handful of broodmares to elevate them into the top 10 on the Reining Up-and-Coming Breeder Statistics.

After starting with just one mare, Spence and Kristin Bell, who ranked No. 6 this year on the Equi-Stat Up-and-Coming Reining Breeders chart, have seen their breeding program blossom. The couple, who celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in 2018, also ranked 59th on the discipline’s 3-Year-Old Horses chart.

Kristin competed in reining as a youth, and her dad, Ray Kimsey, raised a few reiners. After she and Spence got married, they bought Kimsey’s mares over the years and joined them with Shegottabea Herman, a Smooth Herman mare Spence already owned. They’ve kept their herd small ever since, with between three to five producing mares and a small band of recipient mares making up their program. One of those mares is their cornerstone producer, Myo Starlight, the dam of 2016 National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity Level 4 Open Champion Spooky Whiz.

“She’s mainly the product of a young couple’s dream to raise high-quality performance horses,” Spence said. “We kept one, and it worked.”

Myo Starlight is a producer of more than $335,000, with two offspring banking more than $100,000 each. Lil Dreamin Magnum, a star performer on the East Coast, is her second-highest behind Spooky Whiz.

“Myo” is the daughter of Shegottabea Herman, who Bell purchased after high school. He had to borrow the $2,000 to buy her, an investment well worth it after he bred her to Paddys Irish Whiskey during the stallion’s first year standing to the public. That cross produced Myo.

“We started embryoing [pulling embryos from] Myo because I had a breeding for her mother, and her mother died,” Bell said. “Myo was standing there, and my choice was to either go out and buy another mare for breeding or invest in the mare we had.

“For the first bit, she only had one a year,” he continued. “Economics plays a role in every small breeder’s decision-making, so we had to make smart decisions.”

Gunna Joy is another mare who came from Kimsey’s program. Her dam, Zanas Center Stage, pulled a tendon when she was young and did not get a chance to compete. Still, she produced six money-earning offspring, including Dun Its Black Gold, the dam of earners of more than $335,000, including $123,000-plus winner HF Mobster.

Gunna Joy (by Gunnatrashya) is Zanas Center Stage’s last daughter. She and Kristin made the Level 1 Non-Pro finals at the 2015 NRHA Futurity, and she has since produced three foals, with more expected in 2019.

“Our main focus is the reining industry,” Spence said of his goal for each foal. “There are obviously a lot of other things they can do — cutting, reined cow horse, roping, and we had a super horse contender last year.

“‘Joy’ is just starting her career as a broodmare, so she doesn’t have a lot out there, yet,” he added. “We’ve kept a few other cow horse/reining-type mares, and my focus has been more of a cow horse lineage, but I love the reining.”

The Bells never set a goal of raising a Futurity champion or making the list of up-and-coming breeders. Their ascent in the breeding world almost seems guided by an outside force, and Bell acknowledged they have been blessed.

“I had Myo sold twice, and the deals just fell through,” he said. “The same with Gunna Joy; we had her sold once, and it fell through. We try to take into account what the industry wants, as well as breed to stallions that will really complement our mares. We just try to do the best that we can and get them into good programs. We hope our decisions make better horses for the future.”

The Bells, who typically raise three or four colts each year, are looking to expand their program to 10-20 foals a year. In 2018, thanks to embryo transfer, they produced nine foals out of four mares. As of early January, Myo already had one baby hit the ground, a filly by ARC Gunnabeabigstar, with more on the way.

“I’m really excited about the 2019 foal crop we have coming,” Spence said. “I would rather have a few select mares and raise foals by multiple stallions per year. This allows us to evaluate the different genetic crosses of each mare and hopefully make better breeding decisions for future matings.”

With $355,757 in earnings from 2013 to 2018 and total breeder earnings of $369,428, Spence advised new breeders of any discipline to have a goal for their mares and a purpose for their breeding. He added that if one person doesn’t like the product of a breeding program, there’s probably someone else out there who does.

“Don’t get discouraged if someone doesn’t like your breeding program,” he said. “If you believe in a particular mare or bloodlines, then go for it.”

This article was originally published in the February 1st, 2019 issue of QHN.