Wobbly first steps on shaky white legs, patches of red and white over well-muscled shoulders and quarters, his dam licking his fuzzy coat dry, his lips curling, tongue rounded as he nuzzles his her sides, seeking his first meal. Streaks of pink creep silently across a gray, pre-dawn sky as a man looks upon a fuzzy, four-legged promise.
One of hundreds of foals registered that year, the colt, named Tagit Delux, soon found his way into the barn of life-long horseman and my early mentor, Danny Conner. Danny saw something special in the young colt and soon had Tag on the path to success as a stallion prospect.
Tagit Delux went on to produce dozens of registered foals, stamping each one with intelligence, his stunning head, and his calm demeanor. The “Tag babies” as they came to be known were remarkably easy to handle and train. They were intelligent and willing partners that excelled not only as show horses but also as working stock, trail horses and companions. Year after year, mares would come to be bred to Tag, many with Tag babies already on their side. Frequently mares returned three and four years in a row with at least one mare foaling five Tag babies; three fillies and two colts…each of the colts going on to sire foals of their own.
Not only did Tag stamp his foals with his best traits, he had the rare ability to improve upon the mares he bred, often producing offspring even better than himself. Tag’s penchant for producing quality get, and Danny’s hard work and gregarious personality, eventually brought about a group of horse trainers, showers, and owners which became known as the Tag Team – we all had this in common: we each owned, trained, showed, and/or loved a Tag Baby (or 2, or 3, or…). For many of us, Tag was all we had in common. Were it not for this horse, our paths likely would never have crossed as we all came from different areas and walks of life.
For me, Tagit Delux was the first stallion I ever handled, and his foals, my first introduction to working with young horses—something I soon learned I had a talent for. As a budding horse professional, many of Tag’s get and grand get were the horses I developed and refined my training skills on.
For a period of time in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Tag Team traveled to the biggest breed shows and futurities in Illinois and Iowa, racking up ribbons and APHA points everywhere we went. We worked hard at what we loved, supported each other, hung out together, and had fun. Judges and spectators alike did a double take when they heard consecutive names with the “Tagit” prefix, or a variation thereof, called out over the loudspeaker as class winners were announced.
The winds of time bring change, and the Tag Team eventually went our separate ways. Horses aged into retirement, as did some of the human members of the team. I moved on from Conner Equine but took with me the love that Tag and Danny sparked into a lifelong passion for raising and training young horses, turning it into a career breeding and foaling Thoroughbreds in Kentucky. I think back on those years now and realize just how lucky we all were, how the stars aligned just right, so that a special horse could bring together a wonderful group of people and give us all a lifetime of amazing memories.
A few years back I received a call from Danny. He’d been sitting with Tag for hours, the magnificent stallion’s head in his lap, as the flame slowly dimmed, then disappeared from his deep, brown eyes. Tagit Delux passed away peacefully, in the barn he built and filled with so many memories.
He never topped the greatest sire lists or gained the national recognition he might have, had he been owned by a rich and well-connected man. But he did produce outstanding foals, winners in multiple disciplines—athletic, sound, healthy, and happy companions. “Using horses,” as the old horseman call them, those that could win in halter, then turn around and win under saddle as well.
Even more important than that, he did what many of us can only hope to do—he brought people together, and changed lives for the better. I can only hope to accomplish as much in my life.
I miss you, old friend. Thanks for the rides, thanks for the memories. Until we meet again.
6/26/19 -- I love that this is finding its way to people who knew and loved Tag and/or his foals. PLEASE do comment if you have a story or a horse related to Tag. It means so much to me! And I will certainly pass it on to Danny! Thank you!
Cheryl L. Eriksen, MSW, Equine Enthusiast, EAGALA groupie and writer of interesting, educational and entertaining blog posts!