Once in a Lifetime: A Tribute to Zippo LTD
“Once in a lifetime you meet someone who changes everything.”
“It’s an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime.”
“It was a once in a lifetime experience.”
As the second all-time AQHA point earner of all time, Zippo LTD left a hoofprint so deep in the legacy of AQHA that it shouldn’t be surprising that trying to locate a quote worthy of him is an incredibly daunting task.
“LT” as he was affectionately known, was not just a phenomenal athlete, he was not just a special horse, but he was an incredible individual who literally changed the lives of the humans that surrounded him.
Born on February 11, 1987, LT was sired by the great Zippo Pine Bar and out of Ima Blister Bug. He was bred by Ann Myers.
His career is undoubtedly one of the greatest in AQHA history, spanning nearly two decades, with an astounding $85,766 in AQHA Incentive Fund earnings plus NSBA and AQHA World Show earnings, multiple AQHA Congress Champions, a three time AQHA World and eight time AQHA Reserve World Champion, and 2008 NSBA Hall of Fame Inductee.
But beyond his show career, what makes LT’s life so truly special is the humans who had the honor to know him and care for him, and most importantly, love him.
And that’s what this tribute is really about.
LT lived for an incredible thirty years and in that time, touched many, many lives. It is impossible to include every single life he touched here, but the following stories showcase what a truly once in a lifetime horse he was; in fact, he may have been a unicorn in disguise.
The Lead Changer
Without question, Zippo LTD was best known for his impeccable skill and natural ability in the western riding. However, without Tricia Blecker, that accolade may never have come to fruition.
In March of 1991, the Raber family purchased LT as a four-year-old to be a small-fry horse for their daughter and a western pleasure horse for mom, Leslie. They were steadfast that LT remain a western pleasure horse and rejected any notion of him becoming an all-arounder.
Tricia said, “It was awkward for me as I was a Tim Whitney student and really was more inclined to the all-around rather than the pleasure. I really just didn’t see any real reason why he couldn’t learn other events, so I would sneak down the road to a field and that’s where I taught him to change leads.”
Tricia went on to say that LT was the easiest horse to train, but that he did have a, well… ego.
“He bucked me off more than once,” she chuckled. “But it was more of a personality trait, than a flaw. When he was done, he was done. Even as a young horse, he had an ego. He knew he was good and things had to be done on his own terms.”
In early 1992, the Rabers, under the recommendation of Tricia, moved LT to Casey Hinton and that same year at the Congress, the Farley family saw him being lunged on the track, and the rest is history.
The First Love
Andrea (Farley) Kail was undoubtedly LT’s first true love and for Andrea, the feeling was mutual. And just like any amazing love story, this match was never supposed to happen.
“We were actually supposed to be looking at a different horse at the Congress but they were running late and my parents saw LT being lunged on the track,” Andrea said. “When the lady walked up with the horse we were supposed to be looking at, she just said, ‘I’m not even taking the blankets off’ and walked away.”
Long story short, David Farley handed over a check and LT and Andrea embarked on a true romance.
To list the number of awards and titles Andrea (and the rest of the Farley family, as every member showed LT at some point) won would take well, a long time, but suffice to say LT proved himself from the very beginning.
In 1993, David and LT were Reserve Champion Rookie of the Year while Andrea enjoyed being undefeated in the walk/trot and third overall at the Congress.
In 1994, Andrea and LT were also Reserve Champion Rookie of the Year and from there, David saw the love between Andrea and LT and ultimately gave him to her and they remained a dream team for many years.
By 1996, LT was really starting to peak, both as an open horse and as a youth horse.
Under the guidance of Tommy Sheets, LT secured both the High Point Senior and High Point Open Horse titles in 1996.
Meanwhile, Andrea and LT also secured a number of titles including 3rd overall Youth High Point.
“We were really starting to just be on fire,” said Andrea. “Tommy suggested that we move LT to High Point with Jason Martin and Charlie Cole as they were going to all the major shows and he felt they could really give LT and me what we needed. He even set it all up for us.”
1997 was shaping up to be a glorious year for LT and Andrea until the AQHYA World Show when everyone thought LT’s life would tragically be cut short.
“His one major quirk was he really hated being alone,” Andrea said. “When I was hauling with Tommy, we even took a little reining horse he had with us so LT would be comfortable. We asked (show staff) that LT be put next to another horse but our wishes were basically ignored and the closest horse to him was at least six stalls down.”
Needless to say, LT was not happy and began bucking in his stall in protest.
“His left hind leg got stuck in the bars and it took twelve people to get him out,” Andrea remembered. “It was like eleven o’clock at night and it was just horrific. We all thought he broke his leg. It literally was just dangling there.”
LT was hauled to Texas A&M for evaluation and it was discovered that he had not broken his leg but hyper-extended his hock and would need rest and rehabilitation.
“They told us the standing wraps he was still wearing saved his life,” said Andrea.
At the time, High Point Performance Horses was still located in California and clearly, LT was in no condition to make that kind of trip.
It was arranged that Vicky Holt would become LT’s layup spot and so it was that LT found himself another pretty blonde to pamper and take care of him.
“She took such amazing care of him,” remembered Andrea.
Perhaps even more amazing was that LT was back in the show pen a mere three months later at the AQHA World Show making the finals and showing everyone he was going to be just fine.
1998 was probably the most memorable year for Andrea and LT. They entered five classes at the All American Quarter Horse Congress and won all five events. Jason Martin also won the Senior Trail on him at the Congress that same year and Charlie Cole earned LT his first Reserve World Championship title in the Senior Western Riding at the AQHA World Show.
“The distance between High Point and us (at the time the Farleys were in Kentucky) was unfortunately becoming difficult,” shared Andrea. “My school was complaining about all my absences, even though I was an A and B student and threatened truancy and to take us to court. So at that time we decided to take LT to Vicky’s (in Texas). It seemed a natural transition since she had taken such good care of him when he was hurt.”
Under Vicky, Andrea and LT won the Youth Trail at the AQHYA World Show and added many more accomplishments to their already extensive resume.
With so many amazing accomplishments, Andrea began thinking about getting a young western pleasure horse and starting over again and the possibility of selling LT started to present itself.
“We weren’t ever advertising him for sale and really had a stipulation that he either stay with Vicky or go back to Charlie and Jason’s,” she said. “At the time, Julia (Taylor Cheek) was riding with Vicky and they seemed like the perfect fit so we sold him.”
Andrea went on to say that as hard as it was to sell him, it was the best decision they ever made as LT lived out the rest of his life with Julia as his owner.
She was also quick to point out that the wins are not her favorite memories, but the love she had for him.
“When I was really young and first started riding and showing LT, my parents would wake up and I was missing from the motor home,” Andrea mused. “They would find me sleeping with him in his stall in between his front legs.”
She continued, “I would ride bareback and bridleless at the barn all the time and we also would drink out of the water hose together.”
LT was described as “human-like” by Andrea (and everyone else) and one of his humanesque qualities was how he ate apples. “He wouldn’t eat the core,” she chuckled. “He would take a bite and you would have to turn it, just like a person.”
“He really just was the perfect horse,” she said.
Double The Love
If the story of Andrea and LT isn’t enough to make your heart smile, the story of Julia and LT should just about make your heart burst.
In late 2000, following the AQHA World Show, LT found a new love in his new owner, Julia Dawn Taylor (now Cheek).
“When we bought LT, I was fifteen and was training with Vicky at the time,” said Julia. “LT was already older as well (he was thirteen) but he was in great health and the Farleys really wanted him to go to someone who would take care of him, which we promised we would do.”
Julia shared that Vicky was the first high profile trainer she had the opportunity to train with at that point and had worked hard and shown for a long time without any recognition.
Obviously, LT changed all that.
“My times with LT were the defining moments of my childhood,” she said through tears. “He had the biggest heart and gave me the opportunity to learn a lot of events on him. He was the greatest lead changer on earth in my opinion.”
Like Tricia Blecker, Julia noticed right away that even though LT was “easy” and had a big heart, he also had an ego. In fact, Julia described him as being “diva-like.”
“He could not be the first one in the barn or the last one on the trailer,” she said. “He was exceedingly picky with his treats and food and he waited on you to do your job, he wasn’t a pack horse.”
That being said, LT was not the kind of horse that you had to convince to do anything and no one can recall him ever being in a bad mood or grumpy. “I really think that is a great testament to him, his breeding, and his trainers,” said Julia.
2001 was the first year of showing for Julia and LT and they ended up 3rd in Youth Western Riding at the AQHYA World Show. He also won his second Reserve World Championship that year in the Senior Trail at the AQHA World Show with Vicky aboard.
Like Andrea, the next couple years just got better and better for Julia and LT. In 2002, they secured a Youth World Championship in Western Riding and were Reserve World Champions in Horsemanship. Vicky also won a Reserve World Championship in Western Riding at the AQHA World Show.
“I don’t think anything can replace your first world show title,” said Julia. “I’d been working hard for so long, it was a truly special moment.”
Julia shared that, like LT had years before, she also suffered an injury at the Youth World Show, but hers was just before the horsemanship finals. “I stepped into a ditch and just twisted my ankle something terrible,” she remembered. “They had to cut my boot and tape my foot, I was in so much pain and I remember I didn’t take any painkillers because since it was horsemanship, I had to be able to feel my foot and leg. I did the entire class with tears streaming down my face and ended up reserve. It was incredible.”
The following year, Julia and LT doubled up earning a World Championship in Showmanship and a Reserve World Championship in Western Riding. “Earning back to back world titles was one of the most overwhelming feelings in the world,” she said. “We didn’t haul for high points or anything like that, all that was important to me was that LT was happy and healthy and that everyone just took exceptional care of him; and they did. Our success was just the icing on the cake.”
2004 marked Julia’s first year as an amateur and LT proved that he could still be competitive, even at seventeen years young. They were crowned Reserve World Champions in the Horsemanship and Vicky once again was Reserve in the Senior Trail.
Not surprisingly, LT was no worse for wear in 2005 and carried Julia to a Reserve World Championship in western riding and secured yet another open reserve world championship in Senior Western Riding.
2006 marked LT’s retirement year and his last show was the AQHA World Show where he was a finalist in the Amateur Western Riding.
“He was such a loving horse and always knew exactly what was going on,” said Julia. “My favorite memories of him aren’t even in the show pen though. I loved the days of youth camp when we did two a days and were in shorts and our boots for showmanship, and I would ride him bareback and bridleless in the pasture.” Sound familiar?
Ultimately, the Taylors made the decision to keep LT and give him a retirement worthy of a horse as grand as he was. So, he made his way to Kristin Pokluda’s ranch where he stayed until he died.
“He had a whole family in his retirement with the Pokludas,” Julia said. “I loved the fact that they had Madison and he had another little girl to love him. I really think that is what kept him going as long as he did.”
Of course, instrumental in the success of Andrea, Julia, and LT were a few incredibly talented individuals we like to call horse trainers.
Tommy Sheets, Charlie Cole, Jason Martin, and Vicky Holt were a part of LT’s life from nearly the beginning and of course, they had some thoughts to share.
Tommy Sheets – “The most important part of LT’s career, and the reason I believe he had such a long career, is because he was so great minded he didn’t have to be lunged or schooled a lot. He was so easy to show, so easy to maintain. It really is just a testament to who he was. I remember when Andrea and I were hauling, we had a Bluebird bus and a three horse trailer. Two stories really stick out: one being that I forgot Andrea at the barn one time because I assumed she was just in the back of the bus and had to go back and get her when I realized she was missing when I fueled up. Another time, we hauled to Toronto, Canada and I misplaced the health papers and Coggins. They weren’t going to let us back into the states until I noticed the Customs agent was watching the Kentucky basketball game on TV and he then realized I was from Kentucky and they let us in. When I sent Andrea and LT off to Charlie and Jason, I sure did miss him. I won a lot on that horse and he was an incredible asset to my career at that time.”
Charlie Cole – “I’ll be honest, he was such a machine, so obedient and always wanted to please. You knew you would win if you did your job. He never cheated, never thought about being bad. He taught me a lot, he was spur broke and he really changed me and gave me way more than I ever gave him. I can’t think of any other horse that is how LT was. He always gave one hundred percent one hundred percent of the time.”
Jason Martin – “We’ve crossed paths with a lot of great horses and LT was literally the easiest horse we ever had. You could show him fresh, he understood his job, and you never would have to spank him or school him. Every time you looked at him, he looked the same. I don’t think we really appreciated at the time what he brought to our careers. He was just so special and he could win so many different classes. There just isn’t a horse that can really do that anymore. You literally could count on him all the time.”
Vicky Holt – “I’ve been so blessed to have some amazing horses but LT was just a fabulous horse and such a stand out for that time. He always did his job and there was never a ‘no’ with anyone who laid a leg over him. He won so many reserve world titles in the open, but Andrea and Julia seemed to be the only ones to get it done when it came to actually winning the world. I got to see LT just this past February at Kristin’s. It was so special, you could tell he was getting old, but Kristin took such good care of him. It was a perfect place for him.”
That leads us to the final piece of the LT puzzle, which is undoubtedly Kristin Pokluda who cared for LT not only during his show career (Kristin was an assistant of Vicky’s) but probably most importantly, cared for him after his career ended and he was retired.
“When I first started caring for LT, I was just getting into the all-around and was Vicky’s assistant,” she said. “I immediately noticed that he was the same horse every single day. He was the coolest horse too, he never did anything wrong.”
Kristin said that prior to the 2006 AQHA World Show, the Taylors contacted her and asked if she would be willing to take care of him during his retirement since she had taken care of him for so long at Vicky’s. “Of course I said yes,” she said.
Due to LT’s extensive career and the fact that he was used to being conditioned, Kristin shared that she slowly moved him out of training to ease him into the idea of retirement. “He still had to be treated like a show horse for a while,” she said. “I did judging contests on him so he could think he was showing. He would have lost his mind if we just quit, he loved showing too much.”
Kristin shared (along with everyone else) that LT was just so lovable and willing that one couldn’t help but just do whatever he wanted. “He was the only horse who got treats, he never took advantage. He knew where the line was and stayed there,” she said. “He preferred what I call ‘bunny hay’. It had to be alfalfa with no stems and he had to have that in front of his stall with alfalfa pellets at all times. Basically, if he ate it, we bought it.”
Kristin’s daughter, Madison, also had the once in a lifetime opportunity to learn on LT. “He was the first horse she loped and changed leads on. We took him to Tulsa in 2015 for her to show and he also taught her what fame was about,” she said.
Kristin shared that while at Tulsa, Madison was mesmerized by the fact that the judges talked to LT and not to her. So she showed Madison some photos with LT and she started realizing that LT was famous and what fame was.
“He was just a treasure to be around,” she continued. “He waited on you, never anticipated. Just waited for his rider to give him the best quality for him to perform. Ultimately, he had good people; everyone in his life put him first. Julia and Andrea as owners made great decisions for LT.”
On June 21, 2017, Zippo LTD ever being the gentleman (and diva!) that he was left this world on his own terms, passing in his sleep in his stall at Kristin’s ranch.
What many may not know, is that there was always a plan in place for LT to be buried at Jason Martin and Charlie Cole’s Highpoint Performance Horses in Pilot Point, Texas and to be laid to rest peacefully beside other greats such as Majestic Scotch, Show Diva, Conclusive Bar Cody, and Knowtorious.
His life truly is a testament to the people who loved him and he will definitely be missed, but never forgotten.
“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” – Babe Ruth