Ann Myers didn't set out to purchase a future world champion western pleasure horse or a leading AQHA sire when she showed up at a small Quarter Horse sale in Hilliard, Ohio, in 1984 with $3,000 in her hip pocket. She was looking for a 2-year-old prospect to start and resell. As an avid amateur competitor, Myers always enjoyed bringing youngsters along and helping them reach their potential. Selling a colt or two each year had the added benefit of defraying the costs of her small horse operation. But something about a 16-year-old broodmare heavy in foal caught Myer's eye. When she found out that the bay mare was bred to Zippo Pine Bar, she was even more interested.
"I had been watching the pleasure futurities, and the Zippo babies were starting to win big money." says Myers. "I was always in the stands, just drooling over these beautiful horses, and I was really interested in owning one."
She tried to negotiate with the owners to purchase the mare before the auction, but she couldn't meet their price of $5,000. But as luck would have it, the live bidding on Fancy Blue Chip topped out at exactly $3,000, and Myers had bought herself a new horse.
"On the drive home I got nervous because we really have a small farm and I was pushing it to buy just one, short-term colt. Yet here I was showing up with a broodmare to keep and a foal on the way!"
But her worries were short-lived, as her husband Phil immediately warmed up to Fancy Blue Chip and approved of the purchase. The next month, the mare foaled a handsome, strapping colt and the Myers decided to repeat the cross. For a stud fee of $700, they bred back to Zippo Pine Bar and resigned themselves to their fate as horse breeders. Never in their wildest dreams did they imagine that the resulting foal would change their lives and take the western pleasure world by storm.
In three short years, Zips Chocolate Chip swept up championship after championship in western pleasure under the saddle of Cleve Wells.
A Chip is Born
Zips Chocolate Chip was foaled May 5, 1985. He was an inquisitive foal from the start, with a great affinity for people. He spent the first two years of his life on the Myers' farm in Ohio, where Ann taught him basic ground manners and did his early saddle work. She had plans to show the bay colt in western pleasure after starting him off in the Snaffle Bit Futurity program.
When it was time for his serious training to start, she sent Chip to Cleve Wells in Burleson, Texas. Wells was just beginning to make a name for himself in western pleasure circles in 1986 when Myers asked him to consider taking Chip. With only seven horses in his barn and a brand new mortgage payment, Wells was more than happy to get another client. But it soon became obvious that Chip was not just another colt.
"Everything came together real easy for him." recalls Wells. "I never had a confrontation with him. It was like, 'OK, what do you want me to do next?' That's unusual for a young stallion. I was nervous that he hadn't challenged me. I thought I needed to dig deeper, but he never gave me a reason to. He was the horse that taught me I was going to learn more from horses than I was ever going to learn from people."
Wells knew Chip was good, but he didn't know how good until his very first show. It was at the 1987 Texas Breeders Futurity that he realized the stallion was going to be a phenomenal performer. Wells was uncertain how Chip would react to the crowds, the other horses and the mental pressure of competition. He need not have worried. As soon as they entered the ring, Chip was a show-stopper. Wells felt the transformation taking place underneath him. "He knew he was being watched, and he looked right down the rail and knew what to do," recalls Wells. "I just pitched the reins to him and let him do it."
Chip rose to the challenge of his first show, winning both of his preliminary rounds, and scoring first on all five judges' cards in the finals.
I was just in awe," says Wells. "When I rode out of the ring, I told Ann she might want to get somebody else to show the horse, because he was out of my league. He gave me this incredible ride, but I didn't teach him to do that. I'm just thankful I was smart enough to realize that he had a quality of his own and not try to make him into something else."
Futurities are always closely watched to identify the up-and-coming competition. When Chip was the unanimous champion at the Breeders Futurity, everyone there had a sense that they were watching the future take shape. Chip went to four more futurities as a 2-year-old, winning championships at the Arizona Fall Classic and the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA), and winning reserve championships at the Quarter Horse Congress and the Texas Classic. Offers to buy, breed to and train Chip started pouring in, but the Myers remained loyal to Wells. The only change in Chip's future plan was Ann's decision to put her own show goals on hold.
"We knew he was good ," says Myers, "But you always wonder if maybe you are a little barn blind. After he went first on all five cards I started to think, "Maybe I won't be showing him amateur after all." When he won the Snaffle bit, I decided, 'No way am I going to risk his career by riding him myself."
Zip's Signature Chips
It was at one of these early shows that Myers went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. On the way out, she purchased a half-dozen large chocolate chip cookies to take back to the crew at the barn. It was in this instant that a trademark was born. "On the way back to the show grounds I just thought it would be neat to bring chocolate chip cookies to the show and hand them out to people," recalls Myers.
This spontaneous act of generosity has become the official signature of Zips Chocolate Chip. Myers has perfected her own original recipe and never attends a show without at least 100 dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies. People have become so accustomed to the "Cookie Lady" that an ill-fated attempt to substitute store-bought cookies resulted in a wholesale insurrection at one show. "I never tried that again," laughs Myers.
Whenever a Chip baby wins a class, it's cookies on the house. "The very best part about the cookies is just about everybody in the world likes chocolate chips," says Myers. "They bring a huge smile to people's faces. My worst nightmare is going to a show without cookies, and I have to go home because I'm afraid to be out in public without them. I had no idea it would take off like it has."
The cookies are a small gesture, but they are indicative of a larger contribution. Zips Chocolate Chip, along with Myers' limitless enthusiasm for the sport of showing and her genuine love of her horse, has had a definite impact on the industry.
"She's brought the breeding business back, whether she realizes it or not," say Wells. "Ann came along when people were feeling kind of burned in the breeding business. Then she shows up, kind of out of nowhere, with this incredible horse and a totally down-to-earth approach. I've had people say they want to own a Chip just because Ann is such a cool lady. She's doing this because she loves the horse and because she's having fun. She's really promoted the breed, not just her business or her horse. She's a true horse lover."
In his second year of showing, Chip again entered five futurities, racking up four championships and a reserve. He started his winning streak by taking a reserve at the Texas Classic, followed by championship wins at Solid Gold Futurity, the Georgia Futurity, the NSBA Stallion Owner Futurity and the 1988 Quarter Horse Congress. To qualify for the 1989 World Championship show, Chip won an unprecedented 10 classes in a row, making him the undeniable front runner for the title of World Champion. True to form, Chip not only capped his career by winning the AQHA World Champion Junior Western Pleasure Horse title, he ended his show career the same way he started it--by earning a first-place score on all five judges' cards.
After his World Championship, Chip retired to stud alongside his famous sire, Zippo Pine Bar (now deceased), at Bob Perry Quarter Horses in Valley View, Texas. "After winning a World Championship, what is left to prove?" asks Myers. It got to the point where Chip was too valuable to risk hauling him to shows anymore, and the Myers wanted to concentrate on the next phase of his career--making little Chippies.
The idea to stand the two famous stallions together came from Wells. Zippo Pine Bar is the all-time leading AQHA show horse sire, whose get have racked up 46,748 points to date. Myers was skeptical of the idea at first. But as it turned out, the two stallions complemented each other perfectly. "They are both really good-minded horses, and I know that is why their offspring have been so successful," Myers says. "Ann Perry and I have talked a lot about that; not every offspring is going to be world-champion quality, but if they are mentally good to be around, people can get a lot accomplished."
Chip covered 32 mares his first year at stud. Standing alongside Zippo Pine Bar helped Chip get some really high-quality mares right off the bat. "He never had to work his way up like other young stallions," says Myers. "From the very beginning he got good mares." Chip continues to breed a maximum of 150 mares per year. The Myers are content to leave the breeding to managers Joe and Suzy Jeane, rather than try to stand him at home. "He has a big stall and fancy stuff we could never provide him with here," laughs Myers. "He's become way too famous for me. He'd be slumming it if he came home now."
At 14 years young, Zips Chocolate Chip has sired more than 900 foals, which have dominated the pleasure ring for nearly a decade. His get have a combined total number of 12,051 AQHA halter and performance points through June 15, 1999, and they have earned a total of $657,902.68 through 1998.
His influence has set a new standard for movement, temperament and beauty. In the first six months of 1999 alone, Chip's offspring have earned more than 1,300 performance points and 20 halter points.
"With nearly $300,000 earned in the AQHA Incentive Fund, Zips Chocolate Chip has had a substantial impact on the American Quarter Horse show industry," says AQHA Communications Manager Cindy Perez.
One of Chip's leading offspring is Hot Roddin Zippo, out of legendary show mare The Sweet Hotrodder. The 7-year-old chestnut stallion has followed in his sire's hoof prints, winning a world championship in western pleasure as a 2-year-old, as well as earning the titles of 1997 NSBA Futurity Champion, and junior western pleasure champion and maturity champion at the 1997 Congress. Shown by Cleve Wells, Hot Roddin Zippo will return to the AQHA World Show in Oklahoma this November to compete for a world championship in senior western pleasure.
Owner Sonja Mickelsen of Toledo, Washington, says she chose to breed to Chip for his temperament, movement and looks.
"He's an exceptional western pleasure horse, a tremendous mover and quiet-minded," says Mickelsen. "Chip produces very strong-hocked horses, with pretty heads and long necks. They have that effortless flowing movement, and it's all natural. We don't have to make these horses, because genetically, they're already there."
Mickelsen says Chip also throws another, less tangible quality: "Hot Roddin has the same great stallion charisma appeal on the wall as Chocolate Chip. When you see them go down the rail you know they're stallions and you look at them twice."
Ironically, the horse Ann Myers bred with the intention of showing has all but ended her riding career. "You either breed or you show," she explains. "I have the best horses I've ever had in my life right now, and I don't ever get to ride them!" But she also acknowledges that she's made the sacrifices willingly, and they pale in comparison to the privilege of owning and promoting such a superior individual. Sometimes she stops and marvels at how fortunate she is to own Zips Chocolate Chip. "We're probably only allowed one horse like this in our lifetime," says Myers. "If we are very, very lucky. I've put my whole heart and soul behind this project because he's such an incredible horse. But it's been really rewarding and so much fun having personal contact with people who truly appreciate horses, and aren't just interested in the money."
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