The History of Martin’s Miniature Horse and Pony Farm
It was January 1963. Barbara Jean Covington had just moved with her family from Garber to a farm north of Chandler, Oklahoma. Changing schools in the middle of the year can be rough and this was Barb’s junior year of High School. She wondered if she would meet nice people here and how long it would take to make some good friends as she walked into her first hour typing class. Her questions were quickly answered as she was assigned a seat behind a gangly farm boy with an ornery smile. Henry Lee Martin may have been born and raised on a farm in the area, but he still knew a prize filly when he saw one. It turned out that Lee & Barb actually lived pretty close together, but it was still about a month later before Lee finally found the courage to ask her out and they began dating.
Lee had been raised with horses on the farm and at 9 years old got one of his very own. She was a “broncy little buckskin” mare that he called Flicka. Lee’s natural touch with horses showed through, and he and Flicka had a rather large repertoire of tricks they would perform together. Lee would frequently jump on Flicka and make the 3 mile trip to Barb’s house in about 10 minutes. Barb’s father was an amazingly tolerant man and put up with having Lee as a frequent dinner guest. As a smitten teenage boy, he was there more often than not. On the way home, Lee would actually start undoing the cinch on the way up his driveway. When they got to the gate, he’d dismount with saddle in hand and Flicka would put herself in the pasture. Flicka and Lee were the best of friends. Barb says it was always obvious that Flicka was jealous of Lee paying so much attention to a silly girl. Nevertheless, that horse would do anything to win Lee’s praise and allowed Barb to ride with Lee.
After their Senior year of High School, Lee and Barb were married in August of 1964 at the First Baptist Church of Agra where Lee had attended all his life. They began to purchase unbroken horses that Lee would “work the bucks out” of before Barb would finish them out. It was on one of these wild rides that Lee had a less than glorious dismount that resulted in his intestines becoming twisted. This required major surgery to correct and was made more difficult by the fact that Lee suffered some complicating infections. At one point, Barb was told that Lee would not survive until the next morning. Clearly, that doctor failed to realize just how stubborn Lee Martin is. He may have lost over 4 feet of intestines on the deal, but death just wasn’t in his plans. The doctors told Lee that he could never ride a horse again. That’s kinda’ like telling a duck not to swim. The Martin’s began raising registered Quarter horses for several years until one day when Lee picked up a Western Horseman Magazine and saw an ad for the Bond Miniature Horse Farm. He was instantly drawn to these little horses and Barb was instantly relieved to find out they were too small to ride.
Shortly after that, on Memorial Day in 1977, they bought their first Miniature Mare. In July of that same year, they made their way to Georgia to visit with C.M. Bond and look at his AMHR / IMHR registered stock. After several hours of asking questions and studying horse after horse, Barb spotted 2 big soft beautiful eyes peeking through the wooden panel in the back half of a stall which she pointed out to Lee. Mr. Bond removed the nails holding the panel in place and took out a beautiful 3 year old Pinto stallion. It was then that they bought the horse named Buster Bond. Lee went to the lumber yard in Lavonia, bought lumber and built stock racks for the pickup to haul Buster home. Lee then told Barb it wasn’t profitable to have a stallion with only one mare, so Thanksgiving weekend they bought their second mare from Ray and Ruby Lee in Kentucky. The Martins had just gone from wanting to get one miniature as a conversation piece to obtaining the base of what would develop into their breeding program without ever intending to. It was then that Lee first coined a phrase that we are all now familiar with when he turned to Barb and said, “You know Barb, these Miniature Horses are just like potato chips…you can’t have just one.” Lee sent in his application for and joined the AMHR that year and, thus began Martin’s Miniature Horse Farm.
In 1980, Lee & Barb attended their first Miniature Horse show. It was the National show for an organization known as the IMHR. Buster won his stallion class and, along with 2 of his offspring, won the Get & Sire class. When they came home from that show Lee began selling the Quarter Horses and buying more Miniature Horses. He had a belief that the conformation of these little horses could be improved upon by following a carefully selected breeding program and set a goal to breed Miniature Horses that were better with each passing generation.( In 1982 Buster won the title of the first qualifying AMHA National Grand Champion Senior Stallion. He would also become the sire of many successful show horses over the years. ) In 1982, the Martins saw the first National Champion crowned from their very own breeding program in Martin’s Twister. Furthering his interest in promoting the miniature horse, Lee was elected in 1985 as the first ever President of the new American Miniature Horse Association and then as Vice President the following year. (Lee & Barb were among the founding members of the AMHA.) He has also served on the Board of Directors for the AMHA and IMHR. Meanwhile, Barb has focused her efforts locally. She was at the very first meeting in 1994 for a new ASPC / AMHR club called the Miniature Horse & Pony Breeders of Oklahoma. She took great pride in seeing her son, Hank, become the first President of this club. Over the next decade, she would serve the club in the offices of President, VP, and Treasurer. Even now, she she remains an active member and advisor to the current elected officers.
The Martins feel that they have been blessed over the years to have owned some amazing miniature horses including: Buster Bond, Bond Boozer, Bond Dynamo, Bond Jazzman, Bond Famos Amos, Dell Tera’s Celebration, Fisher’s Leonardo. Along with some outstanding producing mares, Bond Counterpoint, Crescent’s Midnight, Dell Tera’s Miss Independence, My Own Minuet, FWF June Daisy. Others the Martins have bred were Martin’s Boozer’s Daring Difference, Martin’s Boozer’s After Dark, Martin’s Boozer’s Dark ‘N Dazzling, Martin’s Dominique, and Martin’s Dealer’s Choice. Martin’s Dominique held the title for many years as the winningest Miniature at a National Show. Also, she was the first Breyer Miniature Horse.
Over 20 years ago, the Martins met and became friends with the late legendary Classic Shetland breeders, Bonnie & Lloyd Hittle. They had bought a few Shetland mares from the Hittles, but later sold them to focus on their Miniature Horse program. The decision to sell those mares is one that they would come to regret as they realized that they loved the Classic Shetlands above all others. They have owned many types and breeds of horses in their lives, but it is the Classic American Shetland that invoked their passion for horses the greatest. Having utmost respect for the Hittles’ program, Lee & Barb returned there determined to acquire the kind of stock that they could build a quality Shetland program of their own around. They were not disappointed. On that trip, the Martin’s purchased B & L’S Rock “E” Mardi Gra, B & L’S Lil’s Diamond, B & L’S Rock “E” Good Man Charlie, B & L’S Diamond’s Golden Image, B & L’S Rock “E” New Millinnieum “2”, B & L’S Rock “E” Galloway Bay, and B & L’S Rock “E” Kiss Me Kate. One stallion in particular would prove to be the herd sire of their dreams. Mardi Gra sired many hall of fame and Congress Champion foals en route to solidifying his title as an ASPC Superior Sire. ( Three of the most notable foals from Mardi are out of one of the Martins’ favorite broodmares named Royal Tamarix. Those foals are: Martin's Mardi Gras Fire and Ice—Congress Grand Champion Classic Halter Gelding, Martin's Mardi Gras Radiant Redhead, and Martin's Mardi Gras Stop 'N Stare. Both of these mares were Congress Reserve Grand Champion Classic Mares. )
The following year, the Martin’s loved what they had purchased from the Hittles so much that they returned to purchase B & L’S Rock “E” Red Alert, B & L’S Rock “E” Best Dressed Man, and B & L’S Rock “E” Rockette, They also purchased several other mares at various times and places. Other great producing mares include, Kathern’s May Red LE, McCall’s KL Queen, Delello’s Ambers Little Ambee.
Ever the horse trader, Lee has bought and sold hundreds of horses over the years. Many of the horses that have previously called the Martin ranch home have gone on to successful show and/or breeding careers. Some of these horses include: Bear’s Fashionable Lady who is the dam of Congress Grand Champion in Foundation Halter, B&L's Bar-G's Rock "E" Hershey Bar; Kewpie’s Pepito of Arenosa who is a key sire in the Arenosa bloodlines and sire of D&S Little Town Flurt, National Champion D&S Peeping Tom, and Martin’s Peaches & Cream who was the dam of a keystone stallion at Rhapsody Shetlands named Rudolph’s Golden Comanche who himself sired numerous Congress and National Champions. I would be a fool to fail to mention that the Martin’s also sold us B&L’s Rock “E” Red Alert who is an AMHR National Grand Champion and Halter Horse of the year as well as the sire of several AMHR or APSC National Champions.
Other Martin bred horses worth mentioning include, but are certainly not limited to:
Martin's Mardi Gras Maybe Now
AMHR HOF, National Champion, National Reserve GRAND Champion
Martin's Mardis Million Dollar Baby
ASPC HOF, Congress Champion, Congress Jr. Champion
Martin's Mardi Gras WillE WillE Hot
ASPC HOF, Congress Champion
And of course, my personal favorite, Martin's Best Dressed Sinatra
ASPC HOF in Halter and Pleasure Driving
Congress Reserve Grand Champion—Classic Halter
2x Congress Stakes Champion—Classic Pleasure Driving
No doubt, Lee & Barb Martin have left the world of the American Shetland Pony and the American Miniature Horse a little better because of all of their efforts in the selective breeding and promotion of the breed. What hasn’t been said yet is perhaps the greatest part of their legacy. The Martin’s are true ambassadors for small equine. They are kind and patient when teaching people who are new to this world of ours about all of the wonderful variety of horses and show classes available. In earlier days, they were even known to take some ponies to fairs for kids to ride. They were willing to work all day at these fairs just to expose children to the small equine and talk to their parents in an effort to break the stigma that a lot of old-timers carry that Shetlands are mean.
The Martins have gained a huge wealth of knowledge over the years. They have done so by demonstrating uncommon humility and never assuming that they know it all. They talk to others who have been successful. They ask questions about everything new, and they approach everything in the perfect balance of open mindedness combined with the skepticism of common sense gained only via years of experience. Above all else, the Martins love to share their knowledge of equine. There are several of us who regularly call on them for their advice or opinions. The guidance that the Martins have provided to my wife and me over the years has had a tremendous positive impact on our ranch. They have supported and encouraged us to study not just our heard, but also the herds of everyone we can find. They have sat with us and discussed breeding ideas and results. We’ve discussed conformation in great detail with them along with identifying and eliminating flaws. I have no doubt that we are better off because of them. I also know that I am only one of many who can say this.
As Lee & Barb now enter retirement and have kept only a few choice horses from their once huge herd, they have expressed a strong desire to see the Shetlands and Miniatures continue progressing both as a show breed and as a source of activities that families can share together. These horses have been a huge part of their lives for several decades. They have tried to give back as much as they can every step of the way. Lee & Barb would say that they’ve “done alright with what they’ve had.” I say that they are a vital piece of the history of the small equine and should be commemorated.
It is with great honor and unwavering gratitude that my wife, Lisa, and I strive to carry on in the honest and hard working ways that Barbara Jean and Henry Lee Martin Sr. have shown us. They are our mentors, our ”family”, our friends.
Mike J. Strassle
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