Vickie Paxton talks about the ponies on her farm as if they were her children.
Each one has an official name on the registry of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America, often long-winded ones that include the name of the ranch where they were born.
But Paxton uses their barn names – “Mystery” and “Rocky,” for example – and refers to them as her “girls and boys.”
The 64-year-old Cortez resident has spent her entire life around horses. She has worked as a veterinary technician and an Arabian horse breeder, among other pursuits. About six years ago, she started Weehaven Welsh Ponies, a Welsh mountain pony breeding operation, on her property north of Cortez. Since then, the ponies raised on her farm have traveled to new homes all over the country – although several have been adopted by Montezuma County residents.
“They generally stay with families,” Paxton said. “I know the local people that I have sold a few to intend to keep them for their kids and grandkids. They’re long-lived, they’re hardy, they’re healthy.”
Paxton said she decided to switch to ponies after many years of breeding Arabians because they were easier to care for and friendlier to her grandchildren. Welsh ponies are often used as children’s show horses because of their small size and gentle disposition, which also makes them popular with 4-H students, but Paxton said their unusual strength and toughness allows them to perform almost any task a larger horse could do. They also live to the age of 40 or more.
The breed comes in a wide variety of colors, and Paxton said she believes she has one of each. The crown jewel of her stable is a stallion with the rare grullo coloring – a gray coat with black stripes, or “feral markings,” on the legs and shoulders. Paxton said the stallion, whose registered name is The Promise Sermon in the Wind, is likely the only Welsh pony of his coloring in the U.S. She bought him, along with several mares, from a Texas breeder named Ronnie Ellison who suffered a stroke about three years ago and was unable to care for them.
“He told me, ‘You’re the only one I trust with this horse – don’t ever geld him,’” she said.
There are fewer than 40 certified Welsh pony breeders in the U.S., according to the Welsh Pony and Cob Society website. Weehaven is one of only two in Colorado, and the only one that focuses on selling Welsh mountain ponies, the smallest type. Paxton said it’s partly because there are so few breeders that the Welsh pony has remained relatively pure for centuries. According to the Society website, the ponies’ ancestry goes back to Wales before it was conquered by the Roman Empire.
Horses aren’t the only animals at Weehaven. Paxton keeps a few dairy goats, a dog and a few cats that catch mice around the farm. She has also kept an Arabian mare from when she bred Arabians. But ponies are always her priority.
Paxton regularly drives a cart pulled by the ponies in Montezuma County parades and other events. She welcomes visitors to her farm and is trying to arrange with local 4-H clubs to let students work on their horse projects there. Her two daughters and their families regularly help out on the farm. One of Paxton’s daughters, Kristen Hendewerk, is a professional barrel racer and veterinary technician. The other, Dena Coffey, is allergic to horses, but has raised her daughters, Ayla and Lilly, to love being around them.
Montezuma County may be losing its Welsh pony claim to fame soon. Paxton’s farm on Lebanon Road is for sale. She said she hopes to move her breeding operation closer to the Coffey family in Cahone. It’s “handier” to have her daughter’s family close by to help in case of emergencies, she said. But even in her mid-60s, she has no plans to give up the business.
“They are my life,” Paxton said. “Horses have always been my life.”