By: Brittany Bevis
18 years ago, Tia Justice lost her sister during the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Shortly after, Tia’s family sold her beloved Appaloosa mare named Dreamer. Just recently, on her late sister’s birthday, Tia was able to purchase a long-lost granddaughter of Dreamer that she believes was sent for a very special purpose. Here is her story.
“There’s a lot I could say about my sister, Michelle,” Tia says. “She was an exceptionally hard worker and always looking to get ahead in life. My mom was a single mother and struggled the majority of her adult life. She put herself through college while raising my two eldest sisters. Michelle was the one who wanted more in life and always vowed to take care of my mom the way my mom took care of her. Michelle graduated from St John’s University with her MBA and a real love for finance. Ultimately, she was hired by Cantor Fitzgerald in equity control. That was where she was working when we lost her.”
“Discovering that Michelle had perished was pretty much an instantaneous thing. We knew she worked between floors 101 and 105 of the north Trade Center tower, and we saw where the planes hit. I was in middle school when the tragedy happened, and I remember watching it all unfold on TV. I just knew… I got home and my mother and I just crumbled because that was it. You hoped, you prayed, but you knew… It really broke us as a family.”
Unfortunately, Michelle never had the opportunity to meet the Appaloosa mare that would become Tia’s saving grace. She came into Tia’s life after Michelle’s passing. “My grandfather was raised on a farm in Shelbyville, Indiana, before he joined the Navy. They had pretty much everything, but I remember him talking most about horses. He encouraged the horse bug in me, even though the rest of my family really never had the passion. It was a lot of My Little Ponies, Breyers, pony rides, and trail rides up until I was able to get my first horse. Michelle really supported that. My first riding lessons were down the road from her home, at Thomas’ School of Horsemanship on Long Island in New York.”
Dreamer wasn’t the horse Michelle wanted. Instead, she had her eye on a leggy, red dun, Quarter Horse with all the bells and whistles. Dreamer was a short, stocky Appaloosa/Colorado Ranger Horse. “I’m honestly lucky that my trainer had my best interests in mind. Or maybe something a little more divine intervened in the process, because that little mare pulled me out of a very dark, scary, lonely hole and gave me a purpose.”
“Being a teenager is hard enough when it comes to feeling isolated and misunderstood. Add in the weight of losing someone during a terrorist attack, without providing an outlet, and that can be devastating to adults, let alone to a kid. I think Dreamer understood that, and she could sense that something wasn’t quite right. She taught me so many life lessons, and she truly molded me into the equestrian I am today. More importantly, this mare saved my life. I was horribly depressed, and my mom had more or less checked out of reality when everything happened.”
Dreamer, aka Ms Daydreamin, had quite the show history. She was the 1987 ApHC National Champion Weanling Halter Filly and the 1988 World Champion Yearling Halter Filly. In 1990, she earned her ROM and a year-end Top 10 finish in Three-Year-Old Snaffle Bit Western Pleasure. In 1991, she earned her ROM in Senior Western Pleasure. In 2003, she earned her Register of Merit in Halter.
“If you ask me, she should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, based on her own merits, but I may be a bit biased!” Tia says. “This mare was, and is, a legend all on her own merit; but, she was, of course, an own daughter of Dreamfinder and out of an own daughter of Abdulls Pok A Son, making her both Appaloosa and Colorado Ranger Horse royalty. She wasn’t a tall mare by any stretch, maybe 14.2 or 14.3 hands, if I’m being generous, and she was solid bay with a star. But, what she lacked in height and color, she made up for in heart and talent. She truly had one of the most exotic heads I’ve ever seen on an Appaloosa, or any horse really. It truly rivaled some of the more modern Arabian heads; it was so baby doll and delicate. I was blessed to show her in Halter and Western Pleasure. She was my instant immersion into the world of showing.”
Not only did Dreamer introduce Tia to the world of horse showing, she was a best friend, a confidant, and a shoulder to cry on. “She heard so many of my woes, and that neck and mane absorbed so many of my tears. Depressed? Go see Dreamer. Frustrated? Go see Dreamer. Thinking the darkest thoughts imaginable? Go see Dreamer. I think I survived only because of a combination of Dreamer’s patience. A blind man with a cane could have ridden Dreamer because she’d have taken care of him.”
“Michelle always pushed for her family to succeed, especially my youngest sister and I. For her, life was about following passion and not being stuck following the pack. She was about rising above circumstance and oppression. In that regard, I truly believe she sent Dreamer to me for that mare to teach me every lesson she could and to act as a bit of a guardian. I showed horses because I wanted to do better, and it became tradition to send every safe trip in the pen and every win up to Michelle. ‘This one’s for you.’ It’s a tradition that’s still very much alive and well 18 years after 9/11 and about 16 years since I last saw Dreamer.”
Sadly, following Michelle’s death, Tia’s mother went through a period of depression and mania where she believed that having attachments to things, animals, and even people was unhealthy. “It was a serious struggle and part of that struggle included her deciding to sell Dreamer,” Tia says. “I don’t think I can adequately describe the hole that losing Dreamer left. I’d gotten really good at intercepting phone calls when people would call on the ad she placed, but I was obviously not good enough because she wound up being sold to a ranch in Minnesota. I left Appaloosas at that time.”
“It wasn’t until I was married, had my own family, and had been horseless for almost four years that I went back to Appaloosas. I bought Monster Magnet, my stallion, as a weanling. He kind of lured me back into the breed with this siren call of magnetism that I hadn’t truly felt from any breed other than Appaloosas, especially the Colorado Ranger Horse sub-sect. When we knew he was going to stay a stallion, I kept wondering about Dreamer, because of her pedigree and her talent. I knew I wanted a daughter of hers back in my life, because if I’m going to breed Appaloosas and Rangerbreds, I’m going to breed the best and breed to improve lines, not to mention trying to build a bigger following for the Colorado Ranger Horse.”
Through an extensive search, Tia was able to locate two daughters of Dreamer, one in Missouri and one in Kentucky. Awe Filly Sweet was a daughter by Awe Striker that Tia had known of personally, but the owner never responded to her inquiries. Next was Dream Connection (Kelo Connection x Ms Daydreamin). Although, she was deceased, she had a two time ROM earning, year-end Top Ten winning daughter, Awe Dorably Conecked (Awe Striker x Dream Connection). The mare was owned by Lisa Estridge of Palisades Appaloosas in Kentucky. Tia messaged Lisa and explained her situation, but she’d been sold in utero to a gentleman, who wasn’t interested in selling. “I think my heart broke a bit, because it was such a dead end.”
Tia and Lisa and I stayed friends, because “Appaloosa people tend to stick together like glue.” One day, out of the blue, Tia received a message about a two-year-old filly out of Awe Dorably Conecked that needed a new home. Sadly, her owner suffered from Parkinson’s disease. “I asked for photos. When I received them, I about lost it. Standing there in these photos was a weanling version of Dreamer, right down to the star. I said yes immediately, much to the chagrin of my husband.”
“We set a date for a Saturday, so that everyone was off work, and we could go down and get the filly. My trainer, Heather, went with me for a much needed girl’s day, and we only realized it was Michelle’s birthday when I went to sign and date the contract. 9/11 may have been 18 years ago; but to me, and a lot of those who lost loved ones, it feels like it happened yesterday. That pain really hasn’t begun to abate or settle.”
“I’d already cried once when I saw the mare in person, because it was uncanny how much like Dreamer she looked and acted. She had that same super delicate and beautiful head, rich coloration, freaky laid back shoulder, and stunning hip. It was all there. It was like looking through a time crystal. When Heather told me the date, I broke and wept like a baby, because I just knew everything had come full circle. This mare was meant to be mine. She was there to remind me that Michelle is still so very present in my life, and that everything is ok. It’s kind of crazy how much the filly and I have really fallen into stride and how comfortable we are around one another. It’s that same connection all over again, and it’s incredibly special. It sounds a lot like a great horse novel, but the truth is often stranger and more interesting than fiction.”
That filly is named PA Morning Coffee. Tia describes her as “a breath of fresh air after a good, long night’s sleep filled with dreams.”
“She’s truly bred to be dynamic in the pen, both in Halter and in Western Pleasure. Her bottom half speaks loudly for itself and is totally gilded, but her top half is extremely versatile and boasting both Mighty Bright and Wapiti lines with just enough Quarter Horse blood to keep things interesting. Hers is a pedigree that’s almost overstuffed with ROM earners, High Point winners, year end Top Tens, RES/WC, and RES/NC, and medallion earners. She’s truly a princess.”
This summer, Tia and her trainer are fitting the filly for the ApHC World and CRHA Nationals. She will be shown throughout the year in 2-Year-Old Mares and likely Hunter In Hand.
“She’s a late baby, born October 6th, so we constantly have to remind ourselves that she’s still very much a baby. But, she’s an incredibly balanced and intelligent baby and really gravitates towards whatever we put in front of her. She’s a huge tribute to both her sire’s great mind and her dam’s easy and willing to please lineage. Taking her into the show ring at all, let alone at the Nationals or World, is downright cathartic. I’ll have to keep tissues stuffed up my jacket sleeve.”
If you have a special story that deserves to be told, email B.Bevis@EquineChronicle.com for consideration.