By Delores Kuhlwein
“If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” – Maya Angelou.
Special Invitation, the first APHA son of Invitation Only, passed away on May 9, 2023.
The 1998 bay Tobiano Stallion, out of Ribbon In My Hair (by Scotch Bar Tommy), became an influential and highly visible Multiple World and Reserve Champion Sire for Yarnelle Farms of Fort Wayne, Indiana, earning the Number 2 and Number 3 spot on the APHA Leading Sires List several times.
“Special” sired 575 foals in his lifetime, and his offspring have earned 50,000-plus points; the list of his champion progeny seems endless, with many industry greats, such as Invite The Artist, Specials In The House, Tramps Invitation, Heres My Number, Dont Try This At Home, Hang Over, Five OClock Somewhere, Youre Invited Too, You Are Cordially Invited, Invite Wyatt, Tall Dark And Special, Sum Beach, and many more.
What’s most notable about his foals was not only their versatility, but their amazing longevity for their owners.
“His babies impacted the show pen tremendously,” explains Kathy Yarnelle. “They became great youth and amateur horses that could do anything, and that’s his legacy. They showed them year after year and they stood the test of time.”
Perhaps the most renowned example is John Simon, another influential sire in his own right, and even more impressively, a son who is still successfully showing.
The 2006 bay tobiano stallion out of Sensational Leaguer, by Zippos Sensation, not only has earned more than 25 APHA World and Reserve World Championships in Western Pleasure, Halter, and Trail, but he added a Unanimous Green Western Riding World Championship to his repertoire in 2022 with John Briggs. John Simon is owned by Charla Bradshaw and shown in Amateur events by Erin Bradshaw.
Because of offspring like John Simon, the Yarnelles explain they’ve been told the same thing more times than they can count. “What we’ve heard most is that their Special Invitation was their heart horse, and that they’d shown one for years and years and never had another like that. And they’d come back to get another one,” says Kathy.
“The trainers who had them would tell us that they kept getting better and better over time,” adds John Yarnelle. “It was awesome to hear.”
As anyone who’d had one of Special’s foals might imagine, his personality was just as precious as his athleticism. “He was just a gentle soul,” explains John. “After his show career, we put him to work in the breeding shed, and he knew his job but he knew how to behave. He always was the true gentlemen in every aspect.”
“We have 6 kids and no one was ever afraid of him,” agrees Kathy. “We could send one of our daughters to bring him from his stall to the breeding barn, and he was always just a good boy for everyone.”
In addition to making his mark on the APHA industry from a performance perspective, the Yarnelles explain that Special was also part of the heyday of the true Paint Horse. John says, “Bill and Susie Yarnelle, who we’d like to thank, bought him out of Arizona when he was two years old and he’s been part of the family ever since. He was raised by Cindy Gattis, and Cindy is a lifelong breeder and friend we’d also like to thank for keeping the Tobiano horse meaningful to the Paint industry.”
The days of the Tobiano as an integral part of the Paint Horse industry, they explain, were also the same days when Special and Paint Me Zippo were on top, and in the two year old snaffle bit futurity, there might be 100 head of horses vying for that World Championship title.
Those who remember will explain that the famous Yarnelle brand was instantly recognizable and one of the most coveted.
Though the Yarnelle’s breeding days are over, Special left them a gift to remember him by – one that was quite unexpected. “As we were winding down and selling most of our mares, we made a decision to turn Special out with Daisy, a mare we’d owned for years,” says Kathy. “All the years we’d tried to keep him perfectly safe, but it was time for him to be a horse, so he literally spent the last three years of his life with his best girl, Daisy.”
The surprise they got is in the form of a weanling– a loud stud colt. “There’s several years in between where there’s no Special, and now he’s the last Special,” reveals John.
The Yarnelles wish to thank the mare owners over the years that had confidence in their program and all the customers who faithfully came back year after year looking for a Special, as well as all the people who have been able to show a Special. “We feel gratitude at this point, as we had a great run.”
Thank you to Elizabeth Jakovich for the beautiful photos provided for this tribute.