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A Special “Spot”

bravoHe’s one in a million, the kind of horse you dream of owning, the kind of horse other people want to buy from you, the kind kids gush over and provide with snacks.

He’s the kind of horse that receives fan mail, and that everyone wants to pet.

Until about three years ago, you might have seen Francisco Bravo on this big, handsome Appaloosa in the morning leaving the barn, or in the afternoon after leaving the paddock, stopped in the covered area leading to the track at the north end of the grandstand, next to a rail where kids stroked his big head and offered him treats.

“Oh, they gave him Doritos, ice cream. A lot of things,” Francisco recalled. “They even wrote letters to him.”

Spot was the kind of horse everybody wanted in their barn. Lynn Hovda, the chief veterinarian at Canterbury, tried to buy him more than once. Francisco kept saying ‘no.’ “He didn’t want to part with him,” she said.

Others tried to buy him, too. Bravo turned down one offer of $10,000 for Spot, and he paid $2,500 for him.

“I kept telling people that I didn’t think I could replace him,” Bravo said.

That’s the kind of horse he is – irreplaceable.

Bravo rode Spot every morning and every afternoon, ponying horses to or from the track. His daughter, Natalie, rode him, too. “We shared him,” Francisco said.

From day one.

“‘I’ve ridden hundreds and hundreds of horses in my life,” Francisco added. “He’s the best one I ever rode.”

Bravo was the middle man in Spot’s purchase while trying to locate a horse for a client who wanted a jumper. “Spot is about 16 hands, but the fellow wanted something closer to 17,” he said. The horse didn’t fit the needs of the client but Bravo bought him anyway, sight unseen in 1997, driving from Prairie Meadows to a truck-stop full of over-the-road rigs someplace in Missouri. “Next thing I know I see this guy leading the horse across the parking lot without a care in the world,” Bravo recalled. “Not worried about the noise, the traffic or anything.”

Francisco arrived back in Des Moines around 2 a.m. fully expecting to introduce the horse slowly to his new surroundings later on. No need. “I was prepared to go through a little bucking or something.” Bravo continued. “But he took to the place as if he were home. He rode beautifully. By the end of the first day I could pony a horse with him. He’s phenomenal.”

Spot was the perfect companion in that regard and many others for the next several years. Then Natalie, Francisco and Lori’s daughter, lost the world champion quarter horse she used in barrel racing. “We had to put the horse down,” said Francisco. Shortly thereafter, Bravo told his father-in-law that he was looking for a new horse for his daughter. “He told me that I had the best horse in the world for Natalie.”

Francisco said the idea took a few days to sink in. Spot was perfect for Natalie and he became hers about six years ago.

Natalie, 21, has some learning disabilities and is deaf. She works in the cafeteria at the school for the deaf where she graduated in Sulphur, Okla, . “She is close to getting a black belt in karate,” Francisco said proudly. “She is still riding and is a great kid, a beautiful person.”

Beautiful indeed.

Natalie suggested at dinner one night a couple of years ago that she give Spot to her uncle Tom, who is married to Lori’s sister. He had suffered a stroke while riding and lost the use of one side. His wish thereafter was to find a trustworthy horse, one with a good disposition. . “He said his dream was to one day find a horse he could ride around his farm in Hastings,” Bravo added.

“Uncle Tom needs Spot. This is the horse for him,” Natalie told her parents.

Francisco and Lori considered the suggestion a few days, testing their daughter’s wishes.

“At Christmastime we brought the horse with us to Tom’s place,” Francisco said. “He rides him three or four times a week, brushes him, grazes him, does it all. It’s wonderful therapy for him.”

Spot had moved on to new surroundings, doing what was asked of him without a whimper, fulfilling his role as a one-of-a-kind horse.

“Tom sometimes says that he prays to God we won’t ask him to give Spot back to us,” Francisco said.

“We don’t intend to do that, but when Spot goes, I do want to bury him on our farm (in Sulphur). That’s when we’ll take him back.”

A special place for a special horse. One that’s irreplaceable.

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.