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Local horse on his way to the Appaloosa World Championships

He's got it all

Sue Burkett and Tate enjoy a brief moment in the sun in front of the barn Tate shares with his brother and a rescued pony. Ordinarily covered all the time, Tate still gets to romp through the fields on the West Side Road. Sara Young-Knox. (click for larger version)
September 17, 2010
"He's a once in a lifetime horse; he's got it all," Sue says as she and Joe sit at the kitchen table in their modest home off the West Side Road in which they've lived for 27 years. Sue and Tate have competed in horse shows across the Northeast, with Tate undefeated in his class, and in the top 10 for color. He has been a Grand or Grand Reserve at every show, and has earned five registers of merit.

"This is huge for me," Sue says of going to the Nationals. "This is like a dream."

Looking over to his wife with admiration, Joe says he is so happy to be here to support her. "Just to see her dream come true…" he shakes his head a bit, as if he almost can't believe it's real, either.

SUE DIDN'T GROW up in a fancy suburb where white wooden fences kept in well-fed horses for young girls who took riding lessons every week. She's a Mount Washington Valley native, and grew up in Chocorua Village, where the Lazy Dog Inn is now. Like those girls, though, she always liked horse.

"Almost every girl is a horse crazy girl," Sue comments. She was 14 when she bought her first horse — using her own money — from her neighbor and her horse-trading mentor, George Roberts.

"He was great," she says of the time she spent with Roberts. The horse she purchased from him, Sage, she eventually traded for another horse. Teaching herself the skills necessary to compete by observing others, reading books and watching videos, she didn't have any professional lessons until five years ago, when her two sons were nearly grown and she could better afford the cost.

"We always had a horse," Joe says, adding that when they moved up to North Conway, Sue brought a horse with her. Besides keeping an eye out for a horse with which to compete, Sue has taken in rescue animals, including the five shelter cats they have now and the pony, which shares the barn with Tate, and Tate's brother, Beans. Though they live on a small residential lot, it has not restricted their horse ownership.

"We have wonderful neighbors," Sue says. Sally Allard, whose family owns the former dairy farm just down the way on West Side Road where the road dips, is a good friend, and welcomes the Burkett horses every day for pasturing. Sue says many competition horses have more restrictions placed on them, but that she thinks Tate's having the freedom to run around the pasture makes him a happier horse, which shows up in the ring.

Sue also takes him on jaunts through the many recreational trails and old logging roads in the woods at the base of the Moat Range, leading him while she rides his brother. Wherever he goes, he's covered all the time, wearing a blanket that protects his coat from flies and from fading. It's got mesh screening to allow air flow, so it actually keeps him cooler on those hot summer days, too. When he gets in the ring, his color will be one of the characteristics on which he will be judged.

"It's very much like a dog show," Sue explains. Judges also look at the horse's balance, structure and travel, muscles and quality, and breed and sex characteristics. Sue competes in the non-professional open class.

"It's like building a race car," Joe says of grooming a horse for show.

Tate is still growing, and will be for several more years, his knees still open. He's big for his age, and gets fed well, four or five times a day. Sue, who has worked at Dover Saddlery as a customer service supervisor for 11 years, says her employers have been "super accommodating." Dover is sponsoring Tate's clothes and bridle.

She has kind words, too, for her other sponsors. Blue Seals is supplying the feed, Myhre Equine Clinic in Rochester is sponsoring Tate's shots, Mark and Jules Hock are sponsoring a Lincoln Navigator and Rich Moore of Berlin is doing the graphics on the side of the vehicle, with Teresa Chute doing embroidery. She and Tate will have Jamie Ferry going with her. Jamie is sponsoring the hotel stays, plus is keeping Tate's friends up to date on his progress on both Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, fans can follow Tate at "Baby Tate Goes to the World's!" Those wishing to get more involved can call 986-1510.

WHEN THE THREE GET to Texas they'll have more support. Tate was born at the Top Step Farm in Aubrey, Texas, which Sue describes as a neo-natal foaling unit. Sue has gotten her Appaloosas from Jackie Jackson of Top Step, and Tate's full name reflects the respect and gratitude she has for Jackson. Jackson is helping Sue out with some of the details of attending and showing in Fort Worth, being only an hour away.

"Just get him here and we'll work the rest out," Sue recounts Jackson telling her. The extra moral support will be good, too, because, as Sue adds, "I've never done anything at this level."

Cheering Sue and Tate on from around the world will be her son, Lucien, who is currently stationed in Afghanistan, serving with the Marines. Closer, her son Tadd is at Plymouth University. He served as a Marine in Iraq for two tours, and is in the Marine Reserves. Tadd bought his first horse from Jackson when he was ten, and paid for shipping Beans east. Both young men contribute to their mother's dream, appreciating the support she and their father Joe have given them throughout the years.

Near the end of the interview Sue pulls a letter out that she's saved and carries with her in her pocketbook. She says that Tadd sent it to her after she'd given him some unsolicited motherly advice.

"You are my Spellcheck for life," he wrote.

She smiles as she reads it. "Of course," she says, "it's full of misspellings."

Both parents are immensely proud of their sons, and when Joe says of Tate, "He turned out to be one of a kind, he's exceptional," it's clear he holds the same high regard for his wife and sons.

In recent weeks Tate has received some politically important visitors. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen stopped by one day, and District 1 Executive Councilor Ray Burton came by to meet Tate on Saturday. Tate took it all in stride.

He is, after all, a champion.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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