Laura Akerlund, a four-time world champion in paint horse competition, is helping her mother raise paint horses on their Town of Grafton horse farm to be champions in their own right, as well as beautiful, mild-mannered, intelligent animals.
Laura Akerlund, a four-time world champion in Western and English competitions of the American Paint Horse Association, has been riding horses since she was 2 at her parents’ Akerlund Acres horse farm in the Town of Grafton.
A senior majoring in public relations at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Laura decided to take a year off from competition to concentrate on her career and help her mother Patty breed world champion-quality paint horses that are as intelligent, calm and mild-mannered as they are attractive and responsive in the show ring.
Her father Scott isn’t involved in breeding horses, but he maintains the property, which is invaluable, her mother said.
Patty Akerlund has bred horses for 20 years, but is now stepping up to a higher level with the help of her daughter. She used to compete in horse shows, but said she never rose to the level of her daughter.
“What Laura’s doing is making other people’s foals world champions. Now, we want to raise our own champions,” Akerlund said.
The Akerlunds plan to produce horses that are comfortable in the show ring and enjoy being around people and other horses. That’s done by being picky about the mares they purchase and the stallions they breed them with, looking for temperament as well as conformation and coloring.
“We personally go and see them, work with them and ride them,” Akerlund said.
She devotes an incredible amount of attention to each foal and mare, gaining the trust of both. Her daughter works just as diligently with the horses when she’s home.
When the newest foal Bella was born in March to Hunter, a 7-year-old registered quarter horse, Akerlund watched the birth via a camera that her husband put in the stall when the mare appeared ready.
“When the baby was out and the mother bonded with her, I went in cautiously,” Akerlund said. “It’s kind of a delicate balance. You never want to interfere with the mare bonding with her baby, but I also want it to bond with me. I want it to imprint with me as well as its mother.”
Within the first hour or two, Akerlund put a halter and blanket on the foal and led it around a little. She exercised and groomed the foal the first week.
Hunter doesn’t object, willingly allowing the Akerlunds to play and work with her foal.
“That’s why you have to have good mares,” said Laura as she fondled Bella. “A lot of mares won’t let you get close to their foals.”
Bella was a little hesitant when two strangers, one with a large camera and the other with a notebook, entered the fenced pasture. She stood close to her mother.
But once she got used to them, the foal gingerly approached and let them stroke her forehead.
With Laura, the foal acted more like a dog or cat, rolling on her side and enjoying being petted.
“She is so sweet and docile,” Laura said.
Most world champion horses come from large breeders, Akerlund said.
“They don’t have the time to give the individual attention we can give,” she said. “There is a lot of stress in the show ring. The calmer they are, the better they handle the stress.”
The Akerlunds have three mares that will give birth next year. Gestation for horses is 11 months.
The Akerlunds intend to keep the foal that shows the most promise and sell the other two.
“They should sell for a nice profit— that’s if they all turn out,” Akerlund said.
“There are so many variables — color, temperament, looks — that go into the equation. You can breed 10 horses and get only one world champion quality or none. With only three horses bred, we could end up with one or none in next year’s crop.”
Hunter, who was purchased two years ago, will give birth again in April.
Boots, a gray quarter horse and former race horse the Akerlunds bought last year, was bred to a gray-and-white paint stallion. The 16-year-old mare has produced many world champion foals, Akerlund said.
A paint horse, Peyton, will also give birth next spring.
“The best cross we’ve found is a quarter horse with a paint,” Akerlund said. “People like white-and-dark paints like Bella and gray paints.”
A registered American paint horse must have at least one parent that is a registered paint. The other parent must be registered with the American Paint Horse Association, American Quarter Horse Association or Jockey Club for thoroughbreds. The horse must exhibit a minimum amount of white hair over unpigmented skin to be eligible for the regular registry.
“A paint can be a solid color, but then it would be breeding stock paint and not as valuable,” Akerlund said.
Bella is a beautiful example of a paint, said Laura, who has high hopes for its success in the show ring. Bella will be eligible for halter events next year, but cannot be ridden in APHA shows until she’s 2 years old.
Paint horses are a passion for the women, who also have full-time jobs. Akerlund is a mortgage loan officer. Laura, who is pursuing a marketing and public relations degree, is a summer intern at an advertising agency.
Laura Akerlund relaxed with Bella, a 4-month-old foal she hopes will be a world champion paint horse. Photo by Sam Arendt