Billy and Shelly Martin remember their late leading sire Firewater Ta Fame for his immeasurable impact on their lives and the hearts of everyone who own his offspring.
Shelly Martin stood at the fence on a late summer day in 2004 at Dan and Kasey Etbauer’s place in Goodwell, Oklahoma, watching two rambunctious yearling colts frolicking around their pen. Shelly and her husband, Billy Martin, travelled more than 10 hours from their home near Houston in Sealy, Texas, to the Oklahoma Panhandle to look at a spunky and remarkably bred buckskin stud colt.
“The first thing I noticed, I was watching him play with that other colt, and I had never seen babies do what they were doing,” Shelly said. “I was just laughing at him because of how they were playing. He had a presence even when he was that young. I’ve always followed my gut on horses, and when I saw him I had a good gut feeling about him.”
Bred by Elyse Cullum, Firewater Ta Fame was a 2003 son of all-time leading sire Dash Ta Fame. He was out of Fashion Star Flit, a Fire Water Flit daughter and proven producer. The bottom side of “Stitch’s” pedigree initially attracted the Martins’ interest.
“At the time, I didn’t even know who Dash Ta Fame was. We didn’t have Facebook or anything, and I didn’t know how good Dash Ta Fame was putting colts on the ground,” Shelly admitted. “I was after the Fire Water Flit. That’s the reason we even drove up to look at him. Of course we brought him home, and he’s been a hoot ever since.”
Stitch’s sweet and fun-loving personality quickly captivated Shelly’s heart. He was more than a horse—he became a member of the family and was a daily source of smiles for the Martins throughout his nearly 14 years with them, even though it meant more work to “Stitch-proof” the facilities.
“He was funny—he played, tore stuff up, you couldn’t do anything in his pasture because he’d carry tools off and take the hat off your head,” Shelly recalled with a laugh. “We had to make it where he couldn’t tear the water hose off his trough in the pasture. He was so different from the other horses. He wanted our attention all the time. He passed that on to his babies, especially his colts more so than his fillies—they love people and like to please.”
In the arena, Stitch provided an entry point for the Martins into the futurity world. The big buckskin showed glimpses of brilliance as a barrel horse under the guidance of Andrea Cline, earning Open 1D, aged-event and pro rodeo money.
“We come from a rodeo background, and Stitch was our very first futurity horse,” Shelly said. “He was smooth with a very long stride. Rocking-horse type, easy, but incredibly powerful leaving the barrels. He just floated on the ground.”
In 2009, a bout of strangles affected his guttural pouch and damaged his soft palate and unfortunately ended Stitch’s budding performance career. After surgery failed to fix the issue, the Martins retired him to stud full time.
“The first several years we didn’t get a lot of contracts for him, because he didn’t get out there and finish his career like we hoped, so we knew it’d take his babies to prove him,” Shelly said. “The first one was ‘Chilly.’ After we found out how good Chilly was, we figured Stitch was going to be a producer.”
Chilly, a 2007 gelding registered as Stitchs Honor N Fame who is now ridden by Landrie Parker, joins a long list of successful progeny. Among others, they include Cline’s own rodeo, futurity and open champion Stitchs Streaknfame, Lindsey Trammell’s slot race winner and RFD-TV’s The American Semifinals qualifier Stitchs Smoke N Fame, Jamie Hodges’ futurity champion KN Panellapie, Kay Blandford’s derby champion KN My Mamas Famous 2, and most recently, Jennifer Fite’s superstar JS Milo And Stitch, ridden by Janet Staton to more than $279,000 in 2018 futurity earnings alone to become the all-time leading futurity horse. At the time of his death, Stitch’s offspring had won more than $871,000, making him the No. 3 siring son of Dash Ta Fame. Posthumously, Stitch is now a $1 million sire.
His personality is reflected vividly in his offspring—especially the humorous antics and a kind, sensitive heart.
“[His babies’] personalities are just, it’s so hard to explain how they are. They cannot handle people being tough on them,” Shelly said. “They’re Stitch all the way. You would just yell at him and you knew you broke his heart.”
Shelly says she has too many amusing Stitch stories to recollect, but one memory accurately summarizes life with Stitch and any of his babies.
“My husband was taking care of his feet in the barn one day, and I had a stuffed horse animal, and he grabbed ahold of it and is just holding it in his mouth shaking it around as my husband has his foot up on the stand,” she recalled with a laugh.
Shelly shared a bond with Stitch unlike anyone else. His adoration for her was palpable to everyone who spent time around the tenderhearted stallion.
“He loved me, and I knew it,” Shelly said with emotion in her voice. “My husband would always tell people that Stitch loved his mama, because I spent more time with him [than with my husband]. And I did.”
Only a few hours after Stitch arrived home in Sealy on June 29, 2018, from Weatherford Equine at the end of breeding season, he began to colic. He was tragically euthanized at 15 years old on June 30, 2018.
“The day we brought him home, I noticed there was something wrong with him. I walked from my house to the barn, and he followed me the whole time, talking to me, telling me there was something wrong,” Shelly recalled through tears. “It was the worst day of my life; it happened so fast. He was only home for three hours. He just loved me, and I loved him.”
The Martins are immensely proud of all Stitch has accomplished as a sire. However, Shelly’s true purpose as a breeder lies in Stitch’s babies providing their owners with the same feelings of love, happiness and laughter that Stitch brought the Martins throughout his lifetime.
“The futurity money, the rodeo money, the 1D money, that’s all fine, but that’s not the main reason I did it,” Shelly said. “The stories I heard from yourself and others who own his babies, how much they enjoy them, how much they love them, the stories I heard that reminded me so much of Stitch and how they got into trouble, they broke the water hose—all those stories are what made my heart whole. All the rest of it was great, but that was more important to me.”