Rugged Lark showed the world just how versatile the American Quarter Horse is.
By Richard Chamberlain in The American Quarter Horse Journal | January 1, 0001
Reining, dressage, driving, hunter, pleasure horse, Breyer model, sire, bronze statue, Silver Spur winner, Superhorse, philanthropist. That was Rugged Lark. The 1981 bay stallion died in 2004, leaving a legacy of goodwill and a string of accomplishments that would make any professional athlete blush.
“He was a superstar. He was like living with Elvis,” owner Carol Harris of Bo-Bett Farm in Ocala, Florida, said after the horse’s death. “I don’t think there will be another one like him.” The horse’s fame, athleticism and versatility didn’t come from nowhere. His sire, Really Rugged (TB), was from a speedy line of Thoroughbred racehorses. He became the backbone of Harris’ Bo-Bett Farm breeding program, siring reining horses, pleasure horses and other performance horses of both English and Western disciplines.
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Alisa Lark, by Leolark and out of Aliso Gill 3 by Pelican, was an AQHA performance champion who dominated the show ring for sisters Stacy and Terese Striegel in the late l970s. When the mare retired, the Striegels bred her to Really Rugged. Expectations were high for the foal, which the Striegels hoped would be a filly. Instead, they got a colt – Rugged Lark – and decided to sell. But nobody wanted to buy the at-the-time unprepossessing bay. After a year of trying to sell him, Carol awoke from a dream. She had been trying to find an outcross stallion for her Eternal Dell, Majestic Dell and Eternal Too mares, a successor for Really Rugged, who had died of colic. “One night, it dawned on me that I had been looking in everyone else’s barn for something that was already standing out in my paddock,” Carol says. She bought Rugged Lark from the Striegels for $15,000 and turned him over to Mike Corrington, a reining trainer. As a 3-year-old, “Lark” won the pre-futurity reining in Louisville, Kentucky, but he went off pattern in the big reining futurity at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.
Carol – who believed in Lark’s versatile ability – had entered him in the hunter under saddle futurity, as well. A tack change was made, sliding plates were pulled and in less than an hour, trainer Lynn Palm climbed aboard for the first time. And Rugged Lark won. It was the start of a show career that would culminate in two Sooner Trailer Superhorse titles at the AQHA World Championship Show, one in l985 and the second in l987. Along the way, Lark picked up world championships in pleasure driving and senior hunter under saddle and a reserve world championship in pleasure driving and senior western riding. He was the year-end high-point winner in working hunter and hunter hack in l987 and high-point pleasure driving stallion in l986. He also found time to sire two Superhorse sons. The Lark Ascending won the title in l991, and Look Whos Larkin won in 1999. Regal Lark was reserve Superhorse in 1993. It was after Lark’s retirement at age 6 that he became a superstar as well as a Superhorse. The change probably began during the awards ceremony for the Superhorse title in l987. As the arena lights dimmed in Oklahoma City and Lark’s name was announced as the winner, Lark entered the arena bridleless. Lynn spun Lark left and right before beginning flying lead changes across the arena. Fans jumped to their feet to applaud. In l989, Lark became a model for an extremely popular Breyer collectible horse and was asked to perform at the Volvo World Cup competition in Tampa, Florida.
After standing quietly bridleless through a 14-band performance that sent hundreds of other horses into an equine frenzy, Lark was asked to perform at the l989 Festival of Champions for the United States Equestrian Team. Lark wore English tack and performed to standing ovations. Lark performed at the Festival of Champions again in l995 as AQHA ambassador to the USET and was AQHA ambassador to the l996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. In l996, Lark received AQHA’s Silver Spur award in recognition of his efforts as an ambassador and entertainer. Lark’s final reining appearance was in l997 at the Florida Reining Horse Classic, right before his farewell tour, sponsored by past AQHA Corporate Partner Bayer. At each stop on the tour, Lark performed his bridleless routine, and the crowds swarmed the horse. In l999, Lark performed at the Special Olympics World Games in Raleigh, North Carolina. Lark’s fans sent him his favorite treats, caramel popcorn and champagne, which he drank from his Superhorse trophy cup.
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In 2000, a book detailing Lark’s life was published. “America’s Super Horse: The Story of Rugged Lark,” preceded the famous stallion’s death by four years. In 2003, a bronze of Lark and Carol together, named “Ambassadors” and crafted by sculptor Marrita McMillian, became the third life-size statue to grace the grounds of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum. In 2005, Carol linked Lark’s name permanently to therapeutic riding. Donations to the Rugged Lark Memorial Fund go to America’s Horse Cares, a charitable division of the American Quarter Horse Foundation that funds therapeutic riding programs.
Carol also completed a DVD of Lark’s life, “Lark’s Finest Days,” to help raise money for America’s Horse Cares. “Lark especially loved to be around children and seemed to have an uncanny appreciation and concern for those who were disabled,” Carol says. Carol, who still gets letters of thanks from owners of Lark’s offspring and fans, is proud she can share the Superhorse’s legacy with the public. She said she thinks that connection with his audiences was responsible for his popularity. “Lark was always looking up at the crowd when he should have had his head down where it was supposed to be,” she said. “He’d check the crowd, and his ears were always forward. He was fun – that’s the most important thing. This horse was so much fun.”