Fran Kellstrom: A Character and a Woman of Great Character

 

Here in Central California many of us new to the Morgan breed are unaware that we’re just a pleasant Sunday drive from a highly respected Morgan breeder well known to many historians, show and breeding folk of Morgandom. Many of you who don't know her, likely know her stallion Dapper Dan who,  though now deceased, passed with flying colors the ultimate test of an improvement stallion by leaving his lasting legacy of good using, athletic and beautiful descendants. But really, when I talk about Dapper Dan, I find most people don’t need to know more about him as, thanks to his long time owner, he now has a secure place among the great Morgan sires of our time. No, its his unsung heroine, Fran Kellstom, who deserves credit not only for her enthusiasm for Dapper and his progeny but her long time passionate dedication to the Morgan breed.

 

Being a somewhat hidden jewel among us, I find it fascinating when I ask, “Do you know Fran Kellstrom” and all too often I receive a blank stare, but if I add, “You know, the owner of Dapper Dan” suddenly a smile emerges in recognition. If you knew Fran, this would be quite a predictable state of affairs for her as she always seems far more preoccupied with encouraging her children, grandchildren, friends and Morgans onto center stage while standing behind a curtain of admiration.

 

Fran Kellstrom started breeding Morgans nearly 50 years ago, but its only now, as she’s approaching her mid 70s, she’s decided it best to enter semi-retirement. Semi-retirement for her means retaining a mere handful of her once large herd of Morgans and selling some of her best stock because after 50 years she now has no “culls” left  to sell. Fran has a delightful sense of humor; she has a way of reflecting on some of the most disillusioning hardships of  life, past and present, and making her struggles appear far less onerous through her great wit. Spending time with Fran is like gaining a new perspective on what really matters as she shares her recollections of her life. I find it remarkable how Fran manages to weave an unbreakable thread of strengthening values in and out of her tapestry of tales as she talks of her childhood, four children, grandchildren, husband, friends and of course her Morgans. Take those Morgans of hers entirely away  -- which is not at all easy to do -- and Fran stands alone as a person who remains a refreshing experience to any weary worn soul.

 

Fran has spent not just a life time of breeding Morgans, but a life time of touching the hearts of all who know and love her. Fran is quite a rare and wonderful find, in a world that seems all too often shallow in comparison to a woman of her stature. If my own grandmother Bossert were alive today I believe she would have remarked of Fran that she is both a “character” because of her wondrous sense of humor and “a woman of great character” because Fran lives her life now as she has always lived it, contributing meaning, worth and kindness to all the lives, human or equine, she  encounters.

 

As a breeder, Fran has achieved what many of us can only dream of but lack the fortitude and commitment to accomplish in one life-time pursuit breeding Morgans. Many of Fran’s horses could be considered some of the "titlest” Morgans of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s in multiple show and sport disciplines. Her mares, geldings and stallions have won or produced regional, state, Grand National and world champions in reining, western pleasure, trail, natural trail, hunt seat, saddle seat ‑‑ even jumping and eventing. Here’s just a partial list highlighting the achievement of Fran’s Morgans and their descendants:

 

S.A. Desriee - 1991 Morgan National World Champion

Winedot - World Champion Roadster

Kelly’s Pretty Nino - AHSA top park horse award 2 consecutive years.

Black Brandy - Multiple Western Pleasure and trail Champion. In 1975, won every Junior Western Pleasure and Equitation class offered at the Morgan grand Nationals that year.

Dapper’s Delight - 1975 Morgan Grand National Champion Western Pleasure  class.

Bryson Jamie Boy - Top ten National Stock horse.

FM Fairy Tale - World Champion trail horse.

Kelly’s Pretty Fancy - Ridden by daughter Edie Kellstrom multiple championships including: Teo Gold medals and two trail championships at the Morgan Grand Nationals.

Kelly’s Koquette - 1991 world Champion Stock horse

Waytobe - World Champion Reining Horse.

Kelly’s Sugar and Spice - 1983 & 1992 World Champion Stock horse and 1991 Reserve Amateur Reining Class 

 

According to Fran, Kelly’s Pretty Pixe (Dapper Dan x Pretty Lass x Major RM) was the best producing daughter of Dapper Dan with a long list of winning get to her credit. Garn Walker trained and exhibited Cadillac, a big black gelding at the age of 4 during his one and only appearance, placed second both as a futurity and western pleasure exhibitor at the Grand Nationals. Kelly’s Koquette  won the Grand Nationals in what was then called the “stock horse” division but is now referred to as reining, exhibited by then amateur, Lindy Western, now of Handford, California. Another one of Fran’s many reining Morgans, stallion Way to Be, standing at Gary Van Hoosen’s Stable, Sanger, California also won his Grand National title in reining. The list goes on and on, these honors don’t include the multiple achievements of Dapper Dan himself or many more of his descendants.

 

Today, Fran bred and stands a young 16 hh stallion Charisman by Cedar City Pen Brook out of mare of her breeding who possesses the athletic ability, courage and movement to prove quite competitive as a dressage and eventing horse yet, as is the general rule with Fran’s horses, lacks nothing in grace, beauty and Morgan Type. Fran’s Morgans are not just accomplished in the sport and show ring but have gone on to live and be much loved by families of all ages, from the youngest to the very old, as more often than not, Fran’s Morgans are as gentle as Dapper was himself -- a stallion Fran says her little grandchildren doted on as if he were a babysitter!

 

What’s most revealing about Fran’s character though, lies in what she treasures the most. Even among all her proudest accomplishments there is not a single national title she values more than the fact that her horses in countless numbers, have joined families from the Atlantic to the Pacific who use and love her Morgans. Fran has indeed succeeded in breeding athletic horses with beautiful Morgan heads, working conformation and versatile, tractable, personable minds. She calls her program for the most part "straight government breeding" and with few exceptions, she has not been dissuaded by momentary breeding fades that have come and gone all these years. Instead, sticking by her keen instincts for consistency and discerning eye for ancient Morgan characteristics, Fran has indeed contributed greatly to our breed. 

 


So, although her Morgans were winners time and time again in show and sport, Fran remained dauntless in her determination to maintain ancient Morgan qualities in her horses -- qualities that few others could or wanted to maintain. Fran’s single-mindedness has some time been the less traveled road as the trendier Morgan models often brought much higher prices. Sometimes, Fran withstood considerable criticism for her convictions, as anyone does who so strongly envisions loftier goals than those more whimsical fads born of popular culture. Once, I heard an erroneous comment in passing implying that anyone with the kind of financial backing that Fran had could have accomplished what Fran did perhaps much better.  I, and many others who know Fran’s Morgans, strongly disagree with this minority opinion.

 

Those that know Fran also attribute her true wealth as a breeder to her wellspring of hard earned passionate intelligence and planning for each and every generation of horses she produced. Fran admits she wasn’t always completely satisfied with some of the lines she chose to cross with her Dapper lines, but then Fran’s standards are exceedingly higher than the average breeder. Its because of Fran’s own ingenuity that her horses were successful enough to support themselves for the most part over these past fifty years in the show ring. Of course as always Fran gives most of the credit to the strong prepotency of Dapper Dan who she says could improve on the best and the worst of mares.

 

Although rarely impoverished in spirit, Fran did spend her childhood among the socioeconomic working class "poor". Along with 11 other brothers and sisters, she and her parents worked hard living on a farm in Alberta, Canada. Fran's family were so tight financially she tells of riding the family cow, complete with bridle and saddle, just to feel something of the pleasure of riding horses -- of course she tells this with a childlike giggle. Occasionally, Fran would steal a ride on a draft horse used for farming further emphasizing her desperate longing throughout her childhood for a real riding horse of her own. So, undaunted, hook or by crook, Fran was as destined as she was determined to become a horsewoman. Horsemanship was in her blood and whether or not circumstances allowed her the pleasure of riding her own horse, she was one day to make the love of horses her reality.

 

After a struggling subsistence in the harsher northern climate, Fran's birth family later moved to Modesto, California to continue farming. Nearly 35 years ago now, she and her husband "Kelly" married and together they spent many years building up various businesses, while raising their four children and purchasing their farm from Fran's parents. Somehow, through it all though, from diapers to diplomas, children to grand-children, she managed to steal away moments of time all the while for her work and pleasure . . . Fran’s Morgans.

 


Fran recalls purchasing of her first horse for $75.00. She tells of saving up long and sacrificially for the first $45.00 then pleading with the seller to make up the difference on payments. After Fran gave the buyer her deposit, it was discovered that the mare had serious leg injuries, so being too lame to ride, again Fran was left without a true riding horse of her own. As always seemed to be the case with her, Fran succeeded in making quite the silk purse from a sou’s ear by breeding this mare to the best Morgan stallion in her region. This first horse of Fran’s very own was thought to be half-Morgan and it was this mare bred to Dapper Dan that sparked her life-long love affair with Morgans. When Fran first set eyes on Dapper little did she know that one day, she was to own this great stallion who became the foundation sire on which she built her 50 year legacy.

 

Although Fran spent some of her formative years up in Alberta, Canada, her story is as American as our own beloved Morgans. Fran’s, is a story of making the best from her great intelligence, kindness, generous love of people and her passionate love for her horses despite all obstacles. Its been tough for Fran these last five years as her health and that of her husband’s has become challenging, but of course neither Fran’s character, in humor or substance, has been diminished.

 

After a recent visit with Fran I wanted to finally to take the time to write down just a few stories of her life. These are stories are cursory at best, but I thought whoever the reporter was, it was time for someone to share one life lived so well. Although, this silhouette of Fran Kellstrom, may seem overly embellished to some, actually my words don’t do her justice at all. I can hear Fran right now interjecting much  more of her horses who won this and that and far richer descriptions of her life with sometimes a twinkle, sometimes tear in her eyes. I can see her now proudly showing off pictures of her children and grand-children who, if the truth be known, she loves much more deeply that even her Morgans.

 

I think someone once said, that the standard by which to judge the character of a community is determined by how well they care for their children and elderly. Someone else added that a community’s character is also revealed in how well they care for the frail of mind and body -- those unable to care for themselves independently. I’ve heard many times that those who treat animals kindly indicates their depth of humanity.  I would add that those unsung heros and heroines like Fran Kellstrom who have accomplished much, but rarely broadcast their achievements, are among the crowning glory of our great nation. For such quite but monumental life long contributions when given recognition within a community inspires us all to strive just a bit harder to make real what really does matter.

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