Manns raise colorful paint horses and mules in the San Luis Valley of Colorado |

Manns raise colorful paint horses and mules in the San Luis Valley of Colorado

These are about one-third of Vernon Mann's herd of paint horses and mules on the banks of the Rio Grande River.
Photo by Jody Hall

Two Main Paint Horse Patterns


(pronounced: tow be yah’ no)

The dark color usually covers one or both flanks.

Generally, all four legs are white, at least below the hocks and knees.

The spots are regular and distinct as ovals or round patterns that extend down or over the neck and chest, giving the appearance of a shield.

Head markings are like those of solid-colored horse or with blaze, strip or snip.

May be either predominantly dark or white.

The tail is often two colors


(pronounced: oh vair’ oh)

The white will not cross the back of the horse between it’s withers and its tail.

Generally, at least one and often all four legs are dark.

The the white is irregular, and is rather scattered or splashy.

Head markings are distinctive, often bald-faced, aproned-faced or bonnet-faced.

May be either predominantly dark or white.

The tail is usually one color.

Del Norte, Colo., is tucked into the southwest corner of the San Luis Valley, bordered on the west by the extensive San Juan Mountain range and the majestic Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east. It is surrounded by the Rio Grande National Forest and folds neatly into hills with rock outcroppings at the foot of the headwaters to the Rio Grande River. The fertile valley floor is home to cattle operations and fields of produce, potatoes, hay and alfalfa.

Vernon Mann has been raising paint horses and mules in Del Norte since 1956. His horses and mules can be spotted throughout the area. They add color and history to this beautiful, often overlooked area that is much like Mann’s own colorful, gregarious character; rich with tales of days gone by.

“Vernon is a good friend,” said Bub Catlin. “Sometimes we sit and have coffee and he doesn’t say a word, but when he does it’s a good word.”

When Mann was growing up he hoed weeds in his father’s lettuce fields all day long and at the end of the day he could be found working with his horses.

During his two years at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo., he met his future wife, Maxine. “She is an Oklahoma girl,” Mann said. “We were engaged. My grandparents were from Arkansas and I was down there for a visit.. I was going to swing by with the intent of breaking my engagement because I couldn’t do all the activities at Adams State I wanted to do with the Snow Carnival and all because I was engaged. So, I went down there to break my engagement and I wound up setting the wedding date.”

He has been married to Maxine for 67 years. In October, they will celebrate Mann’s 90th birthday, but you wouldn’t know it because his wit and humor are still as sharp as a tack.


Mann is a horse lover first and foremost, but because the horse market has wavered several times over the years he became a master of reinvention. He raised Angus cattle and was, at one time, the local director of the State of Colorado Angus Association and president of the local Rotary Club.

He was also a licensed outfitter and his company Big Horn Outfitters headed up big game expeditions into the San Juan mountains. Vernon owns a hunting cabin just below the timberline in the La Garita mountains on Embargo creek.

“I got a little mud hole up there.” Mann said.

But he has always come back to his love for horses.

“I just like the paints,” he said.

He had a red and white stud when he met Hank Wiescamp, who was a well-known Colorado horseman with a famous colt named Skipper W. Mann introduced the Skipper W line into his paints because they were athletic and had good feet.

“Hank Wiescamp had this smoky dun horse,” Mann said. “I said, ‘what did you get for that horse?’ ‘oh’ he says, ‘I sold him to a guy down in Dallas, Texas, and I took out the southwest corner of the bank with him.’ He never did tell me how much he got for that horse.” Vernon recalled.

“But they got into show stock and bred them down, so they have real small feet, and you do not want that in these mountains.” Mann said.

Mann also improved his line with a stud that was a direct son of Doc Bar. The Doc Bar line brought trackability, a good mind and a smaller stature to Mann’s horses.

“Lots of these mares have papers,” he said. “All I want is the product. It’s the animal that’s important.”


After a few years of breeding horses, Mann started thinking about mules. He liked riding them and they were good for hunting and later an asset to his outfitting company.

“I started breeding these good mares and getting me a few mules,” Mann said. “Just to be different, you know. People thought I was nuts. Some of these mules have the best quarter horse stock in them in the whole valley. It was unheard of.”

Bub and his wife, Alice, help them out by taking care of a band of the Mann’s broodmares and foals and they halter-break a group of yearlings.

“They’ve done well with them. They all ready got them broke to lead,” he said of the Catlin’s labor of love with the foals and yearlings.

This summer with its high temperatures and little rain, combined with less than average snow pack in the high country, has been hard on the San Luis Valley. Fields that are usually kept for haying are too dry. Mann hasn’t seen it like this in quite a while.

“When people like Vernon Mann say I’ve never seen the river that low; it’s been a long time,” Bub said.

Mann is hopeful that with some good rain things can still turn around and he will be able to keep his horses and mules fed through the winter. You can bet that he has something up his sleeve because he is Vernon Mann and it all comes back to his love for his horses and mules.

If you would like more information on Mann’s paint horses and mules, contact them at (719) 850-1663 ❖

— Hall is a freelance writer from Platteville, Colo., when she’s not writing she is riding her horse in the mountains. She can be reached by email at


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