“Happy birthday dear Zip… Happy birthday to you,” a chorus of 30 people finish singing, not to a person, but to a horse. Zip Code, an Appaloosa gelding, celebrated his 30th birthday on March 21st at the weekly penning practice at the Thompson Training Centre in Millarville, Alberta.aZip_Codes_30th_cake

His owner, Debbie Thompson, ordered him a special carrot cake with the words “Happy 30th Birthday Zip” and a picture of an Appaloosa in a beautiful flowered field. Zip celebrated his birthday on the same night as one of Debbie’s granddaughters, Kate, who turned five.

Debbie and her grandchildren cleaned him up for his birthday, “which was hard that time of the year,” Debbie comments. Zip was muddy and starting to show his age by shedding out in patches. Sparkly ribbons were braided into his mane so he was “dressed” for the occasion.


The weekly penning practice celebrates everyone’s birthday with cake, but this was a special celebration for a special horse.

“Thirty years is a long time ago,” Debbie reminds me when I ask for digital images of Zip competing when he was younger. Of course, digital cameras weren’t around then to capture Zip when he started out in the show ring.

Zip foaled March 21st 1982 in Claresholm, Alberta. This Thompson Family home-bred gelding was sired by Zip’s Top Crop, a three time Canadian National champion halter stallion and his dam is Bright Pearl by Spittin Image. That same year, he won the Alberta weanling halter futurity.

Debbie raised him and started him and he was shown in halter, western and English pleasure, hunter hack, reining, working cow horse, western riding, jumping, barrel racing, pole bending as well as the youth walk trot classes and showmanship.

Zip did every event in a show. “He loves to work, loves to work cows, “says Debbie. “He really likes speed events.”

In 1989, he won the Canadian National Super Horse Award.

That same year, he started team penning. “He took to penning,” Debbie comments. His speed combined with love of chasing cows made him the ideal penning horse. That year, he won high point youth 9 and under being ridden by Debbie’s daughter Amy Thompson. 
aZip_Codes_30th_and_AshleyIn team penning, he was shown throughout multiple decades by multiple riders: Debbie, her husband Bryan, their daughter Amy, son Chris, and son in-law Steve. Debbie says, “We have won many, many championships and awards through the years at the regional and National level with Zip.”

Lillian Dalton, who attended Zip’s 30th birthday party commented, “We have a 28 year old gelding, Randy, Its A Salty Summer, (bred by Ian Tyson from his Docs Summer Wages stud) and Zip Code and Randy have travelled down the road and stood side by side at many a penning event over the last 20 years so he is pretty special to us too.”

Although he was officially retired five years ago, he still has a strong work ethic. Debbie comments, “[He] is happy to give granddaughters Ashley and Kate a fun ride every once in a while! Zip is kind and gentle with a competitive attitude and still has lots of energy when being worked!”


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