Trail’s end

BOTHELL — By the end of April the horses will be gone.

On May 1, moving trucks will cart off the family’s belongings.

Bulldozers are expected two weeks later to clear the 11-acre lot that for the past 42 years has been home to B

ranch’s Quarter Horses. Soon, 55 new homes will sit on the land where dozens of horses were kept and countless people learned to ride.

“It’s like breaking up a family,” Jerry Branch said.

The story is both bad and good. An end to a life here. The beginning of retirement in Texas.

For Snohomish County it means the loss of another piece of rural history, goodbye to a proficient and patient riding instructor, and farewell to horses and donkeys who have appeared in Hollywood films, television commercials and, most recently, in the Seattle Opera‘s production of “Don Quixote.”

Jerry and Corliss Branch, both 65, moved to Snohomish County decades ago to avoid high property taxes in King County.

They purchased a five-acre parcel and cottage for $36,000.

Today, property taxes of about $65,000 a year are forcing the family to move, they said.

The couple is retiring to more tax-friendly pastures on a 600-acre cattle ranch in Graham, Texas, near Fort Worth.

They sold the Bothell property for around $2.5 million.

In Texas, they’ll find warmer weather. They’ll be close to horse shows. And they won’t have a business to run.

“I don’t have to worry about anything other than getting up and enjoying the day,” Jerry Branch said.

While he took care of shoeing the horses, Corliss Branch gained a knack for teaching.

Jolene Kennedy has been riding with them for 23 years after Corliss Branch helped break Okie, a mare.

“She was so, so patient when other trainers would have told me to sell this horse,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy’s horse, Certified Cat, who went by the name Buddy, was cast in “Come See the Paradise,” the 1990 film starring Dennis Quaid.

A neighbor first introduced Corliss Branch to prop masters, and her reputation grew. Her horses have appeared in the Seattle Opera’s past two productions of Wagner’s “Ring.” It would have been the past three, but the first time, costume designers tried to put wings on the horses, an idea that didn’t fly.

“Branch’s Quarter Horses has been a great asset to Seattle Opera over the last dozen years,” said Linda Kenworthy, the opera’s properties coordinator. “We’ve come to rely on them when it comes to finding equine animals to appear on our stage.”

Their horses were in episodes of the television series “Northern Exposure,” and Corliss Branch taught Jennifer O’Neill to ride for the TV movie “Chase.”

They were featured in an Ivar’s commercial called “Dancing with Clams.” It was a spoof of the “Dancing with Wolves” movie and only aired once. Lawsuits brought the 30-second spot more publicity than any amount of airtime ever could.

Corliss Branch said she’s tired of the rain and is ready for a change. She won’t pursue working again with stage productions or film producers but won’t rule it out.

“We’ll just see what comes our way,” she said.

The horse lovers left behind plan to stay together as best they can.

“It’s bittersweet, you want the best for them,” said Carole Berkoff of Lynnwood. She started riding in her retirement under Corliss Branch’s helpful guidance.

“She’s a master,” Berkoff said. “When she gets on the horse, the horse listens. The horse listens to her.”

Eight days ago, Jerry Corliss loaded up a trailer with about a dozen horses for one of many three-day drives to Texas. Among the animals that made the trip was Millie, a donkey who starred in “Don Quixote.”

She won the hearts of audiences at the opera.

In Texas, she’ll have another job. There she’ll be used to protect foals from prowling coyotes.

Moving will be hard, Corliss Branch admits.

“I’m going to miss everybody,” she said. With that, she gave a tug of the reins and a gentle nudge with her heel to resume the riding lesson.

“Off we go into the wild blue yonder,” she said.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.

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