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Arabian horse times feature




What’s Changed And Where Are We Headed? by Mary Kirkman

Thirty years ago … The Times was in its infancy, and the Arabian horse industry as a whole was just coming into its own. Most of the horses in the United States were “domestic” or Crabbet-based, but $7.50 there were several private programs er 2000 ob ct r/o 1 sePtembe VoLume creating their own look of horse. Egyptian Arabians had been welcomed to this country, the Polish invasion had begun, and the Spaniards were on the horizon.    It was a heady time to own Arabians. No one could have guessed how glamorous and expensive the horses would become in the next 15 years, but probably most people felt that something big was going on. Numbers of owners, breeders, trainers and exhibitors were rising; WAHO had been formed, linking Arabian organizations around the globe; classes were being added to the Nationals. In a few years, a fair celebrating the Arabian horse would be put on by IAHA. From being just one of many types of horses ridden by the American public, the Arabian was becoming widely known, establishing a broad base of support, creating an image.    During the ensuing 30 years — 1970 to 2000 — 546


then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed? the Arabian breed experienced all the highs and lows of a soap opera (and sometimes resembled one). By the millennium, it had pretty much recovered from the roller coaster market of the 1980s and the damaging tax reforms of 1986, and was poised to take flight once more.   It seems a good time to take a look at some of the major changes that occurred over the last 30 years — not the obvious occurrences everyone knows about, such as rising and falling prices, the growing amateur market, or the changes in breeding trends … but the more subtle alterations that sometimes say a lot about an industry. What happened, good or bad, over the last three decades, and why? And in light of what’s happened in the past, what might we expect in the future?    “We used to have a lot of big breeders,

The Loss



Ferzon (Ferneyn x Fersara), owned by Gainey Arabians.

Big Breeders

a lot of people who really knew what they were doing in the breeding barn,” observes Leon Matthias, of Readlyn, Iowa. He cites Daniel C. Gainey, Tom Chauncey, and others who created large, comprehensive programs (20 to 30, or as many as 100 head), based on experience and educated breeding plans. “Now we have a lot of smaller breeders who go with trends.”    Obviously, the sheer cost of maintaining a large breeding program discourages their inception today, but that’s not what Matthias is talking about. He’s looking at the overall commitment of those earlier breeders, who used their numbers of horses to test, prove, revise and develop their plans, creating horses with looks unique to their origins. Others could study the various representatives of a program, make their own breeding decisions and be pretty sure of what they would get.    On the bright side, Matthias notes that ARABIAN HORSE TIMES  •  SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2000  •  VOL. I

Niga (Nitez x Galena), owned by Milton Strand of Minnesota.


then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed?

ABOVE: Leon Matthias cutting with one of his foundation mares Jeasinde (*Shamadan x Reisinde). ABOVE RIGHT: Bill Munson with Garaff (*Raffles x Woengran). RIGHT: Dr. and Mrs. Eugene LaCroix of Lasma Arabians imported *Bask, one of the most influential sires of Arabian breeding.

lately, he’s seen a renewal of interest in old ways and old programs, which he feels bodes well for the future.    “Part of it is that you have young people coming back into this industry who were teenagers in this industry in the 1970s and early 80s,” he says. “They love the Arabian horse and they realize that too many people got out. The people who stayed in were thinking size and motion, and actually breeding more size than anything; they forgot about pretty, forgot about legs. These people coming back in now know a good horse because they were brought up by people who knew good horses. Now they have the money to come back, and they’re doing it because they love the horses so well.”    The trouble is, Matthias notes, the returning Arabian-lovers aren’t seeing 548

the type of horses they grew up respecting. “They don’t see the pretty and the typey horses anymore, so they’ve gone out to find the pretty and typey horses and bred them to the typey studs rather than just to the national champion stallions. The people who come and talk to me are saying, ‘What happened to the beautiful mares? What happened to the pretty stallions? The Ferzons, the Nigas? We had some of the prettiest-headed horses at one time, and we lost [much of it] because we bred for size, and a lot of the people wanted motion.’”    To re-establish the look they prefer, these newcomers from the past start with long-proven pedigrees. “Back in the old days, when they grew up with the Ferzon line, or the Azraff line, or whatever they grew up with, they learned those

pedigrees,” Matthias explains. “But they also learned which pedigrees weren’t good in that line. They remember which particular stallions bred on bad traits. Now when these breeders go to a pedigree, they want to see the best of the best in there.    “Then they look at the horse itself: they see the pretty head, nice, well-shaped neck. They see the good hip, no club feet, good legs, and they know that this is in this horse — these genes are in this horse. If he has a bad shoulder or whatever, they know they have to go out and find a horse with a really good shoulder. It can be a little bit off in the rear end, but still needs a pretty head, a good neck, clean in the throatlatch and good legs. When you find that match and put the good pedigree to it — that’s what I see a lot of people


then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed? wanting today.”    The difference in breeding the pretty horses he talks about, as opposed to other pretty horses today, is that many horses currently considered goodlooking have “so many different lines in them that it’s a gamble as to how they will breed.” Their crosses are not yet proven.    “I find a lot of people looking for good, old typey broodmares,” he concludes. “Some are picking up the 20-year-old and older broodmares. I’ve had several people say, ‘I want to just get one foal out of this mare.’”    Although the goals are the same, there is one major difference in the new generation of Arabian breeders Matthias is applauding and the heroes of 30 years ago. “Many of the people I’m seeing get into it don’t want to be big. They just want four or five horses, or one or two. But they want good ones. They want to be competitive.”    Bob Hart Jr., of Vallejo III in Edmond, Okla., grew up working with his father, one of the most successful trainers in the industry 30 years ago. He sees another

TOP: Doug and Margaret Marshall of the famed Gleannloch Farms with Ibn Morafic (*Morafic x *Kahramana). ABOVE: Pictured with *Serafix (Raktha x Serafina) is the late, great Arabian breeder John Rogers. His first importation was five Arabian mares from Saudi Arabia in 1949. His dispersal sale was held in August of 1971. LEFT: The late Tom Chauncey of Tom Chauncey Arabians with *Naborr (Negativ x Lagodna).



then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed?

The great trainer Bob Hart Sr. riding Oran Van Crabbet (GSB Oran x *Serafina). Bob Hart Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps as evidenced by his numerous national championship wins.

More Specialization difference in the horses. “They’ve become more specialized in what they do. They’ve gotten so good, but that goes along with the fact that the training has gotten so specialized. I don’t know which got better first, the horses or the trainers.”    Is specialization a good thing? “I think so,” he responds. “To be really good in one area is better than being just run-ofthe-mill and average. In my dad’s barn, it was starting to get specialized even back then. We had a few horses that did English and western together, but not many. The good horses specialized in what they did. The horses of today are so 550




much more athletic than they were then.”    Although it might sound like the newer, more highly-qualified horses would require more professional work, making it more difficult to keep horses at home and still succeed in the upper echelons of the show ring, Hart demurs. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have a professional trainer. There are a lot of people these days getting a top ten at nationals who do their own work — but they’re very dedicated, and they work really hard. It takes a lot of time nowadays to train one at that level.”

Training, Showing And Treatment    As the horses specialize, so do the trainers. Not many are at the top of the game these days in a variety of disciplines, but some are, and one is Sheila Varian, of Varian Arabians in Arroyo Grande, California. “Certainly the performance horses are far better trained today,” she comments. “I think that the trainers of the performance horses are just far better horsemen, on the whole, although we’ve always had a few trainers who were exceptional.”    One reason, she offers, is that in the old


then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed?

days, trainers often were secretive about their methods. “They wouldn’t give their information out very readily.” In the past 30 years, seminars and a more helpful and open-handed approach has been prevalent among Arabian horsemen.    An important factor in improved performance has been the quality of the horses. “I think we breed, on the whole, a better performance horse today, so it’s more capable in the individual venues that are offered,” she says. “Most trainers today do not train across the board—English, western, stock, etc. I miss that. It was very nice when everyone knew something about everything.”    Varian’s comments are directed at the performance horses. In halter, she’s not enthusiastic about the changes she’s seen over the past 30 years, where showmanship seems to have taken over what started out as breeding standards classes.    “In halter, I think the two words that have caused our breed so much anguish are ‘expression’ and ‘intensity.’ Those are not kind words for a horse,” she says. “Not that in the past we didn’t see trainers mistreating horses — they didn’t even hide it in the old days. Horses were whipped, and they bled, and nobody did anything about it. The commissioner has been a great influence; he’s been a huge help to our breed. If we didn’t have a commissioner, the picture that comes to mind is frightening.”    Sheila works to see that Varian horses are sold to owners who care about them

and put them with trainers who not only know how to care for them, but who respect their individual natures. “Some people don’t accept the horse as a living partner,” she says. “They think of the Arabian horse as a commodity. Thirty years ago, it was not a commodity.”


Bay-Abi (Errabi x Angyl), the sire of Bay El Bey, with Sheila Varian of Varian Arabians.

   Judith Forbis of Ansata Arabians, 551

then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed? Judith Forbis of Ansata Arabians with Ansata Halim Shah (*Ansata Ibn Halima x Ansata Rosetta).

the 1970s. “The ring has changed. It’s become much more professionalized. Again, you see things differently now than you did when you first began, but I think things were a little more relaxed then than they are now. Of course, it’s true, we are going back a great deal to the amateurs, which is good, but I think people are just generally more professional in their approach to things today.”

Different People, D i f f e r e n t O u tl o o k s Mena, Arkansas, concurs with Leon Matthias that the loss of most of the oldtime big breeders has changed the face of the industry. “It was a different type of people,” she observes. “There was some very strong leadership. There were a lot of strong people in those days, with very strong ideas, who really made things happen, one way or the other. The dynamics were different.    “It’s so hard to go back, because times change,” she adds. “You get a different generation. That was a building period; now it’s more of a leveling-off period. 552

There are a lot more horses to choose from than there were at that point in time.”    Forbis also notes with interest the “emergence of the Arab world itself into the horse business.” “That was not a part of it in the past, really,” she says. “They’ve become a moving force. It’s a real plus culturally, to see them, and it’s added another dimension to the show world. They haven’t really done a lot of showing over here, but in their own countries they have.”    She notes another difference since

Case Study: Midwest    “For us, it all began in the early 1970s with two brothers showing horses, primarily for fun,” says David Boggs. “In 1978, we incorporated, but we were still ‘little guys’ by industry standards. Today, Midwest is the largest Arabian horse breeding operation in the world. In this millennium year, Midwest stallions bred more than 500 mares from all over the world.    “Since 1970, this piece of the world has changed dramatically. An industry based upon the love of these great creatures grew and developed (in the 70s and 80s) into a ‘business’ based on the incentive of profit. In the 1980s, when the economic earthquake struck, the shaky foundation of purely monetary consideration crumbled. It seemed like an insurmountable disaster at the time. But out of the rubble, a truer and stronger industry has emerged. Today, 15 years after the fall of our previous empire, we face the future with gratitude and sincere hope.   “We’ve reinvented an industry based upon love of these great creatures, whose value is determined now by how dearly we cherish them … not by how much profit we think they can bring. Amateurs and junior competitors dominate the show


then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed?

scene. Breeders who honestly care about their horses and the future of the breed are making decisions based upon the potential for producing the finest possible horses … using the same time-honored principles that were utilized by the American foundation breeders with whom it all started. As it was in the beginning, breeding is once again about excellence … not just profit.” Case Study: Gainey Arabians    No one can describe the Arabian industry 30 years ago without mentioning Daniel C. Gainey’s breeding program in Owatonna, Minnesota. It stood for much of what was good about days gone by, and has proved, under the direction primarily of Gainey’s daughter-in-law, Robin, that it could not only survive the last three decades of the 20th century, but thrive.   “The Arabian horse business, like any business, has proven to be very cyclical,” reflects Robin Gainey, who grew up the granddaughter of longtime breeder R. B. Field, and so absorbed breeding theory from the time she was a child. “The Gainey program started way before the 1950s, but my earliest memories are of the early 1960s. From the pictures I’ve seen and the research I’ve done, it seems to me that we came out of the 50s with a large group of very pretty, linebred horses, many of them very *Raffles-bred. In the 60s, with the introduction of *Bask and the importation of a lot of Polish horses, breeders started to improve their horses — or change them, depending on what perspective you come from — making them more athletic, but maybe not quite as pretty. As breeders, we all understand that most times you sacrifice one thing for another. Very rarely do you find a horse that is both very athletic and

The brothers David and Bob Boggs of Midwest.

extremely typey — it does happen once in a while, but not a lot.    “We went through the 1960s, 70s and early 80s with the boosting of prices, which was a little unrealistic, and focusing much more on the athleticism of the horse than the beauty, which to me was why we bred Arabians. Their beauty was what set Arabians apart to me.    “It seemed to me that by the late 70s and early 80s, we were really getting away from what the Arabian horse was supposed to look like. I think the pendulum is starting to swing back to really trying to preserve that beauty. I see more and more popular horses today


having very beautiful heads and very beautiful outlines. They’re not always the most correct horses around, but neither were some of the athletes.”    She remembers when the Gainey breeding program became somewhat marginalized in the wake of the importation of foreign horses and the concentration on athleticism. By the early 1980s, Daniel C. Gainey had died, and she and Dan Jr. were in charge of maintaining the program’s place in the American industry.    “We tried to focus on some horses that we were breeding that were all Gainey, but were athletes. We brought on horses 553

then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed?

The late Daniel C. Gainey of Gainey Arabians and Ferzon (Ferneyn x Fersara). INSET: Robin Gainey carries on the Gainey tradition.


like Gai Argosy, Phonda and several others that were top ten horses during the 1980s. We were trying to show people that we were producing athletes that could be pretty, that you didn’t have to sacrifice that prettiness to get the big trot. I think we proved that.”    In fact, not long ago someone watching Gai Monarch mentioned to Robin that she’d always thought of Gainey horses under saddle, and didn’t know they could be so pretty. “We’ve come full circle,” Robin comments wryly.

   She contemplates the times and the techniques. “I think Daniel C. Gainey got to the point in the late 1970s where he had a phenomenal group of linebred mares who could breed to just about anything and make pretty babies. From there, you couldn’t take those mares and go back into the program; it was too incestuous. You needed to outcross. We were lucky; we found a great cross in Bey Shah.”   Robin Gainey’s plans for breeding are determined well into the future. Like many others, her program is modest


then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed?

At the Youth Nationals it is very evident what the future holds, and The Arabian Horse Times plays an important part in promoting the show and its participants.

The Future, Large Scale now compared to days gone by. “I have six Bey Shah daughters and one Gai Parada daughter,” she comments, and adds that she’ll probably give up two Bey Shah daughters. The future includes a couple of Monarch babies every year, and perhaps some outcrossing to see how to best breed the Bey Shah daughters.    “I would like to work on the heads a little more,” she says candidly. “Going to Bey Shah, you sacrifice some things in the head department — we did great everywhere else, and I think he was a great shot in the arm for our program, just like Azraff was (there were a lot of plain-headed babies that came out of that cross, too, but if you bred them back into the Gainey program, you got beautiful babies). What I’m really working on right now is trying to produce some fillies that have beautiful heads and upright necks; I


want to bring them back into the program. Let’s face it, it will never be ‘pure’ Gainey because there are no horses around to breed to like that. That’s what breeding is all about: It’s about evolution. It’s about making your program better and using the horses that are out there to do that.”    At Midwest, David Boggs predicts expanded trade in Arabian horses. “The visionaries among us have a common goal … to introduce the Arabian horse to the world at large,” he says. “For too long we’ve been engaged in the futile effort of preaching to the choir. It’s time we step out into the wide world and let people who want to love horses know just how great these Arabians are. For too long, we’ve been treating the Arabian breed like the equine world’s best kept, most elite secret. It’s time now to let the horse out of the bag. Ours are not only the most beautiful horses in the world, they’re the


S m a ll most tractable and ‘people-friendly’ of all breeds. The Arabian horse wants to be our partner.    “I hope that what I just suggested is the significant change forthcoming. Aside from this, I see renewed excitement and enthusiasm in the foreign market. As the worldwide economy continues to improve, the Arabian horse market expands. Again, if we’ll be more vocal outside the Arabian industry, we’ll enhance the opportunity for a lot more would-be horse enthusiasts to become Arabian horse lovers, owners, exhibitors, and breeders. That will be significant.”    Leon Matthias is specific about improvements he sees necessary in the future, and it involves encouraging the small breeders that make up the majority of Arabian producers in this country. “We have too much money for our first places in the Sweepstakes and Futurity programs,” 555

then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed? he contends. “The money should be allocated down the ladder a little more, so that these people have a chance to win some of their money back. The breeding farms right now are tired of paying the $300 for the Sweepstakes and not getting anything back for it. If the Sweepstakes people would say ‘we’re going to give 10 percent to the person who bred this animal and entered it into the Sweepstakes program,’ rather than just giving five percent to the stallion owner, you’d get more participation and you’d get a lot better quality horses because more people would get into the breeding. [The promise of] 10 percent would give them enough back that they could win something and stay in the business.    “I think we have a lot of little breeders,” he goes on, “and if everyone who is in it right now will breed just two or three mares … but some of them are just little people out there, scratching together any money they can to be in this industry because they love the Arabian horse. They need the encouragement.”    Others feel the weight of current political crises. Bob Hart sees the feasibility of IAHA and the Registry merging, to better serve the needs of the Arabian public. Judi Forbis warns that the current conflict between the Registry and WAHO has to be resolved. “It’s a tremendous burden on anyone who is breeding or exporting horses, buying or selling. Plus, down the road, it will be a major, major problem if it’s not resolved. The horse is an international animal and there has to be some reciprocity between countries. There has to be a way for countries to interact and still keep a certain amount of sovereignty, even if it means at the risk of losing horses. It can’t go on that international commerce is restricted.    “I can see both sides of the coin, and I don’t know what the answer is,” she sighs. “At some point in time, they’ll have to get together. It can’t go on forever.”    Sheila Varian has a wide range of 556

equine interests. She was just back from a long ride in the Sierra Nevada range when she sat down to consider the future of the Arabian, and its traditional show ring aspect, in the new millennium.    “We’ve got some real serious matters going on right now, and I think we’re at a turning point,” she reflects. “We make the right decision or the wrong decision. It’s up to us.    “We have to go back to following the rules. Certainly, the owner is going to be the person who decides that. Until the owner determines what it is that they require, it will remain an unpleasant situation some of the time.” She pauses for a moment, and then adds with emphasis, “And you know, I love showing, I like the people I get to show with, I like the horse shows. I also love riding out in the high Sierras. I love the whole deal.”    It’s up to everyone who can educate to educate others, she says, and for those who need to be educated to become educated — about rules, horses, training methods, showing techniques and any part of the Arabian business which affects the welfare of the horse and what is best for everyone involved in the show ring.    Although it seems that there is still a lot left to achieve to make Arabian show competition as good as it can be, Varian says that there have been accomplishments in the past 30 years. “I think people are becoming much more verbal about being willing to comment on things. When you see a trainer or owner getting out of hand, another trainer or owner usually will go up and say ‘I think you should cool it.’ That never used to happen at all; owners and everyone just watched it and did nothing. There was nothing you could do. So we’ve come a long way with our jurisdiction of how things should run. Now, we’re going through the baby steps of convincing people to follow the rules. Of course, we don’t know what going to happen yet with the cases currently under consideration, but we’ve got to remember what the objective is. The objective is

enjoyment, and it has to be for people and for the animals. Unless there’s enjoyment for both, it doesn’t feel good in the pit of your stomach.”    She goes back to the philosophy which has been a hallmark of her program since its inception, and finds it a sound basis for the future. “We have to remember that they are living, breathing creatures who simply want to do what we ask them to do. If those horses aren’t able or don’t want to do what we ask/train them to do, then we need to find what it is that animal can be successful at, and very possibly change our breeding programs.”    As the horses specialize, so do the trainers. Not many are at the top of the game these days in a variety of disciplines, but some are, and one is Sheila Varian, of Varian Arabians in Arroyo Grande, California. “Certainly the performance horses are far better trained today,” she comments. “I think that the trainers of the performance horses are just far better horsemen, on the whole, although we’ve always had a few trainers who were exceptional.”    One reason, she offers, is that in the old days, trainers often were secretive about their methods. “They wouldn’t give their information out very readily.” In the past 30 years, seminars and a more helpful and open-handed approach has been prevalent among Arabian horsemen.

FACING PAGE; The 30-year-old Draper mare Cara Glory and her foal Ru Allah of Kelly Arabians illustrates how everything changes yet stays the same, a concept that clearly relates to The Times. ARABIAN HORSE TIMES  •  SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2000  •  VOL. I

then and now: what’s changed, and where are we headed?



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