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e z y a w S k c i Patr i m e i N a s i L &


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e z y a w S k c i r Pat i m e i N a s i L &

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by Beth Stewart

They were both raised in Houston. They both shared a love for dancing. They even both experienced, as kids, life-changing moments watching Arabian horses at the famed Gleannloch Farms — all independent of one another. Not until she was 14 and he was 20 did their two paths converge and they discovered more than one common thread that, to this day, keeps them together after 22 years of marriage. Lisa Niemi was a skinny, long-blondhaired school kid who was extremely quiet. Patrick Swayze was an egotistical jock that, as Lisa puts it, had to “raise the roof to let his head in.” On the surface, a rather unlikely pair. Lisa was attending the High School for Performing Arts and Patrick was dancing with his mother’s dance company, the Houston Jazz Ballet Company, when the two met. Soon after Lisa began dancing under the direction of Patrick’s mother, Patsy, the two young talents became dance partners. “Half our dates were in silence,” laughs Patrick, explaining that, unlike other girls he had dated, Lisa wouldn’t talk to him unless he would set aside the macho role and talk “straight.” As time passed, the two became close friends. “It was about the time we started becoming friends that something really started happening,” says Lisa with a smile. “I think both of us always knew there was something more, even when he went off [to New York] and it looked like I was never going to see him again. We knew we weren’t through with each other. Twenty-two years later, I guess we were right.” ARABIAN HORSE TIMES • JULY 1997


personalities Despite their busy schedule, Patrick and Lisa find time to enjoy the horses and each other.

The bond between the couple is evident. The two interact in the same way you would expect of best friends. They laugh, joke and tease, but with a loving respect that is admirable. While Patrick spends time going over every detail while answering questions, Lisa playfully interjects, trying to shorten the “story” and keep him on track. The two share their lives and their love for Arabians with a child-like enthusiasm that is contagious. The Road to Stardom As an aspiring young actor and dancer, Patrick graduated from Houston to the bright lights of New York City, where he danced with the Harkness Ballet Company, seeing Lisa only on his visits home. Three years later, Lisa joined him in New York, herself on a scholarship to the same ballet company. Times were tough, however. “As a dancer in New York, a serious dancer,” shares Lisa, “you make something like $10 over unemployment.” So the couple got creative, doing remodeling and carpentry work on the side to help make ends meet. With persistence, the two finally broke into the Broadway shows. The milestone that likely paved the way for Patrick’s success in the theatrical world was his lead role in the Broadway hit Grease. Riding on rave reviews, the couple packed up and headed for southern California — Hollywood, to be more exact. Breaking into films, however, proved no easier than the New York experience. Again, the couple’s carpentry skills came in handy. “It was a rude awakening,”reminisces Patrick. “We were living offan orange tree in the backyard of the apartment building and a jar of peanut butter.” Then fate stepped in. Patrick landed a part in The Outsiders, a film that not only launched his career, but those of other familiar names like Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, ARABIAN HORSE TIMES • JULY 1997

Ralph Macchio and Rob Lowe. Many remember Patrick’s role as Orry Main in the made-for-television mini-series North and South. Patrick has since starred in Dirty Dancing, City of Joy, Ghost and his most recent hit, To Wong Foo. Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. His roles have been as diverse as his talents, ranging from a Confederate Army officer to a doctor in India to even a drag queen. Soon, Patrick will resume shooting

Letter of a Killer, a study of why women fall in love with men on death row. Filming shut down a few months ago on the account of Patrick’s collision with a tree trunk that left both of his legs broken. On horseback, riding full speed through an oak forest during a chase scene — bareback — Patrick’s horse went one way and he went the other. He vividly remembers going head first toward the tree and, at the last second, grabbing the horse’s mane

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personalities and flipping himself with the idea of hitting the tree with anything other than his head. Believe it or not, a broken right femur, a fractured left fibula, and a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder were considered lucky. “I feel like Mary Poppins,” says Patrick, who prides himself in doing his own stunt riding. “If I hadn’t flipped, I would have been killed.” The couple is now combining their love for the Arabian horse with their expertise in the film industry to produce what they hope to be one of the most powerful horse movies ever made. With great interest in portraying the Arabian culture accurately, the

Swayzes are in the beginning stages of putting together a script about the “blond emir” based on a true story from the Middle East. Horse Lover from the Start The son of a Texas state champion calf roper, Patrick was raised on the back of a horse. In fact, Patrick tells a crazy story how his grandfather, a foreman at the famous King Ranch, taught him how to ride. “He put me on the back of a ram and tied my wrists to the horns and my feet under the belly and let the sucker go. When I got off I was a bloody mess,” recalls Patrick. “If it had hair on it, I could ride it.”

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Although Patrick was forced to give up calf roping while pursuing his acting career in New York, he wasn’t in California long before he found himself a horse owner again. In fact, he fell in love with a big, woolly chestnut Morgan he rode while filming Red Dawn in New Mexico. Patrick bought “Fancy” on the spot for $150. Lisa relays the story: “The guy comes up to the set with Fancy with a halter and a lead rope and hands the horse to Patrick,” laughs Lisa. “‘Here’s your horse.’ There’s Patrick standing on the set with this horse on the end of a lead rope. Talk about all of a sudden realizing what you had done! The stunt coordinator then turns to the wrangler and says, ‘Oh, that horse is lame.’ So we bought this lame horse for $150!” Fancy, by the way, lived happily ever after with the Swayzes. It was the success of Patrick’s role in North and South that enabled the couple to purchase their five-acre ranch north of Los Angeles against the San Gabriel Mountains. Affluence and creativity have transformed the place into their “little paradise,” not to mention a working Arabian horse farm where Patrick and Lisa are testing their talents as trainers. While their industrious and demanding schedule doesn’t allow them the luxury of being home as much as they’d like, the two take advantage of every opportunity to explore the endless miles of trails in the Angeles National Forest, which conveniently backs up to their property. What led the Swayzes to Arabian horses? After all, Patrick was raised with Quarter Horses and Lisa was 1. Patrick admired horses at an early age. 2. No, it’s not Marcia Brady. It’s Lisa in one of those priceless elementary portraits. 3. Raised in the Houston area, Lisa showed all the signs of a dancer early on. 4. Long before the days of Dirty Dancing or Ghost, Patrick was a rough, tough cowboy, the son of a Texas state calf roping champion. ARABIAN HORSE TIMES • JULY 1997


personalities raised with a mother who, as she puts it, “was deathly afraid of horses.” Both point, in part, to their fond childhood memories seeing Arabians for the first time while performing at Gleannloch Farms. “I had always dreamed and pictured this kind of black stallion and this kind of bond that a kid can have with his horse,” shares Patrick. “When I saw these Arabians — the presence in their eyes and the dignity and the energy and power they had, yet such a gentle nature — I was smitten and from that moment on, I dreamed all my life of owning one. “Being dancers, you can understand why we fell in love with Arabians,” adds Patrick. “The quality of the movement is so graceful and so fluid. When you ride a Quarter Horse cuttin’ horse and then get on an Arabian cutting horse, it’s the difference between riding ‘The Hulk’ and riding a prima ballerina.” Lisa agrees. “Riding an Arabian is like having air under you.” Today, the friendship with respected trainer and horse extraordinaire Tom McNair that began over 25 years ago at Gleannloch Farms, is alive and well. And while the setting is now Texas’ blossoming Thistlewood Farm, Patrick and Lisa still entrust their horses, their hearts and their appetite for learning to Tom. “There are very few people in the world who have his kind of knowledge,” says Patrick of Tom. “He’s probably forgotten more about horses than most people will ever know. The opportunity to get to study with a master is a joy for us. “This is not just a business relationship with a trainer,” adds

1. Lisa and Patrick said “I do” in 1975. 2. The two married while pursuing dancing careers in New York City. 3. Lisa and Patrick with their gelding BR Ferouk Robert in 1987 at Patrick’s first Arabian horse show. 4. Patrick and Lisa in1987 with their newly acquired filly, Aleenah. ARABIAN HORSE TIMES • JULY 1997

you realize, as a cowboy, I didn’t know a durn thing about horses. I understood the care, but in terms of how to get that bond or understand a horse’s mind or what he needs in terms of communication to learn, I didn’t have any idea what to do. A horse was just a tool to get me from the box to the calf — until I got together with Tom.” To Tom’s amazement and amusement, Patrick and Lisa will videotape their lessons, go back to their room at night and study it, and be out to the farm the next morning having actually mastered what they had learned the day before. “It’s really easy to work with them because they have been dancers, they’re

Patrick. “Tom’s our best friend.” Thirsty for Knowledge It is obvious by the couple’s enthusiasm and zeal for learning that, though a hobby, they take this horse business very seriously. “Even though we had been in calf roping and rodeo, it was getting into the showing that we really got hit with the fact that we knew very little,” admits Lisa. “The knowledge that we have gained over these years has been so thrilling and valuable to us.” “I had been raised around horses all my life and I could ride just about anything,” says Patrick. “That’s when

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Lisa recently competed in two aerobatics competitions and placed fifth out of 12, beating two instructors the first time up.

both great athletes, and they’re used to taking instruction. When you have all those things put together, you can say something, they understand it, and they can do it. It makes my job a lot easier,” says Tom, who describes Patrick and Lisa as astute students. “They have a great thirst of this kind of knowledge; they’re just like sponges.” The couple is taking what they’ve learned and training some of the young horses they have at home in southern California. “Lisa and I are training her horse by telephone,” laughs Tom. Because of the tremendous commitment involved in training a horse, Lisa finds herself strategically scheduling her training sessions between her travels, not unlike trying to schedule her show season. Despite the determination and seriousness with which they approach all aspects of the horses, both Patrick and Lisa are quick to point out that they’re in it for the enjoyment. “We want to have a great time,” says Patrick, who credits Tom for keeping them focused on what’s important. “And if we win in the process, that would be great,” adds Lisa with a smile. 126 CALIFORNIA

  

Tammen Talk Both have competed in the show ring. While Lisa has brought home ribbons in the Western and Hunter divisions, including a U.S. National Top Ten in Western Pleasure AAOTR with the couple’s first Arabian, BR Ferouk Robert, most of Patrick’s time in the ring has been at the end of a lead. In fact, long before he became the proud owner of the straightEgyptianstallionTammen(Abenhetep x Talgana), Patrick had been showing the horse in AOTH for the McNairs, racking up championships right and left. It was in 1991, when Lisa surprised Patrick with Tammen for his birthday, that the two “friends” became inseparable. “Patrick got the best birthday present he will probably ever get in his entire life!” laughs Lisa. “That really solidified a dream for me,” shares Patrick. “When you look at Tammen, he’s like the picture of my childhood dreams — that presence and that power, but such a loving, gentle nature. You can surround this horse with 300 kids and he just ‘hangs out,’ unlike any other stallion I have ever seen.”

“The Tammen babies have done extremely well,” adds Tom, referring in part to the 150plus championships that Hidden Springs Arabians of Newton, Miss., has garnered with Tammen get. His babies are winning in everything from Halter to English Pleasure to Working Cow Horse. Tammen, himself, has not only won on a regional level in Halter, but in Native Costume and Country English Pleasure as well. And while they will always keep their straight Egyptian lines, the Swayzes arebranchingoutandexploringthepossibilities of Polish/Tammen crosses. The couple’s goal is to breed a horse that is “physically breathtaking, has excellent temperament and mind, and is physically able.” Thus far, it’s working. Today, Tammen stands at Thistlewood Farm, where he breeds approximately30 mares a year and enjoys wellearned popularity. Lisa and Patrick are particularly excited about their Tammen daughter Bint Bint Subhaya (x Bint Subhaya), a beautiful, typey chestnut who Lisa is riding Hunt Seat. Patrick has also gotten the itch to show performance. “I would love to have a ‘big-gun’ English horse,” says Patrick, who is disappointed with the ARABIAN HORSE TIMES • JULY 1997


personalities politicsand“games”thatsurround the Halter division. Patrick is impressed with the camaraderie and healthy competition that he has seen in the performance arena. While he has enjoyed the halter and learned a lot from it, Patrick is looking forward to spending more time in the saddle. A Full Plate As far-fetched as it may sound, the couple acts, dances, directs, produces, writes, rides, shows, even flies. And as if that isn’t enough, Lisa has added aerobatics competitions to her calendar. “We do have a lot on our plate,” admits Patrick, “from the flying to the horses, to all the scripts we’re developing, to our

production company. In fact, we’re having to rearrange our priorities.” While the aerobatics may be the first to go, the horses will, no doubt, be the last. “We spend so much time in the limelight ourselves that it gets old,” shares Patrick. “The neat part about horses is that it’s not about you, it’s about the horse.” One gets the impression that the horses have something to do with maintaining sanity. When asked if their celebrity status has come at too large a cost, the couple says they’ve never regretted it. They concede that a loss of privacy comes with the territory. “The gains and the things we’ve been able to do and learn and see in our lives far out weigh some of the harder things you have to do,” says Lisa. In fact,

Patrick sees his notoriety as an opportunity to do something special, especially for kids. “I believe horses in children’s lives are the best way I know of to teach a child responsibility,” says Patrick with conviction. His involvement in donating the poster of him and Tammento the International Arabian Horse Association’s youth program has been one way he has put in his “two cents.” Patrick Swayze has come a long way from the crew-cut kid raised in cowboy country. And while he’s an awfully good sport about signing autographs at the horse shows for his fans, he, ironically, is most flattered when his fellow Arabian enthusiasts recognize him not as a movie star, but as a horseman.  ❑ VESTY PHOTO

With a friendship dating back 25 years are Tom McNair of Thistlewood Farm, Lisa Niemi and Patrick Swayze with the Tammen daughter Bint Bint Subhaya. ARABIAN HORSE TIMES • JULY 1997

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Patrick Swayze