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vonlea Arabians in Vacaville, California, is an inspiration to anyone who has dreamed of breeding great Arabian horses and making a significant

contribution to the Arabian breed. The Whitakers — Dick and Gail, along with their daughter Anne Whitaker Keller — are proof that small breeders can make a huge impact on the Arabian breed. Like many families who are deeply immersed in Arabian horses, the Whitakers’ Avonlea Arabians began with a girl’s love of horses. “From the time she was little, Anne loved horses,” says Gail. “We went through the stages of My Little Ponies, Breyer horses, and finally when she was eight, Dick said, ‘Anne loves horses and that hasn’t changed. I think I am going to buy her a horse.’ So I tell my husband that he is the one who caused all of this horse stuff. We purchased a Half-Arabian pony

Left: Dick and Gail Whitaker with their daughter Anne Whitaker Keller, center. Right: The Whitakers’ homebred stallion Onyx A (Sundance Kid V x Aliage SSA by El Chivas Regal), with trainer Josh Quintus. Josh rode Onyx A to unanimous 2015 Canadian National Champion Western Pleasure, 2014 Scottsdale Western Pleasure Champion, and 2014 U.S. National Reserve Champion Western Pleasure. Anne Keller rode Onyx to win 2015 and 2016 U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure AAOTR 19-36.

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who was just the right size for Anne at the time. She showed in the local schooling shows, and she was always very dedicated to the horses and spent as much as time as she could at the barn.” Tired of driving back and forth to the boarding stable, Dick and Gail purchased a small 10 acre farm and a second Arabian horse. Anne attempted a couple of local Class A shows with her Half-Arabian

grow over the years, I agreed.” Anne scoured every Arabian breeder and training barn in California

pony, but she quickly realized that she didn’t have the horse necessary to

and ended up at Royal Oaks Arabians in Santa

compete on that level. “In 1998 my daughter asked if we could move up to a

Ynez. Brian Murch and Bill Porcher were training

better horse,” says Dick Whitaker. “Having watched her unwavering passion

there at that time. The Whitakers purchased a 3 b AVONLEA ARABIANS b WORLD


mare that was owned by Brian and Melanie Murch, Aliage SSA (El Chivas Regal x Halali Encendere), to be Anne’s western horse. They planned to use her as a broodmare after her show career. “Melanie and I spotted Aliage as a weanling in a pasture in Buellton, California,” says Brian. “They shook a little something at her and Melanie and I went nuts over her. She just looked ‘breedy’ to me. She had crazy shape to her neck and she looked she would grow up to be a good performance horse and a beautiful halter horse, too.” “After having ‘backyard horses’ growing up, my dad was shocked by the prices of National-quality Arabian horses,” Anne says. “Since we were looking at mares and stallions for my show horse, he decided that he wanted to start breeding Arabians. My parents have always loved animals and had raised German shepherd dogs before having children, so it wasn’t too far of a stretch for us to breed Arabian horses.” And Avonlea Arabians was born.

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Above and facing page: Anne Whitaker Keller and Onyx A.

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While BA Miss Mindy was busy in the breeding barn, Anne showed Aliage SSA for a few years with limited success. In 2003, Chris Culbreth, who was training Aliage, suggested that the Whitakers breed her. Her first filly by LBA Lodestar grew up to win Region 2 Western Pleasure Junior Horse and her second filly by TF Psymreekhe (Psymadre x Lappes Mreekhie) went on to win a Western Pleasure Championship at Scottsdale in the AOTR The name Avonlea Arabians was inspired by

division. “When it came to breeding Aliage a third time,” Dick said, “Brett

the children’s book, Anne of Avonlea, which Anne

Becker suggested that we breed her to Sundance Kid V (Desperado V x Sweet

grew up reading as a child. Not only was it a nod

Shalimar V).” Anne thoughtfully considered this cross and decided to give it a

to her childhood and her devotion to the horses, it

try. The first foal of that cross was a remarkable black colt, Onyx A.

conveyed a sense of elegance. “I have always strived

“I knew Onyx was a great horse from the beginning,” says Brett Becker.

to breed elegance into our western pleasure horses

“When that colt was born at our place I knew they had hit a home run. He

and I wanted a name that epitomized that,” Anne

came back at two and a half years of age to go into training. He won at his

says. “We had no idea at the time we named the farm what it was going to turn into.” Of course, having one broodmare does not a breeding program make, so the Whitakers set out to find another National-level show mare for their new program. They returned to Royal Oaks, but this time they were looking for a hunter. “Brian said he had the perfect horse for us,” says Anne. “And she was in foal so we would have a foal to validate our breeding program.” That mare was BA Miss Mindy (Huckleberry Bey x Kaiyoums Medley) and she was in foal to LBA Lodestar (Fame VF X LBA Anastasia). The resulting foal was Navigator A, who set the bar high. Under the guidance of trainer Brett Becker, he was 2002 U.S. National Reserve Champion Western Pleasure Futurity. The following year, he was the unanimous Champion Western Pleasure Junior Horse. He even carried Anne to her first National Championship at her first National event in 2005, before the Whitakers sold him. BA Miss Mindy’s next foal, Psyanne A (by Psymadre) would also achieve showring success. She was second in her class as a yearling halter horse at Scottsdale and two years later she was U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure Futurity. The Whitakers wisely decided to retain Psyanne as a broodmare.

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Anne aboard Onyx A’s full sister, Omnia A (Sundance Kid V x Aliage SSA), 2014 U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure Maturity AAOTR and 2012 U.S. National Reserve Champion Western Pleasure Futurity.


Top left and right: Psyanne A (by Psymadre), whose dam, BA Miss Mindy, was the second mare purchased by the Whitakers. Her second foal for them was Psyanne A who went on to win U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure Futurity horse and was retained as a broodmare. Right: Navigator A (LBA Lodestar x BA Miss Mindy), was 2002 U.S. National Reserve Champion Western Pleasure Futurity and 2003 unanimous champion Western Pleasure Junior Horse with trainer Brett Becker. Navigator A also carried Anne to her first National Championship in 2005.

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first show — snaffle bit futurity at Santa Barbara. And then he was 2009 U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure Futurity, 2010 Canadian National Champion Western Pleasure Junior Horse, and 2010 U.S. National Reserve Champion Junior Horse. Anne also won U.S. National Champion in the Western Pleasure Maturity that

horse stuff so I just moved him along.” In 2011, Onyx, now five years old,

same year. I figured he was done doing the junior

won the prestigious title of U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure open with Brett. “He will always have a special place in my heart,” Brett says. “He is a very nice horse. He has gone on and won some more prizes and that is awesome.” In the years since, Onyx was the unanimous 2015 Canadian National Champion Western Pleasure, 2014 Scottsdale Western Champion, and 2014 U.S. National Reserve Champion Western Pleasure with Josh Quintus. And if that wasn’t enough he also was 2015 and 2016 U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure AAOTR 19-36 with Anne Keller.

Onyx A and Brett Becker were a formidable team at the start, winning 2009 U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure Futurity, 2010 Canadian National Champion Western Pleasure Junior Horse, and 2010 U.S. National Reserve Champion Junior Horse. In 2011 Onyx and Brett won the prestigious title of U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure open. 8 b AVONLEA ARABIANS b WORLD


SCHATZBERG PHOTO

Anne and Onyx A are pictured here winning 2016 U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure AAOTR 19-35. 9 b AVONLEA ARABIANS b WORLD


Now that Onyx has nothing left to prove as a show horse, the emphasis is shifting toward his breeding career. “When I first met JT Keller he said that Onyx’s showring success wouldn’t translate into breeding fees until the foals were on the ground,” Dick says. “I thought if you had a winning stallion the mare owners would just come, but Anne agreed that it was all about his foals, so we began purchasing mares to breed exclusively to Onyx.” “I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on what I think the best crosses would be for our mares,” says Anne. “And now I am concentrating on the best crosses for Onyx. So far, Onyx has crossed well with a wide variety of mares. He has been bred to daughters of some prestigious sires including *Khadraj NA (Ponomarev x Khatreena NA), Versace (Fame VF x Precious As Gold), Psymadre (Padrons Psyche x Tomorrows Dream), and Enzo (Padrons Psyche x RD Bey Shahmpane). He has even crossed well with more ‘outside of the box’ mares including a Paint mare and an Egyptian-bred mare. All have been really nice. As we see more foals we may narrow it down, but as of right now, we haven’t had anything that we didn’t think worked — it’s just a matter of how well it worked.”

left: Slate A (Onyx A x Psyanne A), was 2016 U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure Futurity, shown by JT Keller. Even though Slate is very young, there is broad consensus that he may be even better than his sire.

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The first Onyx A foal crop of three foals are now four years old. Two of the three, Nnoir A (x Psyanne A), pictured above with Josh Quintus, and Varvatos A (x Gianni Versace VF), were 2016 U.S. Top Ten in the very competitive AWPA $100,000 futurity in Tulsa.

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Josh Quintus observes, “Like all of the good Sundance sons, Onyx has

was 2016 U.S. National Champion Western

great shape to his neck and is really handsome. And he’s just a very superior

Pleasure Futurity with JT Keller. Even though

athlete the way he moves from back to front. He is very cadenced and

Slate is very young, there is broad consensus that

smooth. When you ride him you can feel how much power he has, and what

he may be even better than his sire. The 2016

little effort is required. He is one of those very special horses who can round

U.S. National judge Jeremy Harper said, “I loved

his back up and step up underneath himself. Onyx has a lot of potential as a

the colt that JT showed in the futurity. I think

sire. He is going to put great shape on the necks and very strong bodies. He’s

he is going to be better than Onyx. That’s a good

been bred several different ways and they all resemble him to some extent,

thing for Onyx because he is out-siring himself.

which is very nice. It’s going to take a while to get a large number of foals on

He is going to be a great breeding horse. We are

the ground, but the first few have sure turned out well. There hasn’t been a

going to breed a couple of mares to him next year.”

bad one.”

Adds Josh Quintus, “Both Slate, that JT showed,

The first Onyx A foal crop of three foals are now four years old. Two

and his older sister Nnoir that I showed last year,

of the three, Nnoir A (x Psyanne A) and Varvatos A (x Gianni Versace VF),

can effortlessly step up underneath themselves,

were U.S. Top Ten in the very competitive AWPA $100,000 futurity in Tulsa

which is typical of the Onyx babies. All you have

this year. The third, SMA Miss Canada (x Khalista PGA), did not compete

to do is train them to shape their necks and hold

at the U.S. Nationals but was a regional champion. His second foal crop,

their frames. They just kind of bounce off of all

numbering four, are now three-year-olds. Of them, Slate A (x Psyanne A),

four corners.”


Facing page and above: Onyx A … “Onyx has a lot of potential as a sire. He is going to put great shape on the necks and very strong bodies …” says Josh Quintus.

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Anne’s husband, trainer JT Keller, has a front row seat to observe the

in training, and so like many, we just didn’t breed.

potential of the Onyx foals. He has started and trained the first ones and

We don’t have a huge farm in California and my

has the majority of the next wave of training-age foals in his barn. He said,

parents and I all have jobs outside of the horse

“His foals tend to have more bone, body, and size than he does. Bloodlines

industry, so we couldn’t breed twenty mares and

are important and winning is important, but it is the offspring that tell you

run them out on large pastures. Besides, my

what a sire can do.” Everybody got a pretty good sense of that when the first

mother would bubble wrap all of the foals if she

Onyx foals showed at the U.S. Nationals this year. “Now that this year’s two-

could!” Anne’s father added, “This year was our

year-olds are coming in, I feel that we are going to be extremely competitive

biggest foal crop at three. And next year we will

in the national futurity and the AWPA futurity for the next several years.

have a total of five, which is by far our biggest

I’m not saying we are going to win every time, but we are going to have a

foal crop.”

darn good product out there,” says JT. “A lot of the horses we used to work

In spite of the small numbers, it’s clear

were weak behind and some were fragile minded and too sensitive. It seems

that Avonlea’s contributions to the breed have

that the Onyx get are going to be much simpler to train because they are

been impressive, due in large part to their clear

stronger, put together better and still have great necks with great quality of

vision and disciplined approach. “Even when the

movement. They can bend their necks and step under themselves. The small

Whitakers were first starting, everything was a well

sampling of three- and four-year-olds show this. For example, a filly out of

thought out process,” says Brian Murch. “It’s fun

Enzia FMA (Enzo x Sue Bees Honey) just came in. Enzia is a very good mare,

to be around people who enjoy it and are doing

but she is built long and is short-legged and her neck is a little straight. Her

it for the right reasons. Aliage’s breeding success,

Onyx filly is big, short-backed, has a great shoulder, a good shape to her

guided by the Whitakers, has been phenomenal.

neck and is darned near halter quality. There is also a Half-Arab colt that is

It amazes me when you look at the Whitakers’

out of sight. Then there is the black colt out of a *Khadraj NA daughter that

winning percentage.”

is outstanding. There’s another one out of a Versace daughter and another

“The Whitakers are pretty quiet and they have

that’s a full sibling to Slate A. There are about fifteen coming three-year-olds

kind of flown under the radar,” adds JT. “They

this season.”

are very humble and workmanlike breeders.”

Anne smiles as she describes Onyx, “If had to pick one word to describe

The importance of small breeders in the Arabian

Onyx it would be dynamic. He is a character, a real ham with a ton of

breed cannot be overemphasized yet many don’t

personality and intellignce. He thinks very highly of himself and thinks

get the recognition they deserve. But that won’t

everything should be about him — and I agree! Winning as much as he

be the case with the Whitakers — thanks to savvy

has, has only reinforced these feelings about himself. He knows when they

breeding decisions, and the handsome black

announce the reserve champion, that he should be called next as champion!

stallion, Onyx A, Avonlea Arabians is poised to

He has no problem expressing his displeasure if it’s not him. He gets upset if

become one of the most important breeders of

the trailer leaves for a show and he is not on it. He gets upset if the breeding

Arabian western pleasure horses now and well into

truck comes and it is not coming for him. But he is also really sweet. He’ll

the future.

lay his head on your shoulder so he can get scratched. He’ll lick your palm to make sure he got every last crumb of his horse cookie. He’ll let young children crawl all over him. He always seems to know exactly when to

Facing page: Onyx A … “I loved the

turn on his sweet side and when to turn into a ‘study’ stallion full of snort

colt that JT showed in the futurity.

and blow.” “Our focus has always been on quality not quantity,” continues Anne.

I think he is going to be better than Onyx. That’s a good thing for Onyx because he is out-siring himself,”

“Up until last year we only had one or two foals every year. And some years

said 2016 U.S. National judge

we didn’t breed at all. It either didn’t work out, or we had too many horses

Jeremy Harper.

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Onyx A is standing at J.T. Keller Performance Horses ¡ Owned by Avonlea Arabians, California for breeding information, contact:

Avonlea Arabians: avonleaarabians.com JT Keller Performance Horses: jtkellertraining.com

designed and produced by Arabian Horse World ¡ 01/17

Avonlea Arabians  

The Whitakers — Dick and Gail, along with their daughter Anne Whitaker Keller — are proof that small breeders can make a huge impact on the...

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