Friday, September 24, 2010

The WEG and my love affair with horses

The World Equestrian Games (WEG) open here tomorrow.  It is a pretty big deal for us, and the area has been constructing, remodelling and sprucing up for over a year to get ready!   I won't be attending as the tickets are so pricy, and a plan for volunteering through a charity didn't pan out.

It would be interesting to see, though.  There will be jumping, cross country, dressage, endurance, reining, and even vaulting (a sport I didn't know existed before this).

I attended a Continuing Ed class this week at one of the nicer hotels here.  As I walked to the conference room, I passed many athletic looking people in their spandex britches, intently talking with other people (coaches?) each in a different language unknown to me. But, as we passed each other in the hall, each one would smile, then slowly and carefully greet me with "good morning."  It was so cool!

My passion for horses goes way back. I was the typical horse-crazy little girl. I even had a horse (grade) of my own briefly at age 15, and had all the usual bumps and tumbles trying to learn to ride (I never did, due to very poor balance and sensory integration issues) but a particularly traumatic fall made me lose my nerve, and that brought an end to that.  The mare happily went back to her original owners.

 My true love though is Arabian horses.  To me there is almost no other breed.  At some point in my central-Ohio-based teens, I attended the Ohio State Fair and wandered into one of the horse show classes.  The horses were mostly smallish, mostly gray, very beautiful, and had exquisite heads. I was in love with the Arabian horse.  I found out later that one of the early and most important importers of Arabian horses to the United States was Roger Selby of ......Portsmouth, Ohio!

He bought a group of horses from an important breeder in England - Lady Wentworth - who, along with her parents, brought the breed to their Crabbet Stud in Britain from Egypt, and elsewhere.

Lady Wentworth and her stallion Skowronek

Raffles was a son of the Crabbet foundation sire Skowronek, out of a Skowronek daughter, Rifala. Lady Wentworth deliberately chose an inbreeding cross in hopes of producing a suitable Arabian for crossing on Welsh ponies.  She partially succeeded, as Raffles only matured to be 13.3 hands, but he was never able to settle any mares in England and was thought to be sterile.

He was 'thrown in' as a free gift with a group of Arabians that Roger Selby imported into America in the late 30s.  After proper management,  Raffles successfully sired well over 100 foals.  I'm sure it was some of his offspring that stole my heart in the show ring that day. 
Raffles - slightly stretched.  A flat croup is not one of the Crabbet-based Arabian's strong points. 

As the early breeders died, Mrs. Bazy Tankersley of Al Marah Ranch bought up some of the most important foundation stock and continued the dedicated linebreeding.   In a 'full circle' kind of incident - Mrs. Tankersley provided the primary funds for building and opening the new permanent Arabian Horse exhibit that opened this Spring at the KY Horse Park.

When I saw my first Arabian in the early 60s, they were still pretty rare, and Crabbet breeding was THE thing.   They have fallen somewhat out of fashion now. (op ed: they are now breeding Arabians to be 17 hands with giraffe necks and looooooong backs and a trot with their knees up to their chin - if they want Saddlebreds, why don't they buy those!?)

Skowronek proved to be such a prepotent sire, and in the US his progeny were so intensively linebred to Raffles and Raseyn (a Skowronek son on the west coast) that the 'look' was cemented in - to the point that they can still be easily identified at a distance.  When I moved to Lexington in 1990, I took advantange of the many horse-related activities here, and picked up my 'horsey' interest again - albeit as a spectator.   One day at the Horse Park I saw a lovely, light gray mare in a paddock that I immediately knew as an Arabian, and from the 'Raffles" head, knew where she was from.  Sure enough, when she came to the fence for an ear scratch, her halter said "Al Marah (something or other).'

They are promising cooler weather beginning tomorrow.  Whether or not you get to the WEG, I hope you enjoy the break from the heat!   (now if we could just get some rain......)


  1. Here I live 15 mins from Portsmouth and I didn't know about the Arabians. I'm glad you blogged about it. Thank you. Oh, and what part of central Ohio were you from? I'm from there too.

  2. I'm from Lancaster, born and bred. I don't get back there much, but it definitely shaped my life and interests! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Hi Deb - I used to pass thru Lancaster all of the time on my way to Nelsonville where I went to Hocking College back in the early 80s, I love that area, and Washington Courthouse; it is farm country to me. I drove up to Georgetown yesterday morning, and expected much traffic, but it was light. Then when I was driving around town here yesterday traffic was very light, too, I guess everyone was at the WEG! It was sure a beautiful time for opening day. Take care, from a fellow central KYian.