When people in Kentucky mention horses, the first thought is usually the racing breeds, Thoroughbreds or Standardbreds, and then American Saddlebreds, the stars of the Lexington Junior League Horse Show. But the horse industry here encompasses many other breeds.
One of the less often mentioned equine breeds is the magnificent Arabian. Breeders and owners across the Bluegrass sing the praises of the versatile Arabian for its beauty and willingness to please people.
“I fell in love with their beauty and type and personality,” said Jeff Caldwell, an Arabian breeder. “Arabians are a more social breed of horse. When you groom an Arabian, he gives you affection back. They want immediate attention and affection.”
“I love the type of the horse and also the history of the horse,” said Mark Wharton, co-owner of Peregrine Arabians, along with Quentin Naylor. “Arabians have a very personable nature. They’re very responsive to people.”
He added, “You can teach them something, and they’ll remember the next day, so they can learn a bit more. With other breeds, you have to teach the same thing the next day because they’ve forgotten it.”
Wharton and Naylor had worked with different breeds of horses in their native Australia before deciding to focus on Arabians. Over the years, Wharton worked for major Arabian farms in Australia and Brazil.
After moving to the United States, Wharton worked for film director Mike Nichols with his Arabians. After working for a major Arabian farm, he and Naylor decided to have their own Arabian breeding operation.
With 60-some Arabian horses (and some Thoroughbreds), Peregrine is the largest Arabian breeder in Kentucky. It’s also one of the largest in the eastern United States.
Caldwell had Quarter horses as a child and showed horses through 4-H programs. When an older friend introduced him to Arabians and they later bought an Arabian together, he switched breeds. Through showing, competitive trail riding competitions and breeding Arabians for other people, Caldwell has stayed involved with Arabians.
That involvement includes his current service as president of the Society for the Arabian Horse in the Bluegrass (SAHIB). SAHIB has about 75 members, including breeders, owners who show their Arabians or ride for pleasure, and people who are interested in Arabian horses.
SAHIB is one of three Arabian clubs within Kentucky, all affiliated with the regional and national Arabian horse organizations. People who want to show Arabians must belong to such a local group.
Caldwell works with other members to promote interest in Arabians. Marketing strategy includes appearances at equine events, such as the new Kentucky Round-Up (Feb. 2 at the Kentucky Horse Park), which is focused on getting children involved with horses.
“We go to all breed events, such as the Secretariat Festival in Bourbon County and the Festival of the Horse in Georgetown,” he said.
Members of the public can also see Arabians at horse shows. SAHIB hosts two all-breed horse shows in Shelbyville and a three-day Arabian show in Frankfort each year.
And there’s a business incentive for Arabian breeders as well: When a horse they bred wins at shows, they are eligible for funds from the Thoroughbred Breeders Incentive Fund. Arabians were approved for this funding four years ago.
The endurance championship at the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games made more people aware of Arabians. Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was among the endurance competitors who rode Arabians. With their broad chests and increased lung capacity, Arabians do well in long races.
“Using Arabians for endurance has gone forward in huge leaps,” Wharton said. “The expansion of endurance all over the world has been really important [to the Arabian horse business].”
Peregrine Arabians hosted SAHIB members at the group’s recent winter meeting.
The highlight of the event was the presentation of some of Peregrine’s 60 fine Arabians. Whites, bays, grays, chestnuts — spunky colts, lively fillies, beautiful mares, and handsome stallions — the horses had everyone’s attention and seemed to enjoy watching the people as well.
As the SAHIB members stood alongside the black rail fence, Arktik, a white stallion, galloped across the paddock, his hooves kicking up tiny puffs of dust. Backlit by the winter sun, Arktik’s long tail billowed like a bride’s veil.
Caldwell announced that the National Arabian Horse Association’s annual convention and business meeting will be held in downtown Lexington in November of this year. Arabians will receive some high visibility if plans can be finalized for an Arabian race on the day of the Belmont Stakes.
Also announced: Mil Stakelin and Marie Dalton, longtime members of the local Arabian horse community, have gone back into business with their Mi-Mar Equine Supply tack business. Before their retirement, the two women traveled nationally to sell in trade fairs at the major Arabian shows.
While they will still specialize in Arabian-specific tack and other items, they will carry merchandise for horses of all breeds. They will appear at area horse shows, but expect to serve more customers online. For more information, see www.mimarequinellc.com.
The Kentucky Horse Park’s Al-Marah Arabian Galleries also has wonderful exhibits on art, history and culture associated with the beautiful and noble Arabian horse. For more info about Arabians, see www.sahiba.org and www.arabianhorses.org.