Not too long ago a fellow horse loving friend loaned me the DVD, “The Legacy of Sheila Varian”. He said, “You’ll love this because it’s all about Arabians,” or something along those lines. I didn’t watch it right away because I figured it was a boring documentary about some rich lady and her horse farm. I finally popped it in a week or two later and found myself drawn in by this woman, who was the quintessential dreamer of dreams!
Sheila Varian did not come from a rich family. She fell in love with Arabians the same way I did, through reading the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. Her parents weren’t horse people but supported her dreams and at the age of eight she started riding her first horse, a Morgan/Percheron mix and because money was tight, learned to ride bareback. She didn’t acquire her first saddle until the age of twelve.
Horses were in Sheila’s blood, heart and soul from the start and while working as a high school physical education teacher, she worked toward her dream. Farlotta was her first Arabian and most beloved of all. When Farlotta passed on to the rainbow bridge at the young age of seven due to health problems, Sheila was holding her cherished mare’s head in her arms.
Sheila later acquired the mare Ronteza, who would set Sheila on her way toward creating her legacy. In 1961 Sheila and Ronteza won the Open Reined Cow Horse Championship at The Cow Palace in San Francisco, California. She was the first amateur, the first woman and had the first Arabian to take the title.
Through acquiring mares from Poland and careful breeding over the years, Sheila Varian created the dynasty that is now known as Varian Arabians. Her is a link for the video that tells the story of this great lady and her legacy:
At one point in the documentary Sheila talked about following your dreams. I can’t remember the exact quote, but what she said really made an impression on me. This woman was not rich, or beautiful (in the traditional sense), but she was driven. I’m sure she encountered pain and roadblocks along the way, but she didn’t let that stop her. She lived the life she wanted and that is inspiring!
The Marwari is a rare and ancient breed of horse that originated in the Marwar region of western India. The breed is easily recognizable due to its inwardly curved ears. The Marwari is believed to be descended from the warhorses of the Rajput warriors of the Marwar region.
The origins of the Marwari horse are uncertain, but the breed is likely to have been influenced by Turkoman type horses brought to the area by Mughul invaders, as well as the Arabian horse. There is an Indian legend that seven Arabian horses of good breeding were shipwrecked off the shore of the Kachchh District and were taken to the Marwar region to be used as foundation bloodstock for the Marwari. Like the Arabian, the Marwari is know for its hardiness and also like the Arabian they were bred as warhorses. They were renowned for their courage in battle and loyalty to their riders. It was said that a Marwari horse would only leave a battle under three conditions; victory, death, or carrying its master to safety.
Chetak was a legendary Marwari horse. The grey stallion purportedly carried Maharana Pratap to safety after he slayed the last of the Moghuls in the battle of Haldighati. The courageous stallion was said to have been brave enough to take on an elephant and reared so that Pretap was able to kill the Moghul who sat atop the war elephant. Chetak was mortally wounded by the elephant’s tusks, but he carried his master to safety, traveling many miles before dying near a river.
The Marwari were almost eliminated during the British rule of India during the early 1900s. The British preferred their thoroughbreds and polo ponies and ridiculed the horses with the inward turning ears. Even after independence from Britain, the Marwari horse was still endangered because war horses were no longer needed and many of the Indian nobleman who bred them had lost their land.
The Marwari horse was on the verge of extinction until Maharaja Umaid Singhji stepped in to save them and his work was continued by his grandson, Maharaja Gaj Singh II.
Later in 1995 a British horsewoman named Francesca Kelly founded the group, Marwari Bloodlines. Then, along with her husband, Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod, they led a group in 1999 that founded the Indigenous Horse Society of India which helps promote and preserve the breed.
Ashwarya who is named after a Bollywood actress is currently residing at The Kentucky Horse Park and she was donated to the park by Francesca Kelly. She’s the only Marwari horse in the U.S. presently as far as I can tell due to the fact that India does not allow the export of the breed at this time. According to my research, Francesca Kelly has since moved the rest of her Marwari brood to the UK. If anyone is aware of others in the U.S. I’d love to hear from you.
I’ve been following Becky’s Hope Horse Rescue on Facebook for some time and when they posted that they needed a sponsor for the beautiful, Mary, I couldn’t resist. She’s a Tennessee Walker and here is her bio:
Animal rescue is important to me and I’d like to dedicate my life to it through my writing. As I’ve mentioned on my home page I have several rescues of my own. I wish I could save all of them!
Becky’s Hope has saved countless lives and continues to do so. If you sponsor a horse (which is only 50 dollars a month), you get this cool certificate (and the above bio and thank you card):
On the surface, writing seems like it would be easy. I mean, you just sit there in front of a computer or relax in a chair while you write in a spiral notebook… How hard could that be? It’s not like laying concrete in 90 degree heat after all. Yet so many of us writers seem to find it so hard to do.
When I was in my twenties, I couldn’t understand where writers got their ideas. But now in “middle age” (I’m 54), I have more ideas than I can possibly put into book form in one lifetime, so that shuts me down.
Too many choices paralyses progress. Here’s a good article on the subject:
And for me, it’s not just writing, but being interested in so many things (like I think a lot or writers are), such as; astronomy, artificial intelligence, physics, it goes on and on…
Unlike the guy in the article, I didn’t have a childhood with choices or support, in fact, I mostly just had to survive my childhood. But now, I do have choices, which has become a problem. So because I can’t choose, for now, I’m going to keep writing Timmy Tales or other horse related short stories and horse related articles, because one constant in my life has always been horses. Not that I had them growing up, but I read everything I could get my hands on about them, fiction or non-fiction and I watched every movie and tv show that had horses whether or not I liked the show itself.
So for now, I choose horses (and all my other 4-legged loves).
Joey is the biography of a horse, but not a famous horse like Man O’ War or Seabiscuit, just a regular horse that was saved from bad circumstances and in return rescued his rescuers. Everyone who ever meets Joey can’t help but fall in love. Joey had been a show horse early on, but after an injury ended his show career he was passed from owner to owner and eventually ended up in a neglectful situation, which often happens to horses who are considered no longer “useful”. At some point during this time he went completely blind, which was probably due to malnutrition.
Along comes Kim Tschirret who has a dream to unite troubled horses with troubled kids and Hope Reins is born. Joey along with another Appaloosa, named Speckles, arrive together at the fledgling therapy horse ranch to be among the first group of horses to help troubled kids. The volunteers at the ranch, along with Kim, learn as they go and have to face special challenges brought on by a blind horse like Joey. The book is inspiring because they learn and adapt to Joey’s needs as well as the needs of the children entrusted to their care.
There is a strong Christian theme to this book, which I thought might be off-putting for me because I am not particularly religious; although I do believe in a higher power. But, it’s actually heartwarming following the main players and how each of them addresses their individual faiths and hope in God and the miracle that is Hope Reins.
Warning; tears will be shed in the reading of this book. Sometimes the tears will be because of sadness, but mostly because the book is heartwarming. Reading this book strengthened my belief in the something more that all of us can have faith in and the ability of some people to truly access the goodness with themselves. I highly recommend this book for horse lovers and anyone who wants further evidence that there is true kindness to be found amongst the humans.
This book was a gift from my beloved Franch horses:
Pretty sure my dear friend, Julz, helped them pick it out! 😉
“PMU is used to produce estrogen and hormone-replacement drugs such as Premarin, PremPro and PremPhase and DUAVEE, a “PremPro-Lite” which contains Premarin. PMU drugs are made by keeping mares constantly pregnant and collecting their estrogen-rich urine.“-equineadvocates.org
Several years ago when I volunteered at Hope for Horses, a horse rescue which was formerly located in Blue Ridge, Texas, I learned about the details of the PMU industry. As a pharmacist, I already knew that the Premarin stood for “Pregnant mares’ urine”, but I had no idea as to the extent of the cruelty in the industry. I was inspired by what I learned to write the following short story from a Premarin mare’s point of view. The story is sad, but there is hope for the mare, because Hope for Horses and many other rescues throughout the U.S. and Canada have saved thousands of these mares and their foals and continue to do so. Please consider the multitude of alternatives for hormone replacement therapy. Estrace, for example, is one of the many alternatives available and is plant based and it has a very inexpensive generic, estradiol.
Author note: I took some poetic license with this story because I have never actually visited a PMU farm.
The Premarin Mare
The man was leading me through the large, cold building. I could see the heads of the other mares above their stalls. But worst of all I could hear their mournful cries. I had lived among other horses before, but I had never encountered such an intense smell of manure and urine before in my life. There were too many horses in this building.
I nickered softly to the man who led me through this hellish nightmare. I hoped that he would have sympathy for me and take me away from this place. He refused to turn and look at me. I stretched out my head and nuzzled his neck. He turned and struck me so viciously with his fist that I was stunned. I had never been treated roughly by a human before.
It seemed ages ago that two other men had come to my home and had taken me away. I can still remember the sound of my little girl sobbing and calling my name after I was loaded into the trailer. Up until that moment I hadn’t been worried because I thought I might just be going to see the man who would look in my mouth. I could see my little girl through the panels on the side of the trailer. She was running toward me, her long blonde hair streaming out behind her. She was screaming my name between her wrenching sobs. I answered her screams. I whinnied frantically.
The last thing I saw as the trailer began to drive away was the big man who lived in the house running toward my girl. He swept up my sweet little girl into his arms and held her tight. She was struggling. She had pounded her fists into his chest as she screamed my name.
Now, the man was leading me into one of the tiny stalls. I stopped and refused to move forward. He reached out and pinched my nostrils together with his huge hand. The pain was excruciating, especially since he had just punched me there, but I still stood my ground. He called to someone else. Another man walked up behind me and pressed something against my flanks. Incredible pain surged through my body and I bolted forward.
I was immediately chained to the stall. I tried to rear and buck, but the chains were too strong. Once my energy was exhausted the men hooked tubes to my lower body. The tubes were uncomfortable and rubbed between my inner rear legs, but there was nothing I could do.
I awoke to the sound of the other mares whining horribly and struggling against their chains. It may have been morning, but I couldn’t tell. My stall was too far into the depths of this large dismal building for me to see outdoors. My legs ached from standing all night on the concrete.
Then I realized why the other mares were struggling so hard. Men were bringing around buckets of water. I had never been so thirsty in all my life and so I began to struggle too. The mares on either side of me tried to bite me as the man came closer. I snapped back at them. We had become like vicious animals. No longer did there exist a herd mentality among these mares. We were struggling violently to take care of our own needs.
The man stopped in front of my stall with the water bucket and I quickly sank my muzzle into it. But before I had taken three gulps, he ripped the bucket away from me and continued to the next mare. I whined after him pitiably. I was so thirsty. Surely more water would come around soon. As the men with the water buckets passed through the rows and rows of mares, I could hear them whining and struggling to get to the water.
Weeks or maybe months went by and nothing improved. My body ached. I would often dream of my little girl. She would be riding me across the pasture on a beautiful sunny day. She was as light as a feather and I cantered happily about the pasture listening to the sound of her laughter drifting above my head.
Maybe someday I will see her again and I will answer her laughter with a carefree whinny.
It seems that every horse coffee table book I’ve ever picked up from a book store bargain table always includes Arabian horses. I started thinking about this because I was disappointed that the book pictured above doesn’t contain one of my favorite breeds, Marwari. But then I thought, well, I guess it would be pretty impossible to include every breed of horse in every coffee table book. But then I thought further and realized they always include Arabians. (At least the ones I’ve seen.)
This book even has one section completely devoted to them:
While the rest of the breeds are grouped into categories:
A quote from the book: “With his tiny curved ears, large liquid eyes, extravagantly dished face and luxurious mane and tail, the Arabian is the horse of dreams.”
Another quote: “This beautiful ancient breed is thought to go as far back as 3000BC and has strongly influenced many of today’s more modern breeds of horse.”
I’ve been aware for some time that the Arabian horse influenced many other breeds, most notably the thoroughbred through the three foundation stallions;
The Byerley Turk:
The Darley Arabian:
And the Godolphin Arabian (my personal favorite):
(I’ll write more about these three Arabians in another post.) I was surprised to learn that Arabians also directly influenced the American Quarter Horse. Growing up in Texas, it always seemed that Quarter Horse owners and Arabian owners are of different mindsets. It still seems that way actually. So other than a little Arabian blood coming through to the American Quarter Horse via early Thoroughbred foundation stallions, I had no idea that there were full blooded Arabians among the early Quarter Horses until I read an article in the December 2018 issue of Equus that mentioned two Crabbet-bred Arabians who were direct sire-line descendants of Mesaoud, one of the foundation sires of the Crabbet Arabian Stud in England.
The stallions were Astraled and Ribal:
I never tire of learning about Arabian horses and their influence on other breeds and their appearance throughout human history. I have much more to learn about the Arabian horse, but as in everything I love, I am a life-long learner. I welcome comments and additional information as I know this blogpost just barely scratches the surface. I’m learning as I write!
Just for fun I’m going to write a series of short stories centered around my little rescue horse, Timmy. Here’s the first one! Timmy is just so cute I felt compelled to write stories about him! Hope you guys like it!
Gina shimmied under a low spot beneath the white, pipe fence separating the front pasture of Kuhaylah Arabians from the road, and the pony trotted right up to her as always. She pulled the carrot from her pocket and, not wasting any time, he took the entire treat in his mouth before the rest of the herd noticed. The pony was the smallest of the bunch and not a purebred, like the rest of them. He was a cutie though, a beautiful coppery, golden color, with a dishwater blonde mane and tail and a jagged, white, blaze running the full length of his face to the tip of his nose. And on this lovely Spring day, his slick coat glistened in the sun. The pony didn’t leave after he finished the carrot, but stayed with Gina. She was drawn to him because she was an outsider in her circles too. And, like him, she had dishwater blonde hair, although it was cuter on him in her opinion. Gina felt less than cute with her skinny body, and long, stringy, often tangled, hair.
Gina spoke softly to the pony, rubbing his neck and scratching his cheek, the way he liked. “I love you little boy, I wish I could stay here with you,” she said as she started to cry. She hugged his neck as the events of the previous day came crashing back into her brain.
“We have to add Gina Targoff to the list,” Chet whispered.
“Of course! She should be at the top!” responded Cassie, in a louder whisper. Chet, Cassie, and their minions all giggled.
Gina was keeping her head down, pretending to read whatever textbook she had opened in front of her. She refused to cry; she would not show them weakness. Even though Gina knew they were whispering loud enough for her to hear on purpose. Samuel James Middle School was almost a daily exercise in humiliation. She fought back the tears though…
“Yeah Gina is definitely the ugliest girl in the school,” said Chet.
They all laughed again.
The golden pony put his head on Gina’s shoulder as if he was trying to comfort her. She hugged him tighter and just let the tears flow until there were no more, but she continued to hug him, just taking in his horsey scent and allowing it and the quiet to calm her mind.
“Timmy has really taken to you,” said a voice behind Gina. One with the slightest hint of an accent, an accent from another country though, not rural Texan as Gina had grown accustomed to.
Gina straightened and jumped back a step from the pony in one quick move.
“I’m sorry. I know I’m not supposed to be here,” said Gina looking up at the woman astride a black, Arabian stallion, solid black save a small white star on his forehead.
“Come closer girl,” said the woman.
Gina walked toward her and saw that she was probably around her mother’s age. She was beautiful, with an exotic look about her. She had her long brown hair pulled back with a black velvet scrunchy. But then Gina’s eyes were drawn back to the horse. So much like the black stallion she had read about, except the one in the books was solid black. But this stallion before her had the same wild look of the one in the books; thick black mane, forelock blowing in the breeze about his face, and a thick, flowing tail. He pranced about a bit and snorted a couple of times. The woman said something to him that Gina couldn’t quite hear, and he settled down.
“What is your name?” asked the woman.
“Gina…Gina Targoff,” Gina answered. “Please don’t have me arrested. I’ll never come on your property again.”
The woman laughed. But in a lilting way, not in a, you’re darn right you’re going to jail, kinda way.
“I was actually thinking of offering you a job. I’ve watched you with Timmy. You two have formed quite a bond.”
“Timmy, a cute name, for a cute little boy!” said Gina.
The woman laughed again. “My name is Antonia Silva and I am the owner of this ranch. So, what about the job?” Antonia asked.
“I don’t know anything about horses or ranches,” Gina answered.
“Do you know how to drag a water hose or carry buckets?”
“Umm, yes…” answered Gina.
“Okay, good. We’ll start with that,” Antonia smiled.
Gina smiled back and then jumped when something firm and soft rubbed the small of her back. She spun around and little Timmy nuzzled her chest. Gina reached out and stroked his face.
“He loves you and trusts you. You’re a natural with horses,” said Antonia.
“He’s so sweet. May I ask how he came to be here among…” began Gina.
“…among all these purebred Arabians?” said Antonia finishing her sentence.
“Well…yes. Is it rude to ask?” said Gina.
Antonia laughed again. A sound like music to Gina. “No, it’s not rude, Gina. He was my horse, when I was a young girl in Brazil. The story of how he and I came to be here in this small north Texas town is a long one,” Antonia said with a smile on her face. “Spend a little more time with Timmy and then head up to the big house and I’ll show you around,” said Antonia as she wheeled her black stallion around and galloped up the hill toward the house.
Gina watched the beautiful woman in control of such a magnificent animal and couldn’t help wishing that could be her one day. She turned back to Timmy and gave him a hug. “Did you hear that boy? Now I can see more of you and no more sneaking around!” One of the chestnut Arabian mares had come closer, curious about this skinny, young girl in the big pasture. Timmy laid back his ears and turning on a dime chased her off as if to say, “This is my girl!”
Gina laughed, for the first time since she could remember. It had been a long, emotional journey from Dallas to Dale City. Even though they were only an hour apart, they were years apart in cultures, and the students of Samuel James Middle School did not respond well to a newcomer. For the very first time in a long time, Gina felt like she was where she belonged.
All modern Arabian horses are said to descend from five original mares. There are many versions of the story of Al Khamsa, but the one that seems to be the most popular is the one in which it is said that after a long journey, Mohammed released his band of horses to drink water at an oasis, but then blew his battle horn and only five of the mares stopped and returned to their master in spite of their great thirst. The legend goes that these five mares were chosen to be the foundation mares for the Arabian breed because of their loyalty to their master.
The five strains named after these mares are, Keheilan, Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani, and Hadban, or various spellings there of.
In her book, The Classic Arabian Horse, Judith Forbis tells an albeit less magical story about the origin of the five mares in which several tribes from Yemen come to visit the prophet Mohammed and present him with “five magnificent mares, belonging to five different races of which Arabia was then said to boast.” In her version, Mohammed steps out of his tent, caresses them and says, “Blessed be ye, O Daughters of the Wind.”
Also in Forbis’s book she states that Carl Raswan, who was a well known historian of early Egyptian Arabians and lived among Arab tribes for over a decade, did not acknowledge all five strains. “Raswan divided the Arabian breed into three main strains,…Saklawi was representative of feminine elegance, grace, and refinement, while Kuhaylan, signified masculinity, strength, boldness and power. The Muniqi strain was of a racier build, usually more developed in the forehand and lighter behind.”
The Al Khamsa may be stuff of legend, but according to alkhamsa.org, “Any horse in North America that Al Khamsa, Inc. believes, after study, to descend entirely from Arabian horses bred by the nomadic Bedouin horse breeding-tribes of the Arabian Peninsula is an Al Khamsa Arabian.”
The passage that follows my little intro was written by Lisa Vaughan Carter about her beloved horse, Just Touch. Touch is the oldest horse at The Franch at the ripe old age of 30, but doesn’t look a day over 9! He is a sweet boy and I love bringing him in to the barn for the evening on Sundays! I remember telling Lisa when I first met her that I liked the “cut of his jib”! He’s a special horse with a special owner, who has provided him with a wonderful forever home at The Franch!
The story of Just Touch: I’ve always loved horses. I never owned one as a child but, always wanted to. When I was 29 my boyfriend told me I needed to “get a hobby”. I thought about what I loved to do the most, I remembered how much I loved riding horses as a kid. I started taking horseback riding lessons, which gave me the bug. I got rid of the boyfriend and bought my first horse. I found a beautiful 14yo solid black, with a white star, Tennessee Walking Horse named Just Touch. I had no idea what I was doing; I learned some very hard lessons about horseback riding and caring for a horse. He was a very good teacher and I landed on my butt quite a few times those first few years. Touch has always been a stoic solitary guy. He has had many friends who adored him but, he never seemed to care much who was around. We had so many adventures together. We traveled to Oklahoma, Arkansas and all over Texas to ride the trails together. Unfortunately, when Touch was 26 he was diagnosed with EPM. We treated him for 6 months and I made the difficult decision, for his safety and mine, to quit riding him permanently. He now loves retirement, at 30 years old. I have loved having him in my life for the past 16 years. He gives me a sweet subtle whinny when he sees me coming, not too loud so no one thinks he is too excited to see his mama. I cherish each day I have with this sweet horse.