Anything you can do I can do better. In the sand dunes. Without water for six days.
What originally began as a discussion on Facebook among Arabian sport horse enthusiasts has quickly turned into a full magazine and a burgeoning organization: The Arabian Sport Horse Alliance. While many people might hear “Arabians” and think instantly of the 100 mile endurance horses or the shiny stallions posed like dolls at Scottsdale, there is a growing demand for Arabians and half-Arabians in the sport horse world. ASHA is out to support and promote that diversity at a whole new level.
According to the ASHA committee members (who answered collectively for this story through an online Q&A), “The group’s members represent the full range of sport horse disciplines and venues including dressage, eventing, show jumping, working hunters, combined driving, driven dressage, and endurance at all levels of competition. We have breeders who are breeding purebred Arabians, Shagya Arabians, Anglo-Arabians, as well as breeders who are involved with various Warmblood and sport pony registries.”
Bridging the Gap
The Alliance bridges a rather incredible gap between two very different worlds: The huge variety of sport horse disciplines, and the Arabian breed show folks (also known as the “Main Ring”) which features halter, pleasure classes, show hack, and other traditional rail classes. They support those who are out showing in the open-breed disciplines, and also the growing wing of events within the Arabian community just for sport horses, such as the annual Arabian Sport Horse Nationals.
That bridge is not always an easy one to cross, but the ASHA has made it a primary mission to share the benefits of branching out from the main ring. “The Alliance’s approach to communicating with the traditional Arabian breed show community is to welcome their interest and educate them on what the sport disciplines have to offer,” offered the ASHA Committee. “There are many participants in the AHA Sport Horse in Hand and Sport Horse Under Saddle classes who are traditional breed show exhibitors seeking an alternative to the breed show halter and rail classes. Our hope is that they will discover the opportunities that exist in the sport disciplines to continually challenge themselves as they develop their horse up the levels in whichever sport suits them and their horse.”
Promoting Arabians Among the Disciplines
For those who are out in the open-breed disciplines, the mission is to promote Arabians and the unique qualities they add not only to the sport, but the potential breeding pool. “Intelligence and heart, stamina, agility, responsiveness, longevity of soundness, and athleticism merged with elegance are all valuable qualities that Arabian lineage contributes to the sport horse disciplines. The willingness of mind and joyful partnership that Arabian-bred sport horses offer is perhaps the aspect that is not as commonly known.”
While integrating Arabian blood into the racing, military, and sport horse lines is a centuries-old tradition going back to the Godolphin Arabian and beyond, there was a stretch through the 20th century where Arabian breeding was more focused on meeting the standards of the Arabian show world alone, and sport horse Arabian breeding was only happening in the margins. “As an independent organization, the Arabian Sport Horse Alliance will be able to function as a liaison between Arabian sport horse breeders and the sport horse registries,” says the ASHA. They also plan to recognize and support horses with Arabian blood that fall outside the regulations for Arabs and Half-Arabs in the traditional sense, but are still out promoting the breed and the crosses within their respective sport.
The Up and Comers
With the growing popularity of Arab sport horse events and the use of Arabians, Half-Arabians, and Anglo-Arabians in the open disciplines, a whole new generation of Arabian sport horses are staking their claim in the pinnacle of sport. “The result is that the caliber of horses being produced with capabilities for sport performance is rising.”
Vermiculus and Lauren Keiffer (Eventing)
2014 USEA Lady Rider of the Year Lauren Keiffer has long been an advocate of Anglo-Arabians (a breed constituted of Arabian and Thoroughbred lineage) ever since she moved up the levels and completed her first 4* with Snooze Alarm in 2010. She’s now got an exciting prospect in Snooze Alarm’s full sibling, Vermiculus (owned by Jacqueline Mars), and the promising 8-year-old gelding completed his first CIC2* this past September.
Aleros and Hilda Gurney (Dressage)
Former Olympian Dressage Queen and USDF Hall of Famer Hilda Gurney is making great waves at the Grand Prix level with her purebred stallion Aleros, who recently placed third in the Region 7 Freestyle Grand Prix Championship. Hilda notes in particular that his piaffe and passage are “just outstanding”.
Marjas Becker and Ariella ASI / Beth Steinke and Miss Josephine (Combined Driving)
Combined driving is a discipline where Arabian-bred horses have often excelled; currently Marjas Becker and her Ariella ASI are competing successfully at Intermediate level and ASHA member Beth Steinke and her mare Miss Josephine are competing in pairs and singles on the CDE circuit.
Kristin Hardin and Ability (Show Jumping)
Known best for her feisty partner Grand Prix Jumper partner Bert, one of Kristin’s other beloved mounts is a a Half-Arabian mare named Ability, a consistent winner in the 1.10 m jumpers. The pair has been sweeping up the past three years on the open circuit, and are Canadian and US National Champion Jumpers at the Arabian shows, including a big win in the Gambler’s Choice class at Scottsdale in 2013.
Oration (Working Hunters)
Originally bred for the racetrack, Oration was imported from France, and has been a “superstar” at the breed show hunter circuit for years; quite the opposite life his breeders had intended! After repeated championship and high point wins at Arabian Sport Horse Nationals, he is now dabbling in the open hunter circuit with great success. He was named Arabian Sport Horse of the Year in 2013, and was recently made the newest Breyer Horse model and 2015 festival guest.
Athena (Dressage and Paradressage)
Athena, an Anglo-Arabian mare who attained Grand Prix level and a USDF Gold Medal with her amateur owner, Rita Mason, recently served as a para-equestrian mount for a young rider who qualified for the WEG, was shown by several very young intro-level riders, and is now helping another adult amateur rider work towards her USDF Bronze Medal.
Zee De Man (Dressage)
Started as a reining/cutting horse, Zee found his niche as a 9-year-old in dressage. Less than a year after his first training session in the sandbox, he debuted at 3rd Level and won his stakes class. In 2012, his rider got her Silver Medal on Zee in his first three Prix St. George tests! That same year, he was named 2012 FEI USEF Arabian Horse of the Year. After taking a year off to work cows (!!!), he is now helping talented young Junior Riders earn their medals and find their way in the big levels like the schoolmaster he is.
Facing the Future
In coming years, the ASHA will face the same challenges that all equestrian sports seem to be facing: baby boomers aging out, and the younger generation is entering at a lower rate. But the Alliance is very determined to continue building enthusiasm from all directions, and keep the excitement growing with horses who make wonderful partners in the sport of your choice and at whatever level you start and end. “Since attracting new riders is essential to the horse industry, we recognize the value of offering Arabian-bred horses across the sport disciplines, across registries, and at all levels of participation.”
Committee members enthusiastically added, ” The Arabian Sport Horse Alliance is poised to help meet the challenges ahead!”