AV Arabians in West Sussex, UK, is owned by Caroline ‘Wizzy’ Reid and she has some beautiful horses at her small but beautiful stud. This, in her own words, is the story of AV Cloud Dancer – or quite simply, ‘Hero’.
“I had long awaited a foal by WH Justice (Magnum Psyche x Vona Sher-Renea by El Sher-Mann) out of Oml Belusena Dream (Dreamcatcher SMF x Om El Benedict by Sanadik El Shaklan). In fact, I was so excited about this cross that I actually wanted it to be a colt, such was my belief that this could be an outstanding Arabian with a pedigree to match.
“Saturday 3 May 2014 and he was born. Most importantly, he and his dam were healthy. And indeed he was outstanding. Outstandingly ugly. A shoe box had more shape and nuance than his head. A worm had larger eyes. And to top it all, by two fabulous grey parents, he made out he was chestnut. The most positive thing that a breeder staying with me at the time could think of to say was “Well, he can’t get any worse.”
The ugly duckling – turning into a swan. Photos copyright AV Arabians.
“My non-horsey parents always come to visit a newborn foal and when I expressed my disappointment, my wonderfully ever optimistic father looked at the orange rectangle in front of him and said to me: “I have a good feeling about him. I think he’s an ugly duckling, but I know you can’t call him that, so I think you should call him Hero, because then that’s what he’ll grow into.”
“Of course, much as I loved my father, I secretly thought ‘Zero’ would have been far more appropriate. But bless Hero, what he lacked in looks he made up for with his sweet nature.
“And then magically, over the next ten days, perhaps sensing he was destined for the donkey paddock, bone structure began to appear on that once slab-sided face. Eye banking appeared. And thankfully, eyes too. And the nose, once straighter than a Roman road, actually developed a bend. And joy! Two white hairs sprouted on his top eyelids. The boy was going grey. All was well with Hero’s world.
“Hero is a sensitive, intelligent soul, so I was full of trepidation when I took him to his first show in 2015. But he obviously had an inner strength, took the whole thing in his stride, did everything that was asked of him and floated around the arena to take the class, the Junior Male Championship and thereby qualify for Paris at his first outing. I was over the moon.
“Next stop, however, was the Nationals. At the time, the most important thing for me was that my young colt travelled all that way without a murmur and gained many fans outside his stable, as he’s so fond of giving kisses. And as soon as he was tired, he lay down in this strange, temporary box, miles away from home, and slept like a pro.
Talking of pros, the night before the class one of the professional handlers offered to show him. I was in a quandary. Should I follow my head, and have Hero shown by the pro, or follow my heart and show him myself? In the end, I decided to give him to the pro. And then at 4am I received a text to say that he had got mixed up and that he was already showing another colt in the same class. So it was down to me, which in the end I think was a good thing, because it was only Hero’s second show and he would feel more confident with me beside him.
“The next morning it was raining – of course, Nationals, England, always – as we got Hero ready. Unfortunately by now, he was that horrid browny-pink colour that we fondly call ‘dead rat’ and that ensures that no definition or outline can be seen unless the horse is under your nose.
“The arena at Malvern is huge and bless Hero, he showed his lovely light elegant trot the whole way around without breaking. It was a large class and Hero was pulled in fifth. From what I could see, those pulled above him showed more maturity, whereas Hero was going to be tall and therefore hadn’t filled out as much. However, he gave a nice stand up in front of the judge, who was now able to see him close up, and again trotted lightly above the ground. We were all sent away for the final walk round and I vaguely heard the ring steward calling “come in please” but was concentrating more on walking the colt nicely, as no-one gets pulled up from fifth to first, surely. Then I realised that it was indeed Hero who was being called, he had won! At the Nationals! Under Dr Marek Trela no less! Dr Trela said he was a “very balanced colt”. Much champagne later, Hero’s overjoyed owner wasn’t at all balanced.
“But of course, before I had touched a drop, I had rung my father to tell him he had been right all along about the ugly duckling he had named Hero. And I’m sure I heard his voice crack as he told mum.
“Fast-forward to 2016 and much as I love to show my own horses, Hero’s stride is so long and light. He floats above the ground and so is deceptively faster than he seems. Not wanting to spoil that by being unable to keep up with him, I arranged for one of the fastest out there to show him at the Nationals, Rod Jones. Rod had shown for me once before and just presented my horses in exactly the way they were used to, so he was the obvious choice.
“We took Hero up to Rod’s a month before hand so they could get to know each other, plus I hate clipping! The next time I saw Hero was in a stable at Malvern, clipped. A few shades lighter than last year’s ‘dead rat’, but still only at the ‘beige’ stage. Hero certainly doesn’t stand out with regards to colour, but judge Sylvia Eberhardt pulled him straight into first and there he stayed, much to my delight. The judge commented that he is a “very complete horse” and was difficult to fault, which boded well for the championships! Sure enough, my little immature baby from the year before, now a very tall, elegant young colt, was chosen as British National Champion! So exciting!
“There is a very poignant twist at the end, however, and a ‘thank you’ to my very dear friend, Sigi Siller, who had passed away in May. The day after Hero’s championship win, it was Sigi’s Celebration of Life at their farm in Santa Ynez, California. I was unable to go, so went to the British Nationals instead with Hero. His dam, of course, was bred by Sigi, Oml Belusena Dream, with two crosses to El Shaklan.
“Already an emotional mess, I collected his trophy, the Lady Wentworth Challenge Cup, on that Saturday. First presented in 1949, the list of previous winners engraved upon provides a fascinating piece of history. And there, in 1978 and 1979, was the name of arguably the most illustrious sire of all times who at the time was on lease to Major and Mrs PW Maxwell, and of course bred by our Sigi – El Shaklan (Shaker El Masri x Estopa by Tabal).
“So thank you dearest Sigi, for creating this incredible legacy that ensures you live on in our lives forever.”
Samantha adds: I wanted to share the story of Hero for a number of reasons but primarily, this tale reminds me so much of a similar one that I first heard back in 2009 when I was visiting Al Aryam Arabians. There, it was the 30th birthday of a celebrated stallion – one Maleik El Kheil, a son of El Shaklan and out of Muneera (Fakhr El Kheil x Muzri by Indriss). Bred by Major and Mrs Maxwell when they leased El Shaklan, the story talks about how they fell in love with their El Shaklan son when he was born – but the judges did not agree and they worried that their swan was, in fact, a “goose”, or ugly duckling. Shared through a letter from Joanna Maxwell on the day of Maleik’s birthday was the following:
“Maleik El Kheil’s first show was the Royal; he must have been just over one year old. He was placed 11th out of 13 entries. We were devastated – was our swan only a goose? I was near tears. We took him home and Pat stood him out while I looked at him and vice versa. ‘No,’ we said. ‘He is a swan’.
“The next show was the Nationals at Ascot. He won the yearling class, he won the Junior Champion and in those days, the juniors and seniors were judged again for a Supreme. He won. He was a swan.”
From there, Maleik el Kheil’s success was unstoppable: a leading sire at the British National Championships no few than six times, he was also European Champion, All Nations’ Cup Champion and, the ultimate prize for many, World Champion. In addition, he produced two Reserve World Champions – Khashil (x Khamala) and Hamadahan (ex Hagunia) – proving beyond doubt that his success was not a one-generation wonder; as if that were in question, with his progeny commanding the British show-rings for so many years!
The connection between the Maxwells El Shaklan son with Caroline’s El Shaklan-related colt struck a chord with me. Both owners wondered at some point whether their colt was an ugly duckling, and both enjoyed success at the British Nationals. Who knows just where AV Cloud Dancer’s path will take him – but surely the future bodes well…