~ Words by Cindy Reich ~
My mother, Lynn Huckins, never did anything by half measures. A lover of all creatures, she grew up riding Saddlebred horses in Chicago, Illinois. She was a wrangler at camp high in the Rocky Mountains as a teenager, taking other campers on overnight horse treks. However, while attending college at the University of Colorado in Boulder, a whole new world opened up for her. Van Vleet Arabian Stud, located at that time in Nederland, just above Boulder, would put on a Sunday show each week – modelled after the famous Sunday shows at the Kellogg Arabian Farm in California.
Falling in love with the Arabian horse, my mother sold her grandmother’s wedding ring to buy her first Arabian, a gelding, from Van Vleet. She devoured every bit of information on the Arabian horse, reading, researching and studying. She built up a breeding programme of primarily Crabbet-bred horses, as she was a rider and horseman and wanted a horse that was functional as well as beautiful. She became friends with Harry Thomas in New Mexico, who found Indraff (Raffles x Indaia) for Bazy Tankersley. Harry was a great source of information and knowledge in her studies.
I grew up on our small horse breeding farm and out of six children, I was the most ‘into’ the horses. I was up feeding and cleaning stalls before catching the school bus and working horses and doing evening chores as soon as I got home. I loved it! As my mother expanded her education in Arabian horses, she was in contact with many prominent breeders of the day. One mare she was interested in that was owned by Wenonah Varian was sold before she could get out to California to see her. In this era before the internet and instant gratification, one had to travel to see horses in the flesh if interested.
My mother went to the very first US National show and for the few years they were held in Estes Park, Colorado, she got to see the best of the best horses of that era. Colorado was also a bit of a hot spot of Arabian breeders, with Van Vleet Arabian Stud, Foss Arabians, owners of the first national Champion stallion, *Mujahid (Sureyn x *Silver Crystal), and Betts Circle 2 Arabians. Burr Betts had *Witez II (Ofir x Federacja) on lease from Earle Hurlbutt who purchased him from the Army Remount Station at the Kellogg ranch. Witez II, of course, was rescued by General George Patton in World War II.
My mother and I both fell in love with the Polish Arabian as a result of seeing *Witez II and also his generations of offspring at Betts Circle 2.
At one point, she spoke to Dr Eugene LaCroix of Lasma Arabians who had a mare for sale in foal to a new stallion he had just imported. He was called *Bask (Witraz x Balalajka). My mother debated about that for a while, but the price was steep for those days and she finally decided she could buy two broodmares for the same price at another farm. Oh – what might have been! At the first Lasma sale in 1971, that Bask offspring was one of four sold for an average of nearly $30,000! As it was, she took me to Scottsdale in 1967 to watch the Scottsdale Show and also to visit the stud farms. I was eleven years old and keen to learn everything that I could. We visited Lasma to look at mares and also, if possible to see Bask.
After visiting with Dr LaCroix and looking at various mares, he asked us if we would like to see Bask. Unlike the formal showings that became the norm in later years, we simply walked out back behind the barn where Bask was grazing in his paddock. It was a small area fenced in cinderblock with decorative blocks interspersed in the wall that had spaces to see through. Bask was simply grazing, head down, enjoying his grass and the beautiful day that was in it. I was suitably in awe of Bask, having seen him at Scottsdale and the US Nationals. Never did I think I would be standing next to him as he grazed, scratching his neck and petting him. Think about it in this day and age – a National Champion Stallion, grazing loose in a paddock with an 11-year-old girl scratching his shoulder and talking baby talk to him! Bask was a total gentleman, although truly I think the grass was of much more importance to him than the goofy human in with him.
I never lost my love of the Polish Arabian horse, and in the way the world sometimes works, I ended up working for Lasma Arabians after I graduated from college. I managed the breeding programme for them two seasons after *Aladdinn (Nureddin x Lalage) was named US National Champion Stallion. It was heaven on earth. In addition to *Aladdinn, Lasma stood a variety of other stallions, including Promotion (*Bask x *Prowizja), Bak (*Bask x Habina), Elleat (Elkanx Nar-Lyn) and Wisdom (*Bask x Wizteria), among others. However, even more importantly, Eukaliptus (Bandos x Eunice) was standing there on lease from Poland as well. We bred over 450 mares per year between all the stallions and it was exhilarating! The best mares in the world were being bred there, including all of the great *Bask daughters owned by Lasma: Fame (ex Wirdih Jameel), Dancing Flame (ex Habina), Bask Melody (ex Susecion), Ambra (ex Ambara), Gardenia (ex Gdynia), Gwyndalyn (ex Gwyn), Garnet (ex Gdynia), Basquina (ex Habina), Tonki (ex Boltonka) and on and on.
It was the best of times and the best of times. Now, from this vantage point, I feel so fortunate to have been in the thick of the greatest era of Arabian horse breeding here in the United States. The quest for knowledge I gained from my insatiably curious mother remains, and I am, and remain, an avid student of the Arabian horse.
Cindy Reich is an international Arabian horse judge, having judged the National Shows in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Namibia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil and Sweden. She is also an equine reproductive technician, journalist and consultant for breeding farms. www.cindyreich.com
First published in The Arabian Magazine December 2015.