Arabhorse.com Spotlight - Athala Arabians
April 5th, 2013
Athala Arabians is located in north Scottsdale, Arizona. It is easy to see why partners Athala King and Dr. Maureen McCormack chose to have a farm here. As you look across the desert landscape to picturesque McDowell Mountain and nearby Tonto National Forest, it is breathtaking. Besides the austere beauty of the desert floor with the majestic Saguaro cacti, it provides a never-ending and dramatic skyscape! The surrounding beauty is a backdrop for the beautiful Arabian horses that Athala and Maureen own and breed. From a practical business standpoint and good animal husbandry, it is also a prime location because of the industry support system and Arabian horse community. There are many, many training and breeding farms, Farriers, Feed and Tack stores, and equine Veterinarian practices with clinics readily available. Pair these with the global marketing due to nearby Phoenix International Airport, the Arabian Farm tours and the largest Arabian Horse Show in the USA, the annual Purebred Arabian and Half Arabian Scottsdale Horse Show, this area has it all.
Athala, as a child grew up on farms and ranches with horses of many breeds and particularly loved riding. If a horse was under saddle, she was on it, or attempting to ride it! Quarter horses, Pintos, Thoroughbreds even a Shetland pony. Even today, she enjoys a trail ride. When she and Maureen moved to Las Vegas, Nevada ten years ago this is when they began their dream journey of becoming breeders of fine Arabian horses. Using the internet for research on Arabian horses, Athala found breeding farms and decided to contact breeders of Arabians. Logically she contacted Carolyn LaMarchina of Jocarta Arabians, (a cellist for Wayne Newton's orchestra) and a breeder of straight Egyptian Arabians, thinking that she lived in Las Vegas. Carolyn's farm however is located in Missouri so she promptly sent Athala and Maureen to breeders Ed and Merrie Aiken, owners of Cedar Ridge Arabians located in Las Vegas. Through this contact and a weeklong course on Arabian horses in Taos, New Mexico at the school of Arts there, the business developed. It was also at this course where Athala met future mentors Bridgette Orwig and myself, Christie Metz.
In 2005 Athala Arabians became a reality starting with the purchase of two straight Egyptian Arabian mares from their first mentors, Ed and Merrie Aiken. Named Cedars Jazzy Gemma (Gatsby CC x Cdrs Farah Moniet by Imperial Imsirdar) and Samedi (Al Baraki x Shalom Sabbath by Ibn Amoura), these two mares carved a very special place in Athala and Maureen's hearts. A passionate avocation quickly grew into a vocation. Since those first purchases, they have very thoughtfully added to their brood mare band and now with foals have eleven horses. Kuy Shaihyna (AK Shaikh x DB Naseema by Nabiel) Jada SMF (Majestic Noble SMF x Jade Lotus SMF by Ali Saroukh), Shearee (Asfour x Simeon Shearith by Anaza Bay Shah). Using a prefix of "A" before the foals name there is now A Illuminatus (Ansata Nile Emir x Kuy Shaihyna), A Samia (Simeon Sadran x Samedi), A Assad (Marajj x Cannette) and A Canen (Besson Carol x Cannette). Cane, as they call this beautiful young stallion is working his way to the National show ring with Chris Culbreath training and riding him in Western Pleasure. A recent addition is a mare named ESA Aminaah bred by Dr. Jay Chollack and Polly Schaefer of Eastern Star Arabians. This exciting 2008 bay mare will make her debut for Athala Arabians in The Las Vegas World Cup in April with Ricardo Rivera handling.
Neither woman is a stranger to business or hard work; Athala with a Master's degree in Social work and a musical background had a successful business providing custom music for such organizations as the Ronald McDonald House of Denver, The One Day Foundation of Denver and Discovery Zones. This gave her a good sense of blending the artistic with business, and of course, she has that "artistic eye" as well. Maureen with her experience as a successful Radiologist provided a nice balance of communication skills along with medical skills that easily transfers to equine reproduction and health.
Along the way, they have sought out other breeders as mentors, such as Henry and I, owners of Silver Maple Farm and Bridgette Orwig of Pure Gold Arabians. In her experience, this is typical of the equine business community. According to Athala, we are all generous and gracious in sharing our experiences, offering from any personal wisdom gained over the years of equine knowledge. Athala says we are all very encouraging as well; to have friends in the business that you trust and know they will help you find answers is a major plus. Janice Bush and Becky Rogers of Kehilan Arabians are two more stellar examples of sharing a knowledge base. Both are experienced in all facets of the industry and Athala feels free to call them for advice. This is something quite rare in general within any business but typical of the Arabian horse industry as a whole. Personally, I am not sure just why this happens but possibly, it is because we are all captivated by the Purebred Arabian horses and the straight Egyptian Arabian specifically. This seems to create a strong bond, much like a family of sorts. Athala wisely sought out other industry professionals in training and conditioning, doing this in order to round out her knowledge and horsemanship skills. She worked as a volunteer at Brookville Arabians with trainer Robin Hopkinson, gaining experience in halter training and body conditioning. Over three show seasons Athala enjoyed a hands on experience, becoming an amateur halter handler on a regional and national level. She attained a third place and Top Ten Honor at the 2009 United States Nationals with the horse Mastermind M (Thee Masterpiece x Jal Salita). She is also a highly sought after amateur handler for the Las Vegas World Cup and the annual Egyptian Event to show horses in the Egyptian Breeders Challenge. In my opinion she is very smart to learn this skill because it allows her to keep her horses on their farm to promote them more economically.
The history of the straight Egyptian Arabian interests both partners and writers such as Joe Ferriss had a profound influence on them. In one instance, Joe wrote about the famous straight Egyptian stallion Shaikh Al Badi as a horse of significance in the Desert Heritage Magazine. While she and Maureen did not have the opportunity to know this stallion they see and appreciate his influence in their own horses. He is widely reflected in their herds' bloodlines impressing upon them the importance of understanding how past horses leave a legacy of physical and sometimes personality traits that carry forward several generations.
Athala loves what Joe wrote about Shaikh Al Badi, "His eyes were alive. His head was clean and masculine, not extreme or exaggerated, but full of nobility....a beautifully integrated neck and shoulder combination; powerful shoulders blending perfectly into a beautifully shaped neck set at the most ideal location...he gave the impression of much air underneath, tall but not disproportionately so - good size but all in a harmonious way..." From this article, it was easy to highlight one of their breeding goals, overall balance and harmony combined with classic beauty and athleticism. Athala says, "We believe the quality in our own herd is a direct influence of the great Shaikh Al Badi".
Raisin Thee Cane (Thee Desperado x Adeenah by Tammen), a 1996 Bay stallion embodied these attributes. He became the first stallion they owned purchasing him in 2007 from breeders John and Rosa DeMille. At that time they had no idea the importance of pedigrees or for that matter anything about stallion behavior, especially not how a stallion could behave and be so "Macho". They only saw that Cane was handsome, masculine and full of himself and they loved him. I am sure all of their friends and mentors groaned when she told us about buying a stallion, especially when learning it was Cane coming to joining their herd! He was not just any "ole" stallion; he was "Raisin Thee Cane", very aptly named by his breeders! Cane had a reputation for destroying barns and a trailer, kicking to let people know he was not happy being in a box. He never had four feet on the ground, much less two! He was the quintessential electric and powerful stallion, demanding attention and claiming his rights as leader! Any breeder or trainer would definitely not consider Cane to be a horse for an industry newcomer. Unfortunately, he was not able to fulfill his potential as he passed away at quite a young age. However, Maureen and Athala were able to purchase his daughter Cannette so that his legacy carries on through this daughter and her progeny at their farm.
Athala recounts a story about Cane, "The most memorable prize, that we DID NOT win, happened with Cane. While attending our first Egyptian Event it occurred in my first halter class with the one and only, 'Raisin Thee Cane". "I could hear the collective gasps from the crowd as I entered the ring; admittedly and in retrospect it may have been because I almost knocked over one of the judges! Then there was the moment when I stood Cane up in center ring, my lead and whip were backwards because I had them in the wrong hands! Trainer Sandro Pina was verbally coaching the stallion from ringside, trying to help me out because I was quite confused and confusing the stallion too. For those many reasons, we did not win the class. The good news however was that I did not knock over the judge, I did not get run over or mounted by the stallion and I did not fall! In my book this was an absolute success!"
The annual Egyptian Event remains Maureen and Athala's favorite show. They have enjoyed meeting and becoming a part of the community of straight Egyptian owners and breeders. "We have been welcomed into their homes and hearts according to Athala. She adds," We see many of our friends only once a year at this show held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Because it is only once a year, the days are long and the nights longer, working hard and having fun too! It does require a year to recover but it is truly a magical show." Recently, Athala joined the Board of the Pyramid Foundation, the 501 (c) 3 arm of The Pyramid Society and is also serving on the Membership committee for the Society. In 2009, Athala and Maureen became "Life Members" of the Pyramid Society.
Athala believes that opportunities come at the most unpredictable times and this stallion was one those. In hearing her describe the profound influence of Raisin Thee Cane she says, "I wasn't sure what I wanted when I left a successful music career. I knew it had to involve my other love, the horse. I believe in fate and I believe this stallion was in my life for a reason. I wanted to connect with something and this Arabian stallion connected with me. He taught me patience and living in the present moment. He exhibited patience towards me, gave me courage and seemed to echo a profound desire to connect with me, his human and be a part of my life". The emotional connection between an Arabian will affect your life in immeasurable ways. When asked about selling Arabian horses or breeding, our answer remains the same: "Slogans come easy, it's living them that are hard. This is a business with no absolute guarantees. You will not find an exact equation for success or for that matter any equation for producing the next major show champion. As in business, in general it pays to be knowledgeable. In this case, you need to know your horses, their antecedents and be mindful of which horses' genetic traits seem to carry forward consistently. You have to be willing to tough it out during the hard years when sometimes horses do not sell or illness takes a toll financially. The reality is you are a livestock farmer with emotional attachment to your produce". Talk about a balancing act!
Athala and Maureen absolutely believe in having expectations of success whether in the breeding shed or show barn or marketing and sales. They also believe that the owner, the breeder, the trainer is responsible for the welfare of those horses they breed, own or show, whether they are champions or not.
In closing, Athala commented, "If I may suggest to owners one simple thing, always appreciate these mystical Arabian horses. In my opinion you will gain immeasurably by being involved personally with them, learn to understand and know your horses it will enrich your life. Seek out mentors to teach you in any area that you wish to learn and in this industry they are an email, text or phone call away."
story written by Christie Metz