A Conversation Between Friends: Dr. Hans J. Nagel and Judith Forbis
A Conversation Between Friends: Dr. Hans J. Nagel and Judith Forbis
By Lisa Abraham
with a postscript by Judith Forbis
Fall was in the air as the colors of the season were beginning to appear and the heat of the summer was replaced with a cool, comfortable breeze. It was a perfect day on September 21, 2016 when Judith Forbis and I visited Dr. Hans Nagel at his Katharinenhof Stud in Northern Germany. Our visit took place just days before the All Nations Cup was to be held in Aachen where Judith, long known for her Ansata Arabian Stud and various educational activities, was to be recognized as the first person to receive the All Nations Cup Lifetime Achievement Award. After spending time walking around the stables and looking at all of Dr. Nagel’s horses, including the latest foal crop, we relaxed in the sitting room at the farm’s charming cottage. Although I have enjoyed personal friendships with both Dr. Nagel and Judith, it was an honor to experience them together in this lovely and informal setting as they shared precious memories of their influential past.
Lisa Abraham: What were some of your first experiences together?
Dr. Nagel: Early in our friendship I went with Lisa Lacy [Bentwood Farm] to see Judi while she and Don lived in Lufkin, Texas and where Ansata Arabian Stud was located at that time. Mainly I wanted to see Ansata Ibn Halima [Nazeer X Halima] who was very, very impressive. He represented himself exactly as I was told. Then later, Don and Judi visited my farm with their friend from Luxembourg, Mr. Jean Kayser. Although I was not present for this visit, my people told me there was a lady from America who wanted to see Jamil [Madkour I X Hanan] --and then she left. I was very impressed as I knew not everybody gets a visit from Judith Forbis.
Judith: When Jean, Don and I arrived at your farm, it had just snowed. Jamil was a vision in white against white as he came forth from his stable. What struck me first were those big, black eyes against the silvery snow--they literally jumped out of his eye sockets--and those tiny in-tipped ears--so rare--even to this day. Most of all though, Jamil knew who he was. I find that very important in a breeding stallion--he must be masculine yet classically refined, with a strong sense of "knowing his self-worth."
Dr. Nagel: I remember it was soon after this visit our relationship grew. Judi and Don had moved to Mena, Arkansas, when I visited them again. It was on that trip, I was shown all the Ansata horses. Following the presentation, we spent the evening at their home. Over a glass of red wine, Judi asked me in which horse I was most impressed. I responded by saying, ‘Everything was so nice.’ She then said, ‘No, no, no--there was something that you liked very much, wasn’t there?’ She was right--it was Ansata Halim Shah [ Ansata Ibn Halima X Ansata Rosetta] . Even though he was quite young, only two or three years old, I knew he was exactly what I wanted. He had everything: a great topline, a nice shoulder and a beautiful face.
Judi then suggested that we consider exchanging Halim Shah for Jamil for a period. I have to say, as a very small breeder, I was very surprised that Judi offered me such a possibility—I was really flattered. After thinking about it overnight, I said, "Sure—let’s do it."
Judith: Jamil came over on lease first—I think it was in February or March of 1983--so that he could qualify for U.S. Nationals. Because Halim Shah was already eligible, he was scheduled to leave for Germany later in the year. After Jamil easily qualified, both horses went to Albuquerque together. It was an amazing year: Halim Shah went U.S. Top Ten Futurity Colt while Jamil went Top Ten Stallion in a killer Championship--one of the toughest I have ever seen. That was the year Arnett Perlane won and Ruminaja Ali was Reserve.
Dr. Nagel: Jamil was fifth in the Top Ten. I remember because he placed one spot ahead of El Shaklan, who was sixth…
Lisa Abraham: How did the exchange influence your respective programs?
Dr. Nagel: Let me begin by saying this was a time when I was still a beginner—not a professionally trained horseman. I had to learn myself, somehow, the typical features of an Arabian horse and there were many opinions on this subject. In the late 1970’s, Germany started having Arabian horse shows. At these shows I would study and learn about the traits of Arabian show horses. A lot of horses in Egypt, even the prettier ones, had a problem with the division of the topline--the backs were long and the croups were a bit short. When I first saw these horses, I didn’t realize. But after attending many of the shows and seeing other bloodlines, such as those of the Polish and Russian, I realized there was a problem with the Egyptians—and I had this problem too. In Germany, all the Egyptians either had this same problem or they weren’t nice enough to use. So, I started to think about how I could solve this problem. Since it was not possible to lease a horse from Egypt, I looked to the United States.
Because I had previously bought the stallion Mohafez [Ibn Moniet El Nefous X Ahroufa] from Bentwood Arabians, I went there initially and found Ansata Abbas Pasha [Ansata Ibn Halima X Ansata Bint Mabrouka], who had a very, very nice topline. I spoke to Lisa Lacy and her Papa [Jarrell McCracken] about leasing him, to which they agreed. However, Abbas Pasha was older and his fertility was quite low. I leased him for one year and was only able to get three or four mares in foal to him—it didn’t work and I felt lost.
My only concern about Ansata Halim Shah was if he would pass the qualities that I admired on to the next generation. To my relief, he hit perfectly and I felt so lucky. Each baby had a nice top line--a proper division between back and croup. I was particularly hopeful with what my mare Hanan could produce with him as I had a strong belief in her. She normally produced very good stallions, some of whom had already had begun influential careers as sires around the world. I prayed, "Please give me a stallion from Hanan and Halim Shah." My prayers were answered as that cross produced Salaa El Dine. From that point on, the topline problems I had on my farm were solved and until today, I profit from being able to incorporate Ansata Halim Shah into my mare herd. I kept Salaa El Dine as he continued to pass on a wonderful body.
Judith: …and he had a wonderful neck too. Hans, remember we were together when Salaa El Dine was born? You and I were not at the farm, but we were on our way, in your Mercedes, listening to opera on the radio, and we arrived soon after his birth…
Dr. Nagel: Yes, you’re right. We had just come from a show in south Germany and Dr. Zaghloul [from EAO’s El Zahraa in Egypt] was at the farm waiting for us.
Judith: As for Halim Shah, your first encounter with him was a fateful day for all of us. This was the beginning for him since he really was put "on the map" when he went to Germany. I will never forget that before arriving at your farm, Halim Shah stopped off in Paris at the Salon du Cheval and won Reserve World Champion Stallion. You remember--he was the only horse to receive a perfect 20 in Type. As this was his first introduction to the European Arabian horse community, it was a thrill for us and a sign of things to come. But of course, I also remember how pleased you were to finally receive him at your farm and that you truly launched his worldwide recognition as a breeding stallion.
By the way, I will also never forget the trip we took to Hanover, if I remember correctly, where Halim Shah was reviewed by the German Licensing Committee. Although I was just a bystander watching him being critically judged in every aspect by strict horsemen, I could tell they liked him. I was so proud when he passed his licensing test with flying colors, but I think we were both astounded when he was the only horse to receive a perfect 20 in Type. Of course, we both know that in due time he went on to sire an unprecedented number of licensed stallions.
Dr. Nagel: Yes. At that time in Germany, there was a stallion classification required for approval to breed. Generally, a stallion who was allowed to breed would normally only produce one or two sons who would be licensed to breed in the next generation, as well. Halim Shah had eleven—this had never happened—never--not before and not after. Halim Shah was the most licensed stallion ever and Mohafez was the second.
Judith: You know Hans, I think there really are no coincidences in life. At the time, while you were looking for an outcross, Don and I were also looking for one. After we got Jamil, we had a lot of fun showing him to significant championships in the States. Then he went on to sire some wonderful daughters who founded dynasties of their own, particularly in the Arabian Gulf. Among his sons, I will always remember Ansata Nile Pasha. He became a world traveler and everyone loved him. You know, they say good things come in small packages--and Ansata Nile Pasha was one of them. Had he been a bit taller, I think he could have been a world champion.
Also, while you were looking for certain corrections in your program through Halim Shah, we were looking for certain qualities through Jamil in ours. He was consistent in maintaining those big black eyes which we already had and did not want to lose. I wanted straighter front legs, and he was dominant in that department. He also gave those wonderful ears, shapely necks and overall quality, although we lost something in the croup area in the first generation. Most importantly, his progeny stayed within the overall Ansata type. Additionally, he gave us some color and, as you well know--most of our herd was--and always had been--grey. On the other hand, Halim Shah gave you greys for a change as most of your herd was bay or chestnut.
Dr. Nagel: But you know, looking back, it was interesting the response I first got regarding Halim Shah in Germany. It was said by some that he was not a correct horse—that his topline was so good that it was unnatural. But once he was seen in person, the responses changed and everybody wanted to breed to him. I could have bred a hundred mares to him, but I knew this would be a mistake. I was very concerned about which horses should be bred to him. Although I was guessing, I was only interested in mares who had a strong influence of Alaa El Din—to me this was a fit. Also, with mares with pedigrees that included Mohebba [Sid Abouhom X Halima], a Dahmah Shahwaniya mare who belonged to the Marbach Stud [Germany’s oldest State Stud]. I wouldn’t allow any breedings to mares that did not have these horses in their pedigrees.
Lisa Abraham: Can you describe some of the challenges along the way as your breeding programs developed?
Judith: Like anybody who breeds horses, we all had our share of trials. Even though we were successful with our show horses in the ring as with Jamil, Halim Shah or Ibn Galal 1-7 and people loved them and so forth…we still had problems. Jamil arrived home in Germany and broke a leg; the gorgeous Hungarian mare Ibn Galal 1-7, that Hans helped us lease from Babolna, died from a torsion while foaling--even though there were several vets attending her; and Ansata Halim Shah, soon after returning home from Germany, endured a terrible colic which required exploratory surgery. There’s always something…
Dr. Nagel: and then in Qatar…
Judith: Yes, my God! Halim Shah was only there are few months when he suffered a fatal accident. I still have nightmares over this. It’s either life on the mountain peak or at the bottom of the valley. But when the bottom seemingly falls out, you live through it and you keep going—putting one foot in front of the other. Jarrell McCracken was a perfect example—the first three horses he bought died. Then in due time, he ended up being the largest Egyptian breeder in the world--because he didn’t give up. Breeding horses is not for the faint of heart, it just is not.
Dr. Nagel: Well Judi, I know you remember what we went through with Jamil when he first arrived in the States—I was sure there was a "bad eye" on him. When Jamil landed in New York, before he arrived at the quarantine, Don Forbis, my daughter Katharina and I were all there to oversee the transfer. As Jamil stepped off the plane, immediately, two guys came and gave him an injection. I asked them, "What are you doing?" and they replied, "This has to be done…" and never gave an explanation. I told them, "Please, do not touch this horse again." Then the truck arrived to take Jamil to the quarantine. This truck had a metal floor, with nothing on it--no straw--nothing. Once loaded on to the truck, the horse immediately slipped. So, I insisted that I ride in the back with him, to which my daughter said, "No Papa, you cannot do that, I will stay with him." Only after ten or fifteen minutes on the truck, Jamil started to sink down on his front legs and became unable to stand up. Since he had been tied, Katharina had to cut the rope—or else he would have hung himself. Once we arrived at the quarantine, he could stand again, although he was wobbly. After this experience, I was too afraid to leave him. Don and I rented an apartment nearby and called every morning and evening to ask how Jamil was doing until we could finally take him to Mena ourselves. It was a terrifying experience…
Lisa Abraham: Can you share details of your relationship outside of the horse industry?
Judith: Over the years, we made several trips together, some just to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Of course we all loved the horses, but we shared many other interests as well. We enjoyed traveling together and were very compatible as friends as well as peers. Remember the trip we took to Egypt?
Dr. Nagel: Oh yes…
Judith: While there, we had such a wonderful time traveling up the Nile. Then another time, both families went together to New Orleans where we stayed overnight at a bed & breakfast at one of the big plantations…
Dr. Nagel: In Natchez…it was very nice.
Judith: Yes, it was along the Natchez Trace--although I forgot the name of the mansion. Also, over the years, I have found that sometimes a husband and a wife are not always supportive of one another and have let the horses come between them. That was never the case with you and Nawal, or with Don and myself. We were all very supportive of each other in whatever we did, either with the horses or in outside business or activities.
Lisa Abraham:…and what about your spouses--Nawal and Don?
Dr. Nagel: My wife comes from the city of Beirut in Lebanon and has always been a city girl. When we met, she knew about shopping and Dior and similar things. But as time went by, she discovered nature and understood more. She started to buy flowers for the balcony and even purchased a parakeet for the children. But up till then, she never had anything like horses in her life. Over time, she began to understand the attachment I had to the horses and she then followed. Although she never became a connoisseur of horses, she let me continue to pursue them and we enjoy the farm, it’s environment and the horses together.
Judith: Nawal and I are lifelong friends. Her personality is particularly endearing. She is both vibrant and warm—and has the most wonderful smile. I always look forward to going shopping with her. We love to explore the many charming boutiques in Bremen as well as the larger department stores. From every visit, I come home with some treasure we found during our forays into the city--I still have a fantastic fur-lined coat from one of our shopping trips in the 80's. Nawal is also great cook and, typical of her Lebanese hospitality, insists that I am well fed—so it is normal for me to add a few pounds during each visit. But besides all the fun we have shared, our relationship has further been cemented as we have seen and commiserated over many crises involving either the families and/or the horses. One doesn’t forget these times.
Dr. Nagel: I also enjoyed my relationship with Don as we had many commonalties. Don was excellent company and there was never an end to our conversations. Besides our mutual commitment to the horses, we also shared other interests, such as farming. Don liked to buy equipment, especially tractors—which I enjoyed as well. Also, when Don was a young man working for Halliburton, he lived in Celle for a time as his company drilled for oil. Celle, which located about 140 kilometers from Bremen, is a small German town known for its connections to the energy industry. When Don and I were together he spoke often about his time there, which was another connection we enjoyed outside of the horses.
Judith: Indeed, Don enjoyed his relationship with you as well. But even though you shared a great deal in common, it was still the horses that brought all of us together. Hans, while you were a very good rider and judged many horse shows, Don also had an excellent eye for a horse and enjoyed showing them, even at the level of the U.S. National Championship. But in the end, both together and separately, we all enjoyed participating in an industry which has been both a lot of fun and hard work. But, most importantly, one in which we have been able to create legacies that will live on long beyond us.
A Postscript from Judith Forbis
I’d like to think of my first meeting with Dr. Nagel as a “divine appointment.” As I look back over the years of our friendship, and the influence of the Ansata and Nagel bloodlines around the world, I am humbled. I could have never imagined that the global Arabian horse community would benefit from that very first meeting, and subsequently from the leasing of Jamil and Ansata Halim Shah. When one considers the magnificent Arabian mare dynasties created by the combination of these two horses in particular, it is truly staggering. Certainly the "M" family of Ansata Majesta, along with her sisters and relatives in Qatar and Kuwait, which resulted from these combinations, is unique in the Arabian horse world. But that is just one example. The Hanan line played an important role as well—in particular, Aisha (aka Bint Halim Shah) was someone very special in that family. With Salaa El Din, she produced the stallion Safir who was used heavily by Al Rayyan Farm in Qatar
Since I have known Hans from his beginning days as a breeder, I have enjoyed the unique vantage of being able to observe all the changes as the decades have passed—of course this has included a few more grey hairs on both of our heads! What I have admired most is Hans’ eye for beauty and his love of nature. When Don and I first visited Katharinenhof, which he named after his daughter Katharina, the farm was still under construction and there was little landscaping. Now it is complete with numerous red brick barns and houses graced by various species of verdant trees, rose gardens, a pond inhabited by graceful black swans and water fowl that lend tranquility to the entire farm.
There will always be a degree of competition among breeders, and this was true for us as well. However, in our case, we both enjoyed success and loyal clients in our individual breeding programs and were also able to work positively together in many ways over the years. I remember how well we collaborated to further The Pyramid Society and Egyptian Arabian horses in Europe. That first Egyptian Event held in Wiesbaden, Germany in the mid 1980’s was a smash hit and drew thousands of spectators. We intended it to be an exhibition--not a horse show. Among the many activities included seminars held on the art of breeding; carriage demonstrations from Babolna and Marbach; falcon-flying and a saluki parade; and a presentation of stallions. The Egyptian Event Europe which is still held annually is a result of that early cooperation.
Hans and I have devoted our lives to breeding Egyptian Arabian horses. Furthermore, we have both written educational books covering many topics regarding the Arabian horse, but particularly about the art of breeding. Each of us has been the recipient of similar awards from our peers recognizing our contributions and devotion to the Arabian horse community. That in itself has been rewarding. However, it is especially a source of great pride to know that the native lands of the Arabian horse such as the Arabian Gulf, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and countless other countries have benefitted from this special legacy and our longtime friendship.
However, some things must come to a close. On December 15, 2008, when Don Forbis passed away, it marked the end of an era. In the very beginning, it was Don who insisted that if we were to buy the fillies, Ansata Bint Mabrouka and Ansata Bint Zaafarana, we must also purchase a colt and together we chose Ansata Ibn Halima. That decision, made in 1959 while we were in Egypt, changed the Arabian horse world forever. Don was also a people person who enjoyed telling stories and entertaining guests. Despite the fact that Mena is not an easy destination, his memorial service was heavily attended by our many friends who came from all over the world. Among them was Hans who immediately flew in from Germany. Not only was he there to support me, but he thoughtfully spoke to those gathered at the service about his fond remembrances of Don—something I shall always hold dear to my heart.
Soon after Don passed away and we sold the Ansata farm in Mena, I moved a few miles distant to a smaller place on Lake Wilhelmena. Although I no longer raise horses, my activities in the horse world continue and my friendship with Hans and Nawal remains unchanged. We get together as often as possible whether it be at a horse activity, at the farm, or at their charming home in Bremen. Sometimes we go to museums, listen to organ music at one of the local cathedrals, or spend the evenings laughing as we watch “Mr. Bean.” However, no visit is complete without at least one trip to the city market to eat spicy German sausages slathered with mustard on a freshly baked roll. But most of all I enjoy spending time at the farm and watching Hans's unique breeding program continually evolve. It is so peaceful there and it brings back many cherished memories. Time has marched, and is marching, and while the past will always be remembered, I look forward to what the future has in store for both of us. In fact, there are some new plans for further educational cooperation on the horizon.
Lisa Abraham is an International Journalist and Photographer from the United States. Although she does free-lance for various media, her primary dedication is to Arabhorse.com as a Premier Contributor and Representative. She is also a breeder of Straight Egyptian Arabians.