The Antiquity Of It All
Five top American breeders discuss their devotion to a handful of ancient, elegant breeds with smooth gaits and amazing style
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Thanks to Ewart's perceptive breeding recommendations, the already versatile Connemara became even more so. In 1923, Ireland formed the Connemara Pony Breeders' Society. Three years later, England formed a similar organization, and in the 1950s, the American Connemara Pony Society was formed "in recognition of the need for a pony of great stamina and versatility, capable of carrying an adult in the hunting field, yet gentle and tractable enough for a young child, fearless as a show jumper, yet suitable and steady as a driving pony."
It took Burr three years to find "just the right pony," a mare named Legacy, who was owned by breeder Jacqueline Harris of Geneseo, New York. Legacy went on to become Burr's best brood mare and the youngest mare ever to make the American Connemara Pony Society's Hall of Fame.
"I can't remember how I found Mrs. Harris's place," Burr says. "All I know is that the minute I saw Legacy, I knew she was the mare I was seeking. The problem was, Mrs. Harris didn't want to sell her."
When Harris acquired another breeding mare, however, she was willing to part with Legacy. Burr carefully studied various Connemara bloodlines before introducing the Greystone line into her breeding program. The result was her champion stallion, Ballywhim Ardan Mor, who is clearly the king of Ballywhim Farm's 90 rolling acres in Roxbury, Connecticut. The only stallion with five mares currently at the farm, six-year-old Ballywhim Ardan Mor was the first colt born there. Affectionately called Danny, he stands 14.1 hands high and was ranked second in the country in his breed in 1997. Last year, he won numerous all-breed awards with the United States Dressage Association.
"I keep only a handful of horses, very special ones that I know will reproduce great traits and that do just about everything well," Burr says. "We ship semen all over the country to be crossed with all different kinds of horses, but we produce very few foals here. The ones we do, we sell to very special homes, and the ponies must all be handled and matched up with the right people so the breed, which nearly died off, continues to thrive and more and more people come to love these ponies the way I do."
In 1982, Eugene Pepe, a weekend horseman, lay in a hospital bed recovering from a painful spinal fusion. His doctor's advice was painful as well: "No more horseback riding."
"I couldn't accept that," Pepe recalls. "So I went looking for a smooth-gaited horse."
He soon found one in Mendham, New Jersey: a Peruvian Paso mare with a new foal. Reluctant to let Pepe ride the mare so soon after its colt's birth, the horse's owner suggested that he visit a Texas farm that specialized in the breed. He flew there the next day and came home with five Peruvians. Today, Pepe's Westview Farms in Pawling, New York, is a leading American breeder of Peruvian Pasos.
"It was the gait and the smoothness of the ride that appealed to me," Pepe says. "I knew they were just what I was looking for. To prove it, I got my doctor, the one who'd operated on my back, and brought him to the farm. Then I put him on a horse. He was amazed at how smooth they were and gave me his blessing. Now 200 foals later, here I am."
The Peruvian Paso of today is descended from bloodstock brought to Peru in the sixteenth century by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro. At the time, the Spanish were considered the world's foremost horse breeders. Their fine horses blended the Barb of North Africa (the most influential strain), the Jennet of Spain, the Friesian of the Netherlands and the Andalusian.
The modern-day Peruvian Paso owes much of its elegant appearance to an infusion of Andalusian blood introduced by the horses of Spanish noblemen who arrived after the conquistadores. Producing a riding horse that could comfortably carry a rancher for days was a priority, and it didn't take long for the reputation of the horses in and around Lima to become legend.
"Those early breeders wanted to create a tractable, elegant horse that was comfortable enough to ride all day on the huge ranches, and they got it," Pepe explains. "This was very important to them, since horses were their only transportation."
Once they achieved their goal, Peruvian breeders allowed no more foreign blood to enter the gene pool. "They still guard the pedigrees of their horses and can easily give you a detailed genealogy of a particular animal," he says.
The unique Peruvian Paso gait is believed to have come from the Barb side of its family tree. Its smooth, lateral, four-beat gait--similar to the tolt and other smooth, easy-riding gaits--is unique to the Peruvian Paso and its cousin, the Paso fino, bred in Puerto Rico. Executed with termino, a graceful, flowing movement in which the horse's forelegs are rolled towards the outside as it moves forward, the gait of the Peruvian is always smooth and animated.
"Both the Peruvian Paso and the Paso fino have the four-beat gait," says Pepe, who owns both types of horses. "They simply execute it differently. With the Peruvian, termino is all-important. Paso fino breeders, on the other hand, consider it to be undesirable, especially for horses in the show ring. They want to see up-and-down action in the rear legs, not overreach. They also want their horses to take a lot of steps when they cover ground. The Peruvian breeder values a horse that takes fewer steps to cover distance."
A gentle, willing disposition is also a hallmark of the breed. "Early breeders worked hard to develop a horse that looked spirited but was really very gentle," Pepe says. "You're really aware of these horses' dispositions when you go there and see little kids riding stallions. It's really amazing. The Peruvians simply don't allow horses with bad natures to reproduce. The horses they're breeding to and from are all gentle and, as a result, so are most of the babies."
Pepe pauses and looks out the window of his study. It's an unseasonably warm day for January in Pawling. A mare that has just arrived from his farm in Ocala, Florida, where most of his horses spend the winter months, is being led from the barn into the sunshine. She follows the handler, quietly looking at the fields, occasionally nuzzling the man's shoulder as the two proceed down the lane. "When I got my first Peruvians, there were only a handful of these horses in the entire country," Pepe says. "Now there are about 10,000, and I own 100 of them. Look at that horse. How could you not fall in love with something that looks like that?"
Diana Stuart Jones is a reporter and equestrian correspondent for two western Connecticut newspapers.
Anyone seriously interested in purchasing a horse or pony from the breeders featured is invited to contact them directly: Icelandic horses at Dan Slott's Mill Farm start at $15,000 but can go as high as $100,000 each. Interested parties should contact either him or Kristjan Kristjansson by phoning (518) 329-0185 or faxing (518) 329-0188. You can also write to Icelandic Sports Ltd., Mill Farm, P.O. Box 113, Route 3, Ancramdale, New York 12503. Web site: www.icesport.com
To purchase a Polish Arabian, contact Audrey Fisher or Larry Jones at Dunromin' Arabians, R.D. 2--Box 87 A, Pine Plains, New York 12567-9693; phone (518) 398-6500; fax (518) 398-5393. Prices will be discussed at that time.
Iberian horses can be purchased by contacting Bettina Drummond at Pruyn Stud at Auden Field, 19 Ox Hill Road, Newtown, Connecticut 06470. The telephone and fax is (203) 426-6699. Prices available upon request.
Connemara ponies at Ballywhim Farm start at $7,500. For more information, contact Nancy Burr, Ballywhim Farm, Roxbury, Connecticut 06783. Call (860) 354-6972 or fax (860) 355-3494.
Peruvian Pasos at Eugene Pepe's Westview Farms in Pawling, New York, are priced between $4,000 and $300,000 each.
Inquiries only should be addressed to Pepe at Westview Farms, 50 Bank Street, White Plains, New York 10606; phone (914) 949-4000; fax (914) 949-4270.