At two American universities the Arabian horse has for decades, and continues to be, central to teaching about all things horse. They both have remarkable long standing breeding programs that have long proven that the best way to learn about horses is from horses.
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and Michigan State University share a passion for Arabians, thanks initially to the same person — cereal magnate, philanthropist and Arabian breeder Will Keith Kellogg — a man whose own infatuation with the breed contributed to these colleges’ successful equine programs and to the Arabian horse in the United States.
Driving through Los Angeles County where heavy traffic clogs the streets most timesof the day, you might grumble at the numbers of cars and the boredom of the cement and asphalt scenery. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, fields of green grass meet the road and Arabian horses are heads down on the grass. And yet you’re still in L.A. County.
Welcome to the campus of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, once home to avocado groves and Arabian breeder W.K. Kellogg.
In 1949, Kellogg donated 813 acres to California’s state college system, with 22 covenants to the deed, among them the stipulations that: the university had to, at all times maintain horses of “pure Arabian breed, to meet the highest standards, and of the best type, conformation and bloodlines,” and to “educate scientists, students, and the public” about Arabian horses. He also stipulated that the operation maintain an advisory council of Arabian experts.
Throughout the years, the Arabian program at Cal Poly has been privy to advice from breed leaders such as Dr. Eugene LaCroix, Leland Mekeel, Linda Mekeel Madsen, Rob Bick, Gary Dearth, Bob Buell, Margaret Rich, Lewis McKim, and Scott Dunn.
Today, with the 91-year history of Kellogg breeding program behind it, the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center in Pomona is the oldest continuous breeding program in the country with its 35 green acres welcoming visitors, students and faculty onto the campus.
The school was built around the farm, making agriculture a part of campus life for all 22,000 students in eight differ- ent academic colleges. Many of the employees at the Kellogg Center are current students or alumni. Five live at the center dorms and feed, clean, and provide after hours care and support for the 100 Arabians on campus. To fulfill Kellogg’s education mission, students from all majors are encouraged to “come to the center to groom horses, join the drill team, and take riding lessons,” explains Jéanne Brooks-Abernathy, director of the center. “The polytechnic or ‘hands on learning’ philosophy is a big part of what we do. The students are very involved in our day to day operations I had a student who was a hospitality major who said he couldn’t believe he had never touched a horse before coming here, and now he could ride pretty good, and gets paid to clean stalls.”
Essentially, students have the opportunity to learn all elements of horse life. “In addition to their class work, they’re working with a world class staff with an exceptional knowledge base and commitment to quality care. We are building horsemen, who learn the full cycle of what it is to take care of a horse. Even if you don’t want to run a horse farm, or if you want to be an engineer and have a farm with two horses, you can learn critical life skills.”
Most coveted in the curriculum is the credited foal watch class. To follow the breeding process, students are assigned in groups of four or five to a mare that has been bred or is foaling this year. More than 100 students signed up for the class this year.
A foal watch group can submit for the staff’s consideration up to three names for its foal. Naming guidelines point out AHA naming rules, and each foal’s name begins with the “CP” prefix. “We suggest that cultural references that are cute today may not be cute in 25 years, like flavor of the month pop singers may not matter later. Also, we suggest envisioning yourself in the show ring. Can the announcer pronounce the name?”
Foal watch has celebrity status, with students, staff and the university president, Soraya Coley, after the job of watching the births of highly prized Arabians. For two years in a row, Coley has chosen “her” broodmare and awaited the call alerting her to the pending birth. As she lives on campus in a house built for Kellogg’s son, she came to the barn at night and with the foal watch team watched over her foal’s birth.
With each birth, the foal’s gender is announced by a pink or blue flag raised on the “foal pole” which can be seen outside the center’s walls.
For the past few years, 10 to 15 mares have been bred. “We want to increase the number because we have important mares making a contribution to the breed. Our program serves a great educational purpose and we have room for more. Ten is too small for us to maintain the diverse facets of our program like the annual sale, the Sunday shows, and the drill team,” explains Brooks-Abernathy.
Initially, Kellogg’s breeding was built on horses he imported from the Crabbet stud. The current breeding philosophy took its course when Norman K. Dunn was appointed manager of the horse department in 1964. Professor Dunn felt that the Arabian breed was surpassing the closed breed program of the Kellogg Center and began pairing Cal Poly mares with outside stallions including *Bajram, *Bask, Fadjur, and The Real McCoy.
Today, the Cal Poly program has the support of several prominent breeders and receives breeding donations valued at $40,000 a year. “We have a good American mix today. The majority of the mares do trace in the tail female line to the original Kellogg herd.”
Brooks-Abernathy brings her considerable breeding and promotion knowledge to a job seemingly designed for her. With an MBA in marketing from the University of Tennessee, she joined Xerox Corporation in sales and management. In 2003 she opened her Brookhill Farm in Franklin, Tennessee. Shortly, the farm grew from a home for three personal horses to a full service breeding and training operation with more than fifty Arabians and sales on five continents. She was an active member of and volunteer for The Pyramid Society, and served as president of the Middle Tennessee Arabian Horse Association.
In keeping with Kellogg’s wishes, the center is obliged to publicize the Arabian horse to the general public. Back in the day, Kellogg opened his farm to the public on Sundays and showed off his horses. Today, that tradition continues on the first Sunday of the month from October to May with an open house for hundreds of spectators. There they watch the student trainers put the Arabians through 10 to 12 demonstrations.
At least 50 visitors come by weekly for a student-guided tour of the facility which includes three large arenas, five barns, a fully-equipped breeding lab, and two foaling stalls with an observation room. The horses are available to the animal science program and other schools. This year a local 4th grade class participated in the Wild Horse Tales program through a grant funded by Cal Poly Pomona.
Three of the four employees are Cal Poly graduates. The exception is trainer John Lambert, equine operations program manager, who graduated from Michigan State University with a B.S. degree in Animal Science with an emphasis in equine exercise, physiology and nutrition. He is in charge of the day to day operations, and preparing the three-year olds for the annual August production sale. “He carries out all his training with a student by his side. So he’s teaching a 20 year-old student while he’s teaching a two-year-old horse. It’s pretty remarkable,” says Brooks-Abernathy.
The annual sale is the only fundraising arm of the budget because the endowment from the Kellogg Foundation pays most of the bills. Salaries are funded by the State. “That helps support the operation. But that money goes up and down depending on investments. I do see going forward that all organizations will have to get creative on how we continue,” she says.
HORSE TEACHING & RESEARCH CENTER AT MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
W.K. Kellogg kicked off the transformation of Michigan State University’s breeding focus from a Belgian and Percheron to an Arabian operation with his donation in 1932 of the breeding stallion Amadore. Arabian mares came to the farm in 1942 and the first Arabian foal arrived in 1944. Today, the breeding and teaching center has 79 Arabians and a reputation for producing the next generation of Arabian industry leaders.
Paula Hitzler has lead the MSU Horse Teaching and Research Center (HTRC) and its Arabian Horse Breeding Program since 1989 and has overseen the center’s continued transformation with the graduation of such influential Arabian leaders as judge, breeder, show manager, author and Arabian ambassador Scott Benjamin, Lambert, trainers Brooke Fuchs and Abe Cotton, bloodstock manager Josh Biron, and breeding manager Emily Devers.
When they came to MSU, Cotton was into Quarter Horses, and Devers into the hunter jumper world of Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods. Like them, many future professionals found their way to the Arabian horse because of their MSU experience.
Key to this growth has been adherence to its mission to breed the highest quality Arabian horses in order to provide students with the experience of working with the best.
“The breeding program supports the teaching program we have there. The horses we have bred are our teaching tools, and we want our students to work with the best Arabians,” explains Hitzler, manager of the HTRC. “We are the grass roots. We introduce kids to Arabians. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity. That’s why we want our students to understand what it’s like to work with high quality Arabians.”
At the third oldest consecutive Arabian breeding program, 79 horses live on a 100 acre facility three miles from the MSU campus. Most are Polish breeding with Crabbet influence. Eight are straight Al-Marah mares. Five stallions stand at the farm including Hucks Legacy owned by Jeff Anspach, Ensignia and MSU Serzeem, owned by MSU, *Emanor owned by Ron Hart, and Eon O, owned by Hennessey Arabians.
The property includes 80 acres of pasture, three barns, two with 24 and 22 stalls, an indoor arena, classroom, breeding laboratory, and six stocks, a breeding dummy and foaling stalls.
“The mares live outside 24/7 until January of their third year when they are brought in to get ready for the sale. The kids go out in their snow boots and parkas to catch and ride them. We’re not here to tack up your horse and have you pet the pretty ponies. We’re here to teach students how to be hard working horse persons,” says Hitzler.
Students experience every aspect of the horse industry, from stallion collection, to breeding, to foaling, to working with weanlings, yearlings and two year olds in halter breaking, leading, and trailer training. Every fall, 12 to 15 two-year-olds are started by the students under her tutelage. In another class, they learn training, sales conditioning and competition. Last year at Sport Horse Nationals, the MSU group brought home a national championship, two reserve championships, and four Top Tens on horses bred and trained by students.
These experiences are available through two programs. First, a student can obtain a two-year certification from the Institute of Agriculture Tech- nology in horse management. The three intensive semesters include course work in physiology, nutrition and horse handling designed to develop the skill set for an entry level horse position such as assistant breeding manager.
MSU also offers a B.S. degree from the Animal Science Department Equine Program. “If we don’t teach them how to train horses, who is going to teach them how to train horses?” asks Hitzler, herself a product of the MSU animal science department.
After she began riding on a pony, she soon graduated to a Half-Arabian she bought for $350 with her own savings. She trained the horse herself and together they won four national Western Pleasure championships.
When it was time for college, the Michigan native told her parents she would pass on college because she wanted to be an assistant to Arabian trainer Gene LaCroix. Her parents disagreed and prevailed, sending her to MSU for a B.S. degree in Animal Science. For eight years she worked as breeding manager at various farms including Dr. Dee Whittlesey’s Zodiac Farm in Dallas, Texas, and Bill Van der Meer’s Saddle Rock Ranch in Sonoma, California.
She went on to teach equine classes at California’s San Joaquin Junior College and Santa Rosa Junior College until 1989 when a call from MSU brought her back to her alma mater to manage the farm for the expanding horse management courses.
Finding the farm with 40 horses, only one broke to ride, no arena and no classes, she took the first year to transform the program with new barns, riding classes, and the first MSU Spartan Spectacular Sale.
Today the sale is the culmination of the students’ work, and the only direct source of income for the farm and the program. The university does not share student tuition with the farm, though on yearly average the program generates around $240,000 in tuition from the nearly 250 students who are earmarked for degrees with horse emphasis. “It’s very expensive to teach this program. The Spartan sale revenue is a pittance.”
In an attempt to provide more funding, the university has established the Endowment for the Preservation of the Arabian Horse Breeding Program at Michigan State University. “While we’ve had incredibly generous stallion owners who have donated breedings to fabulous stallions, we need the income from the endowment to offset breeding costs such as semen shipping.”
Further, Hitzler established the Friends of the Horse Teaching Research Center, a nonprofit formed to raise money for student show expenses.
“We want the students to have the horse show experience on Arabian horses and the farm can’t pay these expenses any more. If the Arabian horse community thinks preservation of MSU’s Arabian horses is important, we need them to help. A lot of these farms and university programs are dying, and if they die, they are not coming back. Where are the kids from suburban backgrounds going to be exposed to the horse industry, or to get an equine experience so they can become large animal vets or trainers?”
Exposure to the public serves to remind the university of the importance of the Arabian program. The yearly Horsing Around at MSU Day last year introduced 1300 visitors to horses, and the Horse Tails Literacy Project saw 170 first graders reading to the MSU pregnant mares.
The name Kellogg might live on a box of cereal, but more importantly the W.K. Kellogg legacy lives in the hearts and minds of the students of Cal Poly and MSU, and the six and seven year olds telling stories to entranced Arabian mares.