By Linda White
When Count Federico Zichy-Thyssen went to Britain to study at the University of Cambridge, he took his horse with him. A lifelong horseman, he bought his first Arabian in Argentina when he was 18, and fell in love with the breed. Whether he was steeplechasing in England; competing with his Arabians in the show ring; breeding winning Arabian race horses; or riding across his thousands of acres of Argentine ranchland, his love for Arabian horses, and all things equine, were known and respected the world over.
“Count Federico was a unique, impressive individual: larger than life,” Judith Forbis remembered. Judith and her late husband, Don Forbis, founded Ansata Arabian Stud more than 50 years ago. Ansata-bred Egyptian Arabians figures prominently in the 40-year-old Zichy-Thyssen Arabian breeding program.
“He had an eye for beauty and classic type in an Arabian horse,” Forbis continued. “It was no wonder he was attracted to the Gainey breeding program, which he carried on in South America.
“When he became enamored of the straight Egyptian Arabians, he purchased a number from Imperial Egyptian Stud. These included Hossny, a champion *Ansata Ibn Halima son. He next acquired a half-interest in Ansata Shah Zaman, and purchased Ansata Ibn Bukra outright, from Don and me.
“Federico also took great pride in his thousands of acres of ranch land, and his herds of cattle. He often worked cattle with his Arabians. Don's and my visits to Federico’s many farms in South America were educational, and great fun. We would fly from farm to farm, with the Count piloting his King Air plane, and landing on dirt airstrips. He was fearless.
He loved his horses, especially Hossny, whom he rode everywhere. He told me when the beloved stallion died in his arms from a snake bite, he cried. When he closed his farm in Ocala, Florida, Don and I looked after his breeding program in America at our ranch. A few years later, he shipped all his horses to Argentina.”
Willi Oppen has managed Zichy-Thyssen Arabians for the past 18 years. “The Count passed away in August 2014, at a private clinic in Buenos Aires,” Oppen explained. “He had just come back from three months in the UK, where he and I organized a farm, populated with primarily straight Egyptian mares. I followed him to Argentina at the end of July 2014, and a month later, he died.
“He bred Anglo-Arabians and Quarter Horses in the 1980s,” Oppen said. “At one time, he had more than 400 horses at El Atalaya, his 2,500-acre estancia in Buenos Aires. That ranch was the smallest of his many properties, but it was always his favorite. He loved it here.”
Federico Zichy-Thyssen was born in Aachen, Germany, on June 22, 1935. As a young child, he came to Argentina with his grandparents shortly after World War II, and eventually became a naturalized Argentine citizen. He graduated from the University of Cambridge, with degrees in letters and philosophy. Several of his survivors: three sons and three daughters, are interested in the horses.
“After 18 years with Count Federico and his horses, I don't know exactly what is going to happen with the ZT breeding program,” Oppen said. “He created a trust to fund his breeding program, but his succession and estate are not yet settled, so the future is unknown. It is our hope that this wonderful breeding program will continue.
“He created a ZT type of Arabian,” continued Oppen. “You can see his signature on the horses he bred. Zichy-Thyssen Arabian horses won around the globe; they are contributing to breeding programs around the world, and will continue to do so for many years. We chatted every morning when the Count was at the farm, and I always told him that breeding the ZT Arabian horses was the most consistent thing he did in life.”
“Count Zichy-Thyssen was a great benefactor to the Arabian horse breeding community in
South America,” Judith Forbis stated. “His many imports of significant bloodlines continually broadened his own and other Arabian breeding programs. He also supported horse shows worldwide - often showing his horses himself. Tall and imperious-looking, the Count was quite the showman! He was very engaging, with a good sense of humor, but he was a no-nonsense person; he told it like he saw it.” Forbis paused, thoughtful.
“I have met many individuals, in all walks of life, over more than 50 years in this Arabian horse world, but Federico Zichy-Thyssen is one person I shall always remember. May he rest in peace.”