By Arlene Magid
Few breeding farms can claim National winners from their first foal crop, and even fewer have half of their first foal crop win National titles. Smoky Mountain Park Arabians achieved both of these rare distinctions at the 2011 U.S. Nationals, when two very talented three year olds won titles in the Country Pleasure Futurity class. Named Reserve National Champion Country Pleasure Futurity was Tempani SMP (A Temptation x PS Alympia), and Chief Inspiration SMP (PS Afire Chief+ x S A Pasafire) was Top Ten in the class. Both horses are “cousins” as PS Alympia and PS Afire Chief+ are full siblings!
The story of Smoky Mountain Park Arabians began back in the early 1970s, with a horse crazy teenage girl and a very special gelding. Jacqueline Thompson, then known as Jacqueline Patterson. “I first met Mac Keff, who was then 15 years old, when I was a counsellor at a YMCA camp and he was owned by the camp director. He was a very talented athlete-had done gymkhana work and was supposed to hold a barrel racing record for the entire state of Florida,” recalls Jacque. “I owned a half Thoroughbred mare and had a few riding lessons but usually rode bareback. The camp owner offered to trade Mac Keff for my mare. I loved riding him, he was a challenge but was an incredible athlete.”
Jacque took Mac Keff to an all Arabian show in Georgia, where the judge told her she would have something special if she could get him under control. Jacque got an afternoon of advice from an acquaintance who owned Mac Keff’s brother and showed her how to ride a park horse. Jacque schooled him in a clearing in the woods as she didn’t have a riding ring available, and then took him to a show in Columbia, South Carolina, where he won all three of the park classes including the championship. “I finally had gotten a saddle and showed him in keg shoes, “ she recalls. “We then showed together very successfully in the southeast, but he was always a handful because he wanted to go forward fast, thanks to his barrel racing experience. We were both teenagers but what fun we had. I showed him at Nationals three times-the third year I made the cut to go into the final but I had the flu and so Mac Keff didn’t get a national title, something I have always regretted.” At the time, in Jacque’s mind, Mac Keff was the horse of a lifetime and if she could one day raise trotting horses then it would truly be a dream fulfilled. Even though she admits her stallions Baskghazi, The Renaissance and PS Afire Chief surpass Mac Keff’s substance and “halteresque” qualities, still Mac Keff did some heavy lifting that only superior individuals can do – Mac Keff instructed by example the qualities necessary for excellent trotting motion, whereby he taught her what a true Arabian park horse should be. Keep in mind in mind those days pre-dated the use of pads and so the qualities she observed were unenhanced by farrier work and therefore were extra instructive for understanding pure athletic ability. Jacque says, “Watching Mac move was an education. He was so well coordinated, engaged his rear end and carried his weight there. When free he had a huge over-stride, proof that he used his body well. The power in his rear enabled him to elevate so well in the forehand, to lighten it and that along with his go-forward-attitude made him one of the few open-stride square and above square park horses of his day.” Jacque carries the image of Mac Keff in her mind whenever she looks at an Arabian, and the ideal movement he represented helped her develop her eye to select the excellent horses she owns now.
But there was also that indefinable quality within Mac that taught Jacque what it takes to make a good show horse one she looks for in selecting breeding stock today - that quality was Mac Keff’s personal courage, charisma and bearing. “It was such a delight to ride Mac Keff to the show ring. He carried himself with such pride and that “look-at-me” attitude of his was irresistible to observers whether they knew horses or not – People would literally stop, some would raise their sunglasses and watch him go by.’ Others followed Mac Keff to the show ring and afterward mirrored Jacque’s admiration for her horse. It was the usual comment for a fan to say to her that they never understood what a park horse was until they saw Mac move. This validation for Mac Keff was a great reward for a young girl who knew that her horse’s success came in spite of difficult circumstances - He was trained and shown in open park classes against national winners by a green amateur and yet placed well and when he behaved most often won. More remarkable was that he did this though he was trained by the same amateur without benefit of a riding ring. Instead had been schooled in a small patch of pine trees in which a circular path had been cleared and on the footing all Macon, Georgia residents know too well, hard when dry, greasy yet sticky when wet, untended Georgia clay. In addition with previous owners, Mac Keff had been in an accident as a young horse that involved barded wire which judging by the large scar at the top of his leg must have cut him near to the bone. He also had rough treatment as a gymkhana horse according to one professional horseman that knew of Mac in those days.
Jacque owned Mac Keff at the time of his death at age 19 and vowed she would have park horses again someday, but marriage and family took her away from the world of horses for some time. Her re-entry to Arabians was serendipitous and had she not been persistent in following some vague driving instructions, Smoky Mountain Park Arabians might not have existed. “I wanted to get back into riding competitively once my family was grown, but was concerned that park horses might be too much for me in middle age,” says Jacque. “I decided to try riding hunt seat on quiet horses and began taking riding lessons, but was concerned about getting too much sun so asked my instructor if there was a facility nearby that had a covered ring. She told me there was such a place but wasn’t sure of the exact location, just knew it was near Highway 321 near Knoxville, Tennessee.”
One day, after a brief foray taking lessons on reining horses (the hunt seat horses didn’t present enough of a challenge), Jacque decided to find the training barn with the covered arena. “It was almost spooky how easily I found it, “ she comments. “It was way out in the boonies well off the main highway I had been told about, but somehow I managed to take the correct turns on the back roads to find it-it was almost as if I were fated to do so.”
The farm she found was “the most picture perfect facility for an Arabian horse farm I had ever seen.” And there was a for sale sign on it! Jacque’s hopes were dashed when she called the realtor and learned the farm had been sold. She noticed a pickup truck in the driveway and decided to get out of her car to have a look at the barn. The driver of the vehicle turned out to be the farm’s former owner, Darwin Anderson, who informed her that the facility, which he had owned, had until very recently been used as a training facility by Joel and Ashton Kiesner. Jacque had never heard of them, having been out of touch with the Arabian world for many years, and Darwin hastened to tell her how successful Joel was as an English pleasure and park trainer, with clients nationwide, comparing him to Gene LaCroix in the 1970s when Jacque was competing with Mac Keff.
Darwin encouraged Jacque to give Joel a call at his new facility and sign on with him as an amateur rider. He told her he had been Amateur Owner of the Year and that he and his wife Mikaela (known as “Mike”) had enjoyed considerable success showing as amateurs with Joel. Later Jacque met Mike, who showed her a video of multi-National Champion English Pleasure Afires Heir. “I couldn’t believe my eyes, “ she says, “Afires Heir was bright bay and moved just like Mac Keff!”
Jacque then visited Joel Kiesner at his new location and discussed with him the possibility of owning an Arabian park horse. He showed her an extensive lineup of sale horses, and offered to let her ride one. It had been over 30 years since she had ridden an Arabian park horse, but Jacque’s exceptional riding talent was still intact. “When I stepped aboard it was like coming home again after being away a long, long time. And to top it off, the horse was bay, bridled straight up, and trotted with her hocks underneath her just like Mac Keff. Best of all, I was in the saddle again and in love with the Arabian park horse. I was hooked, “ she recalls with delight.
Shortly after meeting Joel Kiesner, Rod and Jacque Thompson started carefully acquiring the horses who have brought them both show ring success and international recognition. When Jacque was a teenager, she taught herself to ride saddleseat successfully and learned proper conformation from her beloved Mac Keff. In middle age she has self-educated as a breeder, training her eye to choose the very best breeding stock. “I have a gut feeling when I buy a horse,” she explains. “Any horse we own must have a strong hindquarter to support its front end and I always look for a good overstride like Mac Keff had which is proof of this. For thousands of years the Arabian horse has been noted for the beauty of its head and ears, its large eyes, its self carriage and high plume tail. These are all hallmarks of the breed, and horses we own must possess these. I have seen many good moving horses that didn’t look pretty standing still in their stalls, and all of our horses must be beautiful standing still as well as functional under saddle.” Jacque has bought many of her best Arabians sight unseen, from video footage. “At first people said I just got lucky, but I haven’t heard that much lately now that I’ve chosen so many horses who have done well in the ring and are now producing great foals for us!“ chuckles Jacque. “I know the pedigrees I want, I have done a tremendous amount of internet research to learn which lines will give the look I want, “ she affirms. “Of course having Mac Keff as my ideal horse has helped me a lot. I always keep his beauty and movement in mind whenever I look at a horse now.” Jacque has bought horses from noted breeders of saddleseat competitors including Irwin Schimmel of Prestige Farms, Tim and Marty Shea of Shea Stables, Carrie Brown of Stone Creek Stables, and Strawberry Banks Farm. “Buying from video is a good way to go if you are purchasing breeding stock from a respected farm and you have a good eye for phenotype and know what bloodlines produce the phenotype you want, “explains Jacque. “Self education is crucial, and I got that from my first park horse, Mac Keff.”
The first stallion purchased by the Thompsons was PS Afire Chief+ (Afire Bey V x Justa Glow+/). Darwin and Mike Anderson had recommended that the Thompsons go horse shopping at the Vicki Humphrey Training Centre. The Thompsons arrived during preparations for an open house which was to be held on the following day. While wandering through the barns, they came upon a stall whose occupant had the name tag “Bill”. A quick look inside showed them that Bill was a beautifully marked dark bay stallion who was quite tall but not lacking in type, with a small head, a beautifully proportioned body, and an upright arched neck. “From the moment we saw Bill in motion, even at the walk, Rod and I were impressed. This handsome stallion was everything we had dreamed of, and actually, a good bit more,” recalls Jacque. “He has a beautiful head, great tail carriage, correct legs and a springy trot that was coordinated, fluid and graceful.” The eye that Jacque had developed from owning and riding Mac Keff as a teenager told her that “Bill” was a horse worth having.
Vicki told them that “Bill” was for sale and would be presented the following day at the open house, and gave his price, which was double what the Thompsons had planned to spend. They were not looking to start a breeding farm, simply to buy a nationally competitive horse for Jacque to ride. “Our plans changed in the minutes we spent in ‘Bill’s” presence, “ she comments. “Magnificent Arabian stallions such as Bill have that power. Rod and I decided to offer Vicki the full price she had quoted us to halt any other negotiations and stop any possibility that someone else would buy him first.”
When the Thompsons went into Vicki’s office to finalize arrangements, they asked to see some show photos of “Bill”. Vicki handed them the stallion card for PS Afire Chief+, a national winning park horse. Rod said “This is a beautiful horse, Vicki, but where is the photo of “Bill”?” Vicki told them that “Bill” was PS Afire Chief+’s barn name-Jacque had chosen a National Champion as their foundation sire, and in addition he was a paternal brother to the stallion she had so admired at Kiesner’s, Afires Heir, as both were sired by Afire Bey V. Although Jacque had chosen PS Afire Chief+ only on phenotype, she later learned that his dam was a multiple national winner in show hack and English sidesaddle and all of her offspring were champions. “A great breeding stallion must come from a strong female line, and PS Afire Chief certainly does, “ Jacque explains. “Justa Glow+/’s dam is by the double *Naborr son Naborrs Lancer. *Naborr sired National Champion in halter, park and English pleasure. Her second dam is double Ferzon, a sire and grandsire of National Champions in halter and English pleasure, and traces to Canadian National Champion Mare Ga-Rageyma. PS Afire Chief+ has been a U.S. and Canadian Reserve National Champion Park Horse as well as a 2008 Scottsdale Top Five Senior Stallion-one of the few horses to win in the toughest competition in halter and in park!”
The second significant stallion bought by the Thompsons, Baskghazi (Baske Afire x Ry Fire Ghazi), came from Irwin Schimmel in the fall of 2007. He was bought after Vicki Humphrey had recommended him, sight unseen from seeing his video (once again Jacque’s well developed eye proved crucial in his selection). “His sire is the top siring son of Afire Bey V in number of national winners sired and in 2011 was ranked as the leading halter and performance sire of purebred and Half-Arabian winners at the U.S. and Canadian National shows by Arabian Horse Times magazine,” says Jacque. “His dam Ry Fire Ghazi has produced 5 National winners including U.S. National Champion Park and Top Ten English Pleasure IXL Noble Express+. When he stepped off the trailer, we knew we had made the right decision to acquire him, he was even better than his video and by a good bit. He has an extraordinary long, upright neck with a fine throatlatch, good size, great legs with wonderful hock action, intelligence and high spirit. He is the total package.” Baskghazi has enjoyed a successful show career, beginning with his 2008 Scottsdale English Pleasure Futurity Top Ten and his 2010 U.S. Top Ten English Pleasure title. Due to colic surgery he is now retired from the ring but the Thompsons have a number of very promising get sired by him.
The third stallion at Smoky Mountain Park is The Renaissance, who was bought in 2010 following his U.S. National English Pleasure Futurity Championship. He is now also a pleasure driving champion. He has a pedigree proven for generations of park and English pleasure horses. His sire, U.S. Top Ten Juniopr Stallion and Canadian Top Ten Futurity Colt ML Afire Chief, is by Afire Bey V out of a paternal sister to multi-National Champion Park Allience+/. His dam, Fire Essense, is a 3/4 sister to Top Ten English Pleasure La Quintara. Fire Essence, who produced 8 champions, 7 of them National winners and 4 of them National Champions! Her final foal, Essence of Destiny, was named 2011 U.S. Reserve National Champion English Pleasure Maturity AOTR. Fire Essense is by U.S. National Champion Park Pro-Fire out of multi-National Champion Park AOTR BRA Quintessence, a full sister to multi-National Champion Pleasure Driving BRA Quintara. “We saw The Renaissance for the first time at Scottsdale, where Tish Kondas was riding our Baskghazi. At first when we saw her on him in the practice ring we thought The Renaissance was Baskghazi but then we realized he was a different horse but moved just as well, “ comments Jacque. “His look was just what we want in our program, and his pedigree couldn’t be stronger.”
Smoky Mountain Park is now home to over 50 horses, with a broodmare band equal to the quality of its stallions. Rod and Jacque have taken great care to purchase mares to compliment their stallions, among them National winners and National winner producers. Among them are daughters of Afire Bey V, National Champion English Pleasure winners *El Ghazi and Mister Chips, multi-National Champion English Pleasure A Temptation, National Champion English Pleasure Cytosk+++/, Baske Afire, and multi-National Champion Park winners Young MC+, AA Apollo Bey and MHR Nobility. Some notable examples include U.S. National Champion English Pleasure AOTR Escada SCA (Afire Bey V x multi Top Ten English Pleasure Sable SMA+); multi-Top Ten Park A Love Supreme (daughter of the Top Ten English Pleasure winners Apaladin++ and Sweetanticipation); Forever N Ever (AA Apollo Bey x SMS Forever Bey), a 3/4 sister to National English Pleasure Champions Vegaz and SHF Encore; multi-Top Ten English Pleasure and Country Pleasure ROL Cypress+/ (Cytosk+++ x Holli Berry); ROL Fire Opal (Baske Afire x Firelite DGL), a full sister to multi-Top Ten Country Pleasure ROL Fire Mist; DA Fires Magic (AA Apollo Bey x CF Fire Magic), a maternal sister to multi-National Champion English Pleasure and National Champion sire Mamage; U.S. Top Ten English Pleasure Junior Horse Tula Afire SCA (Afire Bey V x Temora Lee), National winner producers PS Alympia (Afire Bey V x Justa Glow+/) and S A Pasafire (Afire Bey V x Paastelle); and National winner producer Read My Mind (VF Premonition x McJabaskolee), dam of three 2011 U.S. National winners and a maternal sister to multi-National Champion English Pleasure Toi Jabaska.
Smoky Mountain Park’s program now includes the services of trainer Mike Miller, who starts the youngsters as well as showing the older horses. He has been with the farm since 2008. “With over 50 horses on the premises, there are far more than one person can ride!” jokes Jacque. The services of outside trainers like Joel Kiesner, Vicki Humphrey, Tish Kondas and the Stachowskis are also utilized.
As Jacque and Rod look over their pastures full of beautiful bays with lofty trots, Jacque remembers Mac Keff, the horse who gave her the dream she has now fulfilled. What lies ahead for Smoky Mountain Park Arabians? “We will continue to use our own three stallions for our mares, as well as standing them to the public, “Jacque says, “but we also use outside stallions like Apaladin++ and Afire Bey V to produce the best we can, and we are sure we have future national competitors in our barns right now. We had a foal crop of just four in 2008, our first year having foals here, but we are totally committed to producing the great saddleseat horses of the future, and expect 18 foals in 2012. Let us be your one stop shop for trot!”