By Linda White
In 2013 Jim Stachowski was inducted into the Arabian Professional and Amateur Horsemen’s Association (APAHA) Hall of Fame. He won the APAHA English/ Saddle Seat Trainer of the Year awards in 1995, 2010 and 2011, and all four 2010 U.S. National Champion English Pleasure, Junior Horse divisions. He and his older brother Peter have won, or trained clients’ Arabians and Half-Arabians to win, hundreds of national titles in the decades since they launched Stachowski Farms, in Mantua, Ohio.
Jim just won the 2014 Fine Harness World’s Grand Championship at the Kentucky State Fair with Nutcrackers Nirvana, a Saddlebred stallion he and his wife, Shawn, bought in 2011. Jim has won fine harness world’s championships before, but a world’s grand championship is one of only three such honors the venerable show has been awarding annually since 1891. That kind of professional achievement in both the Arabian and Saddlebred worlds is unprecedented.
The Stachowskis and their staff of 30 manage the careers of the more than 175 Arabians, Half-Arabians and American Saddlebreds currently living at their Mantua, Ohio or San Marcos, California farms. The brothers’ talent, intensity and inexhaustible work habits have propelled them into the world’s uppermost tier of Arabian horse professionals – a long way from the days when they and eldest brother Anthony, now Dr. Anthony Stachowski, DVM, were showing their Shetland ponies in 4-H.
Most people only ever see the brothers hard at work what appears to be 24 hours a day, but we caught up with Jim a week before his spectacular victory at Louisville. He happened to be at a local youth league football practice, watching his son Jimmy, age 9, in his new role as quarterback. This seemed like an unlikely setting for Jim, who, like older brother Peter, rarely takes time off from the efforts that have accounted for their combined success.
“I look forward to relaxing and doing this in the evenings,” he admitted. “I enjoy watching the kids, and I like to see young people getting involved. That is something we need to be doing more of.” Jim and Shawn’s daughter Ava, now 13, is a familiar figure at Arabian Youth Nationals. Ava also won a world’s championship - her first – with her Saddlebred, Americas National Treasure, at the 2014 Kentucky State Fair.
The countless accolades are pretty evenly divided between the two brothers. Peter’s first U.S. Nationals was the 1973 show, in Oklahoma City. “I went there as a member of Ohio’s Youth Judging Team,” he recalled. “Dick Patterson, who sent us his young purebreds to start, told me to watch Gene La Croix. Gene had all those *Bask horses; he rode them so lightly, so softly, with a loose curb. I was amazed! We started going to Gene’s clinics, and when Stanley White, Sr., Tom McNair or Sheila Varian would have a seminar in Ohio, we would go. We learned so much!”
“We would go to those seminars with a tape recorder, and take notes,” said Jim. “Then we’d go home and apply what we had seen and learned. Bonnie Bailey, who trained for Keller Electric Arabians, was our 4-H advisor, so we rode a lot of saddle seat, and she got us interested in English performance horses. I remember the Keller Electric horses, especially their stallion, Hajababa, who was a national-winning park horse.
“Back then, everybody wanted a park horse,” he smiled.
“We would go to Quarter Horse Congress, in Columbus, for the seminars that Tommy Manion, Clark Bradley and Dale Wilkerson would give,” Peter remembered. “We would also go to Youngstown, to River Ridge and the other big, all-breed shows in Ohio, and watch trainers like Bob Hart, Sr., and Saddlebred trainers Stanley Edwards and Junior Seay.
“Training-wise, Gene La Croix and the Lasma Arabians were probably our biggest influence,” he added thoughtfully, “but Dick Patterson is the one who really got us going. He sent us his good horses … and he knew a lot of people. He would recommend us, and our business grew.
“We didn’t really have a plan to start our business,” Peter continued. “Neither of us thought about becoming professional trainers. We did well with our own horses, so before long, people started sending their horses to us. We just started training, and people were interested, so we continued. Early on, we also broke Thoroughbreds that were going to the track. We showed ponies, and then a couple of Half-Arabian/Welsh ponies, which their owners sent to us to train. We broke them, with our mother’s help, and ended up buying them. Our parents bought our first two purebreds from Dick Patterson.”
“Dick gave us a chance,” agreed his brother. “We weren’t top notch yet, but he would let us show some of the horses he’d send to us. We broke out the *Bask daughter Ambra. She was very smart, and very exciting; I used to get up and ride her before I went to school. Dick let me show her at Ravenna, and at Region 14, where she went reserve to Banduke, with Jim Clinton. Then Pattersons sold her, and her new owners sent her to another trainer. That was really a disappointment. We hoped she would stay with us.”
Peter took up the story. “Jim showed Ambra, and I showed Stargard and Cytlan, the *Cytrys son, for Pattersons. Cytlan was very upright, with a real ‘look’. We like them animated, and the Polish horses were very showy, with really hooky necks, and great attitudes. They had higher motion, and were a little bigger than what everybody was showing back then. Alpha Centauri, a Half-Arabian/Thoroughbred I showed, stood 16. hands. He was huge: a monster, for that time. He was my first U.S. Top 10.
“Sufis Fanci Free was my first U.S. national champion. Bob and Becky Elder owned her, and she was a show horse. When she hit the ring, she went to work.
“I was 19 when Dad passed away,” Peter continued. “I had gone to Kent State for a year because Dad wanted me to become a mechanical engineer, but when he died, training horses was no longer a hobby. It was time to get serious. It was still fun, but we had to find a way to keep the farm, and start making a profit. We had to think about the results, and to have a plan.”
“When the Half-Arabian park mare, Countess Vanessa, came along, she put me on the map nationally,” said Jim. He won national championship after national championship with the chestnut show ring legend.
“That’s when it really became a business,” he added. “When we first got started, we weren’t making any money, because horse training is not only hard work; it’s very expensive. The overhead was – still is - high, but it was good when we were able to pay bills, and just break even. Our business began to grow.
“Tagging along with Anthony and Peter to shows as a kid, I didn’t know what a horse trainer was. Then, when Bonnie Bailey took Peter and me to the Buckeye, and I saw Bob Hart, Sr. and several others, I was hooked. By the time I graduated from high school, it was all horses.
“Our folks were very supportive. Dad passed away when I was 15. He loved Arabians, which he had seen growing up on a farm in Poland, and he wanted me to become a horse trainer. He wanted Anthony to become a vet, which he did, and Peter, to be a mechanical engineer … he got two out of three.
“Training horses is very labor-intensive,” Jim continued. “I tried going to Kent State in the evenings, but I couldn’t do both. I never went to business school, but thankfully, I’ve always been able to figure out the best way to do something. Occasionally, I’ve wondered why I was training horses, because this business is full of ups and downs. A horse gets sick, or hurt, or gets taken away from you … but we’ve had so many wonderful clients; some have been with us for years. And we have trained hundreds – probably thousands – of Arabians and Half-Arabians. In the 1980s we began taking 65 or 70 horses to a show. We still do, but as the number of foals born declines, it’s getting harder and harder to find good prospects that have the talent to be successful in some discipline, and are trainable. And they have to have the desire. They can have all the talent in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything, if they haven’t got the gameness to succeed.”
“Sometimes horse shows are exhausting,” Peter conceded. “After the show, you may work horses ‘til 5:00 a.m., sleep for two hours, then get up and do it all over again. If you’re still working horses and you begin to hear the birds chirping … but when it’s all over, you forget about being tired, and only remember the excitement and satisfaction.”
“We’ve been training horses for a lot of years, and plan to keep training for a lot more years,” said Jim. “The horse business, like any business, has its ups and downs, but as long as we work hard and share our ideas, as we share our love for the Arabian horse, this will always be a great business.”