Sixty people gathered together at Om El Arabians in Santa Ynez, California, on July 22-23, for a weekend of education, food, and horses, horses, horses! “My mother, Sigi, was committed to education and I want to continue that commitment on a very real level,” said Janina Merz, owner of Om El Arab.

Opening up her farm for a two-day seminar on conformation evaluation by Cindy Reich, Merz also allowed a number of her horses to be used for live judging classes.

While some might balk at having people openly evaluate and discuss the conformation of one’s horses in the classes, Janina was adamant that more education is needed for owners, breeders, and trainers in order for the industry to thrive. “No one is offering educational opportunities like this and we felt there was a niche to fill. How are we going to educate the next generation of people coming into the breed? There are very few longtime breeders left, and if we can use our horses and our program to increase the knowledge base, then I want to do that.”

It certainly seemed to strike a chord, when the clinic, originally limited to 30 people, quickly swelled to 60 — the maximum to ensure a more personal experience. Saturday started with a discussion on how the Arabian horse evolved and what makes the Arabian different from other breeds. The morning’s discussion also covered the development of a judging system, and how to judge balance. It was capped off with a showing of the farm’s stallions, which allowed everyone to see not only the established senior stallions, but the junior stallion of Om El Arab, Om El Sinon (WH Justice x Om El Shadiva), and Aziim Al Amaar (*Amaar al Rayyan x Imperial Maysana), a new straight Egyptian stallion on lease.

The afternoon session covered judging the body, type, and feet and legs. Everyone shared their newfound knowledge over a wonderful dinner in Santa Ynez of pasta and a couple of amazing wines from Om El’s vineyard. It was gratifying to see participants of such a wide range of ages and disciplines, from halter to working western, at the seminar. There were also quite a few junior judging team members who were allowed to camp out on the lawn at Om El Saturday night so they could stay within their budget! In fact, all junior participants were allowed to take the course at a 50 percent discount.

Sunday’s session started bright and early with two classes of four horses each to judge. This was the part of the seminar that everyone seemed to enjoy and appreciate the most. Most of the participants found that actually being in the ring judging horses was a far, far different experience than judging from the rail or from the stands. After placing the classes, each person was asked to stand in front of the horse they placed first. It was really interesting to see the variety in the placings, which is why judging is never a certainty. Everyone has their own priorities when looking at a horse. There was no “right or wrong” placing, but Cindy discussed all the horses as she described her thought processes behind her own placing of the class. The discussions that ensued were enlightening and contributed greatly to the learning experience.

After lunch, there was a “pop quiz” of slides of various conformation traits, with a discussion following. Each participant received a certificate of completion, and then everyone retired to the front lawn for a showing of horses and a wine and cheese party. Everyone began to make plans for next year’s seminar before it had even been decided upon, confirming the fact that this clinic struck a chord with people. Janina agreed that this would become an annual event with perhaps a winter seminar to be added as well. The consensus of all the participants was that this educational experience was graded A plus!