by Mary Jane Parkinson
What is the shortest distance between foaling and a Nationals winner? Ask Lee and David Black. They can give you a shining example. What is the most successful sale a small breeder can hope to make? Ask Lee and David Black. They will tell you of a sale that led the new owner to a National Championship in short order.
Lee grew up in Kenya — and still has a delightful accent — where she first saw an Arabian horse. “Yemini tribesmen had given an Arabian to a family friend, a neighboring farmer, as a sign of friendship,” Lee remembers. “This horse fired my young imagination, and my admiration for the breed only grew with the gift of a three-quarter Arabian gelding for my twelfth birthday. He was my friend and confidant through my teen years and after knowing him, there could be no other breed for me. I was heartbroken to have to sell him when I came to the United States to finish my college work. Then I met David and we married. I told him that someday, when we had the proper facility to keep a horse, I would again own an Arabian.”
David came from a far different background — a native Californian in the yachting business. But he took it with good humor when Lee started checking the classified ads for an Arabian, even before the last stick of furniture was moved into their new home in Jamul, California. They enjoyed the quiet and the fresh country air and, for their future, looked ahead to days and days of trail riding in the San Diego backcountry.
In the early 1980s, David and Lee were encouraged to become Arabian breeders as a way of acquiring income from their horse interest. So Nyota Ya Nyika was founded in 1984. In Swahili, the name means, “star of the desert.” David and Lee had collected a few Arabians by that time, although their pedigree knowledge was meager and they often relied on buying advice from others. “We learned by trial and error,” Lee remembers, “but we had some fortunate breaks.” One of the lucky breaks was a contact with Tom Townsend who led them to Linda Dunbar of Greenspring Arabians at Diamond Bar, California, where Tom was boarding a Khemosabi daughter. The Blacks loved and bought the Khemo daughter Khemo-Tu-Mari (x Tumari by Baske-Tu); she became their star broodmare, and Linda became a valued friend. “Linda was a wealth of information,” Lee remembers, “a small breeder who had earned an enviable reputation as a breeder of quality (including National Champions).”
A few years later, a prominent trainer, adviser, and entrepreneur came to the Blacks’ home to evaluate their herd. He told them they had only one horse worth keeping: the Khemosabi daughter. “Sell all the rest, tear down the corrals, and put in a tennis court,” he told them. “Then, buy a $50,000 mare from us and we’ll manage her and make you some money.” David and Lee could scarcely believe the arrogance they were hearing, but did do some culling and kept Khemo Tu Mari.
Now came the quest to find the perfect mate for Khemo-Tu-Mari. Lee had long admired *El Shaklan (Shaker El Masri x *Estopa by Tabal), a stallion bred by Om El Arab in Germany. At Om El Arab International at Santa Ynez, California, David and Lee admired (read loved) the *El Shaklan son *Sanadik El Shaklan (x *Mohena by Hadban Enzahi) and *Carmargue (White Lightning x Velvet Shadow by Bey Shadow), a recent import from England. The Blacks chose *Carmargue to breed to Khemo-Tu-Mari for her 1990 and 1991 foals: NYN Shangaza, a grey stallion who became important in their breeding program, and NYN Shahira, a grey mare.
“NYN Imara Versace (Versace x NYN Alis Shania by Ruminaja Ali) gave us our next big boost as breeders,” Lee recalls. “I just knew before she was foaled that we could expect a filly, a filly who would change our Arabian interest in a profound and lasting way. When Imara was about two weeks old, I sent some photos David had taken to John Brown at Rojo Arabians at Port Orange, Florida. We had an immediate response from John: ‘I have a buyer for your filly.’ A very attractive offer it was, and we agonized over the sale prospect, but after we thought about the cost of replacing her, the decision to retain her came easily. Friends and family thought we had lost our minds, but Imara was here to stay.
“Later, as we prepared to show Imara, she was so unhappy with her life with a trainer that we quickly brought her home,” Lee remembers. “Instead of a show career that year, we bred her to *Marwan Al Shaqab (*Gazal Al Shaqab x Little Liza Fame by Fame VF). Her foal was NYN Hisani, a stallion of whom we are immensely proud. He is our ‘flagship,’ the one who has taken our breeding program out into the big, wide world. We sold Hisani to Betty Radtke of Kharousel Farms in Clarkston, Washington, as a yearling, and Betty has enjoyed tremendous success with him, both as a show horse in halter and in western pleasure and ladies sidesaddle, and as a sire. His show career began as a Scottsdale Top Ten Yearling Colt, then moved briskly along to Region 5 Champion Yearling Colt, Canadian National Champion Futurity Colt, and U.S. National Reserve Champion Futurity Colt. Hisani now has a solid reputation as a sire, and he is well regarded as a sire of Regional and National winning get, both in halter and performance.
“Tragically, we lost Imara in 2005. She died of heart failure on the operating table while doctors were repairing a foaling injury. She left a 19-day-old filly NYN Sanaa Ya Imara (by *Marwan Al Shaqab). Losing Imara left us feeling gutted for quite some time as we’ve never considered our Arabians as commodities; rather, they are part of the family. David and I have often wondered at the extent of influence Imara might have had on the breed had she lived beyond her five years and two foals.
“Now, 12 years after we lost Imara, I am again seeing our involvement with the breed with enthusiasm and a promise for the future,” Lee notes. “For we not only have Sanaa, we also have NYN Zawadi, the second of two Versace daughters out of NYN Alis Shania (Ruminaja Ali x *Inschallah El Shaklan by *El Shaklan).
“Last year, Sanaa produced NYN Naibu Ibn Athens, a bay colt sired by LC Athens (Regal Actor JP x Genevieve C by Genesis C), a Regional Champion Stallion and 2011 Vegas World Cup Bronze Supreme Champion Junior Stallion. We believe the colt is destined for greatness. LC Athens, owned by Jim Robbins and Tim Kelly of R-Farms, Oregon City, Oregon, has all the right parts in the right places and is a brilliant outcross for just about all the contemporary bloodlines.”
To ensure foaling season 2018 will be fulfilling, Lee and David will breed Sanaa back to LC Athens and they will send NYN Zawadi to him after she foals in June. Zawadi is in foal to *Wortex Kalliste (Shanghai EA x Mirwanah Kalliste by *Marwan Al Shaqab), a French import standing in the United States for two years. In Europe, Wortex was named European Breeders Cup Gold Champion and in the United States, 2016 Breeders World Cup Silver Supreme Champion Junior Colt, and 2017 Scottsdale Champion International Breeders Classic Junior Colt.
Lee remembers a lesson her father taught her when she was very young: “‘When you play God, the responsibility is yours to take care of what you have created. After all, it is we who make the decision of who to breed to whom, who lives and who dies. Because we have made those decisions, that animal relies on us completely.’ I have taken my father’s advice to heart in every breeding choice I have made.”
Other breeders have furnished valued advice to the Blacks. Alun Prothero, *Carmargue’s owner: Experience taught Alun that if he bred an “A” animal to another “A” animal, he was usually disappointed as they seldom produced another “A.” Better to breed a “D” female to a “C” or “B” male; that way you can consistently come up with “A”s. Doug Dahmen reminded David and Lee that all great sires come from strong mare lines, and that they had such a representative mare line in *Inschallah El Shaklan.
“It has been an interesting journey,” Lee says. “We took a page out of the Bedouin ‘rule book’ and have focused exclusively on developing a mare band and breeding to outside stallions. We believe we may be one of the few breeders whose breeding program focuses on the daughters of only one foundation mare. For us, that mare is *Inschallah El Shaklan (*El Shaklan x Prometida by Zanjar). We bought her in 1982 and she gave us three fine daughters sired by Ruminaja Ali, FS Bengali, and our own NYN Shangaza. We are working with our fourth generation of breeding stock (and soon our fifth) and in the end we owe our every success to her.”
David comments on the life of a small breeder: “As a small breeder, you have a choice: You can be hands-on, or you can pay someone to be a caregiver. With Lee’s love for and connection with all animals, we chose to take on all the responsibilities of bringing our horses into the world. We always remember Lee’s father’s advice: ‘Play God and if you get it right, you will be rewarded by a relationship like no other.’ Horses are sensitive, honest, and intelligent, but with an intelligence that is from the heart. Horses are very connected to nature. One thing I learned early on is that horses don’t really need us. You can open the gate, smack them on the butt, and off they go to find forage and water. No, it’s the opposite: we need them.
“Lee is a constant observer and she has shown me some of the horses’ body language. Pay attention. If you are their caretaker and can spend the time to connect with them, you will be rewarded with the same bond the Bedouins knew long ago, and you will be a better human being for it. Don’t ask me about bloodlines or show wins, but I can introduce you to ten Arabians that can tell when you are having a bad day, long before you even realize it. A horse can see inside a human better than any psychic. Being a small breeder is a lot of work, a way of life. In hard times, the is-it-worth-it question has come up. The answer is yes, always yes.”
“If a person new to the Arabian breed should ask me for advice based on the NYN experience,” says Lee, “I would tell that person something like this: Educate yourself, but don’t be afraid to follow your heart and just go for it. As Albert Einstein said, ‘Follow the crowd and you will only go as far as the crowd.’ Have the courage and vision to forge your own path and even if you don’t make it to stardom, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are a success.”
Stardom quality prevails at NYN Arabians.