by Morgan Moore
Some great breeding programs brand themselves through a foundation stallion, while others find their start in small or even large groups of broodmares. However, Joel Desmarteau of Markelle Arabians LLC in Georgia, founded a program around a single mare line: Angophora by *Eukaliptus. While on a limited college budget, he discovered this mare serendipitously through her daughter RGA Kouress. Yet, from this single mare, an entire dynasty of champions have emerged, including World Champion and 2016 U.S. National Champion Stallion Marajj, and the beautiful Elle Flamenca, 2016 All Nations Cup, Menton, and World Cup Gold Champion Junior Filly. This month, Joel Desmarteau sat down with us to share his journey on discovering the foundation of his program and staying true to his passion as he found his way to the world stage as a breeder of champions.
As a breeder, how do you define success?
Breeding horses is certainly a passion for me, but it has also turned into a small business. Because I am breeding horses to sell and continue to focus on producing top quality show and breeding stock, success is clearly measured when I produce a foal that someone wishes to purchase and take into the showring, or when a breeding horse is sold and produces something special for the new owners.
How would you describe your breeding strategy?
I am using one mare line exclusively, in my breeding program. Each of the Markelle breeding mares are daughters, granddaughters, or great-granddaughters of Angophora (*Eukaliptus x Belbowrie Baskana). After the success of Marajj (*Marwan Al Shaqab x RGA Kouress), I immediately went out and looked for more mares from this family, while others went out and bought Kouvay Bay daughters with hopes of repeating this cross. Luckily for me, Angophora, the dam of Kouress, had several daughters and I went on a mission to acquire a few that were available, as well as a few of their daughters. The Angophora daughter by Exceladdinn, RA Miss Siagon, was acquired in 2006 and her first foal for me was Allamara MA by Marwan, who went on to produce Elle Flamenca. It hasn’t proven true every time, but because I am using this one mare family, I have found that if a stallion works on one of the mares, I can usually count on him working on other mares who have the same phenotype. In the past, when I began breeding, I didn’t have the focus I do now. I had mares from many different lines, which was fun, but breeding them became a real challenge and my results were inconsistent. Along with taking out some of the guesswork when making breeding decisions, I have a lot of pride using mares in the breeding program that I have produced myself. It’s one thing to produce a champion, but to also produce the sire or dam of that champion is really something special.
How did you select your foundation mare, RGA Kouress?
I’ll admit, this wasn’t a strategic move on my part at the time. I got lucky. In the fall of 2000, I was traveling in Florida for work and visited Southwind Arabians to see the recently imported *Soho Carol. The owner was having a dispersal sale and Mike Wilson, who was the trainer at the time, took me around and showed me the available mares. I saw daughters from some of my favorite stallions, but since I was recently out of college, they were all way out of my very small price range. At this time, I was most inspired by mares that were sired by the top stallions of the day and wasn’t focused on the dam lines. RGA Kouress (Kouvay Bey x Angophora by *Eukaliptus) was one of the only mares available in my very modest price range. She was in foal to *Soho Carol, so I gave it a go and made the purchase. I sold her resulting filly, and bred her to *Marwan Al Shaqab to produce Marajj.
RGA Kouress’s dam, the lovely *Eukaliptus daughter, Angophora, is out of a very special *Bask daughter, Belbowrie Baskana. Belbowrie Baskana was the result of crossing *Bask on a straight Egyptian mare. Using *Bask on straight Egyptian mares wasn’t what the market wanted back then, so this cross was only done once. The result turned out to be a special mare, who is a key component in the pedigree of every mare I own and breed, and one of Dr. LaCroix’s (her breeder) favorite *Bask daughters. RGA Kouress has good structure and a special pedigree and knew I needed to add some breed type to not only produce the type of Arabian that most appeals to me, but also to produce horses that would have global appeal and marketability.
What advice would you have for aspiring breeders looking for a foundation mare?
My best advice for any breeder would be to put focus on the dam of the mare they are considering. Look for mares with pedigrees that have produced the type of foal you are wishing to breed and look for daughters of those mares or full sisters. Many breeders will sell fillies from top mares that may not turn out to be top quality show horses, but may very well turn out to be outstanding breeding mares. I’ve watched a large number of new breeders purchase a very pretty mare, often a top show mare for a very large price, and then go on to try and breed something that looks like her. Many of the world’s prettiest mares and those that have won the biggest prizes in the showring don’t always turn out to be equally good broodmares. I also tell people to select breeding horses that look like their sire and or dam. Those horses that are so extreme and don’t carry the phenotype of their parents rarely produce those qualities that attracted you to that individual.
How have you selected the mares and fillies to retain for the next generation of your program and the RGA Kouress legacy?
I feel the future of the program will come from three fillies coming into their two-year-old year. One is a full sister to Elle Flamenca and two are daughters of *Kanz Albidayer. One of the Kanz daughters is out of RGA Kouress herself and the other filly is out of a RGA Kouress daughter, a full sister to the dam of Kanz and also a full sister to Marajj. This makes both of these fillies double RGA Kouress and both are extreme in type. I’m excited to be able to cross these fillies with many different stallions and look forward to their production in the future.
How do you select the stallions to breed your mares to?
Again, I am breeding horses because I have a passion for it but remember, because this is a business I have to breed for the market. I stay in tune with which stallions are siring foals that are winning around the world, and to stallions whose foals are bringing top-dollar sales.
What made you decide to focus on breeding your mares to outside stallions as opposed to standing your own stallion?
I love the creativity and all of the thoughts and dreams that go into using different stallions from around the world on my mares. I also enjoy the search for the next superstar. Having my own stallion would make me feel a bit trapped and I would miss the daydreams of all of the breeding combinations that I dream up.
How did you dream up the cross between Kouress and Marwan?
The decision to use Marwan on Kouress was easy. I was actively keeping up with who and what was winning in Paris and overseas, and was familiar with *Marwan Al Shaqab, his pedigree and his show wins. When I read that Michael Byatt was bringing him to the U.S., I quickly wrote and asked for a video. Later, Robert Cass told me that the video didn’t do the horse justice and that he was just incredible. I waited patiently for the video and when it came, I watched it over and over again. He just blew me away. I remember wondering if my one and only mare was good enough for him. I had owned Kouress for a few years now, but this was going to be the first time for me to breed her and evaluate her as a broodmare. The cross turned out to be a big success and my first, never-heard-of-before broodmare had made her mark.
When did you know Marajj and Elle Flamenca were going to be superstars?
For me, it was watching Marajj in Scottsdale as a yearling. He was a superstar. There were so many critics because he was different (prettier and more type than most other yearlings that were being bred and shown at the time), and also because no one here in the U.S. really knew who this Marwan horse was or, for that matter, how to even pronounce his name. I believe there were three Marwan offspring at the 2005 Scottsdale show. All from his first foal crop. Two were top tens in their classes and then Marajj was Junior Champion. I think Marajj’s win in Scottsdale, and his record sale during the show to Sheikh Mohammed bin Saud Al Qasimi of Albidayer Stud, threw *Marwan Al Shaqab to the very front of his class so quickly. It was clearly then that I knew he was headed for stardom.
Elle Flamenca was named champion yearling filly with the highest score of the show at the Scottsdale International classes as a yearling. People told me then she was a star, but it wasn’t until she was named Gold Champion in Las Vegas that really set in for me. This was only her second time in the ring and she went up against one of the top show fillies at the time. I knew then that there were big things in store for her.
Describe the most gratifying moment you have experienced as a breeder.
As a breeder of show horses, of course watching horses that you bred compete around the world is a big thrill and brings great pride to me, but the people I have met and the experiences of meeting people with similar passions with the Arabian horse will always be the most gratifying. I have to thank these horses and their owners who have tirelessly campaigned them, which in turn has put me on the map as a breeder and therefore made it possible for me to meet some really incredible people. I often find myself telling non-horse people about some of the experiences I’ve enjoyed, and their reactions reinspire me. As I tell these stories, I am reminded of just how incredible this ride has been and how lucky I am to have seen and experienced so many wonderful things.
What is the process you are working through to select the next stallion you utilize?
I have a few stallions on my short list for this upcoming breeding year. I do use this time early in the year to watch and check the results of all the shows happening in the Middle East. This is critical for me — to see which stallions are having the most success and then dig a bit further to understand what mares are working with those stallions. I find Scottsdale to be the perfect place to also do a bit of research. These days, American breeders are using more stallions of European type — they work best on my older mares who lack a bit of the desired head type, so there will likely be quite a few young colts to consider. I’ll often roll the dice with a two-year-old in order to get ahead of the curve if I see something special that I think will work on my mares.
Which sire lines or specific stallions have captured your interest?
WH Justice and his son, Ajman Moniscione, have had a significant influence on the program in addition to Marwan and *Gazal Al Shaqab. For me and my mares, the breed type from WH Justice, his son Ajman Moniscione, and his son *Kanz Albidayer (also an RGA Kouress grandson) has influenced all future generations of offspring from my little program. It was just what my mares with older American/Polish pedigrees needed. I had the structure and movement; I needed contemporary breed type. Now that I have young up-and-coming breeding mares that are sired by Ajman and Kanz with lots of breed type, I plan to go back and use these young mares in the future on some stallions here in the U.S. that I have my eye on. I hope this will keep evolving and producing contemporary show horses that are still desirable and have the look buyers around the world are looking for.
I currently have two full sisters of Elle Flamenca sired by Ajman Moniscione. I know I won’t be able to hold on to both of them for long, but I do plan to keep one for future breeding stock. Having the opportunity to produce foals out of a full sister to a superstar show mare always adds value, in my opinion
What foals are you most anxious to meet from your 2017 crop?
Well, I only have three mares of breeding age and only produce two to four foals a year. In years past, before I was focused, I had up to 10 foals in a single year. This became too much to manage and too expensive, as all of my horses were boarded at other farms due to an extensive work travel schedule. I’m focused now on one mare family and have found this to be the most gratifying and easiest to manage. Because this is a business as well as a passion, I had to make the decision to offer embryo rights out of one of my mares to generate income. When you do this, you limit the number of foals you can produce yourself. I am only expecting two foals in 2017, and one of those is in partnership with a good friend I introduced into the Arabian horse world, Dr. Terry Bentley. He owns a lovely WH Justice-bred mare that is in foal to Marajj and due in February and another February foal due by Exxalt and out of Allamara MA, the dam of Elle Flamenca. I’m quite excited to see both of these foals and I’m lucky that I don’t have to wait much longer to have them on the ground. Marajj was an easy choice for Terry’s mare. In my mind they are the perfect match and I hope they will produce something special for us. This will be the mare’s first foal. Exxalt was selected for Allamara MA for a number of reasons. His sire line has proven successful on Markelle mares in the past and he is out of a mare who also carries the dam line I am focused on. This foal will again be doubling up on this line, and I have high hopes for something special from this cross.
What attributes do you find most critical to defining a quality Arabian horse?
For me it’s type. The horses I breed and breed to, must look and act undeniably Arabian. Their look, their carriage and movement, their confidence … it’s what made me fall in love with the breed so many years ago. These qualities also continue to attract new people to our breed and set the Arabian horse apart from all others.
What does the future look like for your treasured broodmares?
Two of the three broodmares of breeding age in the program, RGA Kouress and Allamara MA, are both calling Peregrine Bloodstock home under the expert care of Mark Wharton and Quentin Naylor. Kouress will be 22 in March and will call Peregrine her forever home. Mark and Quentin hope to use some of her blood in their program in the future, so stay tuned for more on that. Allamara MA is having embryo and stem cell work done in Lexington and is enjoying a few years in Peregrine’s wonderful bluegrass pastures before her next adventure.
There are many ways to achieve success as a breeder. As Arabian Horse World has visited with many of these successful small breeders, it’s clear that many strategies and paths can lead even the smallest foal crops to international successes. For Joel Desmarteau, his passion for Arabian type and beauty has fostered his drive to produce the best possible foals from the Angophora dam line, which he treasures immensely. It is clear when one views the beautiful Elle Flamenca, Marajj, or *Kanz Albidayer (who is out of a full sister to Marajj), that Joel’s vision will persist into future generations of quality Arabian show horses.