Trainer and judge Bob Bennett Jr. had a great 2018 Canadian Nationals and Sport Horse Nationals, so it’s no wonder he was named Arabian Horse World’s 2018 Totally Tops Champion in Sport Horse In-hand. In Swansea, South Carolina, Bob keeps about 15 horses in training at his Three Oaks Arabians facility. “I feel closeness with each and every horse I work with. I earn their trust, and in return, they learn what I’m teaching and perform when I ask,” he says. “That’s an amazing thing, and it can’t be accomplished if there isn’t a connection and bond there.”
We asked Bob to tell us about his life with Arabians.
How were you introduced to Arabian horses?
The Arabian horse was the first horse I was ever introduced to. My father’s friend, Carl Neal, owned Driftwood Arabians in Gilbert, South Carolina, and he took me out to ride one day when I was just six years old. From that day on, I have been involved with Arabian horses … 34 years now!
How did you know that this horse belonged in your life?
After that one day, all day of being around a farm full of Arabian horses, I knew that was where I wanted to be. I spent almost every day during the summer at the barn and had riding lessons several times a week after school and on weekends. I guess at that young age, I already knew that was my happy place. I think I started telling my parents I wanted to be a horse trainer when I was 11 or 12 years old. Being at the barn and riding horses and learning from trainers intrigued me.
Do any of your family members share your passion for the breed?
No one else in my immediate family has ever been involved with horses. My wife, Kelli, and I met as youth riders. I had my Arabians, and she had her eventing Thoroughbred. Arabians are now her passion as well.
In what ways have Arabians enhanced your life?
I have met so many interesting people through Arabian horses. Growing up, they probably kept me out of trouble. They definitely taught me responsibility and a good work ethic.
What is the Arabian’s role in your daily life or career today?
Still today, working with, and just being around, the Arabian horse as an owner, trainer, breeder, and judge puts me in my happy place.
What drew you to the sport horse division?
I started learning about the sport horse division the first year they added the class at Scottsdale. I had a few yearlings and two-year-olds that I took out to the show for halter, and as I researched the rules and appointments before entries closed, I made the decision to enter them in sport horse in-hand as well. The classes were very interesting, to say the least. They definitely were not run as smoothly as they are today. It was a learning curve for trainers, exhibitors, and show officials. The horses I showed did very well. It was a good change of pace from the traditional ring (I do not use the term “main ring” as that implies one ring is favored over another).It was very low-key and laid back, there wasn’t a need for all the intensity.
What would you like to say to people who might label you a “sport horse person?”
In a sense, I am a sport horse person, but, I am not just a sport horse person. My background consists of many disciplines: halter, showmanship, western, saddleseat (English, country, and park), and hunter pleasure. Before you put a label on someone, learn their background. I’ve been guilty of it myself. I’ve thought of trainers as just an English, western, or halter trainer, but then I find out they actually grew up and started in hunter/jumpers or dressage or eventing. It really opens your eyes and makes you realize they/we are horsemen! In my opinion, that is the best label we can apply to ourselves and others.
What is the most satisfying aspect of being a judge? What was the most outstanding performance or presentation you have seen?
Being able to say that I am an Arabian horse judge is the most satisfying aspect of it all. It was a goal I wanted to achieve since I competed in youth judging contests as a kid. I will never forget the first time I had to give my reasons for placing a class in a competition at the Region 12 Youth Jamboree. I wasn’t even a teenager, and I had to sit across from a nationally recognized trainer and judge, Mr. Jack Thomas, and explain why I placed three different classes the way I did. But when I was judging, standing in the center ring, and watching/evaluating horses as they went around the ring, it just felt right. I was not nervous, nor did I question myself.
I’ve enjoyed several outstanding moments in the center ring. Judging the Region 2 pre-show last year in Santa Barbara, California, was amazing. The quality of horses and the class sizes were exceptional for all divisions. Also, getting to judge Kahil Al Shaqab several years ago at the Carousel Charity Show in Scottsdale, Arizona, was fun, too. He owned the ring from the time he entered the arena until the time he exited.
What would you say to someone who is contemplating purchasing an Arabian?
It will be the best decision you ever make. You may purchase the horse but the horse will own you. That is what makes them so incredibly special. They are “tent horses” for a reason. They trust like no other horse. They go above and beyond to please their person. If you believe that Arabians are “crazy,” spend time with one. You will change your mind and literally fall in love.
What is the most meaningful moment or experience you have had with an Arabian horse?
There are many meaningful moments, but perhaps the best came in 2011. I had shown horses to Regional Championships and National Top Tens but never the top prizes, Reserve or National Champion. At the Sport Horse Nationals in Lexington, Kentucky, that year, I showed two geldings in the Arabian SHIH Geldings class, Rohara Marserati (*Marwan Al Shaqab x BM Kourvette) and MSU Starta Legacy (Hucks Legacy x MSU Eternity), both owned by my wife, Kelli. There were 37 horses in the class. MSU Starta Legacy was already a multi-National Reserve Champion when he was owned by Michigan State University. Both horses were called back to the arena for the Top Ten awards, and we were ecstatic with that in such a large class. When they called out MSU Starta Legacy as National Reserve Champion, I broke down in tears. It had finally happened after 26 years of showing. Nothing could make it better. After the pictures were taken and hugs all around for that special moment, the announcer then says, “Bob, go get your other horse!” I remember it like it was yesterday. Did this really happen? Rohara Marserati was named National Champion. Reserve and Champion in the same class … the wait all those years was definitely worth it. What an amazing moment. To top it off, under two different judges. The next day, they repeated those wins with Kelli in the ATH class. That year we ended up with two National Championships and four National Reserve Championships. After being National Reserve Champion six times, in 2014 MSU Starta Legacy was finally named National Champion and also Supreme National Champion SHIH.