By Ashley Toye
As the evening falls on Ocala, excitement builds at The World Equestrian Center. The Grand Arena is illuminated with twinkling lights, the ivory footing reflecting brilliantly, and Christmas decorations surround the promenade. As the stands fill with local families, all eyes are on the curved, gently swooping entryway, lined with white pillars for the first horse to enter the gate.
In the shadows, the dark bay silhouette loped into view, glistening as he entered the gate. With the American flag flowing, Dale Brown in the saddle, and the crowd on their feet, the magic of this event was upon us.
The Keystone Experience is a contemporary and interactive showcase, outreach, and marketplace for our Arabian horse community. The unique and innovative mindset of those behind the scenes has set the stage for growth and the future of our Arabian horse industry. Created by the Arabian Horse Promotional Fund, The Keystone Experience has paved the way to promote the Arabian horse to people beyond its existing community through a variety of different efforts to introduce, educate, and attract people to the breed.
“This is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever been associated with when it comes to sharing the Arabian horse with people beyond our existing horse community,” Mary Trowbridge explains. The vision and support behind this event have been extraordinary. Mary shares, “This thing simply would not have happened without the unflagging efforts of Jenn Trickey and Jaime Johnson. These two ladies have crafted every facet of this outreach and branded it impeccably. The Keystone Board: John Rannenberg, Brea Kratzvert, myself, Danielle Contarino, Mike Wilson, and Rob Bick have shared the vision and brought it to life. Laurie Salmi, Ryan Chambers, and the entire AHAF Club have been incredibly welcoming to our (sometimes) wild ideas.” She continues, “The support and input from our sponsors has allowed us to run with our imaginations to create the perfect recipe in promoting the Arabian.”
The value of our sponsors in this endeavor is treasured. Mary describes, “The return on their investment is intended to come down the road by introducing the breed to newcomers, and in turn, providing a larger customer base for breeders, ensuring the future of our breed. The smiles and laughter of those who come to meet our horses for the first time reiterate to us that we are not only incredibly blessed to have these magnificent animals in our lives but also that our efforts are worth expending on behalf of the horse itself to keep this breed alive and thriving in the 21st century.”
In conjunction with the Arabian Horse Association of Florida Holiday Festival, on Friday Evening, the Keystone Experience showcased a $25,000 AEPA/Strawberry Bank Purebred Arabian Country Pleasure Pro-Am, $20,000 Palmetto Arabians Purebred Arabian Western Pleasure Pro-Am, $10,000 Hagale Family Arabians Half-Arabian Native Costume Open, a presentation by Sylvia Zerbini and the $5,000 Weanling Jackpot. Saturday Evening showcased a $3,000+ Saddle Equine Athlete/Schneiders Purebred Arabian Hunter Pleasure Pro-Am, $2,500 Anvil Arabians Purebred Halter Best in Show, $10,000 Barta Show Horses Purebred Arabian Native Costume Open, a second presentation by Sylvia Zerbini, a presentation by Francesca Carson with Dally & Spanky, and the $2,500 Purina Mills Egg & Spoon Challenge. To top it off, all spectators participated in voting for their favorites, in which a Crowd Vote Favorite was awarded a $500 bonus!
Stuart Vesty during the $2,500 Purina Mills Egg & Spoon Challenge.
Sylvia Zebrini doing a liberty presentation with her Arabian horses.
The combination of beautiful Arabians being presented in a truly unparalleled atmosphere is only one component of the Keystone Experience. The heart of this event takes place in the hours leading up to the evening sessions.
Situated across from The Equestrian Hotel, a five-star hotel located at the World Equestrian Center, The Amazing Horse Woman Experience Barn was home to the Ambassador horses where the magic began. From Stallion presentations to a Jack Russell jumping a miniature horse to mesmerizing grand liberté presentations and face painting, The Experience Barn invited everyone into our world and closer to the Arabians. You could see the curiosity, feel the joy, and know that after just a few moments, people of all ages were falling in love with the Arabian Horse.
The Ambassador horses are a special group of horses that allow the public to meet, touch, and breathe in all they have to offer. The Keystone Experience is lucky to have; Psymply Noble BPA – Noble, Maghnus Z – Maghnus, Possession PGA – Po, Nobles Heir – Sammy, La Phaedra CP – Pebbles, Awesome Echo AF – Mr. Fred, Kirby – Kirby, Trade of Thought CA – Tot and Destinyed Valentino – Val in the line up.
Stallion, Possesion PGA+//, meeting newcomers.
A highlight from the Ambassador horses this year was Arabian Stallion, Possesion PGA+// (Khadraj+++/ x RA PO Okela). He welcomed newcomers with his kind eye, sweet disposition, and beauty. Those who met this beautiful Stallion on Friday at the Experience Barn didn’t know it, but they were in for a treat later in the evening. Presented by trainer Caralyn Schroter and owner Olivia Barta in the $20,000 Purebred Arabian Western Pro-Am, Possesion PGA+// was ridden to the top honors and made his trip around the Grand Arena wearing the Championship white rose garland, continuing to steal the hearts of the crowd.
Possesion PGA+// winning the $20,000 Purebred Arabian Western Pleasure Pro-Am, presented by trainer Caralyn Schroter and owner Olivia Barta.
O Sherlock and Mike Wilson
Augusta Hammock, owner of Arabian Stallion O Sherlock (SW Ovation x Valentinos Penelope), the 2022 Keystone Arabian Best in Show & Crowd Favorite, is a big supporter of the Keystone Experience. This year, O Sherlock returned for the Stallion presentation and captivated the crowd as trainer Mike Wilson presented him Friday afternoon. Hammock describes, “I remember watching old animated movies like ‘The Last Unicorn’ and ‘Black Beauty’ on repeat as a child and being completely enthralled by the magic and mystique of horses. At the Keystone Arabian Experience, I sensed that same joyful fascination in the smiles and laughter of our visitors. Being first introduced to the world of horses is a special one-time season in a person’s life, and for those for whom the Keystone is that turning point, what better introduction is there to Arabians? On the grounds of this event, hearts are being won for the breed—and I anticipate that many of these new faces will become familiar ones in the future!”
The experience created in Ocala is nothing short of magical; words and photos fall short of illustrating what truly happens over a few short days. Mark your calendars… We look forward to seeing you in Ocala next November!