We all come to the Arabian horse in different ways. For a few, it becomes an enduring passion — a lifelong quest to breed a better horse than last year. Each generation of master breeders learned their craft from the previous generation and then developed their own methods and approach to breeding. In that spirit, we’ve been talking with a deeply passionate breeder and a remarkable man — Larry Jerome of Jerland Arabians.
Larry grew up in an atmosphere steeped in animal breeding and genetics. His father started breeding turkeys at age 13 and became fascinated with the genetics of breeding. He eventually formed the Jennie-O turkey company. As a child, Larry would go with his father to sort turkeys — not only because he had the best penmanship of the Jerome children, as Larry might tell you, but more likely because Larry himself was also fascinated with genetics. He would help his father score the turkeys: leg scores, breast scores, body scores, fertility scores — how many eggs did each turkey lay? Developing a critical eye early on would prove invaluable to Jerome in his future endeavors.
Larry had a cousin who was enrolled in the 4-H program — a youth program that developed to teach young people skills in regard to agricultural pursuits. It has since expanded to cover topics from cake decorating to model rocketry to computer science. Larry’s cousin had a calf for his 4-H project, and Larry wanted a calf to raise and show as well. By this time, Larry’s father also had a dairy in addition to the turkey business. His father’s passion for genetics had extended to plant genetics and even how genetics were expressed in humans. While Larry was still angling for a calf, his father had a connection who raised Shetland ponies. So Larry got a Shetland pony. As he and the pony grew, Larry started angling for something larger. He was able to convince his father and ended up at a sale, buying a foundered mare with a Half-Arabian colt at her side. This would lead to interesting results.
Close to the Jerome farm was the home of Lloyd and Evelyn Burton’s Arabian horse farm in Rice Lake. “Evelyn sold tack, and I used every excuse I could to go to her farm to buy a halter, or a lead rope, or something for my horse so that I could visit the farm,” says Larry. “Evelyn would take me by the hand, and we would go out and look at the horses. At that time, Gazon (Ferzon x Scheraff) was standing at stud. I also saw Vadraff (Indraff x Invasia), Raffon (Gazon x Vadraff), and Gavad (Gazon x Vadraff). Evelyn was such a huge mentor to me, and she took the time to listen to a young boy and to talk to him like an adult and treat him seriously. I always admired her for that! By this time, I had acquired another Shetland called Horse Creek Rose Leaf. I heard about a guy who had crossed a Shetland with an Arabian, so I went up to Birchwood Farm and talked to Gib Ross. Habu (Buna x Haseyna) was there at the time, and Synbad (Julep x Sahra Su), and a young stallion called Ambassador (Tsali x Imafara). I bred ‘Rose’ to Ambassador — my first Half-Arabian!”
Larry did get his calf, by the way, and was showing cattle, chickens (25 different varieties), pigs, and horses. He was still very passionate about genetics and was continuing to develop his eye, following his father, who was a respected poultry judge. His father’s fascination with genetics was always about the next generation. “He kept track of everything,” says Larry, “which has translated into everything I do with livestock and horses. I was like a sponge. I would listen to the old-timers discuss bloodlines and traits of Holstein cattle. It was invaluable. You know, some people can walk by a car and listen to the engine and tell you exactly what is wrong and why. Others can take a blank canvas and throw some paint at it, and it becomes a beautiful picture. I developed an eye that became second nature — I could look at an animal or bird and evaluate them very accurately. That skill has never let me down in my quest for the best quality.
“Even now I can lie awake at night because a particular breeding cross came into my mind, and I’ll get up and write it down so I won’t forget. I also travel quite a bit, and I always come back so inspired — it may be a dairy farm I visited or a horse breeder or dog breeder. I’m always learning and always looking for a better way to do things, or a new animal or bloodline that might be exciting! I always learn from every trip I take — it might be a better way to do something, or it could be learning what not to do! You know, I taught all of my children that if they go on a airplane, the first thing they should do is introduce themselves to the person sitting next to them, because you never know who you are going to meet. Thirty-five years ago, I was on a flight, and I introduced myself to the gentleman next to me, who was from India and was visiting his sister in the U.S. He was head of dentistry in Bombay, and I told him that if he ever wanted to visit a real Wisconsin farm, he could come and stay with us any time! Now 99 percent of the time that I give someone my card and extend an invitation, I never hear anything back. However, about a week later, I heard from this gentleman, and he wanted to come to visit. My wife wasn’t very happy with me as she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant. Our other six children were asking things like, ‘Why does that woman wear strange clothes? Why does she have a red spot on her forehead?’ But we all learned a lot about another culture. He was Hindu, so my wife had to learn what she could cook for him and his wife. He asked what we were going to name the new baby. I replied it would be Paul if it were a boy, and if a girl, the name had to end in “ah” as all the other girls had that ending to their name. He said, ‘What about Indirah?’ I asked him what it meant, and he said ‘a gift from God.’ Well, this was an unexpected pregnancy, so I considered that a gift from God, and sure enough, the baby was a girl. Thirty-five years later, this gentleman came back to meet our daughter that he named. We had stayed in touch all this time!
“One of the problems in our industry now is that many people tend to shut new people out. They don’t want to take the time to develop any kind of relationship unless they think you are going to be worth it. I learned a long time ago from Evelyn Burton: treat everyone like they are important. I have also found that most people that are successful in Arabian horses have some other passion in an agricultural pursuit. Unfortunately, we are in a culture of instant gratification, and the art of breeding animals is anything but instantly gratifying! You must spend years upon years and generation upon generation to see the results of your efforts. I think this is becoming a critical problem in our industry. Too many people are doing this for something other than passion. You must have passion to be a good breeder.”
In the coming months, we’ll talk to Larry about how he arrives at breeding decisions, what he looks for in a horse, what management practices he is currently using and why, and discover how he has become such a dominant breeder of Arabian horses, canaries, poultry, German Shepherds, and Holstein cattle.