by Mary Jane Parkinson
In summer 1958, Jennie Walton was sure men and machines had never moved so slowly, as her husband Lester harvested their second alfalfa crop on their Oregon farm. The reason for her restlessness was the news that a man in Idaho had advertised Arabian horses for sale. Jennie and Lester were shopping for a “gelding with smoke coming out of his nostrils,” as Jennie remembered. But Lester insisted that the hay crop be harvested before looking over smoking geldings. Eventually, the hay was properly stored, and Jennie and Lester were on their way to see the Arabians — optimistic, but cautious.
At their destination, the seller presented not a gelding, but three mares, two of them in foal. Jennie and Lester could not believe the beauty and the grace of the three and the prospect of ownership, but the price tag of $2,500 for the three gave them pause. Lester countered with $2,000, and one of the most notable small breeding programs in the United States was created. From that small purchase and their wise selection of sires, the Waltons produced dozens of United States and Canadian National winners and furnished quality foundation stock for many a new breeder.
Here are the three in the starter set (the only Arabians the Waltons ever purchased): Faduleika (Fadheilan x Zualla by Alla Amarward), a 1952 bay mare; Zimada (Ziyadi x Madaha by Ribal), a 1947 chestnut mare; and Zaryn, Zimada’s 1955 daughter by Faryn, an Abu Fawa son out of a Ferseyn daughter. Faduleika and Zimada were in foal to Aafdran, a *Raffles grandson and great-grandson. Spring 1959 gave the Waltons their first experience midwifing mares, as Faduleika and Zimada foaled fillies.
As their broodmare band grew, Jennie and Lester began studying prospective sire lines. Ga’Zi (Abu Farwa x Ghazna by Chepe Noyon), a brilliant chestnut with the fashionable white markings, owned by Woody Madsen and Dr. Eugene LaCroix in Washington state, enjoyed fine advance publicity. The Waltons bred two mares to him and found Ga’Zi lived up to his reputation when the mares produced two fine 1961 fillies.
Soon it was show time for the Walton-breds. Jennie recalled the highs and lows of their first show. “We were so dumb, we didn’t even know how to prepare a horse for showing. Bruce Clark (Bru-Mar-Ba Arabians) helped us (yes, exhibitors actually helped one another in the early years of Arabian shows). When I saw the other entries in the class, I gave up all hope and Lester’s suggestion that we go home sounded better and better. I didn’t even watch the class, just stayed in the barn. But all that despair turned into the most exciting moment in our lives when Ga’Zima (Ga’Zi x Zimada by Ziyadi) was announced as the winner of the class! Woody showed her, and he was so proud.” At this moment, according to Walton legend, Jennie in her joy might be seen turning cartwheels in the barn aisle.
Soon, Jennie was exhibiting in “Jack Benny” classes, which she and Fateena (Ga’Zi x Faduleika by Fadheilan) won with great regularity. With the coaching of trainer Jim Garvison, Jennie and Fateena seemed unbeatable. Jennie’s silver hair and pixie smile and Fateena’s performance skills obscured all other entrants in the judges’ eyes. One competitor threatened to buy a silver wig to disguise himself as Jennie in order to win. (Jennie was the petite one — said to be less than five feet tall and weighed about 90 pounds with rocks in her pockets.) Other entrants felt it was folly to compete against Jennie; they stayed home. Jennie topped off her show career with a win with Llaila-B (*Bask x Llana by Ga’Zi) in western pleasure AOTR. “That was the only time she ever saw her own horse show,” Bruce Vining, the Walton trainer in those years, noted. “And then only because she was on it.” Earlier, trainers Ron and Joyce Palelek showed the Walton horses to many a championship and got the Walton horses the attention they merited.
In their breeding program, Lester and Jennie followed a worthy path: foundation mares to Ga’Zi, Ga’Zi daughters to *Bask, and *Bask daughters to Bay El Bey and Bey Shah. All three sired champions for the Waltons, and soon the Walton trophies became the centerpiece of their home. One trophy was so heavy it took two men to carry it, Lester remembered. The Walton luck in breeding fillies held too. As did championships and as did Jennie’s reputation as a very wise horsewoman and a friend to be cherished for years and years.
Neither Lester nor Jennie ever planned to die. Jennie had this feeling of wanting to live forever, a friend said. Lester died in 1983, Jennie three years later. After Lester died, Jennie carried on with the horses, but a bit of the spark was gone. However, the quality of invincible was in Jennie and she fed her horses the day she died.
The Waltons provided several examples for breeders: never let up; do your homework; find a good nick and stay with it; insist on quality. But probably just as important, the quality they exhibited every day: have fun with your horses.
Here are some bits of wisdom and wit from the Waltons and their asssociates:
“The Walton ranch near Bend, Oregon, was probably the most popular stop for anyone with an interest in Arabians. They all came by the Waltons, and Jennie was absolutely the most hospitable lady. Just lots of fun. She always had coffee cake and cookies on hand, and the coffee pot was always on. If she was slightly dressed up because she was having company, she’d still be out in the pastures, chasing the horses by flapping her apron. Jennie could laugh at herself. She and Lester would get into arguments, and it was fun to watch her maneuver him. She always got her way. They were both so much fun.”— Dagmar Fancher, a friend.
“I don’t care what the weather is. If I’m in it, it’s a good day.”— Jennie Walton
“If no one is around when you arrive at the Waltons, just keep looking. Most likely you will find Lester out in a field, telling the foals what they have to live up to. Or look toward the hills. You will see a cloud of dust and a little silver haired lady coming toward you bareback on one of her loves.”— Bruce Vining, Walton trainer
“They were a great team, the two of them. They had the greatest communication skills. They argued all the time and disagreed with one another, but they always came out happy and with a good decision.”— Owen Panner, Arabian breeder
“Every morning, the pregnant mares got a teaspoon of vinegar in a handful of flax seed. Lester firmly believed that would take care of any colic and also ensure the mares would produce fillies. He swore by it, and they did have a lot of fillies.”— Bruce Vining
“We are fortunate, very fortunate. We had some of the great horses of the time. We’ve been at it a long time, and we started at a good time. If we could switch, I would take our background, rather than the future. We’ve gotten to a point now where there has to be so much money involved with the Arabians, and there’s a lot of hot air.”— Lester Walton (1983)
“Isn’t it something to buy three mares and hardly know one end from the other? Sometimes it just seemed like we couldn’t go wrong. We’ve been so fortunate and had such a happy life with the Arabian horses. They’re just everything anybody would want. You can enjoy them, ride them. It makes a wonderful life. We don’t have a mean horse on the place, and it just seems to be a family. If I never win a ribbon or never get a dime out of them, I just feel they have filled a special spot in my life and we’ll be completely rewarded.”— Jennie Walton