Crimson Farms LLC — Perfecting Performance in California

perfecting performance in california Crimson Farms

Often referred to as the “Valley of the Arabian Horse,” the Santa Ynez Valley has been a haven over forty years for Arabian horses including the renowned stallions Ferzon, Gai Parada, Barbary, *Eter, Fame VF, and the incomparable legend Khemosabi to name a few. To this day a tour of the valley can leave Arabian horse enthusiasts wide-eyed with wonder at the incredible horses they will see and have them making plans for their next visit. A virtual candy store of Arabian farms combined with beautiful rolling hills and a tranquil atmosphere, it is no wonder that upon visiting the valley in the early nineties it wasn’t long before Susanne and Steve Mackrell were calling it “home.”

Susanne and Steve’s all-encompassing Arabian horse program started small — with their leisurely pastime of trail riding a couple of nice Arabian horses nearly twenty years ago. It was when they were shopping for a horse trailer and they ran across an ad for the Western Pleasure Junior Horse Fire An Ice that things started to change. Susanne and Steve, then living in Southern California, made their first serious Arabian purchase, the purebred filly TR Ferrari (Fire An Ice x Saad II Naska), from the late Kathy McWilliams and chose Jim Lowe as their trainer. When they saw the English Pleasure stallion Allionce (Alada Baskin x Equitie) at Lowe’s training facility (coincidentally at the same Buellton facility Susanne and Steve purchased years later) they were hooked. “Allionce had a ‘wow’ factor about him. He had that beautiful long swan-like neck and he moved so elegantly,” says Susanne; “We were absolutely fascinated with him. We bought one of his first sons, Allusion AOF (x Flaring Fire by *Muscat), early on and it continued to snowball from there. We loved the horses, began going to more and more shows, and found that we really enjoyed the people and the camaraderie.”

Susanne and Steve’s initial move to the valley first took them to a facility that had once been owned by Bob Battaglia, but when the Buellton farm Jim Lowe trained out of came up for sale, they were quick to purchase it. “We knew the place needed a lot of upgrading … it was a diamond in the rough, but there was no doubt in our minds that it could be a first-rate facility, so we rolled up our sleeves and went to work.” One of the changes to the facility was the addition of a 32-stall barn, bringing the total number of horses that can be kept inside to 83. The new barn also houses a state-of-the-art breeding and lab area, which comes in handy considering they are breeding 20 or more mares per year on the farm plus shipping semen to clients across the country. Today the 45-acre farm, located just west of Buellton, California, is home to more than 120 Arabian and Half-Arabian horses — a good proportion of them National Champions, sought-after sires, or prized broodmares — and sports a front lobby in their main barn filled with championship ribbons and trophies from Scottsdale through Regionals to Nationals. After years in the business of showing and breeding Arabian horses, Susanne has learned volumes about breeding champions, raising happy horses, and managing the day-to-day operations of a thriving horse farm. “But,” she says, “I am still learning new things every day.”

Of her most emotional moment, Susanne says, “It is hard to say because there have been so many, but it was probably when we watched as the first performance horse we had bred ourselves, sired by our own stallion and out of our own mare, entered the ring at the 2003 Canadian National show. Errall Flynn CF (Allusion AOF x Twilite), a then four-year-old gelding, performed brilliantly in the Hunter Pleasure Junior Horse JTR 14-17 class, and to our delight, he was named Champion.” Errall showed again later that week and was named 2003 Canadian National Champion Hunter Pleasure Junior Horse with Tammy Bowles. “Errall is out of our lovely old mare Twilite by *Erros,” says Susanne. “I was there the night he was foaled. To watch him grow from this tiny, wet, slippery fellow who popped out into my arms, to winning his first National title, was quite an emotional moment for me.” Since then, the Crimson Farms born-and-bred gelding has gone on to win numerous National and Regional championships with his trainer Cari Thompson and his owner Lindsay Smith, who purchased him shortly after the Canadian show. “Steve and I always watch for him at the shows,” says Susanne. “We were just as proud of him last week when we watched him all of these years later as he carried his young rider to center ring to receive their Region 2 title and garland as Champion in the Ten and Under Walk/Jog class.”

Although they have shown a number of their horses in halter, earning a number of Scottsdale, Regional, and National titles, Susanne and Steve’s first love was performance and it remains that way today. “Halter classes are great, and there is an excitement level about them that makes them very appealing to a lot of people, but there is nothing quite like the thrill of an English class or anticipating the outcome of a good hunter or western class.” These days the Mackrells have downsized their halter program and are expanding their performance program, which has been bolstered as of late with the addition of a few top English horses and a new training team. Wes and Lisbeth Bowen were brought on in the fall of last year to handle the performance training and breeding programs at the farm, and if their initial success is any indication, everyone at Crimson Farms has a lot to look forward to. Crimson Farms’ latest addition to the showring, their AA Apollo Bey son Hang Time (x Ariaelle by Ariston), is already turning heads in the showring and garnering praise from people that have seen him; recently the four-year-old won the Champion English Pleasure Junior Horse title at the Region 2 show in Santa Barbara. It was just a month earlier in Santa Barbara that the handsome young stallion made his showring debut with Wes in the irons to qualify for his Regional class.

“Hang Time is extremely talented and athletic,” says Wes. “And he has a great mind and trots well. Although he’s been breeding several times a week for the last three months or so, he’s all about business and just stays in the game.” Adds Susanne, “We purchased him two years ago through the Addis auction as a two-yearold. When I saw him listed in the catalog as one of the Rooker Arabians consignments I had a gut feeling about him, so I showed the listing to Steve and said, ‘We need this colt. Go get him.’” About his temperament, Susanne says, “He doesn’t act like a stallion and he never did. He was never a mouthy or diffi cult colt, he has always been easygoing with a great temperament. He stands quietly in his stall or in the crossties and goes out and does his job with no fuss, no muss. It has been great watching him mature over the past two years, not only in his physical size, but in mind as well. I think he has a great future ahead of him.”

Hang Time wasn’t the only horse that Steve brought home from the sale that day; The Bedouins Dream, a beautiful Mamage daughter also stepped off the trailer when it arrived at the farm, along with the lovely Barbary daughter PF Sirius, both of whom were bred to Hang Time last year. Hang Time was also bred to the Saddlebred mare Fool For Champagne (by Champagne Fizz) and the Half-Arabian Hey Hallelujah daughter SA Heyhallelujah Nite; after seeing the four foals, Crimson Farms has major designs on Hang Time as a sire. “He’s definitely putting his stamp on the foals,” says Susanne. “The mares are completely different in their pedigrees, yet all four foals have very similar traits. Like their sire, the foals all have great free-moving shoulders, lots of hock action, and they are all quite upright in their front ends.

“Hang Time has a natural ability to move forward, to get under himself and use himself,” says Susanne, “and his offspring seem to have that same drive. We couldn’t be happier with him as a breeding sire.”

Of their mares, Susanne speaks quite highly of their English mare Ghazis GoGo Girl (*El Ghazi x Sneak Prevue). “Gogo is total elegance,” she says. “She had a magnificent foal sired by SF Specs Shocwave last year, so we know her potential as a broodmare. This year we bred her to Hang Time, and looking at the excellence of the four foals he has already sired, we feel the cross could be amazing. We also have a Phi Slama Jama daughter, Jammin Like Crazy, who is phenomenal. Everything she produces just seems to go out and win.” Jammin Like Crazy is the dam of the star Half-Arabian Hunter Pleasure Junior Horse Allectri Phi CF (by Allusion AOF) as well as the dam of the 2005 U.S. National Reserve Champion Breeders Sweepstakes Half-Arabian Yearling Gelding Maximillien CF. Susanne says, “Although Jammi has produced some fabulous hunters and great halter horses, we know she also has the ability to produce English trot in her foals, so with a little urging from Wes and Beth, we bred her to Hang Time this year.”

The year 2011 is shaping up to be an interesting year for the Crimson Farms foal crop. Along with the above-mentioned mares, they also have BA Halle Berry (Hucks Premier V x Hallelujah Bask), two of their Baske Afire daughters, and their previously mentioned Mamage daughter in foal to Hang Time. Looking toward fostering their performance division, Crimson Farms chose U.S. National Champion A Temptation to breed to their very talented English pleasure mare A Polonaise (AA Apollo Bey x Harlequin Afire) this year. In addition to Hang Time, Crimson Farms owns and stands other well-respected breeding stallions: multi-National Champion Desert Heat VF (Fame VF x MCA Matilda Bay); the magnificent championsiring Saddlebred The Color Of Fame (Colour Me Hot x Baroness Reverie); and sire of numerous National title-holders Allusion AOF.

Desert Heat first entered the National showring as a yearling. When he made his exit from the ring that year he was wearing the roses as the 1995 U.S. National Champion Breeders Sweepstakes Colt; as a thirteen-year-old, he once again exited a Nationals arena wearing the roses, this time as the 2007 Canadian National Champion Stallion AOTH. And between those years Desert Heat had been named 1997 U.S. National Champion Futurity Colt, 1998 U.S. National Reserve Champion Stallion, 2002 Canadian National Champion Senior Stallion, and 2002 U.S. National Reserve Champion Senior Stallion. While it is easy to see how people could easily categorize Desert Heat as a halter sire, through the years his offspring have been earning titles from Regionals to Nationals not only in halter but in the performance divisions as well, and it isn’t unusual to find a number of them doing both. Like his sire, the Desert Heat son Inkredible Heat (Desert Heat VF x HM Enchanting) began his show career in the halter division. He has since laid claim to titles in hunter pleasure, working hunter, English show hack, and country pleasure. Another Desert Heat son, Chill Factor NR (x Rudeys Vision), can also be found showing in a variety of divisions; he too has earned numerous titles in halter and hunter pleasure as well as in sport horse in-hand and under-saddle. Tulsa 2009 had two Desert Heat offspring taking home National honors with Voyageurs (x No Small Affair), picking up a well-deserved Top Ten in Hunter Pleasure AAOTR with his owner Hillary Hoffman, and Red Hot Affair CF (x LM Padrons Affair) earning a Top Ten in the Half-Arabian Breeders Sweepstakes Yearling Fillies class. Earlier this year, the exquisite MK Sofia Loren (Desert Heat VF x Felecia Bey) made her way back to the showring earning high honors at the 2010 Arabian Breeders World Cup show in Las Vegas.

It would be difficult to count the number of times that show announcers across the country have used the words “Champion” and “sired by The Color Of Fame” in the same sentence. His get have been winning awards since they started entering the showring and they have been shown in virtually every Half-Arabian discipline, including halter, western pleasure, hunter pleasure, country pleasure, English pleasure, driving, and dressage. Like the Desert Heat offspring, several of The Color Of Fame’s get have proven their quality and versatility by moving easily from halter to performance and earning National titles in both venues. Crimson Farms is not currently standing The Color Of Fame to the public, but they have donated a breeding to the Region 3 Silver Sire program for their 2010 Stallion Auction.

The Crimson Farms stallion lineup also includes the Versace son Vertigo CF (x Bint Alianna by Padrons Psyche). Vertigo has matured to become a handsome and well put together young stallion. Until recently the five-year-old grey’s show career consisted of halter achievements, including a 2007 Reserve Champion title from the Scottsdale Signature Stallion Two-Year-Old Colt ATH class, a Region 3 Reserve Champion Two-Year-Old Colt title, and a Top Ten from the Canadian National Two-Year-Old Colts class. Susanne says that she had always felt he would make a great performance horse, so in late 2009 they started him under saddle. “We could have rushed him and had him ready to show in Scottsdale,” says Susanne, “but we felt he would be better served by us taking our time and getting him right before putting him in the showring.” Vertigo made his show debut in the pre-show at Region 2 placing second in his class. “He still needs a bit of seasoning in the ring,” says Susanne, “but he looks like he could have a great career as a western horse. We’re hoping to get him to Nationals this fall in the Western Pleasure Junior Horse class with Wes.”

At Crimson Farms, the sense of family abounds, and Susanne and Steve’s management style offers a stress-free environment for both humans and horses. “All of our employees are taught and expected to be handson with the horses, and all of the horses are taught and learn to interact well with people,” says Susanne. “Some of the horses have their individual people — it works out better for the stallions to have a normal routine and a familiar person with them. The Color Of Fame and Desert Heat have Ernie, who gets them out in the morning for daily grooming and turn out, and Allusion has Javier to take him through his daily routine. Vertigo is in performance training now, but other than being ridden by Wes, he is handled mostly by Javier. We try to run things on an even keel so there are not a lot of surprises — and the horses love having their ‘people.’”

Fitting, then, that Wes and Lisbeth Bowen and their three-year-old daughter Isabella have landed here. Wes, a third-generation Arabian horse trainer, grew up in western New York state. His grandparents were passionate Arabian horse breeders and founding members of the Arabian Horse Association of New York. His mother, Kathy Bowen, ran an extensive riding lesson program and training facility at the family’s Wes-Kay Farm in Holland, New York. Wes met his future wife Beth, then 12 years old, when her mother brought her to Kathy Bowen’s for riding lessons with her Half-Arabian/half-Welsh pony, Scarlet Feever. Wes and Beth married, and both have had successful horse careers back East. Wes showed reining on the NRHA circuit, with a purebred Arabian gelding, Kildaras Classic Vintage, finishing eighth in the nation in the thirteen and under reining division. After leaving New York state, Wes and Beth furthered their horse careers at Hidden Hill Arabians in Scottsville, Virginia, and then moved to Smithfield, North Carolina, where they ran their own training facility, along the way earning many National titles in English, western pleasure, working western, halter, and hunter between them. At their new California home, Wes manages all aspects of the Crimson Farms program while specializing in saddleseat, western performance, and working western and Beth shows and trains hunter, country, and western pleasure. Beth also coaches amateur and junior riders, gives lessons, and has taken over as the farm’s breeding manager.

“Working at Crimson Farms has been a great experience so far,” says Wes, who began at the farm in late September. “I networked a little, and one day I got in my car and drove across the country heading west … I started working a few horses for Steve and Susanne and everybody seemed to get along. We fit in pretty well with them and their program and have a lot of the same ideas on training and breeding.”

Beth and Isabella left North Carolina and arrived in the valley a month later. “I’d never been to California until I moved here,” Beth says, “but it was a lot easier to move across the country to a great place and wonderful people like Susanne and Steve. They’ve been in it for a long time and know so much, yet it’s not like their opinions or ideas are the only ones — they’re always open to what your opinion is. They’re like family.” Of Wes and Beth, “They train the way we like our horses trained,” says Susanne. “Along with that, Wes and Beth are both enjoyable people to be around and that is important to Steve and me, so along with having a good working relationship with them, we like them both as individuals,” she says.

Since their arrival, the couple has put amateur, junior rider, and lesson programs into place at the farm, and they have already enjoyed success through their students. At the Region 2 Championships in Santa Barbara in June, their JTR rider Hillary Boothe rode purebred Solid Brass KA to a Top Five Region 2 Western Pleasure JTR title; Hillary also rode Solid Brass KA to a Pacific Slope Top Three Western Pleasure ATR title; Half-Arabian Allectri Phi CF to a Pacific Slope Champion Half-Arabian Hunter Pleasure ATR title; and purebred Allari CF to a Pacific Slope Champion Hunter Pleasure ATR title at the May Pacific Slopes Championship show in Santa Barbara.

Isabella Grace is the Bowen family’s fourth-generation horsewoman: on her third birthday, Bella showed in her first leadline class aboard Solid Brass KA at the Region 2 Championship show in Santa Barbara. It was a first for both of them — Isabella and “Knuckles” will be a pair to watch for years to come. “It was very touching to see Solid Brass go out and do his first leadline class with Isabella,” says Susanne, “especially knowing that the saddle she was riding in was the very saddle her father had ridden in when he was showing leadline all those years ago.”

When talking about Steve’s involvement in the operation, Susanne says, “Steve is real hands-on here at the farm. We talk about everything, from the day-today operations to breeding decisions, and he enjoys going to the shows and being a part of it all.” Steve has made a name for himself as a barbecue chef at many of the horse shows the couple attend, including Scottsdale, Region 2, and Region 3. “We both feel that it is important to take an active part in getting people involved at the shows, not only with their horses, but with each other as well,” Susanne says. “This may sound funny, but before people ask what horses we are taking to a show, they want to know if Steve’s going to be barbecuing! It is nice being with someone who enjoys all of this as much as I do.”

What advice would she give to someone beginning a career in horse breeding? “The best advice I could give someone is to start small and work their way up. I would advise them not to buy a group of mares and a stallion simply because they think that breeding horses sounds like a great way to earn a living doing something they already enjoy as a hobby. Breeding horses is easy,” Susanne says. “Selling them once you breed them isn’t always as easy. Have a good, solid back-up plan in case things don’t go the way you hope it will,” she says. “The last thing you want to do is find yourself with a lot of horses that depend on you to feed and care for them, and find yourself not being able to keep up with it.”

Smart breeding decisions, check. Promising show horses, check. Unrivaled broodmares, check. Talented new staff that have already become family, check. Clear sense of vision and direction, check and check. Looks like a bright future for Crimson Farms.