Words by Caroline Sussex
An Australian Dream
In 2000, I visited Australia for the WAHO Conference and The Victorian Crabbet Horse Group Inc. Crabbet Convention in Melbourne. The Convention comprised of a Crabbet Show and Conference, where Peter Upton judged and presented respectively. It was at this show that I first encountered Arfaja Evangeline (Arfaja Robard x Arfaja Estella); this ethereal mare entered the ring and immediately stole my eye and my heart. I soon discovered that she was not for sale, but remained the pride and joy of Ron Ryan, owner of the Arfaja Stud. It was during this visit that I really started to take note of Ron’s horses. Although time did not permit a visit to Arfaja Arabians, I did return to the world famous Fenwick Stud. Like the majority of Australian Crabbet breeding programmes, the bloodlines found at Arfaja descended from Mrs Dora Maclean’s early importations from Crabbet Park and the Hanstead Stud.
|Arfaja Robard © Sharon Meyers|
In 2003, I contacted Ron only to discover that he had been very ill and his stud had been temporarily dispersed. I was devastated as I had hoped to visit the Arfaja Stud at the end of the year. Fortunately, with the help of Ron, now quite well recovered, Brother Peter McIntosh and Leon Bennett all came to my rescue and organised the most wonderful stud tour to view the Arfaja horses at their new homes. It was on this trip that I was fortunate to see the great Australian National Champion, Rasham (Greylight x Sparkle). Despite being an elderly gentleman, Rasham was amazing and completely stole the show! Ron had recovered sufficiently and I was honoured to meet him at a few of the studs. During one of these meetings, he produced the most amazing album of photographs and willingly shared his knowledge and incredible judgment of Arabian horses.
An idea had been planted, and I soon decided that an Arfaja horse was needed for my Binley Stud back in England!
The last stud on the tour led us to Fred and Fiona Seymores. It was at their Wentworth Estate that I first saw the stunning grey stallion Arfaja Robard (Rasham x Wellworth Leilani). I had already been impressed by his full brother Arfaja Harlan earlier in the stud tour, whose amazing white markings and beautiful foals provided me with a vision of the quality one might produce from combining the Arfaja bloodlines.
Ironically, Beatrice Paine had also searched Australia for a colt or stallion to bring to the UK. I learned only recently that this horse had been Morocco (Risheem x Fickle) – the grandsire of Arfaja Robard, Arfaja Harlan and their full sister, Arfaja Rashma. Although Morocco was not for sale, the mind can’t help but wonder what could have been.
|Silver Somerio © Caroline Sussex|
As I continued to wade through the photographs and pedigrees of Australia’s Crabbet Arabians, I recalled my mother’s comments following a judging trip to the Antipodes, and her description of the 100% Crabbet stallion, Somerled (Baz x Silver Radiance). Somerled had sadly passed away before the Convention in 2000; however, it was here that I studied the Somerled son, Silver Somerio (ex Silver Doura by Silver Moonlight out of Eldoura). I remember his strong back-end and decided that this was a quality I really wanted to bring to the UK.
I returned to Australia again for the Fairleigh Stud 2005 World Crabbet Convention and saw a whole new group of wonderful Crabbet horses and again, many more of the Somerled breeding. Prior to the Convention, I journeyed with Astra Temple to see Arfaja Robard once more and we stayed the night with the Seymores. Fiona wished for ‘Robbie’, to stand at stud but did not have the space. By the end of our visit however, a rough plan had been made to stand Robbie at Astra’s along with the lease of a number of mares. They were both adamant that I should lease the mare Arfaja Silver Mist (Silver Somerio x Arfaja Rashma) and breed her to Robbie. This breeding would result in a double cross to Rasham through the full siblings Arfaja Robard and Arfaja Rashma. The double cross to Rasham had already proven itself in the Victorian breeding programmes I had visited, but would also establish a link to Somerled.
I continued to deliberate until my visit to Tasmania. At Trevor Jacobsen’s Elphyn Arabians, I saw Arfaja Silver Mist’s full brother, Arfaja Silver Aura, and my mind was made up. This stallion had been bred to mares who contained direct lines to the UK stallion Silver Flame (Indian Flame II x Silver Ripple) through his son, Manfred (ex Miblis by Grojec out of Mifaria) bred by Lady Anne Lytton. The foals I saw of the Silver Flame/Arfaja bloodlines in Tasmania were outstanding. Owning two Silver Flame granddaughters at the time encouraged me to consider the value of breeding and importing an ‘Arfaja horse’ for the UK Crabbet gene pool.
A lease was soon arranged and Arfaja Silver Mist was bred to Arfaja Robard and conceived immediately. Eleven months later, without any sign of bagging up or foaling, ‘Misty’ gave birth to her first foal – a grey colt! With a foal on the ground and a mare without colostrum, Astra immediately called from the southern hemisphere to explain the situation and to inform me that it coincided with a regional lockdown on account of the Equine Influenza epidemic. As Astra was in a ‘red zone’ – no veterinarian could enter the property and, after years of research and correspondence, the decision to survive or perish was ultimately left to the plucky colt himself. The determination of ‘Ronnie’ was matched only by Astra, whom eventually managed to encourage Misty’s milk by constantly placing warm towels on her udder until everything was in operation. As fate would have it, the wind changed direction in the following days and Astra thankfully avoided the equine flu.
Five weeks later, I was again in Australia to meet the colt I had spent years imagining. His movement was just stunning and I would have purchased him on that alone. I had studied Arfaja foals in great detail from films and photographs and so with that knowledge of the bloodlines, I decided to export him to the UK. I named the colt Binley Ronaldo while in the company of Stephen Pearson, Ron Ryan’s nephew, and his partner Joanne Costigan, the current owners of the Arfaja Stud.
After living his early life at Star Park Arabians under the wonderful care of Astra Temple and Randall MacArthur, Ronnie arrived in the UK in November 2008 at Heathrow Cargo Terminal.
A British Reality
Binley Ronaldo grew up at Binley with my gelding Binley Silver Spark (Spirit of Silver x Sema), who is now enjoying life with Becky Gant, until he was two. I was obviously keen, perhaps too eager, to ensure Ronnie’s fertility but at two he showed little interest in mares so we waited until the following year. As another breeding season rapidly approached, Ronnie’s troubles continued so I contacted Tessa Clarke at West Kington and she put me in touch with Sue Carden who visited studs and helped out with artificial insemination (AI).
|Binley Ronaldo as a foal.|
This was to be the most significant event of the narrative. If I had not had Sue here to help me, I believe Ronnie would have been gelded and we would not have the glorious foals now gracing Binley’s fields. Sue told me how to build a dummy horse and where to put it. Telegraph poles are all you need to make the foundation of the dummy and then you purchase foam to make the correct height and softness. The height was very important and we have made many, many corrections to all aspects of the dummy to ensure that Ronnie is 100% happy! Sue also stressed the importance of a positive relationship between stallion and handler throughout the serving and collection process.
In 2013, life gave way to another Crabbet Convention and left precious time for anything else. With the 2014 breeding season on the horizon, Ronnie became the most important issue. It was at this point that we decided to have his semen properly tested by Martin Boyle; the semen was not good but was just over 20% fertile. The maiden mare Binley Silvern Sapphire (Grecian Idyll x Silvern Pearl) was to be Ronnie’s first for the season. It was a wonderful surprise when the vet announced that she was pregnant despite the scan showing no actual embryo. Sadly, we had to abort this attempt and start all over again. So, after another three breedings, by which time it was July, Sapphire conceived again. At the same time we were trying three other mares and some were not cycling correctly but on the second attempt, Binley Golden Reverie (Prince Sadik x Silvern Image) also conceived. All I wanted was one foal, but having two mares pregnant was absolutely wonderful.
|Binley Ronaldo as a yearling.|
With both maiden mares in foal, it seemed that things were starting to go according to plan. However, in April 2015, Reverie started colicing and although the colic was relatively minor, it led to rolling fits and a number of veterinary appointments including a trip to the clinic. My vet was convinced the foal was resting on a nerve. We turned the mares out at night so that Reverie had more room should she roll. The colicing stopped at the end of April.
However, Reverie continued to torment us by starting to bag up at the beginning of May, despite a 30 June due date. Sapphire seemed to be following in her stablemate’s footsteps, with both mares committed to foaling early. Twenty-six days before her due date, Reverie started to drip milk and it was at this point that our hourly vigil commenced. We tested Reverie’s milk and the colostrum was very low. Vicky Ford and I spent the next eight days and nights sharing shifts and checking the mares in the freezing cold. We had attempted stabling in order to observe the mares via CCTV, but Reverie became so stressed that we were left with no option but to turn them back out again.
On 12 June, without warning, colostrum or milk, Sapphire gave birth to a colt in the field in day time. It was interesting to observe that immediately after foaling, the colostrum was soon produced and was of very high quality. All was well except she was terrified by the after birth hanging out of her that, fortunately, came away quickly. The colt, later named Binley Silver Thowra, due to his Australian connections, was good and strong and the pair was soon moved into one of the two foaling boxes.
We were still watching Reverie and we had had no chance to catch up on any sleep that day. At around 1.30 in the morning, Reverie foaled a filly in the pitch dark. Vicky carried the filly in as she was considerably weak. The vet was called and thankfully, the nearby Mildmay Stud had some colostrum which we gave to the foal but it was not enough, and I had to get her up every time she wanted to drink. We soon noticed that Reverie, whil a good mother, was a little clumsy.
|Ronnie (left) out with Binley Silvern Spark, 48 hours after leaving Australia in 2008. © Caroline Sussex|
Now in the adjoining foaling box to Sapphire and her colt, things were going well for Reverie’s filly and she was growing stronger by the feed. It was with complete horror as I watched an incident on the cameras the following day, as Reverie rushed to the wall to ward Sapphire away from her foal. In the process, it looked as though she had trodden on the foal. I rushed out but not seeing any damage, prayed it was a near miss. Sadly, when the foal decided to stand up to drink, she nearly fell over. I had no idea what had happened, called the vets again and in the meantime, the foal nearly died in my arms, I believe from shock. I shook her and fought for her and she got up and drank. Another stressful night ensued, with painkillers to help the foal, who was now nicknamed ‘Bunny’. We were unwilling to tempt fate any further and quickly decided to turn Sapphire and her colt out into the field.
The vet came again that day and it seemed that her patella was dislocated. The next week proved incredibly traumatic as Bunny was subjected to an array of x-rays and scans. We tried plasma and were relieved by the boost it provided; at last Bunny was getting up and down on her own to feed. Reverie was still clumsy but the foal seemed more aware of this.
Two difficult weeks later, following numerous conversations with vets and surgeons, the devastating decision was made to have Bunny put down. It was beyond heart-breaking for us all, but there was little else we could do to provide her with a life of any quality. Once we had reached a decision with the surgeon, I rushed out and hugged her, telling her she would be released to run free in the sky. I was later informed that she had been trampled and there was no chance of a full recovery. Bunny’s death was a horrific reality to face having encountered and cleared so many hurdles in the past.
Binley Silvern Talia (name pending) Silvern Prince x Summertime Blues. © Caroline Sussex
Despite the trials of the previous breeding season, I was not prepared to give up. It was with great joy that in July, my vet confirmed that AHS Premium Mare Sa’ira (Indian Idyll x Sa’lilah), my Silver Flame granddaughter, was pregnant and was carrying a filly by Ronnie, and she foaled Binley Silver Sunset last summer. We had planned to breed a few mares to Ronnie that year but in the end, we bred both Reverie and Sapphire back to him. Following a great deal of trial and error, we now breed the mares to Ronnie by AI at the very end of their cycle. This allows us to extend the semen and to coincide with the very end of the cycle as the mares are going off. Reverie was scanned in foal in September at the first attempt. Sadly this pregnancy either disappeared or was aborted. We will breed Reverie again in 2016 in the hopes of at last getting a foal from her. Needless to say, the offending wall has now been raised so horses cannot talk over it.
The Binley Ronaldo story has proven to be a saga indeed.
I have at last succeeded in breeding from Binley Ronaldo and secured the valuable 100% Crabbet bloodlines from Australia I spent years studying from afar. My only hope now, having undertaken this incredible journey, is for UK breeders to recognise the opportunity and genetic outcross they have access to. If it wasn’t for the amazing help, perseverance and skills of Sue Carden, Ronnie would have been gelded and all the effort of bringing him from Australia would have been a complete waste of time.
Sue, I owe you so much; you are an amazing person and a truly remarkable friend.
SPECIAL THANKS: My special thanks to the breeding team: Fil D’Olivier from Donnington Grove; Sue Carden and her mobile AI; Vicky Ford for her loyalty and help with everything and anything. A general thank you to all the helpers and supporters who came in and gave us some sleep and much needed support throughout a difficult and emotional summer. Last of all, thank you to Ron Ryan for his help and support; to Fred and Fiona Seymore for the opportunity to breed from their wonderful horses; and to my wonderful friend Astra, for saving Ronnie’s life at birth.