Horse play leads to top honors

Posted: Sunday, September 24, 2000

She's such a pretty girl.

Egypt's Heart Afire tosses a shock of tawny hair over her large, dark eyes and fidgets her dainty little feet. She cannot merely walk into her room, but must bound across the threshold like a gazelle.

Mirage, as her human family nicknamed her, is only 1 year old, but she turned heads at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. The visiting judge from the Lower 48 liked her looks well enough to pick her as the 2000 Alaska State Champion Yearling Arabian.

"Not bad for her first time out," said owner Carol Keller, as she watched the filly sashay around the paddock.

 

Keller brushes Snow Princess while Taylor and Mirage wait their turn.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"Ever since she won that championship, her nose is in the air," Keller laughed. "She knows it, the little twit."

But Mirage is not the only champion in Keller's barn.

KZ Snow Princess, Mirage's mother, came home with the title of 2000 Alaska State Champion Arabian Mare.

Following the double win in Palmer over Labor Day weekend, the mother's and daughter's multicolored ribbons hang side-by-side in the tidy barn at the Kellers' home near Longmere Lake.

 

Carol Keller braids the long tail of one of her Arabian horses before giving a lesson at her Soldotna stable.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Hooked on horses

Carol Keller is the horse-crazy little girl who never grew out of it, and a woman who brought her fantasy to life with her small stable of purebred Arabian horses.

She grew up in Wayne, Ill., a town devoted to aristocratic horsemanship, and lived across the street from a top-notch stable that offered riding lessons.

"Mom couldn't keep me away," she said.

 

Student Jordan Schneider leads Taylor back to the barn as Keller trails behind.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"We got excused from school if we were fox hunting that day. It was a neat place to grow up -- if you liked horses."

She learned how to ride the English way on the leggy thoroughbreds.

"I grew up on big, big horses. The bigger the horse, the farther it is to fall," she said.

But she gave up the horses to marry Bill Keller. He was in the Army, and the young family was transferred from post to post, including a stint in Germany.

 

Taylor receives a treat following Schneider's lesson.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"We've lived everywhere," she said.

"We came to Alaska because we wanted to see it. Then we didn't want to leave."

But even before the Kellers moved to Alaska in 1989, she had slid back into the horse habit -- all because of Taylor.

A breed apart

The Kellers were living in Indiana when Carol got wind that someone was selling nice-looking weanlings (foals that have grown old enough to leave their mothers) for low prices. She bought a colt named Taylor Made, sight unseen, over the phone.

"He is my $200 credit card horse," she said.

Thirteen years later, she is convinced she got a bargain.

Taylor, it turned out, was a purebred Arabian, although at the time Carol did not have enough money leftover to file his registration papers.

"I would have bought him no matter what kind of horse he was, because he was $200," she said.

But she was amazed at how smart and safe he was. The handsome bay's personality won her over utterly.

"He is bomb proof," she said. "He is so level-headed."

Her previous horse had been a quarter horse. One time, he had gotten tangled by the house and freaked out so badly he took the porch off its foundation.

"He was as dumb as a rock," she said.

But when Taylor's halter got caught on a nail, he just waited until someone freed him.

Taylor sold Carol on Arabians, the world's oldest breed of horse.

Native to the Arabian peninsula, they served as companions, transport and war steeds for nomadic desert tribes for centuries. Small and light-boned compared to many other breeds, they combine a delicate appearance with energy and endurance. Exported, they have contributed to some of the best known light breeds internationally, including thoroughbreds, Morgans, mustangs, Lippizaners and Spanish Andalu-sians.

But Carol knows that Arabs have detractors and they are not for everyone.

"I like the smartness. They are fun to have, but not for the novice," she said.

"Some people think they are crazy or too hot. My reply is, 'you can't have a horse that's smarter than you.'"

Smart animals are a challenge. When mistreated, spoiled or bored, they can make trouble, she said.

To keep hers busy, the paddock is littered with fishing floats and traffic cones for them to toss around. She also makes a point of getting her horses young, so she can raise them herself and mold the behavior she wants.

"That way, if they have any bad habits, I know who to blame," she said. "Sometimes when you buy an older horse, you are buying someone else's problems."

Horses become a career

A decade ago, the Kellers were living near Fairbanks, where Bill was stationed at Fort Wainwright.

He knew what Carol's dream horse looked like -- a chestnut with flaxen mane and tail, four white socks and a blaze. He found one for sale that looked awfully close and decided to tease Carol by taking her out to look at a bay quarter horse. She said she wanted to look at Arabs instead.

That was how she met Princess. She described it as love at first sight.

The Kellers bought the yearling, but this time they paid $3,500.

The woman who sold Carol the filly urged her to get involved with the horse show circuit, so the Kellers took their young Princess to the state fair in Palmer.

"The first time we showed her, we won state champion 2-year-old. I thought, 'I like this!'" she said.

A couple years later, the farm where Princess came from came up for sale. The Kellers bought the large facility. It became a full-time job for Carol and part-time for Bill and their two children. To pay for their own horses, they took in 13 boarders, and Carol began offering riding lessons.

"Carol tends to play down her capabilities," Bill said. "She does a lot of homework."

One former student became a successful equestrian on the East Coast, based on what Carol taught her in Alaska, he said.

Her current students, since the Kellers moved to the Kenai Peninsula, are a devoted lot. She has had pupils who have come from as far away as Seward and Homer.

Dory McIsaac, whose 11-year-old daughter, Molly, was Carol's first student in Sterling, described her as an awesome instructor who really has a way with horses.

"She is wonderful," McIsaac said. "She is so good with the kids and the horses. But she isn't easy. She doesn't let them get away with stuff -- kids or horses.

"Most of the students ride Taylor because he's a good boy."

Child of champions

In 1993, the Kellers took Princess back to the fair, and she won Alaska State Futurity Cham-pion Arab.

But the following year, a different judge put her at the bottom of the pack. The Kellers asked questions and learned that the judge's expertise was quarter horses. They left disheartened.

They didn't come back for seven years.

Four years ago, Bill retired from the military and went to work on the North Slope. The family sold their Fairbanks stable and moved to the Kenai Peninsula, where they had been vacationing.

They built their own barn, complete with a special stall for foaling, and began plotting about Princess's love life.

Carol found a beautiful chestnut stud in Wasilla who had an impeccable pedigree and the title of Alaska State Champion Arab Stallion. His name was Prince Almaz Jull.

"With Princess, I knew I had to breed her to Prince," she said. "It was meant to be."

With those parents, the foal would carry bloodlines from the royal stud farms of Egypt and some of the most famous Arab stallions of the 20th century.

When the time for the blessed event approached, Carol went all out to prepare. She rigged up remote video monitors in the foaling stall, slept on the coach to check them and, when the mare finally went into labor, had a friend who is a nurse come over. The nurse read the book on foaling; Bill filmed; Carol paced.

Mirage has been on camera literally from the moment she was born. Carol described her as a natural show-off.

"She is probably the most photographed horse there is," she said.

Mirage had one trauma that marred her charmed youth. When she was 4 months old, the Kellers were putting her in a horse trailer to get her used to the idea when the trailer unexpectedly lurched forward. The terrified foal leapt forward into the manger and whacked her head so hard that she nearly scalped herself.

Dr. Jerald Nybakken from Twin Cities Veterinary Clinic spent three hours sewing the baby horse back together, and the result was so successful that she doesn't even have a scar, Carol said.

As the filly grew, the Kellers knew they had a beauty in the barn. They resolved to return to Palmer to try their luck in the ring once more.

"I owed it to Mirage because she is such a good horse," Carol said.

The filly did not want to be apart from her mother, so they took Princess along. Carol's Seward student, Katy Hein, and her mother, Lois, came to offer logistical support. And when they all arrived, they had a pleasant surprise.

"We were excited to see a highly-touted Arab judge at the fair," said Bill. "He had been at the nationals."

The judge gave top honors to both the Kellers' four-legged females, and visiting horse people from other states paid their compliments. One Arab breeder told Carol that Mirage has the quality to compete in the national arena.

Now the Kellers are looking forward to next year's state fair, and Carol is daydreaming about having Princess bred again. The stumbling block is that she cannot afford yet another horse.

"But it would be for someone else; it wouldn't be for me," she said. "And it wouldn't be cheap.

"It worked so well the first time. We made exactly what we wanted. (Mirage) is the perfect horse -- except she doesn't have four white socks."

HEAD:Horse play leads to top honors

he's such a pretty girl.

Egypt's Heart Afire tosses a shock of tawny hair over her large, dark eyes and fidgets her dainty little feet. She cannot merely walk into her room, but must bound across the threshold like a gazelle.

Mirage, as her human family nicknamed her, is only 1 year old, but she turned heads at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. The visiting judge from the Lower 48 liked her looks well enough to pick her as the 2000 Alaska State Champion Yearling Arabian.

"Not bad for her first time out," said owner Carol Keller, as she watched the filly sashay around the paddock.

"Ever since she won that championship, her nose is in the air," Keller laughed. "She knows it, the little twit."

But Mirage is not the only champion in Keller's barn.

KZ Snow Princess, Mirage's mother, came home with the title of 2000 Alaska State Champion Arabian Mare.

Following the double win in Palmer over Labor Day weekend, the mother's and daughter's multicolored ribbons hang side-by-side in the tidy barn at the Kellers' home near Longmere Lake.

Hooked on horses

Carol Keller is the horse-crazy little girl who never grew out of it, and a woman who brought her fantasy to life with her small stable of purebred Arabian horses.

She grew up in Wayne, Ill., a town devoted to aristocratic horsemanship, and lived across the street from a top-notch stable that offered riding lessons.

"Mom couldn't keep me away," she said.

"We got excused from school if we were fox hunting that day. It was a neat place to grow up -- if you liked horses."

She learned how to ride the English way on the leggy thoroughbreds.

"I grew up on big, big horses. The bigger the horse, the farther it is to fall," she said.

But she gave up the horses to marry Bill Keller. He was in the Army, and the young family was transferred from post to post, including a stint in Germany.

"We've lived everywhere," she said.

"We came to Alaska because we wanted to see it. Then we didn't want to leave."

But even before the Kellers moved to Alaska in 1989, she had slid back into the horse habit -- all because of Taylor.

A breed apart

The Kellers were living in Indiana when Carol got wind that someone was selling nice-looking weanlings (foals that have grown old enough to leave their mothers) for low prices. She bought a colt named Taylor Made, sight unseen, over the phone.

"He is my $200 credit card horse," she said.

Thirteen years later, she is convinced she got a bargain.

Taylor, it turned out, was a purebred Arabian, although at the time Carol did not have enough money leftover to file his registration papers.

"I would have bought him no matter what kind of horse he was, because he was $200," she said.

But she was amazed at how smart and safe he was. The handsome bay's personality won her over utterly.

"He is bomb proof," she said. "He is so level-headed."

Her previous horse had been a quarter horse. One time, he had gotten tangled by the house and freaked out so badly he took the porch off its foundation.

"He was as dumb as a rock," she said.

But when Taylor's halter got caught on a nail, he just waited until someone freed him.

Taylor sold Carol on Arabians, the world's oldest breed of horse.

Native to the Arabian peninsula, they served as companions, transport and war steeds for nomadic desert tribes for centuries. Small and light-boned compared to many other breeds, they combine a delicate appearance with energy and endurance. Exported, they have contributed to some of the best known light breeds internationally, including thoroughbreds, Morgans, mustangs, Lippizaners and Spanish Andalu-sians.

But Carol knows that Arabs have detractors and they are not for everyone.

"I like the smartness. They are fun to have, but not for the novice," she said.

"Some people think they are crazy or too hot. My reply is, 'you can't have a horse that's smarter than you.'"

Smart animals are a challenge. When mistreated, spoiled or bored, they can make trouble, she said.

To keep hers busy, the paddock is littered with fishing floats and traffic cones for them to toss around. She also makes a point of getting her horses young, so she can raise them herself and mold the behavior she wants.

"That way, if they have any bad habits, I know who to blame," she said. "Sometimes when you buy an older horse, you are buying someone else's problems."

Horses become a career

A decade ago, the Kellers were living near Fairbanks, where Bill was stationed at Fort Wainwright.

He knew what Carol's dream horse looked like -- a chestnut with flaxen mane and tail, four white socks and a blaze. He found one for sale that looked awfully close and decided to tease Carol by taking her out to look at a bay quarter horse. She said she wanted to look at Arabs instead.

That was how she met Princess. She described it as love at first sight.

The Kellers bought the yearling, but this time they paid $3,500.

The woman who sold Carol the filly urged her to get involved with the horse show circuit, so the Kellers took their young Princess to the state fair in Palmer.

"The first time we showed her, we won state champion 2-year-old. I thought, 'I like this!'" she said.

A couple years later, the farm where Princess came from came up for sale. The Kellers bought the large facility. It became a full-time job for Carol and part-time for Bill and their two children. To pay for their own horses, they took in 13 boarders, and Carol began offering riding lessons.

"Carol tends to play down her capabilities," Bill said. "She does a lot of homework."

One former student became a successful equestrian on the East Coast, based on what Carol taught her in Alaska, he said.

Her current students, since the Kellers moved to the Kenai Peninsula, are a devoted lot. She has had pupils who have come from as far away as Seward and Homer.

Dory McIsaac, whose 11-year-old daughter, Molly, was Carol's first student in Sterling, described her as an awesome instructor who really has a way with horses.

"She is wonderful," McIsaac said. "She is so good with the kids and the horses. But she isn't easy. She doesn't let them get away with stuff -- kids or horses.

"Most of the students ride Taylor because he's a good boy."

Child of champions

In 1993, the Kellers took Princess back to the fair, and she won Alaska State Futurity Cham-pion Arab.

But the following year, a different judge put her at the bottom of the pack. The Kellers asked questions and learned that the judge's expertise was quarter horses. They left disheartened.

They didn't come back for seven years.

Four years ago, Bill retired from the military and went to work on the North Slope. The family sold their Fairbanks stable and moved to the Kenai Peninsula, where they had been vacationing.

They built their own barn, complete with a special stall for foaling, and began plotting about Princess's love life.

Carol found a beautiful chestnut stud in Wasilla who had an impeccable pedigree and the title of Alaska State Champion Arab Stallion. His name was Prince Almaz Jull.

"With Princess, I knew I had to breed her to Prince," she said. "It was meant to be."

With those parents, the foal would carry bloodlines from the royal stud farms of Egypt and some of the most famous Arab stallions of the 20th century.

When the time for the blessed event approached, Carol went all out to prepare. She rigged up remote video monitors in the foaling stall, slept on the coach to check them and, when the mare finally went into labor, had a friend who is a nurse come over. The nurse read the book on foaling; Bill filmed; Carol paced.

Mirage has been on camera literally from the moment she was born. Carol described her as a natural show-off.

"She is probably the most photographed horse there is," she said.

Mirage had one trauma that marred her charmed youth. When she was 4 months old, the Kellers were putting her in a horse trailer to get her used to the idea when the trailer unexpectedly lurched forward. The terrified foal leapt forward into the manger and whacked her head so hard that she nearly scalped herself.

Dr. Jerald Nybakken from Twin Cities Veterinary Clinic spent three hours sewing the baby horse back together, and the result was so successful that she doesn't even have a scar, Carol said.

As the filly grew, the Kellers knew they had a beauty in the barn. They resolved to return to Palmer to try their luck in the ring once more.

"I owed it to Mirage because she is such a good horse," Carol said.

The filly did not want to be apart from her mother, so they took Princess along. Carol's Seward student, Katy Hein, and her mother, Lois, came to offer logistical support. And when they all arrived, they had a pleasant surprise.

"We were excited to see a highly-touted Arab judge at the fair," said Bill. "He had been at the nationals."

The judge gave top honors to both the Kellers' four-legged females, and visiting horse people from other states paid their compliments. One Arab breeder told Carol that Mirage has the quality to compete in the national arena.

Now the Kellers are looking forward to next year's state fair, and Carol is daydreaming about having Princess bred again. The stumbling block is that she cannot afford yet another horse.

"But it would be for someone else; it wouldn't be for me," she said. "And it wouldn't be cheap.

"It worked so well the first time. We made exactly what we wanted. (Mirage) is the perfect horse -- except she doesn't have four white socks."



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