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Cal Poly's Arabians
By CARLA WINSLOW
(Originally published in OPUS, volume 34, spring 1980, p. 21-23)
The regal bearing, the arched neck, the almost triangular-shaped head, the immense strength tempered only by the social nature of the Arabian horse captured William Keith Kellogg's interest immediately. From his first encounter with the breed on the Indio, California ranch of a Mr. Clarke in 1924, the breakfast-cereal king was determined to own a few himself, although his own words indicate his reservations: "I know so little about horses that my better judgment indicates that I ought not to get into this deal, but providing that all conditions are satisfactory, I think that I might become interested." Thus began the story of Mr. Kellogg's Arabian horse legacy.
Today, the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center on the Cal Poly campus is carrying out Mr. Kellogg's dream--and the reason Kellogg ranch was donated to the university in the first place--of perpetuating the Arabian horse breed and making valuable blood lines available to the public.
"Mr. Kellogg wanted an educational program and for the horses to be involved," said Norman Dunn, Arabian Horse Center coordinator. "Basically, we've been doing the same types of things that have gone on here since 1925."
Dunn came to this campus 20 years ago as a beef expert; when the horse production teaching position became vacant four years later, Dunn was asked to fill the position.
"At first I said, 'No way, those horse people are crazy," he laughed. "But I changed my mind the next morning...so I started learning about Arabians." Dunn has since been an integral part of the Arabian horse program.
According to Dunn, the Kellogg Arabians were originally among the finest horses in the United States, but eventually were surpassed by other major Arabian breeding farms in the country. To counter this trend Dunn's emphasis since 1964 has been to breed more competitive, higher quality horses.
"We now have some of the really fine horses in California, which is the leading state (regarding Arabian horses) in the nation," he said proudly. "We've also involved a lot more students than previously."
Dunn, who teaches horse production, horse industries, horse show judging and horsemanship classes, places much importance on student involvement.
"Our students are in all phases of the horse industry," he said. "Other campuses don't offer nearly what we do here."
In addition to proving beneficial to students directly involved in the Arabian horse program, Dunn believes the program has given the entire university an identity it would otherwise have lacked. Illustrating this point, he called attention to the fact that the university directory has a horse on its front, the Animal Science Department based their entire Poly Vue exhibit on the Arabian horses and it is possible that the horses may even appear on the background of Cal Poly diplomas.
"We have absolutely nothing to do with these things," he said. "It's just that a lot of people think the horses make our school unique."
Dunn's involvement with the successful Arabian horse program has also been good for him professionally.
"A lot of the things I get to do are because I'm associated with this program," he said. "If you're associated with something successful, it makes you more visible. Of course, if you mess up," he laughed, "more people know about it, too."
The Arabian Horse Center generally brings in money from two areas--horse sales and breeding fees. Although $36,000 was made last year on sales, Dunn said that breeding fees will be the primary moneymaker when the need for new stallions is filled.
"Right now our stallions are young," said Dunn, "But I think our breeding sale program will be much expanded in the next ten years."
The breeding sales program may be aided in the future by this year's bumper crop of new foals--ten have arrived so far and five more are expected. Dunn describes the quality of the new arrivals as "outstanding" and says they are among the finest group of foals to be born here. There is, as department secretary Nancy Olmsted related, only one problem with them: they keep chewing away at their mother's tails.
"We haven't figured out why foals do this," Olmsted laughed. "We've had foals this year that have even been going after their mother's manes."
Traditionally, one of the main public attractions of the Arabian Horse Center has been the Sunday horse show, first started by Mr. Kellogg in 1926 to promote the Arabian breed. Conducted by students and staff, the weekly shows feature the Arabian horse as an English three-gaited horse and jumper as well as a western cow, trail and stock horse.
Students may also get involved in the horse program as volunteer grooms or assigned riders.
"Every horse is assigned to a student," explained Olmsted. "We have try-outs every fall. It's not a political-type choice, but we do get told that we're 'cliquey."
According to Olmsted, even horses have beauty secrets. Before horse shows, students use such cosmetic aids on their charges as hoof-black to shine hooves, cream rinse after bathing to make the horse's coat lay flat, a spray to add shine to the coat and baby oil around the eyes and muzzle. Even without these aids, however, students and staff of the Arabian Horse Center think the horses are beautiful
"Arabians are prettier than most breeds," said Dunn. "They're also a very sensitive horse--you can't be rough with them or they'll fight you all the way."
In the future, Dunn wants to intensify the present program, and his hopes are pinned on some of the new colts that can be used to stimulate the breeding program. Construction is almost ready to begin on a new Equine Research Center which will study all breeds of horses; $380,000 has been collected so far for the project from private donations. And there is always that feeling of pride which permeates the Arabian Horse Center--the knowledge that this department counts.
"After all," said Dunn, echoing the general Arabian Center sentiments, "The school is here because the Arabians are here."