My feelings about *Estopa and *El Shaklan run deep, to the core of my being. Both have a profound effect on my life. Both left an indelible imprint on my heart. Both have given me the inspiration and passion to make the breeding of Arabian horses my life’s ambition. *El Shaklan, born the same year as my daughter, was always like a son. I feel an overwhelming sense of pride when I think of him, like the parent of a child who has risen to prominence. I am immeasurably proud of *El Shaklan’s achievements, both as a show horse and a sire.
My feelings about *Estopa are equally intense, but different. She enriched my life in ways beyond that which my words can describe. Her personality is woven inextricably into the fabric of my life. She inspired and enchanted countless breeders and admirers around the world. She gave selflessly, protected fiercely, and fully appreciated a scratch and a soft word as a gift grander than all else. In the December 1999 issue of Arabian Horse World, *Estopa was selected by writer/researcher Bette Finke as one of ‘Europe’s Top 10 Most Influential Mares of the Century’. I would have liked to convey to *Estopa, in our own private way of communicating, the profound significance of that wonderful honor. But, she probably wouldn’t have given it more than a moment’s thought. That was *Estopa.
*Estopa and I met in 1970. I was nineteen and * Estopa was five. I was in Spain on an Arabian horse buying trip during summer break from university with my boyfriend, Heinz Merz. The Arabian horses being bred in Germany at that time were few and quite expensive. Mostly breeders were using Crabbet, Polish and Egyptian bloodlines. We were aware that there were several Arabian breeders in Spain, and that their marketing had been hampered over recent years. There had been an outbreak of African Horse Sickness that closed Spain’s borders to exportation. Breeders across Europe were also aware that the Arabian horses being bred in Spain had not yet been approved by WAHO. During the Spanish Civil War registrations and records were lost or burned and horses scattered. Breeders were skeptical to buy these Arabians for fear that WAHO might not eventually approve the reconstructed records and refuse to endorse their purebred status.
The trip to Spain that pivotal summer for my life was inspired by the famous writer, Erica Schiele, who recommended we contact Maria Paz Murga, the Secretary of the Spanish Registry. Maria then introduced us to her niece, HRH Teresa de Laula de Bourbon. Teresa was kind enough to organize and accompany us on a visit to the farms of several Arabian horse breeders. Before we arrived on the farm of Mr. Osuna Escalera, she explained that he was a very difficult person, but a wonderful breeder. It was on that day that I met *Estopa. She was dirty, full of scars, and very thin. She had some wounds on her legs from the hobbles she wore daily to keep her from escaping the unfenced fields. There was a special radiation about *Estopa, even in that condition. On Teresa’s recommendation (and with her help with negotiations because Mr. Osuna didn’t want to sell her), we were able to purchase *Estopa.
On that trip we purchased eighteen mares from five different farms. When these mares arrived in Germany we were scoffed at by other breeders for buying the “Spanish Armada”. We knew we were taking a risk in buying so many horses because WAHO had not yet approved the Spanish Registry. Shortly after the mares arrived, five were quickly purchased by my parents. One mare, Mecca V, went into my ownership. Our mares went to be boarded on a farm in Schwaebische Alp owned by the family Schule, about 2 ½ hours from where we lived. My parents kept their mares at home in their “remodeled” garage in the town of Rastatt, where I grew up. My father would lead them to neighboring pastures to graze during the day. We wanted to breed *Estopa, but before we could do so, she had to be evaluated by the authorities of the German Registry. We bathed her for her first debut in Germany and transported her to the location of her official inspection. It was our impression that these inspectors were Egyptian breeders who were skeptical of Spanish bred Arabians. First they evaluated *Estopa from nose to tail, ears to hoof, then they asked us to turn her loose. * Estopa danced and floated and, with neck held high and tail over her back, she cast a spell on her inspectors. It was on that day that the legend of *Estopa first began.
Later that year we went to Poland to see what was available for our newfound breeding program. We purchased the *Naborr son, Laos, and the two mares Zbroja and Campina.
In the spring of 1971 *Estopa was transported to the farm of Carl-Heinz and Constanze Doemken in Northern Germany for breeding to their Nazeer son, Ghazal. Three months later *Estopa lost her foal so we decided to bring her to Berlin, where we were in university. We found a riding stable and enrolled her in dressage training. I rode *Estopa nearly every day. She was a “hot” mare and I was an inexperienced rider. When she felt like it, she bucked me off. Despite my fears, I loved to ride her into the Grunewald, the forests around Berlin. *Estopa was the most beautiful horse in the stable. When a delegation from Animex, the horse sale organization in Poland, came to the stable during a visit to Berlin, *Estopa was shown and captivated another group of “experts”.
In the fall Heinz and I traveled to Egypt with the goal of adding some straight-Egyptian blood to our new herd. There we purchased the *Morafic son, Shaker, and five mares. When Shaker arrived in Germany we renamed him, “Shaker El Masri”, which translates from Arabic to mean “thankful to Egypt”.
In 1971 Heinz and I married. We took over my parents large laundry and dry cleaning business and formed a partnership with them for their horses. I named our new horse business “Om El Arab” which in Arabic means “Mother of Arabians”. In the meanwhile we had moved *Estopa from the riding stable in Berlin to one of the stalls in my parents remodeled garage in Rastatt. To give all of our horses and our new breeding program a proper home, my parents bought a charming, romantic farm in the nestled in the dense woods of the Black Forest. My parents lived there and enjoyed managing the farm. Heinz and I spent our time with the cleaning business in Rastatt during the week and then traveled 75 minutes every weekend to be with the horses on the farm.
*Estopa was bred in the spring of 1972 on her new farm to Shaker El Masri. We were delighted when we received the news that she was in foal. *Estopa quickly rose to become the dominant or “alpha” mare of the herd. Sometimes she would behave like a stallion, challenging and teasing the other mares. My father thought that this behavior might trigger hormones that could affect her pregnancy, so he brought her out of the herd and into the barn. He rode her every day out into the forest for her exercise. My father was an excellent rider and *Estopa enjoyed the rides as much as he did.
As everything was moving smoothly with *Estopa and her pregnancy, I received a gut-wrenching shock.
A German businessman offered Heinz a huge sum (for the time) to purchase *Estopa. The amount was many times more than was paid for her, and WAHO had not made a final decision about the purity of the Arabians bred in Spain so Heinz was ready to agree to the sale. I argued that we should never sell *Estopa and believed that she was our best mare. I prevented the sale. To prevent her from ever being sold, Heinz and I formally completed an exchange of assets that resulted in *Estopa going into my name alone. We drafted a formal contract and sent this document to the German Registry. From that time * Estopa was registered in my name and later all her offspring as well. In the summer of 1972 we traveled to Spain again to attend the first official WAHO conference held in Sevilla, Spain. It was during that conference that WAHO acknowledged that their research of records proved the purity of the Arabian horses bred in Spain and *Estopa was officially granted purebred status.
In 1973 I experienced the biggest tragedy of my young life. My mother had developed Hodgkin’s Disease two years before, and passed away in February. She was only thirty-nine and I was twenty-two. My mother had been the focal point of our family. I was grief stricken. My father eventually moved away from the farm and we hired a farm manager. As a ray of light coming into darkness, a blessing also came into my life that year. *Estopa delivered her first foal, a filly. We named her Estasha. We were still spending our weeks at our business in Rastatt, so we couldn’t see the filly until the weekend. I remember thinking what a beautiful face the filly had and such long legs. *Estopa amazed me with her ability as a mother. She cleaned and licked her filly and had an abundance of milk. She always stopped whatever she was doing to let her foal drink. When her foal slept, *Estopa stood patiently overhead, with her muzzle just inches above the little body. In the truest sense, she guarded her foal with her life. When Estasha got old enough to eat hay and grain, *Estopa would always allow her filly to eat what she wanted first, and then she would take her turn. It may have been partly from my feelings of losing my mother, but *Estopa, with her kind character, her fierce protective nature and strong sense of nurturing, had found her way into my heart.
Whatever caused *Estopa’s reproductive difficulties during prior years seemed to have vanished. With Estasha at side, *Estopa went quickly back into foal with Shaker El Masri. In the fall of 1973 we brought *Estopa, Shaker El Masri, and eight other to the first horse show held in Germany. It was held in Verden/Aller and we hired a horse transporter to transport the horses. As total novices to showing, we washed the horses at home and showed them in hand with bridles and bits. We wore our riding pants. Two of our drivers from the laundry business also helped show horses for us. *Estopa and Shaker El Masri earned “Top 10’s”. Estopa enjoyed the experience but Shaker El Masri did not. That was his one and only show.
*Estopa’s second foal was another filly even more exotic than Estasha. When she was born I thought that she had the most beautiful face I had ever seen. When she started moving this precious little girl was poetry in motion. She was also shorter in the back and longer in the hip than her older sister. She had a wonderful shoulder. It was evident that *Estopa produced large foals. Estasha had developed into a tall yearling filly. Estawa was a big filly. With Estawa at side *Estopa went back in foal to Shaker El Masri. In September *Estopa needed breeding and our farm manager was on vacation. It was getting late in the year and I had to get *Estopa back in foal. With minimal breeding skills, and the assistance of a friend, we covered *Estopa with Shaker El Masri day and night for six days. Our amateur efforts paid off and *Estopa was checked in foal.
The result of that breeding arrived in August of 1975. *Estopa delivered her first colt. His face was delicate and fine, as pretty as Estawa’s, like a filly’s face. I was in awe of this colt; he was the most beautiful colt I had ever seen. *Estopa had created another masterpiece. I named this colt *El Shaklan, taking the “E” from * Estopa and the “Shak” from Shaker El Masri. What had become apparent was *Estopa’s ability to out-produce herself. Her combination with Shaker El Masri produced sheer magic. *Estopa was a big mare for her time and stood 154 cm (15-1+). She was a little long in her back. *Estopa’s face, like the Mona Lisa, was arresting, enchanting and seductive. Her eyes were large and round and soft black. Her character was a contradiction of terms. She could have, at times, the nature of a nurturing babysitter or the fierce demeanor of a warrior. *Estopa was very people oriented and loved being the center of attention. Shaker El Masri was much smaller, finer boned, and somewhat standoffish. The combination of these two different individuals produced offspring that were taller than both, more exotic than either, with shorter backs and longer hips. It is my belief that *Estopa was the dominant parent, with Shaker El Masri adding refinement and his dose of fiery character. Together, *Estopa and Shaker El Masri produced a new dimension of Arabian horse for Europe, a dimension that had previously only danced on the pages of books of artists or were frozen in bronzed animation on coffee tables.
With *El Shaklan at *Estopa’s side *Estopa went back in foal to Shaker El Masri. The Estopa daughters Estasha and Estawa were developing into spectacular young mares growing up in pasture. What would later be regarded as the “Golden-Cross” of Spanish and Egyptian bloodlines, the *Estopa dynasty was taking shape. So far the breeders in Germany and the rest of the world were largely unaware of their existence.
*Estopa’s best friend was *Mohena. In the spring of 1971 we brought seven mares to Marbach State Stud to be bred to the Nazeer son, Hadban Enzahi. The very first foal Om El Arab produced was a very pretty filly we named *Mohena, out of Morisca V, by Hadban. *Estopa and *Mohena were stabled next to one another and they would spend all day grazing and socializing together out in pasture. (*Mohena is the dam of *Sanadik El Shaklan.) Both *Estopa and *Mohena were big in foal in the spring of 1976. *Mohena was due earlier, and delivered her foal in the stall next to *Estopa. The walls of the stalls came up only chest high, so *Estopa watched *Mohena deliver her foal. Within a few minutes *Estopa lay down and began to deliver her own foal. Unfortunately she was only eight months along, and a lovely filly was born too premature to survive. We believed that it was *Estopa’s sensitivity and sheer will power that caused her premature delivery. This was a huge loss for us and from then on *Estopa was kept away from other mares during foaling season. Once again, *Estopa was put in foal to Shaker El Masri.
In August of that year our breeding program made an impact at a small international show that would set events in motion that would bring our relatively unknown breeding program into the international spotlight, and would quickly have a profound effect on Arabian horse breeding around the world. We brought *Estopa, *Mohena, Estasha and *El Shaklan to the international show in Vlimmmern in Belgium. At show’s end *Mohena was crowned Champion Mare, *Estopa placed second in her class, Estasha was Junior Champion Filly and *El Shaklan placed second in his class. Also exhibiting at the show were Major (Pat) and his wife Johanna Maxwell of England. The Maxwells were captivated by our horses. About a month later they visited our farm. They were spellbound by *El Shaklan and tried desperately to buy him. Heinz was prepared to sell him with the reasoning that *Estopa and Shaker El Masri could produce another colt like him. I objected and fortunately *El Shaklan was not sold, but we agreed to lease him to the Maxwells for three years.
A couple of months later, in December of 1976, we brought *Estopa, Estasha, Estawa and *El Shaklan to the show in Paris. The show was simply called in those years ‘The Salon du Cheval, Paris”. (Now this show, still in December, is the venue for the World Championships.) *Estopa was crowned European Champion Mare. Estasha and Estawa each won their classes. Estasha was named European Junior Champion Mare with her sister Estawa took the Reserve Championship. *El Shaklan placed fourth. The Maxwells were exhibiting in Paris also and *El Shaklan was loaded onto their van after the show and started his journey to their farm in England.
In August of 1977 we traveled to the international show in Vlimmern again to watch *El Shaklan shown in this popular international competition. *El Shaklan gained international stardom winning the title of Supreme Show Champion. This was also one of my life’s galvanizing moments - I realized that *Estopa and her family were an extraordinary gift bestowed upon us. While many breeders in Europe were being swept along with the breeding straight-Egyptians, I understood that the *Estopa family, of crossing Estopa’s robust Spanish heritage with the refined Egyptian qualities of Shaker El Masri, was my life’s goal and destiny.
While we were at the show all aglow with *El Shaklan’s triumph we called the farm to share the great news. We were told that Estopa had just foaled. *El Shaklan had a baby brother. We raced to the farm that Sunday afternoon (about a ten hour drive from the show and we had work at our business the following morning) and I imagined another exotic little face like *El Shaklan’s. When I first saw this sturdy little fellow (there was nothing feminine about him), I was taken aback. My mind still held images of *El Shaklan, elegant and ethereal, winning the championships just hours before. By comparison I remember thinking that he was even a little homely. With *El Shaklan away, I was determined to make friends with *Estopa’s newest little boy. In time he developed characteristics resembling *Estopa, where *El Shaklan and his sisters were more a unique combination of sire and dam. I named the little boy Ibn Estopa. Ibn Estopa turned quickly white and moved like a dream. *Estopa again went back in foal to Shaker El Masri.
In 1978 our breeding program, which had been enjoying a steady rise in international acclaim with many championships and *El Shaklan’s popularity had spread like wildfire in England, suffered it’s first major tragedy. Shaker El Masri died. He was out playing in a hilly pasture and reared, lost his balance, and fell badly onto his back. He injured his kidney and lived only a few days. I was devastated. My dream for our breeding program was shattered. The fairy-tale like story of *Estopa and Shaker El Masri was over. For awhile I questioned my commitment to be a breeder. Losing horses was just too painful. Mrs. Rachel Kydd, a breeder in England, helped rally my spirits. She said that breeders are not only involved in giving life, but they too must experience loss and death. I thought of *Estopa, with her unconquerable spirit, who gave us living masterpieces, and asked for little in return. Based upon that spirit, our breeding program went on.
We were without a stallion for the 1978 breeding season so the Maxwells graciously returned *El Shaklan to us even though their lease was not yet over. He arrived back on our farm in the summer, fresh after winning the title of British National Junior Champion Stallion. About that time *Estopa delivered her final foal with Shaker El Masri, another pretty filly. Overall the filly was high quality, but she was not as exotic as her sisters were. We named her Estara. In December Germany was host for the WAHO conference. The conference attracts breeders from around the world, so this was a special opportunity for German breeders to showcase their Arabian horses. The German National Show was scheduled in conjunction with the conference. We brought *Estopa (with her filly at side), *El Shaklan, *Bint Shaker (Shaker El Masri x Estasha. *Bint Shaker was our second generation and inbred to Shaker El Masri) and several others to the show. In front of a gathering of thousands of international breeders and spectators, *Estopa was crowned National Champion Mare, *El Shaklan won the titles of National Junior Champion Stallion and National Reserve Champion Stallion with *Bint Shaker taking the honor of National Junior Champion Filly. *Estopa, *El Shaklan and the “Estopa Family” had won the hearts of breeders around the world. One of the spectators was Izabella Zawadzka, at WAHO representing Poland, confided years later that when she saw *Estopa that day in Hamburg, Germany, she vowed to herself that she would one day infuse the blood of *Estopa into the Polish breeding program. (Izabella accomplished that goal years later with the importation of frozen semen of *Sanadik El Shaklan to Janow and Michalow Studs. The 2000 Polish National Champion Filly, and European Champion Filly, El Dorada is a result of that goal she made twenty-two years earlier.)
*Estopa took a break from raising foals during 1978 and 1979. In 1980 she conceived to her son, *El Shaklan and in 1981 she foaled another lovely filly. The filly strongly resembled her mother, so we named her *Bint Estopa. It was about that time that *Estopa’s health began to decline. We had been plagued for several years with some our mares developing a chronic cough. It was only among the mares that came from Spain. We believed that they developed an allergy to our hay and for some reason these mares seemed less adaptable to the change in climate from Spain to our cooler, wetter weather in the Black Forest. For years it didn’t seem to bother *Estopa. Our veterinarian diagnosed her ailment as emphysema, and cautioned us that she likely would not live long with that condition. It was necessary to keep *Estopa’s environment dust free. Our pastures were lush, deep grass, and her stall was not dusty. The only source of dust was our hay. So I wetted her hay with a special vat made especially for soaking hay. It was clear that that *Estopa was losing the battle with the damp and cold climate of the Black Forest.
Very pleased with *Bint Estopa, and our inbreeding to *Estopa, we rebred *Estopa with *El Shaklan. While we were breeding her I recognized that *Estopa’s behavior about the teasing and breeding had changed. When she was teased and bred with Shaker El Masri for several years before, she was very cooperative. She seemed to like her chestnut mate of all those years. When we began teasing and breeding her with her son *El Shaklan, she became very hostile. *El Shaklan was a large, imposing stallion, but he was intimidated by his mother. From then on *Estopa became be a very difficult mare to tease. It was as if she had a love affair with Shaker El Masri and he was gone and she wanted no other.
In 1980 we brought El Masra, the full sister to *Bint Shaker, to Paris for their first time the show was billed as the “World Championship – Salon du Cheval”. El Masra was awarded with the first “World Champion Mare” title ever given.
In February 1982 I traveled with a girlfriend to see the big show in Scottsdale. The magnitude of competition, the size of the classes, and the level of excitement at the show was thrilling. After the show we drove to California and visited the Santa Ynez Valley. I loved the romance and charm of the Black Forest, but there was a “western” magic about the softly rolling hills studded with oak trees, and the weather was ideal. I heard that this area enjoyed mild weather year round. Santa Ynez had enchanted me.
Later that year *Estopa delivered a colt very much in the mold of his sister, *Bint Estopa. He was also a pretty, almost feminine colt, and he reminded me of his sire as a newborn. We named him Estopa Son. Our bloodlines had been doing extremely well for years and had achieved a long list of championships at all the major national and international shows across Europe.
I couldn’t get my experience in America out of my mind. Santa Ynez seemed like the perfect place for *Estopa to recover from her illness and could hopefully live a very long life there. The horse shows were huge with a different type of Arabian horse being shown. The United States was abuzz in Arabian horse activity, and perhaps it was time to join this new frontier. After breeding to a full book of mares in 1982, *El Shaklan left Europe for America. He went to the kind and capable care and training of our friend Doug Dahmen in the Santa Ynez Valley. Doug, as young trainer from America, had visited Om El Arab for the first time in 1974 when I was pregnant with my first child and *Estopa was pregnant with *El Shaklan. Doug returned a couple of times to help us show horses. We initially wanted to send Ibn Estopa over to America to show, and keep *El Shaklan at home where he was so busy breeding. Doug fell under the spell of *El Shaklan and felt that American breeders would become spellbound as well. We decided to send * El Shaklan and seven relatives to join our show string in the United States.
*El Shaklan became very popular and many American breeders were seeking out our bloodlines. A photograph of *Estopa graced the cover of the March 1983 issue of Arabian Horse World magazine. Then publisher Nat Gorham wrote an article on the Om El Arab breeding program. Bette Finke wrote an article titled “The Estopa Family”. We decided it was time to buy a farm in the United States. We purchased land in Santa Ynez in 1983 and built a large Spanish style barn in 1984.
*Estopa did not conceive to *El Shaklan in 1982 after delivering Estopa Son. In 1983 *El Shaklan was in America and *Estopa’s health continued to deteriorate in Germany. Transported semen was not available then and I didn’t want to further stress her by taking her to another farm for breeding. With no options, *Estopa was left open in 1983, for the second year in a row. I was relieved in March of 1984 when we could arrange to transport *Estopa, with her best friend *Mohena, from the cold and dampness of Germany to the warm, dry Mediterranean climate of Santa Ynez, very similar to the climate in Spain where she was born.
On a previous visit to *Estopa’s birthplace, Don Miguel Osuna Escalera’s farm to Spain, I saw a beautiful mare, snow white and very refined, with a beautiful face. Her name was Arilla. She had produced a yearling colt the year before and I wanted to buy him for our breeding program but he had already been purchased by an American breeder. That colt’s name was *Rastano. When *Estopa arrived in Santa Ynez *Rastano was on another farm nearby. The choice of stallions for *Estopa was easy. It was time to preserve her Spanish heritage and the perfect opportunity presented itself with a handsome stallion bred by *Estopa’s breeder. *Estopa was weak from her illness and I desperately wanted another foal from her. A solution presented itself: embryo transfer. That year a fertilized egg from *Estopa was implanted into a big plain Quarter Horse mare called Mali.
*Estopa’s recovery on her new farm in Santa Ynez was nothing short of miraculous. Over her years with emphaseyma she had a chronic cough and was always a little thin. Within weeks she was filling out and her cough had gone away and never came back. Her stable mate was her favorite friend, *Mohena. For the first time in her life, *Estopa becoming an easy keeper. My heart danced. It is my belief that the move to Santa Ynez saved *Estopa’s life.
In 1985 an elegant colt was born to his surrogate mother. He was the first of *Estopa’s pure Spanish offspring and we named him Estopasan. I was so pleased with this colt and so happy with *Estopa’s overall well being that *Estopa was bred to *Rastano again to carry this foal herself.
*El Shaklan was immensely popular and his dam was flourishing in the warm California climate. Our horse endeavors were running smoothly but my marriage with Heinz was at an end. In the summer of 1985 Heinz and I decided to go separate ways. What I thought might be an easy divorce turned out to be a bitter battle. Unlike most divorces our disagreements concerned more the custody of the horses than custody of our two children. At the center were *Estopa and *El Shaklan. In the United States all the horses had been put in a corporation. During our divorce proceedings Heinz found a buyer for *El Shaklan. I tried to prevent the sale arguing that even though our marriage was over each of us could continue to breed horses. *El Shaklan was vital for both of us. Our attorneys battled in court and it seemed as though I could prevent the sale, but with a sudden change of legal tactic, the judge agreed to the sale and *El Shaklan was swept out of my life forever in February 1986. Later that year *Estopa delivered a second colt by *Rastano. Eventually, the rest of our horses in America were divided between us with the exception of *Estopa and *Sanadik El Shaklan. We agreed to share custody of these two. In the division of horses I was able to keep two *Estopa children: Estopasan and *Bint Estopa.
I feel like my breeding program and my life as a breeder has two distinct eras. The first era involved the discovery of *Estopa and Shaker El Masri, the birth of the *Estopa Family and the international recognition of the Om El Arab breeding program. The second era begins with the move to the United States and *Estopa’s recovery from her long-term illness. In January of 1987 I married Jay Constanti, a native Californian, who started training horses about the same time I started breeding Arabian Horses in Germany. Together we began, against formidable odds, to piece together a breeding program with the few horses I had left which included 50% ownership of *Estopa and 25% of *Sanadik El Shaklan. There were many wonderful individuals in our breeding program on the Black Forest farm such as the *Estopa children, Ibn Estopa, Estopa Son and Estasha. With the addition of some of the horses in Germany I felt that I could rebuild a smaller, but similar breeding program to our original one.
After the division of horses in America, Heinz shipped his horses back to the German farm. There he began the task of nullifying my ownership and erasing fifteen years of work and breeding efforts. He visited the office of the German Registry and removed the contract between us that had formally put *Estopa in my name. For tax reasons in Germany we had a division of business and personal property. Heinz had 97.5% of our laundry business assets and I had 2.5%. The personal assets were put in my name. I was the owner of the Black Forest farm. Our agreement stated that if either partner were to leave the company, the other partner would receive everything. Prior to moving to Santa Ynez I had left three blank pages signed by me, but not dated, for our farm manager on the Black Forest farm. He was to use them for farm necessities. Using one these blank pages Heinz forged a contract in which we supposedly applied the terms of the laundry business to our horse business. It was backdated to January 14, 1973. With this contract Heinz petitioned the German courts to award him the entire breeding program on the Black Forest farm, roughly some sixty horses. This ploy proved victorious for him. With this verdict the Registrar of the German Registry removed my name from fifteen years of breedership. I won one small victory. I fought in German criminal court to prove that the contract used to remove my ownership was a forgery. I won. I proved with authentic handwriting samples from 1973 that they did not match the signatures on the contract. Heinz was ordered to pay a penalty and admit his forgery. Unfortunately the German civil court would not reverse its verdict because the time for an appeal had run out. All of the breeding stock in Germany was lost to me.
In 1986 *Estopa delivered a second colt by *Rastano. She had no difficulties during gestation and had an easy delivery. She loved being a mother again. The California climate and her happiness on the farm brought her to a level of health I had never seen. She was twenty years old and looked and behaved like a mare half her age. She was still blossoming. Her rule in the herd was undisputed. If anything had changed it seemed as if she derived immense satisfaction in observing. She would watch the foals or just gaze into the mountains. She preferred her time out in pasture and began to fret in her stall when she had to come in in the evening. We decided to let her live outside in a covered paddock during the night and she liked that. The vision I have of her is of her staring for long periods at the mountains. Each day we would spend quiet time together. She liked to rest her head on my shoulder and almost purred when I would pick small scabs from her coat. *Estopa had been my constant companion for over fifteen years, and it warmed my heart to see her feeling so well.
In 1986 we didn’t have the convenience of shipped semen. Mares often had to be transported great distances to be serviced by the chosen stallion. At twenty-one years of age, it was obvious that *Estopa was in optimum health and could tolerate one last long trip to an ideal stallion somewhere in the country. We decided that Ruminaja Ali was that ideal stallion. Besides his overall quality, he was straight Egyptian and I hope to produced another ‘Golden-Cross” superstar. Ruminaja Ali lived in Texas, which was a three-day drive. We purchased two breedings so that we could transport one of *Estopa’s friends on the trip with her. We loaded *Estopa and her daughter *Bint Estopa into our two horse trailer and drove them to Texas. Both mares arrived in good health and in heat. We were advised to trailer them to the location where the collection was to be done. A veterinarian prepared both mares, still in the trailer, and bred them without unloading them. The breeding was done. Neither mare seemed much aware that anything had happened to them. *Estopa had always been a very active participant in the teasing and breeding procedure. With this method of breeding with no teasing or association with the stallion, I knew that *Estopa wouldn’t conceive.
It was unbearably hot and humid in Texas, so we thought it best to bring the mares home after ovulation. Within a few days we were back home. Unfortunately, neither conceived. *Estopa suffered a slight colic on the trip back home and that underscored our decision that the trip to Texas was *Estopa’s final long trip. Looking back now, fifteen years later, I still believe that Ruminaja Ali was the ideal choice to create what *Estopa had proven she could produce with Egyptian bloodlines. A magical opportunity was lost with *Estopa and *Bint Estopa failing to conceive that may have had profound effects on breeding today. It was very late in the year so unfortunately *Estopa was left empty.
In 1987 the decision was made to breed *Estopa to a Spanish stallion again to preserve her heritage. This time the choice was *AN Malik. *AN Malik, a previous National Champion Stallion of Spain, was an extremely high quality Spanish stallion and had sired many regional and national winners. Jay and I transported *Estopa for the one hour drive to Greengate Farm where *AN Malik was the senior stallion. *Estopa had rarely been out of my care until that stay. I was worried that she would be stressed in a new environment away from home and her regular companions. The staff at Greengate did a wonderful job of caring for *Estopa and she came home in perfect shape after one cycle of breeding. She was then checked in foal.
While *Estopa was carrying her *AN Malik foal and enjoying her twenty-second year in the company of her equine friends, Heinz decided that he wanted to move her to his girlfriend’s backyard, or possibly to a farm in Minnesota, 2,000 miles away, where it is cold and snowy. He also petitioned the court to grant him the right to sell *Estopa at public auction. We fought another battle in court and this time I prevailed. The court supported my right to object to any sale of *Estopa and I was awarded the physical custody of her. I pointed out that at twenty-two years of age *Estopa’s robust health was maintained by careful daily management. I also argued that a forced sale of *Estopa would be an emotional hardship for our two children who had known and loved her all of their lives. I believe this verdict gave *Estopa several more wonderful years of life. Heinz moved back to Germany and has not returned since.
In 1988 *Estopa delivered a lovely filly by *AN Malik. It was wonderful to see her in her glory of motherhood again. The filly was *Estopa’s only pure Spanish daughter and would be a tremendous breeding asset. Unfortunately because she wasn’t in the division of horses, and could not be divided into two, this unique filly, Malika Estopa, had to be sold.
The previous year Jay and I had traveled to England to see a stallion that had been receiving praises for his exotic type. His name was Carmargue and he had been awarded the title of World Champion Stallion in 1985. We understood that many breeders had tried unsuccessfully to lease him after his win. We wanted to see this stallion in person for ourselves. At first glance it was obvious he was everything he was described to be. He was a very typey, charismatic, ethereal, porcelain-white stallion. We took an immediate liking to his owners, Alun and Mary Prothero. Not mincing words, Alun advised us that Carmargue was simply not for lease. He told us the story of how Carmargue had nearly died on lease in Spain in 1985 and barely recovered in time to compete and win the World Championships. After getting Carmargue back home in England, Alun told us that he promised his stallion that he would never need to travel again. After some discussion Alun surprisingly agreed to allow Carmargue come to the United States. *Estopa was the key. Alun philosophized that it was a great honor for Carmargue to win the World Championship. It would be an even greater honor, he said, for Carmargue to have the opportunity to breed *Estopa and the *Estopa Family.
*Carmargue arrived and *Estopa was covered by him in 1988. She conceived and she was twenty-three years of age. *Estopa continued to enjoy wonderful health in general. She was showing some stiffness from arthritis in her knees, but that didn’t affect her ability to arch her neck and flip her tail over her back and float across the pasture when she felt like it.
In 1989 *Estopa delivered another filly, another masterpiece. This filly was everything we were hoping for. She had an ultra-typey and finely dished face. She was long legged and well balanced. After making sure *Estopa and filly were fine we left with our children for a few days of summer vacation. When we returned the little filly was near death. She had developed a terrible diarrhea during *Estopa’s foal heat. The attending veterinarian wasn’t aware of how serious the condition had quickly become. Our usual veterinarian had just returned from vacation. With one look at the filly, we loaded her in the back seat of our truck and drove her to the clinic. She was barely alive and her kidneys had shut down. We all slept with the filly through the night with drips and monitors attached to this precious little girl. The following day we had the good news that her kidneys had started again and she was showing some interest in life. As the days went by, she recovered. We named the filly Om El Shaina for our two daughters, Shannon and Janina. Shaina can proudly brag that her sire is a World Champion and her dam is a National Champion and a producer of a World Champion.
With Om El Shaina at her side *Estopa was twenty-four and her heats were becoming more irregular. Though *Carmargue stayed with us until 1990 we were unable to produce another pregnancy with these two. After *Carmargue returned to England we covered *Estopa with *Sanadik El Shaklan, but still no pregnancy resulted. Our veterinarians advised us that her reproductive days were over, that she would have no more foals. *Estopa seemed to agree with them. She developed a large follicle on one ovary that just stayed there month after month. *Estopa refused to be teased by any stallion. I just couldn’t believe that she would have no more foals. *Estopa thrived on motherhood and she blossomed caring for her foals. She was showing more stiffness from arthritis and it was evident that her suspensary ligaments were weakening in her hind legs. I had always paid close attention to *Estopa’s diet and tried to include a variety of things that she enjoyed, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, lettuce and carrots. In *Estopa’s later years I began to add fresh garlic for her arthritis. I would grind it up and add it to a warm bran mash in her evening feed with apples and carrots. In time it became difficult for *Estopa to push herself off the ground to stand after taking a nap. We had a sling made for her out of wide nylon webbing that she wore. It had large rings that we could hook onto. We built a hoist in her paddock. After a nap of about three hours *Estopa would wait for us to hook onto her sling and hoist her on to her feet. We did the same with our tractor when *Estopa napped in pasture. We would lift her up, she would give a big shake and whinny, and off she would go to join her friends.
I continuously tried to find ways to help *Estopa feel better. Thinking that acupuncture might be of help, we enlisted a specialist to treat *Estopa. The acupuncturist marveled at *Estopa’s overall condition and attitude for her age. After hearing of her infertility, he gave me a bottle of “Women’s Precious Tea Pills” from China to try with her. I ordered many bottles over the coming months and added them to *Estopa’s evening feed.
In the summer of 1991 we imagined that we detected a change in *Estopa. Everyday we walked the tall chestnut stallion, *Sharem El Sheikh, by *Estopa’s pasture. It seemed as though *Estopa was beginning to show interest in him. We asked our veterinarian to check her again and too all of our surprise, the old follicle was gone and a new one was building. *Estopa was in heat for the first time in three years. She began to walk to the fence to nicker at Sheikh when he walked by. She was telling us that her reproductive years were not yet over. She was telling us that this chestnut stallion reminded her of her mate of so many years ago, Shaker El Masri. During that heat cycle we bred *Estopa with the mate she had now chosen, *Sharem El Sheikh. She was quiet and nickered during breeding, unlike the ferocious manner she had rejected the advances by other stallions for years. When we checked *Estopa a few weeks later she was pregnant. Our veterinarian was shocked, but reminded us that, though *Estopa was pregnant, it was unlikely that she could carry the foal to term at her age.
In February of 1992 I formally purchased the other 50% of *Estopa back. At last I was confident that no one could ever take her away from me. I was unsure how many years she had left, but I would not take even one day for granted.
On July 7, 1992 *Estopa delivered a precious little filly. She foaled without the need of assistance, and, for the first time in years, *Estopa pushed herself off the ground with ease and stood to protect and mother her newborn daughter. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Summoning the incredible strength of character that I knew well, *Estopa was defying her years. We named *Estopa’s previous filly for our two daughters. We named her newest filly Om El Beneera for Benni, our son.
In the months that followed *Estopa became a young mare again. There was much work to do as a mother.
*Estopa loved the company of the other mares and their foals. She was the guardian of the pasture.
She is still the guardian of the pasture. *Estopa passed away in 1993 and we buried her along side her pasture. A white marble gravestone bears the words, You are the wind beneath our wings. I believe that Beneera was her farewell gift to us and somehow she found a way to enjoy motherhood one last time. During the twenty-three years that *Estopa graced my life we rarely spent a day apart. She was my closest friend, my truest confidant. She is still my life’s longest companion. During those twenty-three years her personality was inextricably woven into the fabric of my life. She still is.
A visitor from the Middle East came to our farm a few years ago. He described their family’s belief that the name given to a child imparts some special chemistry, some energy of it’s own to the child. The name and the child become entwined.
A grey filly was born in the Andalucia region of Spain in 1965. She was given the name “Estopa”. From what I have been told, estopa is a very strong fiber that can be used to make rope. On her hip she was branded with an elongated circle with a ladder crossing through it. Looking back over *Estopa’s life it is clear to me that the strong fiber was a golden thread that would be woven through my life and through champions and breeding programs around the world. The ladder on her hip was symbolic of the climb that *Estopa would make to become one of the greatest mares in the history of the Arabian breed.