Friday, December 2, 2016

Writing Horses: An interview with Tobi Lopez Taylor

Tobi Lopez Taylor with LA Orzel (Brusally Orzetyn x *Drawa, by Burkan),
champion reining horse and 2nd level dressage horse. Photo by Ron Peer.
Writing Horses: An interview with Tobi Lopez Taylor
An archived interview from the October 2016 Issue of Arabian Finish Line
No duplication without permission.

Living outside Tucson, Arizona, USA, with her husband, Arabian and half-Arabian horses, writing about horses is second nature to Tobi Lopez Taylor. As a contributing writer for Arabian Finish Line, and the author of two books on Polish Arabian horses, she stays busy at her keyboard. Her writing has appeared in Arabian Sport Horse, Arabian Visions, Horse Illustrated, Blood-Horse, Dressage Today, Archaeology Magazine, American Indian Art Magazine, and other publications, including the anthologies An Apple A Day and In My Life. In addition to being an award-winning writer and editor, she has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Anthropology from Arizona State University. 

Welcome, Tobi!

GM: When was your first encounter with a horse?
TLT: I have an old photograph of my mother placing me, then two years old, on the back of a friend’s chestnut gelding. I don’t remember that exact incident, but it was apparently my first encounter with a horse. Maybe that is how I developed my lifelong admiration for big red stallions, like *Orzel, Secretariat, Man O’ War, and Walter Farley’s Flame.

GM: You have a beautiful ranch near Tucson, breeding gorgeous Arabian sport horses. Why Arabians?
TLT: I was nine years old when I first saw Arabians at Arizona’s famous Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. They were very different from the Quarter Horses and Appaloosas I was riding at the time; I was drawn to them instantly. Now that I’ve owned Arabians and part-Arabians for almost thirty years, I’ve grown to appreciate their sensitivity, their eagerness to learn, and the enjoyment they derive from being around people. As Arabian importer and breeder Lady Anne Blunt noted about one of her mares, she was “delightful as companion and to ride”; I feel that way every day about one of my mares.

GM: As a writer, you have contributed to top equine magazines and the author two books. Tell us about your new book…
TLT: My new book, Orzel: Scottsdale’s Legendary Arabian Stallion, recounts the life of the “Arabian Secretariat.”  *Orzel, whose name means “eagle” in Polish, was a tall, fast, charismatic chestnut colt from Poland who was imported in 1967 by well-known Arabian breeder Ed Tweed, one of the founders of the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. In 1967 and ’68, *Orzel defeated the best American racehorses of his generation, including the legendary Kontiki, and was named the first U.S. National Champion Racehorse. Tweed then had *Orzel retrained as a show horse. Along with Tweed’s other horses, *Orzel crisscrossed the country, winning championship after championship in halter, culminating in his being named U.S. and Canadian Top Ten Stallion.

Then Tweed’s young granddaughter, Shelley Groom Trevor, took over the reins and rode *Orzel to even greater glory, when he was named U.S. Top Ten English Pleasure and the first U.S. National Champion Ladies’ Sidesaddle horse. It says so much about *Orzel’s temperament that he could be both an incredible racehorse and an elegant lady’s mount. He also passed on that temperament; for example, his son Brusally Orzetyn, a stallion who was a National Champion in dressage, was also a quiet, gentlemanly, generous lesson horse for kids, seniors, and everybody in between.

After *Orzel’s retirement to Ed Tweed’s Brusally Ranch, thousands of people went to see him—including me. It was a life-changing event; he’s still the Arabian I compare all others to. Even though there are many wonderful photos of *Orzel in the book, none of them come close to capturing his charisma or the intelligence in his large, wise eyes. In addition, when author Walter Farley first saw *Orzel, he remarked that if this big chestnut were painted black, he’d be Farley’s vision of the Black Stallion. Today, at my home in Tucson, Arizona, I own, breed, and ride descendants of the amazing *Orzel.

GM: An engaging and captivating story; I truly enjoyed reading Orzel and recommend to everyone. Can you share an excerpt?
TLT: Of course! Here is a snippet from the Introduction:
In 1976, *Orzel won his last major championship, and Trevor’s ride on the big red stallion—whom she still calls her “horse of a lifetime”—was at an end. *Orzel went on to be the sire of ninety-eight foals, many of them champions, and the grandsire of one thousand more. Today, thirty-odd years after his death, *Orzel’s bloodlines are found worldwide, in horses participating at the highest levels of Arabian racing, endurance riding, dressage, reining, and other disciplines. They are in demand for their extraordinary athletic ability and appreciated for their trainability, intelligence, and demeanor. Although *Orzel’s achievements have, through the decades, become legendary, in truth, his record needs no burnishing; the facts speak for themselves. In the pages that follow, those who are familiar with *Orzel’s story will have the opportunity to relive it, while readers who are encountering him for the first time will, I hope, gain an understanding of, and appreciation for, this great Arabian stallion, which one observer called—rightly—“a horse ahead of his time.”

GM: How does your background in anthropology and horses affect your writing?
TLT: Anthropologists are often termed “trained observers,” and among the skills we are taught are how to conduct oral history interviews, how to do research on groups of people, and how to write up our research and get it published. It’s been a pleasure to be able to employ all of these skills in my work with the horse community. I’ve been able to talk to people like Thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert, 1948 and 1956 Olympian General Jonathan Burton, and Arabian breeder Bazy Tankersley, among others.  I feel that it’s my life’s work to collect information on earlier generations of horses, their owners, and their riders and make it available for posterity in books and articles.

GM: You are a poet as well. I would love for you to share one of your favorite poems...
TLT: Actually, rather than one poem, I’d like to suggest an entire anthology of poems about horses: Say This About Horses, edited by C.E. Greer and Jenny Kander. There are many wonderful pieces, by numerous poets, in this book.

GM: I imagine if you are not at the stables, you are busy writing. How do you maintain thoughts and ideas for future articles/books?
TLT: I carry a notebook with me to write down ideas that pop into my head, or things I’ve heard about or need to do. If I know I’m going to be working on a particular project in the future, I’ll make a file for it in my filing cabinet and periodically drop in notes I’ve jotted down, or pages torn from magazines, or photographs. By the time I finally get to that project, I may have several years’ worth of material just sitting there, ready to be acted upon.

GM: What are you currently writing?
TLT: In the short term, I’m working on an article for Arabian Finish Line Magazine, for which I’m a contributing writer. My second, ongoing project is about the early Arabian horse breeders of Arizona, which I’ll be presenting as a paper next spring at a history conference. And the third, most long-term project is a book about a well-known Arabian stallion, who endured a perilous sea journey to join his new owner in the United States. This true story will have a much larger scope of history than my previous titles— sort of like Seabiscuit, but with an Arabian horse at the center of it.

GM: Writers are usually avid readers. What are you currently reading?
TLT: At any given time, I’m reading three, at least two of which are geared toward my current research. Right now, these are: H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald; Explorers of Arabia, by Zahra Freeth and Victor Winstone; and Lady Anne Blunt, Journals and Correspondence, 1878–1917, edited by Rosemary Archer and James Fleming. You can probably guess which two are for horse research!

GM: I am sure that novice writers would love to know your thoughts on how to be successful at freelance writing, etc. Do you have advice for novice writers?
TLT: Find either a mentor or someone who gives you honest feedback on your work. Many years ago, I worked as a researcher/typist for a professional novelist, Elleston Trevor, author of The Flight of the Phoenix and (as Adam Hall) The Quiller Memorandum. Even though he didn’t mentor me, per se, I found that simply observing him do his work was very educational, almost like an apprenticeship. Today, I’m part of a longstanding writers’ group whose critiques I find quite helpful, especially early on in a project when I don’t know quite where it is heading.

GM: And as a rider and experienced horsewoman, what is your best advice for novice riders and those looking to purchase their first horse?
TLT: It’s good to know what kind of a learner you are—do you learn best by doing, watching, or listening? Getting good instruction is paramount, but at the beginning it’s hard to know what good riding instruction is. If you find a trainer you’d like to learn from, arrange to watch him/her give another student a lesson. The emphasis should be on safety, learning the basics, and having fun. If not, continue to watch other trainers until you find one you click with. As for buying your first horse, try to ride as many horses as you can, of either sex, and various breeds and sizes. When you think you’ve found a horse you’re interested in, take a trainer or knowledgeable friend along to get an honest perspective. If you decide to take the plunge and buy your first horse, be sure to have a veterinarian (and not one recommended by the seller!) evaluate the horse beforehand.

GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?
TLT: For me, horsemanship is a mindful way of life. *Orzel’s rider, my friend and mentor Shelley Groom Trevor, maintains that “the rider you are is the person you are.” You can see this every day in how we relate with horses; they are definitely our mirrors, if we allow ourselves to look.  In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a concept called lungta, which translates as “windhorse” — representing the strength, energy, endurance, and dignity of the horse. We humans can cultivate these qualities; as Buddhists put it, we can “raise windhorse.” The first time I took part in a Tibetan windhorse-raising practice, it was immediately familiar to me — it’s the profound, uplifted quality you feel when you’re near horses. Every day, whether I am cleaning stalls, or stacking hay, or doing a flying change, I can’t help but reflect on how fortunate we are to live closely with these amazing creatures, these windhorses.

Horsemanship is also about taking good care of our horses throughout the course of their lives. In that vein, among the many wonderful horse nonprofits out there, I’d like to mention the great work by Brooke USA, which focuses on helping working equines in impoverished communities throughout the world, where “horsepower” is still the primary means of transportation. I also run a Facebook page focused on the legacy of Ed Tweed’s breeding program. One of the most fulfilling parts of administering the page is getting the word out about older horses in need — many of them descendants of *Orzel — to facilitate their rescue or rehoming. Horses have given me so much over the years; it’s a privilege to be able to help them where I can.

Note: *Orzel - * identifies Orzel as an import. 

Connect with Tobi…

Gina McKnight is a freelance writer and author from Ohio USA.

 Tobi Lopez Taylor with Gladys Brown Edwards's iconic painting of *Orzel++.
Photo by Maria L. Martin.
Tobi Lopez Taylor with Brusally Orzetyn (*Orzel++ x *Gontyna, by Doktryner),
U.S. National Champion 3rd Level dressage horse and sire of race winners.
A recent descendant of Brusally Orzetyn, Manark, won the 2015 Dubai Kahayla Classic. Photo by Sue Daigle-Leach.
Cover of Orzel: Scottsdale's Legendary Arabian Stallion, by Tobi Lopez Taylor, with a foreword by Stephanie J. Corum.
Published by The History Press, 2016.

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