By Susan Gillen, DVM
** Originally published in the January 1999 Stallion Issue of The Crabbet Influence in Arabians Today magazine.
Our First Meeting
I was a veterinary student at UC Davis, in California, when I first met Ben Rabba. I was riding my Quarter Horse mare at the Equine Research Laboratory when a man flagged me down and introduced himself as Ed Hubbert. He asked me if I could exercise his horse, a stallion in the (CEM) quarantine barn. Looking at Ben Rabba, who was greatly underweight from the trip overseas and the quarantine, I had my doubts that he could stand any exercise. Ed assured me that Ben was a wonderful horse, and showed me a bridle and saddle that he had brought for me to use. Something in that horse’s gaze made me agree to add one more job to my already hectic days at vet school.
I had a chance to study Ben as I saddled him the following day. Although thin, his bone structure was excellent and he had great legs. It was evident that he had an incredible hip and neck. There was a certain ‘regal air’ about him, in spite of his condition, and he was a gentleman. When I stepped up on him for the first time, Ben transformed. That long neck set up elegantly when I picked up the reins, and he seemed to swell, exuding power and presence. I was surprised at the strength of his stride, and the power from behind. Ben paraded and strutted like a peacock down the vacant barn row as though we were doing a victory pass in front of thousands of cheering fans. He was truly a grand horse, and I was transfixed by his presence. His character charmed me, and I was sorry when his quarantine ended and he left the ERL. I often wondered what had become of him.
I finished veterinary school, married, and started an equine practice with my husband Dan just north of Sacramento. Several years later I began doing veterinary work for a woman who would later become my dearest friend, Jewell Cantrell. It was there that I again crossed paths with Ben Rabba. The first time that I saw that arrogant gaze, I knew it was him. He had recovered his weight and condition, and his coat gleamed. He was astonishingly beautiful, and I was surprised to see him again. Jewell was surprised that I even knew him.
Jewell was standing Ben for part of the breeding season at her ranch in Marysville, California. Several of his foals graced her pastures, and they exuded the same qualities as their sire. I would later purchase one of them as my first Arabian, a three year old filly named Rabbiana (out of Serana). That purchase became a pivotal decision in my life.
Rabbiana and I just seemed to ‘fit.’ I trained her myself, and her beautiful attitude and willingness to please bonded us together. A pretty mover, she was instantly successful as a show horse, gaining enough points in her first year of showing to win both her legion of honor and supreme legion of honor. As a four year old she was a Region III Top Five Western Pleasure Junior Horse and the Open Western Pleasure Reserve Champion at the Cow Palace. She added championships and Top Fives in Western Pleasure, Hunter Pleasure, and Ladies Side Saddle, and won the coveted high point saddle at the Cow Palace four years in a row. But at home, she was simply the ‘love of my life.’ Rabbiana took care of my own babies, carrying the kids with me in the saddle, and carefully balancing my daughter Rebecca to multiple leadline wins. I remember Rabbiana walking slowly, with her head very low, dutifully alongside, as three year old Rebecca would lead her to the barn. Her gentleness was unparalleled. Rebecca and Rabbiana would later go on to be Region III Walk Trot Pleasure Champions. (Rabbiana+/ and Rebecca are featured at the top of page as the header/article photo)
Although Rabbiana was my first and dearest horse, I went on to ride and show many more of Jewell’s Ben Rabba foals. Each one captured my heart for their willingness to please and beautiful attitudes. Inheriting Ben’s quality of movement, they all were successful performance horses, although they were completely amateur trained. Among my favorites were Viva La Ribba (Golden State Futurity Reserve Champion Western Pleasure Junior Horse), Bwana Sahib (Region III Top Five Western Pleasure Junior Horse and Top Ten Bonanza Horse), La Contezza (National Top Ten Western Pleasure AAOTR), Calipso Mon (Multi Champion Western Pleasure and Hunter Pleasure and now owned by my sister JoAnn Harlan), and Shezzaflame (Top Ten Western Pleasure ATR Futurity). I am convinced that amateurs can be successful in the show ring if they have horses that are not just beautiful movers, but horses with incredible minds.
After Ed died, Ben Rabba came to live out the remainder of his life with Jewell. Even in old age, he was an elegant gentleman, and exuded a sort of regal arrogance, that let no one forget that he was ‘king.’ Jewell pampered him, and his final years were good ones, which he so richly deserved. As his veterinarian, I had nursed him through a few illnesses; but as his friend, I was unprepared to let him go. When he was struck with unrelenting colic, Jewell and I finally faced the horrifying decision that we would have to put him down. He was truly a great horse, and he deserved to die with dignity and without pain. He was buried at Jewell’s ranch. Ben’s legacy lives on in his sons and daughters. It is as if they are all ‘stamped’ from the same mold. They are beautiful movers with wonderful minds.
In 1998, Rabbiana was to present me with her first foal, by Ohadi Indian Fire. The eagerly anticipated event turned to disaster when she suffered a rare complication of pregnancy. Attempts to save her life at UC Davis with an emergency C-section failed due to a ruptured prepubic tendon, and I faced the agonizing fact that she would have to be euthanized on the table. The anguish of saying good-bye to her was unbearable. As always, my dear friend Jewell was there and cried along with me. The beautiful filly that Rabbiana had borne, died two days later on Easter Sunday, despite heroic attempts to save her life in the neonatal ICU. My life had unraveled in a matter of two days, and I will never be the same.
Sometimes, perhaps once in a lifetime, we are fortunate enough to have one very special horse. For me, Rabbiana was that horse. She was a part of me, we were a team, and I depended on her. She was my love, my champion, my friend. She loved and took care of my children. A part of me died with her that day, and I will miss her forever.
Ben Rabba left his legacy in hearts like Rabbiana’s, and I will forever be grateful for having shared her life.
Last Updated: September 16th, 2019
** All of the articles included in the re-launched Crabbet.com site from the original website, Georgia Cheer, Silver Monarch publishing, and The Crabbet Influence magazine are shared here with permission of Georgia Cheer given May 16, 2012. **
**All of the articles included in the re-launched Crabbet.com site from the original website, Georgia Cheer, Silver Monarch Publishing and The Crabbet Influence magazine are shared here with permission of Georgia Cheer given May 16, 2012.**