By Arlene Magid
In the twenty first century there are just a handful of breeders of Arabian horses who have been active for fifty years or more. Some, like Varian Arabians and Al-Marah Arabians, advertise in the breed publications and have websites showcasing their horses, which are also shown extensively in local and national competition. But there are a few breeders with a lifetime of experience who don’t promote themselves, modestly preferring to produce horses true to their own particular vision. Such a breeder is Pete McNeil, who has stayed true to the horses who initially inspired him and with each successive generation has bred horses in the image of his ideal. Pete’s modesty and honesty are refreshing in a world of over-hyped horses described as living art. In 2011 Pete will celebrate fifty years of breeding and owning purebred Arabians.
“The first Arabian I ever saw was Alla Amarward 1140, the Horse of the Month in the Western Livestock Journal in the mid 1940s,” recalls Pete. “I also saw an article around the same time that appeared in Life magazine about the Van Vleet Ranch in Colorado which had photos of Rifage 1286 and *Zarife 885. At that time there were only 1500 living purebred Arabs in the U.S.A. I bought a 3/4 Arabian mare in 1945 and bred her to Snooki 1249. At that time, to my knowledge, there were only two Arab stallions in San Diego county – Snooki, who was a double grandson of *Nasik – and Bazralla 2405, a son of Alla Amarward.
Pete started to study Arabian bloodlines through books and the magazine Arabian Horse News, first published in 1948. He felt Skowronek was the prettiest Arabian he had seen in photos, and decided to base a purebred breeding program on linebreeding to him. “My first contact with the blood of the inbred Skowronek son *Raffles was through Harry Harness, who in 1958 was leasing Ibn Rasraff from Alice Payne of Chino. I bought the stallion Silvertip (Ibn Rasraff x Diana by Farana) from him as a two year old. Although Silvertip became a halter champion, I didn’t think he was quite good enough to use as a breeding stallion, so I sold him on,” says Pete. (Editor’s note: Silvertip was gelded in 1962 at age six after siring 2 purebred foals, his blood continues on in modern purebred pedigrees through his daughter Silver Lee, later owned by the Hearst family, who became the maternal granddam of U.S. Reserve National Champion Hunter Hosanna Pico+/).
Pete’s purebred breeding program began with the purchase of the triple *Raffles mare Trity from Alice Payne in 1961. Trity was by the *Raffles son Hamdan out of the *Raffles daughter Afara, who herself was double *Raffles as she was out of the *Raffles daughter Rafarah. She also had a line to the Skowronek son *Raseyn through her sire. Trity was 50% Skowronek, 62.5% *Raffles and 6.25% *Raseyn. “She had Arabian type and refinement and was very feminine, with a beautiful face and great legs and feet,” Pete explains. “She was bred to the *Raffles son Rafferty three times before I bought her (editor’s note: one of those foals was 1975 U.S. Top Ten Gelding Asil Polaris), and when she came to me she was in foal to the Rafferty son Syzygy, with the foal to be retained by Alice Payne.” As it turned out, the filly she was carrying was Asil Phantasy, a chestnut, who Pete was able to buy when she was a yearling as Alice Payne wasn’t fond of chestnuts. Pete only bought four mares to start his program, all from Alice Payne or her son Pat Payne after Alice’s death in 1969. The others were Asil Lyric (sired by Syzygy’s full brother Asil Ecliptic out of Asil Lyra, a daughter of Rafferty and Afara and thus a 3/4 sister to Trity), purchased in 1969, and Asil Delyte (Syzygy x Destynee by Rafferty out of Afara, also a 3/4 sister to Trity), bought in 1970.
The Payne stallion Syzygy (Rafferty x Raffleeta, by *Raffles out of Rafarah and thus a full sister to Afara), was Pete’s favorite. There were four full brothers of this cross. Pete ranks them in order of his preference: Syzygy (who sired U.S. National Champions in halter and pleasure driving and top ten winners in reining and western pleasure), Orbit (sire of National winners in halter and English pleasure), Asil Ecliptic, and Asil Apogee.
Pete’s four foundation mares were thus very closely related. Initially Pete bred Trity to Syzygy five times, resulting in the stallion Raffius and mare Raffianne who were used in his program. Raffianne produced 4 foals for Pete, all of whom bred on in the McNeil herd. They were Gwalianne (by *Gwalior++), dam of multi-regional champion trail horse and multi-regional hunt pleasure winner Gai Gwalizon+/ by Gai Danizon; daughters Nichole and Rachele by Rafferty; and daughter Beauty by The Real McCoy. Pete then bred Trity to outside stallions including the Polish import *Gwalior++ (resulting in her son Silver Dove, who bred on after Pete sold him), and The Real McCoy, who, like the Payne horses was linebred to Skowronek through *Raffles and *Raseyn. With The Real McCoy, Trity produced the McNeil broodmatrons Molly-McCoy (dam of 7 foals for Pete including Danimo+/, who has 7 U.S. National titles in trail) and Michele (dam of 10 foals for Pete).
Pete explains his decision to use outside stallions. “After Alice Payne died, Syzygy was sold to Lois Selby Perry in Connecticut and Rafferty went to Dr. Rooker in Michigan. This was in the days before transported semen and I didn’t want to ship my mares that far to get bred. I had seen and liked *Gwalior++ in the show ring. He had the size I needed, and he traced to the Skowronek sire line through his sire *Naborr. I also liked the *Naborr mare *Dornaba++ (editorial note: 1966 U.S. National Champion Mare), and *Gwalior’s dam *Gwadiana, although she had no Skowronek blood, looked like a Payne mare with a short head and very large eyes.” Pete was thus using an outcross stallion whose phenotype matched his ideal. He also used The Real McCoy (Aarief x Fersara), who he first saw as a three year old and thought he was very beautiful, although he observes that he coarsened with age. Pete also used Canadian National Champion Stallion *Bajram, but the breeding as originally planned was to have been to his stablemate *Bask++. Pete tells the story: “Asil Phantasy was at Lasma in Scottsdale, Arizona, to be bred to *Bask++ for a full year. When she didn’t get in foal Dr. LaCroix called me about switching stallions. I had seen *Bajram and he was very athletic and was out of a full sister to *Bask++. Unfortunately the foal was nothing special.” Pete comments that he stopped using outside stallions because he didn’t get the type he liked consistently, the one exception in later years being SHF Southern Whiz, sire of World Champion Mare SHF Pearlie Mae. Pete bred his mare Incredible (a double Gai Danizon granddaughter whose tail female goes back to Asil Lyric) to SHF Southern Whiz twice via frozen semen. “I liked Whiz’s pedigree and his daughters SHF Pearlie Mae and LF Eursofab, both very classic type. I was lucky and got two mares, Unbelievabel and Incredible Too, from the breedings and now have six fillies, by my stallion Outrageouss, from my SHF Southern Whiz daughters.”
Asil Phantasy had 10 foals for Pete, seven of whom bred on in his program. Two (Gabriele and the stallion Humoresq) were by The Real McCoy, one daughter, Pia, was by Raffius, and her remaining three daughters who bred on were all by Gai Danizon. One of her Gai Danizon daughters, Gai Alisa, was sold and has had four foals outside the McNeil herd.
Asil Lyric had just four foals, two by Pete’s stallion Raffius (Rafferty x Trity) who did not breed on, and a daughter by Cal-O-Bask, Lyrica, who has bred on, as well as a son, Gai Dancer by Gai Danizon, who sired foals for Pete as well. Pete bred to Cal-O-Bask (*Bask++ x Susecion) as he traded a breeding to his stallion Raffius with the Raglands who owned him at the time. He was happy with that cross which represented the last time he used an outside stallion on one of his mares so a number of the current McNeil horses carry a line to Cal-O-Bask, best known as the sire of U.S. National Champion Mare Bask Calonett and full brother to the U.S. National Champion Mares, Fire Music++ and Bask Melody.
Asil Delyte had seven lifetime foals, the first for Alice Payne (Asil Delegate by Asil Zealot, who left no progeny) and the remainder for Pete. She was bred to Rafferty twice and to Pete’s stallion Raffius four times. Her blood is still in Pete’s herd today through her Raffius daughters Ecstatica and Erian.
Pete had been a big fan of the Gainey breeding program for a long time and had tried to buy a Ferzon son from Frank McCoy named Sahara Playboy. He had also fallen in love with Ferzon’s son, Gai Parada+++/, the only U.S. National Champion Stallion to be a National Champion in performance (pleasure driving) before winning his U.S. National Championship in halter. The next Ferzon horse to catch Pete’s eye was the bay Gai Danizon, a double grandson of Ferzon sired by Gai Parada+++/ out of the Ferzon daughter Ferzona. Gai Danizon also has 5 lines to *Raffles through sources different from the Payne horses (Azraff, Phleta, Rafla, Raffey and Rafeyma). Pete admired his short head and huge eyes and size (he was 15.1 hands), so would add height to the herd. “I wanted the Payne type but with more size,” says Pete. “I also loved his full brother Gai Latour, who was smaller, only 14.3 hands. Gai Latour didn’t live very long and sired just one foal. I wanted to add the blood of the inbred *Raseyn stallion Ferneyn to my pedigrees as I wished I could have bred to him, and this seemed the best way to do it.” Gai Danizon was sought after by others as well, when he was shown to visitors in Scottsdale it looked as if he might be sold, but they bought another Gai Parada+++/ son, Gai Torino, instead. Pete went to the Gainey Farm in Santa Ynez, where the manager Sterling White quoted him a price for Gai Danizon, but after Pete made his first payment Dan Gainey called him and told him White had priced him too low and added $5000! Pete was undeterred as he had the stallion he really wanted, so he paid the extra money.
In the January 1976 Arabian Horse News magazine, Gai Danizon was used by author William E. Jones as an example of a horse with a balanced pedigree. “The Gainey horses are well known for their prepotency. Although this reputation is based on their breeding record over the years, it could be predicted with a look at any particular pedigree. Take a look at the pedigree for Gai Danizon, a yearling colt Mr. Gainey offered for sale this year. There is a difference between heavy inbreeding and a balanced pedigree. A balanced pedigree is one that may contain much inbreeding but at the same time contains linebreeding to more than one horse-especially linebreeding through more than one horse to a single desirable foundation horse. The pedigree of Gai Danizon is well balanced. It shows linebreeding to Ferzon as well as to *Raffles. The whole Gainey type was developed from this kind of breeding. Mr. Gainey started with a *Raffles daughter, Gajala, who – bred to Ferzon – produced his four best foundation mares. The fact that Ferzon is a linebred *Raseyn horse and that *Raseyn and *Raffles were both sons of Skowronek brings the pedigree into beautiful balance. Indeed, such balanced linebreeding means prepotency. There are many generations of thoughtful breeding displayed in the pedigree of Gai Danizon – the whole representing not only the work of Dan Gainey but also Frank McCoy, Roger Selby, and H.H. Reese, and behind them all, the Crabbet and Antoniny Studs.”
Gai Danizon was the most prolific stallion used by Pete, with 138 get from 1978-1990 and 205 grandget to the time of this writing (December 24, 2010). He was also one of the few McNeil horses to have a show career, and was a regional winner in western pleasure. Pete has never placed emphasis on campaigning his own horses, and those who are sold often go to homes where they are cherished family members who are appreciated as riding horses with excellent temperaments rather than show competitors. However, Gai Danizon sired Pete’s homebred National winner Danimo+/, already mentioned, and his daughter Gai Diedre (x Gwalianne by *Gwalior++ out of Raffianne) is a regional champion producer and the dam of 2 National winner producers. She was sold to the well known California breeder Richard DeWalt, who bred her to Padrons Psyche twice. Her son Psyches Obsession++, a Legion of Merit winner, has 6 regional halter titles, 3 of them reserve championships, as well as 5 regional western pleasure titles. His champion get include 2006 Canadian Top Ten Western Pleasure JOTR 14-17 Azkaban. Psyches Obsession++’s full sister Psyches Desire is a Scottsdale Top Ten Mare AOTH and has produced multi-regional halter winner My Desire MLR and 2007 U.S. Top Ten Hunt Pleasure Futurity Czspartan MLR. Gai Danizon’s daughter Shea Fantasy, bred by Vernon F. Olson, is the dam of My Mystic Fantasy+/, who has 5 regional titles in dressage and show hack.
Gai Danizon’s most important son in the McNeil program is Danni Boy (x Eloquent by Raffius out of the Trity granddaughter Michele), foaled in 1983. He was shown successfully to multiple championships in western pleasure as well as high ribbons in hunt pleasure and halter, with a Most Classic Head award too. He was still breeding at age 25 in 2008 as he has a 2009 foal registered to him! Danni Boy sired two of Pete’s current stallions, Dynamic Dan (a bay) and Outrageousss (a chestnut), both out of the Gai Danizon daughter Gai Danichele, who is out of Rachele (Rafferty x Raffianne by Syzygy out of Trity). Pete feels Outrageousss lives up to his name and is the best stallion he has ever bred. “I feel my horses get better with each generation, and he is a super sire I have six three year old fillies by him and they are as alike as peas in a pod. He has the most type of any horse I have ever bred – smaller in size, with an extreme head like Dreamazon+++.” Pete’s connection with the well known stallion Dreamazon+++ goes way back. Dreamazon+++ (BF Rageymazon x Gai Dream) was bought as a foal by Pete’s friend, Margaret Haverstock, who Pete first met because of her stallion Karrouf++, a U.S. and Canadian Top Ten Stallion and a National Champion sire. Karrouf++ was a grandson of Hamdan, the sire of Pete’s foundation mare Trity. Dreamazon+++ won his Legion of Supreme Merit as a four year old with multiple regional titles in halter and western pleasure. He went on to be owned by Bazy Tankersley of Al-Marah, where he was noted for siring highly successful working western competitors, and his grandget have won national championships in working western and sport horse disciplines. Dreamazon+++’s pedigree appealed to Pete because he had 4 lines to Ferzon, three to *Raffles, and a line to *Naborr, sire of *Gwalior++ who Pete had used successfully. As a result of his friendship with Margaret, she has allowed Pete to retire her best Dreamazon+++ daughter on his farm, the multi-champion Gala Dream, whose dam was linebred to *Raseyn. Pete has her son Dreamagin by Outrageouss, a lovely six year old grey, who he plans to start using on his mares in the 2011 breeding season. Margaret has bred to the McNeil stallions Dynamic Dan and Outrageousss as well.
The final stallion Pete bought, SM Clasic Elegant (SM Azraff Elegant x Bint Rouge by Gay-Rouge), was meant to complement the Gai Danizon daughters. Pete acquired him as a 5 year old in 1986. He has 3 lines to Ferzon and and 2 to Azraff, but Pete explains with his usual honesty that he found he just wasn’t the right nick with his mares, for several reasons. “He is a very correct horse but I started losing a little on type and prettiness of head, plus he has a tougher disposition than I like in my horses, so I stopped using him.” Pete still has him, however, and he will be 30 years old in January 2011! Although Pete bred 34 of SM Clasic Elegant’s get, he has not used any of them in his breeding program. Type and temperament are paramount to Pete, and he remains true to his vision. When asked about the Arabians he has most admired who were owned by others, he cites Dreamazon+++, Gai Latour and SHF Pearlie Mae. Pete explains his vision of the ideal Arabian horse: “They must look like an Arabian and have a gentle disposition. The heads are shorter with lower set eyes. They have to have extreme type, smaller heads, large dark wide set eyes, arched neck, clean, light throatlatch, short back, long and fairly level croup, and straight dry legs.” Of Pete’s own horses, his all time favorites are Gai Danizon, because he blended so well with Pete’s Payne bred foundation mares, and his daughter Gai Danichele, because she consistently produced elegant type and beauty (her sons Outrageousss and Dynamic Dan have bred on very well).
What does the future hold for the McNeil herd now that Pete is over 80? Pete is the registered breeder of 239 Arabians as of December 24, 2010 (Pete is quick to point out that some were not really bred by him but were the result of people breeding who were buying a horse on time payments or who had leased a mare). Four McNeil bred foals were born in 2010, with four more expected in 2011. Pete has 70 horses on his property now, but 75% are age 25 or older. One mare is 33, two mares are 31 years old, and Gai Rachele had her most recent foal at age 27 in 2008. Pete admits he needs to place some horses in good homes but he can’t resist breeding as long as he is able to. In the past few years he has attended just one show each year – the Arabian Breeders Cup Show in Las Vegas, and last year he was enthralled to see the Champion Stallion, *Escape Ibn Navarrone D, a former World Champion Stallion, who met his ideal of Arabian type in every way. He has bred his mare Scarlettt (Danni Boy x La Dee Da, a double granddaughter of Gai Rachele), to him for a 2011 foal and is anxiously awaiting the outcome. Pete’s eagle eye for a good horse whose blood traces to Skowronek is as acute as ever, as *Escape Ibn Navarrone D has at least 11 lines to Skowronek through his sons Naseem and Naziri and daughters Naxina and Jalila. He may actually have more as he has a number of lines in his ancestry to horses from the stud of the Duke of Veragua in Spain, whose records were lost in the Spanish Civil War. The Duke imported 5 Skowronek daughters to Spain so there may be even more Skowronek influence in Pete’s stallion choice than can be documented!
Pete’s lovely facility in Alpine, California is definitely worth a visit, to see horses who look like Schreyer paintings come to life and to visit with this modest, honest gentleman who has remained dedicated to his goals as a breeder for fifty years.
(Crabbet.com Notes) *Pete McNeil was a cherished man whose presence and delightfully modest person graced all who knew him and most especially our Arabian horse community until June 24, 2018 when he went to join friends and family in heaven, and be greeted by many of his beloved horses.