A peek behind the barn: The people and animals behind the Arabian Horse Center

By Victoria Mejicanos, Jan. 30, 2024

As students drive into Cal Poly Pomona’s campus, they often catch a glimpse of the Arabian horses inhabiting the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center, but these intelligent and sociable animals offer more personality than a passing car can usually capture.

CPP was nominated Jan 9  for the prestigious “Performance Breeder of the Year” by the Arabian Horse Times Readers’ Choice Awards.  The Arabian Horse Times is the premiere publication of the Arabian breed in the United States, according to John Lambert, executive director of the center.

CP Helios in competition. | Courtesy of Arabian Horse Center

Lambert explained a performance horse is one that is ridden or shown. What is versatile about the horses at CPP is that they can be both ridden and shown.

“We want our horses not only to be beautiful and represent the characteristics of the breed but be able to ride them and have them perform at the highest levels,” said Lambert.

This goal dates back to 1932 when Will Keith Kellogg presented the ranch to the state of California with the stipulation that the Arabian breeding program and the Sunday Shows be maintained.

According to Lambert, breeding is a long process that shouldn’t be taken lightly. A breeder is a person who thinks of the stallion and mare pairings that would create the most ideal foal. Lambert explained it takes years of experience, and often months of research into the genetics of the sire and the mare, or the mother and father.

Lambert has spent much of his life and career breeding horses as well as judging them in competition on their physical characteristics such as the look of their head and legs, as well as their movement.  He judges every major show in North America.

“There is no perfect horse, just like there is no perfect person, so it’s my job that I take very seriously as a responsibility to breed what is the best or could be the best and always trying to improve on that, because we are bringing a life into this world,” said Lambert.

With all the time and research that goes into breeding, Lambert considers the nomination an honor.

“This nomination for the award, it really just shows the value of the quality of the horses that have been bred here,” said Lambert.

The Arabian Horse Center is the oldest Arabian breeding program in the United States.

Besides breeding, the Arabian Horse Center provides many programs and opportunities for members of the CPP community, as well as the general public,  to understand and appreciate the breed.

For Lambert, the interaction between horses and people is something he enjoys facilitating and observing.

“I love connecting people to the breed especially if they’re not familiar with it or it’s their first time,” said Lambert.  “I love telling the story and having them touch a horse for the first time. It’s transformative, there’s nothing else like it.”

CP Park Avenue, also known as Wesley, is a foal born this past foal season. | Arabian Horse Center

John Anthony, currently a groom at the center and involved with the Horses for Heroes program,  had a transformative experience with one Arabian in particular: Alada Sprite.

Anthony explained that to have a positive relationship with any horse, trust must be established.

“It’s very unique and because a lot of people they have bonds with their cats or their dogs, but those are predator animals and so they have very different reactions to that of a horse which, as big as they are, they are prey and so they’re always worried about everything and watching everything at all times,” Anthony said.  “And you are their safety. So, it’s very unique and very enriching the whole situation.”

Anthony described that in his start at CPP as a transfer student, he struggled to prioritize his time and manage his emotions, but his assigned horse allowed him to reflect and work toward maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

“In dealing with the horse, I first had to deal with myself,” said Anthony. “I had to manage my stress, I had to manage my anxieties because horses are kind of like antennae for your emotions. They will pick up on whatever you’re feeling and project it right back at you.”

The bond he built with Sprite helped him end the semester in a positive way.

“What started off very rocky, ended off strong because of Sprite,” Anthony said.

Lambert explained horses are intelligent and collaborative animals.

“They’re no different than you and me,” he said. “Horses are very social animals, they’re very intelligent. Horses revolve around trust, and they also work together collaboratively in everything that they do in the wild.”

He also explained despite their collaborative nature, they each have unique personalities.

“But they all have very different personalities some are very bold, and some are a little more sensitive, some are very sensitive. They’re all very intelligent, they’re very smart animals,” said Lambert.

Visitors to the center can see firsthand how social the Arabians are. Anytime the horses  heard Lambert speak, they immediately greeted him eager for petting and some even appeared to be smiling.

Another opportunity for all students to connect with the horses on campus is the Horsemanship Club. Students in the club learn basic care and maintenance of the horses and will often volunteer at the center. If students put in enough hours, they can earn perks like free riding lessons and may even get a chance to participate in Sunday Shows, another tradition started by Kellogg and maintained to this day, only pausing for World War II and the recent pandemic.

The Sunday Shows are open to the public and happen the first week of each month and, if the weather permits, the show features students riding Arabians in different disciplines.

For students who are experienced with the care of horses, there are positions in the live-in crew. The live-in crew lives in and work at the center, because taking care of horses requires constant upkeep.  This is true particularly for foal season in February because they are born early in the morning.

Leticia Vaz, an animal science pre-vet major, is a member of the live-in crew shared her experience riding horses in high school and her love of animals.

“I’ve always been wanting to work around here, and I actually chose Pomona because of the horses,” she said.

Vaz also described what it’s like to live at the center.

“It’s pretty fun,” Vaz said. “It’s a lot of hard work definitely. It’s not for everyone, but once you get used to the routine it’s very rewarding because you basically go from owning no animals to having 70 horses and you learn so much. My life completely changed, but it was definitely worth it.”

Anthony encourages all students to visit the center.

“It’s just a fantastic resource, and a lot of students don’t realize what we have here at Cal Poly in the Arabian Horse Center,” Anthony said. “I truly believe that some point in the four years that you’re here, you need to come see the horses.”

The Arabian Horse Center is open to all Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students can vote for the Arabian Horse Center as performance breeder of the year until Jan. 31.

Feature image courtesy of Arabian Horse Center 

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