This is the first in an occasional series featuring pioneers in the development of the Arabian horse in America. Our guests speak in their own voices. We hope you enjoy this opportunity to know them personally.
Appropriately, our first pioneer is the founder of our own Van Gilder Arabians, Marjorie Van Gilder.
Arabians in the Blood
Marjorie Van Gilder fell in love with horses as a little girl. Whenever she was missing, her parents knew exactly where to look.
“They’d find me out with the Percherons,” says Marjorie, whose father, Pardee Rich, used draft horses on their family wheat farm in Wasco before tractors became popular.
Although her family leased out their farm and moved to the Willamette Valley, Marjorie’s interest in horses remained strong.
At the age of 19, she moved back to Wasco and started breaking horses for $1 a day. Her father provided feed and board, Marjorie says, and she got to keep the dollar.
“The horses were about 3 or 4 years old before I’d start them, but they had been handled so they weren’t wild,” she says. I’d saddle them and work them on the ground.”
“The first time or two I rode them, my dad would lead them from another horse until they got used to having someone on their back. Then I’d ride out in the summer fallow, where it’s real soft, so if they bucked me off it wouldn’t hurt. In 30 days, I had them going so anybody could ride them.”
In 1940, when she was 21, Marjorie bought a half-Arabian, half-Appaloosa mare named Cotton. Four years later, she bred her to Ferras, a purebred Arabian stallion. Mr. Nifty was foaled in 1945. He made Marjorie a fan of the Arabian breed. She and Mr. Nifty rode in many local shows, winning awards in nearly every class they entered.
“We rode in Western, English, Trail, Costume and anything else I could get in,” Marjorie recalls. “He was hard to beat in Western Pleasure.
”Mr. Nifty sold me on the Arabian horse because of his temperament and ability. He had a good disposition, and he was willing to do whatever I asked him to do. He was quiet and reliable.”
Marjorie’s husband, Arthur, was supportive of her love of horses. In 1949, following a successful wheat crop, they purchased her first purebred Arabian mare, which sparked the beginning of a new business.
Today, Van Gilder Arabians is one of the oldest and possibly one of the largest Arabian stud farms in the United States. Throughout its 55-year history, the operation has gained a reputation for producing quality Arabians that excel in a variety of disciplines including competitive trail riding, endurance and flat racing.
Marjorie has worked hard to expand her Arabian breeding program. Van Gilder Arabians is primarily a breeding group called the Crabbet/American, which was evolved to emphasize the bloodline of Abu Farwa. However, Marjorie has used other bloodlines to improve her stock.
Because of her success, she was honored with the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Eastern Crabbet Arabian Horse Society.
Marjorie says several horses have left her with lasting memories. In 1952, she purchased two horses: Ferras, a 20-year-old stallion and the sire of her beloved Mr. Nifty, and 13-year old Tahara, a mare bred by the W.K. Kellogg Institute.
Tahara was sired by Rifnas and out of Ghazayat.
“This pedigree was mostly Crabbet, with a couple of lines to the old Huntington blood from England, which predated Crabbet,” Marjorie says. “During his life, Ferras sired 28 foals produced by Van Gilder Arabians and Tahara remains in the Van Gilder herd today.
“Sarref was the first colt I ever raised," says Marjorie. “I just loved him. I took him to Salem when he was a baby, and he won his class when he was 30 days old.”
“He was a little chestnut with four stockings and a blaze. He was a cute little horse, and I rode him quite a lot.”
Marjorie credits another favorite stallion, Muhuli, for much of their success due to his ability as a show horse and sire.
“He was sired by Abu Farwa, and was a beautiful horse with a good temperament,” she says.
Muhuli eventually sired 69 purebred foals, and his bloodline proved to be exceptionally fast on the American Arabian racetrack.
Through the years, 25 Van Gilder Arabians have been on the track. Val’s Star Burst, a horse bred, owned, and raced by the Van Gilders, earned nearly $100,000 during his career.
“That doesn’t mean much to me, because I don’t get the money,” Marjorie says. “The money goes out for training and expenses.”
She recalls her highest-priced horse, a racehorse, sold for $25,000.
“It is always fun to get the money so we can pay the bills,” she says.
Marjorie and Arthur have been married 60 years and have three children, Arlyn, Brent and Dee.
Their daughter, Dee, now manages Van Gilder Arabians, which consists of about 60 head of Arabians, including four stallions.
Marjorie has built a reputation in the horse world. Her home is full of trophies and awards from her successes in the show ring.
But she says the challenge of training horses is the most satisfying part of the business, and she is happy to share her training secrets.
“Kindness is the most important thing,” she says. “You need to let them know when they do something right. You pet them and give them lots of encouragement.”
“I think Arabians are smarter than other horses,” she says. “They are quick learners. These horses are also kind and loveable. They really love people. You have to be careful when you go into the field, because they all run up to see you. They all want to be near you.”