We bought Omeya, Oberlix’s mother, at the AHS auCtions in 1978. She was a skitty, terrified, slim, typey 3 year old Crabbet Arab who had been kept alone in a field since she was around 1 year old. She rushed into the ring and jumped about on her skinny legs with her convex head in the air, and tail straight up. We had seen her outside and decided that she was a filly we wanted to see more of.. but we had already bought the sensible pure bred filly we had been saving up for, for years. But Omeya floated and whirlpooled into our lives, Chris turned to me as she wizzed & cavorted passed in the ring and said ‘I will lend you the money’ so I bought her for £700; we then realized that neither of us had the money! In addition the autioneer said “You’ll never get her in the trailer, that is for sure!...” but we did and she arrived home with her companion Crysthannah Royal (Crystal King x Hannah of Fairfield) , two pure Crabbet fillies of very different types. One gentle, solumn correct in behaviour and conformation, one typey, wild, incorrect in both behaviour and conformation and not in the least solumn!
The following morning I went to feed her, we had left them in the stable overnight to accustom them to their new surroundings. Omeya , terrified, turned and kicked me, my reaction was fury and rapidly I hit her back … she looked askance at me, turned around and we made ourselves lifelong friends. For the rest of her 26 years of life she trusted humans and would do anything they asked, often an enormous responsibility! So quick are decisions made and mental habits formed!
Omeya grew up and learnt to balance on her scrawny legs a little better, she did endurance, arab flat racing, a little cross country and jumping, she worked in the garden pulling ploughs, sleighs, light vehicles, harrows, logs or anything else we cared to ask her and she did it all in a head collar with no bit. She took part in many endurance rides and races winning some , 7th in the 160km summer solstice one year, 3rd and another time 4th in the marathon. We were asked by Mrs Lancaster who was at the time the owner of Aboud in Soctland if we would like to send a mare to a free covering to one of her stallions, so we visited and chose Aboud who at that time must have been around 2 or 3, before he had become a champion in hand, and the following spring we sent Omeya to him.
In the spring of 1989 she gave birth to Oberlix, at our new ecological farm and research centre in Devon Omeya gave birth to a dashing colt with the correct conformation of his father, the glorious movement of his mother, and his own rippling burnt chestnut coat and strong personality At the time we were just beginning a what has turned into a 20 year research programme on improving large mammal handling and teaching, and young Oberlix was a pilot subject for our research based on in the department of psychology at the university of Exeter. His participation allowed us to design the methods for years of study in how to measure and improve the handling and teaching of equines, ( and other species including elephants, bovids, camelids and canines). We used methods that had been shown to be very successful with preverbal children. This involved, in particular, talking simply to the subjects, to encourage them to begin to listen and understand language.
In 1993 his daughter Druimghigha Shemal was born, the 6th generation of our breeding of part bred arabs, (she won the marathon in 2000, and 2x won Man versus Horse race, and several 50mile race rides). Oberlix continued to learn to understand human language all his life and traveled around UK and Europe giving displays and demonstrations at such venues as the Cadre Noire, ( the elite French riding school at Saumur) , and many other influential places. He was tested to understand 250 words and not only commands. The result of his and his daughters comprehension of language has been written up in scientific papers, and invited talks given at international scientific meetings. One of the most interesting new things found was that all our subjects quickly learnt to imitate the teacher to do simple actions. This is particularly interesting since to do this, they have to have some idea of self, something that previously has been considered unique to large apes and sea mammals.
There were many more discovers concerning horses minds that Oberlix contributed to (see pictures and examples in Horse Watch, what is it to be equine? J.A.Allen 2005), but above all, he became a quite delightful companion, and one of my very best lifelong friends. I could take anywhere and do almost anything with him and when it came to competition he would generally win, or come very near it! He worked our garden for us so we did not have to dig or weed, he harrowed the fields, he pulled a light vehicle when we wanted him to, he taught beginners to ride, he rose from Novice to Inetermediare dressage level ( one before grand prix) in one summer (obtaining more than 50% before progressing to the next level, and doing them all au de combat).
In the same summer he was in international endurance competitions, coming 6th in the Summer solstice, 100m race, one year 2nd to his daughter in the man versus horse and the marathon, the next year 3rd, and so on. We took him to the Arab Premium Performance Tests and he became a Premium stallion, performing by far the best in the free jumping, and showed of his language comprehension to the conformation judges.. but I stupidly hired a professional to jump him. She destroyed his confidence at the second jump, by hitting him ( I had told her not to!), something that had never happened when jumping before. As a result, he got around, but not with the top marks!
He was perhaps the nicest horse to ride under any conditions, happy to go along with what was required, fast or slow, with mares in season or out, with his own mares or others, with other stallions or alone, quiet confident, glorious paces and arab through and through. He taught me more than anyone else I think about life and how to live it. He was an ikon of our stud, and through his offspring, the Druimghigha Stud lives on, and we keep learning more.
He is more than missed, but lives on in our memories of glorious times together.