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Under the Spotlight: Liz Salmon

Under the Spotlight: Liz Salmon

The ever feisty international judge Liz Salmon passed away on 7 February following a valiant fight against cancer. Rather than put together a tribute for her, I feel that it is fitting for Liz to share her story in her own words, as told in the pages of The Arabian Magazine 10 years ago. Rest in peace, Liz, thinking of your children Clare and William, and husband Phil, at this time.

Under the Spotlight: Liz Salmon

Everyone knows Liz Salmon, or has at least heard of her. A judge, a writer, a horse owner and breeder, Liz has been involved with horses for over 60 years. The Arabian Magazine is privileged to publish this unique interview with Liz, documenting her childhood through to agricultural college and beyond. Liz – we salute you!

 

I was born in 1938 in Poynings, Sussex. I had three sisters, including a twin, and a brother. I started riding at the age of five, with my twin and I sharing a pony named Merrylegs. I was completely horse mad, much to my parents horror, as I grew older. My mother once said to me “No man is ever going to marry you if you smell of horses all the time!” I was later to prove her totally wrong. I joined the Pony Club at the age of six, and at 16, I began instructing after 10 years in the Pony Club.

My parents concern was so great that after leaving boarding school, I was sent to a finishing school in Switzerland. There I learnt to ski, sew, cook and flirt with ski instructors!

 
Liz with Merry Legs in 1946.

When I returned home, I again horrified my parents by announcing that I wanted to go to agricultural college. At that time, in the mid-1950s, it was not something that finishing school girls did… My fellow companions all went on to become debutantes or achieve an early marriage. However, I got my way and entered Plumpton Agricultural College, being one of 15 girls among 75 boys – was that fun or what!

I graduated with distinction, but my love was still with horses. Cart horse duty at college was one of my favourite pastimes. Another student and I were sent out in a cart to deliver cabbages to the cattle. We discovered that if we got the horse to canter, the cabbages flew out of the cart more or less on their own. We nearly took out two gate posts on the way and were severely reprimanded, but I’ve always been a bit of a controversial renegade!

 
Liz showing Naseel’s Nephew in 1964.

Having graduated from Agricultural College and completed my instructor training through the British Horse Society, I started judging at the age of 20. I worked for a vet for three years, followed by managing a large equestrian centre.

I was schooling a part-bred Arab by Naseel’s Nephew for a client and she said to me one day “I’d like you to come and see Naseel’s Nephew and meet his owner, Ronnie Salmon”. She told me that he was a widower, as his wife had been killed in a car crash. She also told me that he was very extrovert and still rode in Western gear, as he had been in Montana and Canada for 10 years.

So, I duly went with her to Fairfield Farm one day. There I met this tall, lanky British Cowboy. I was more interested in him than the stallion I think! I believe that we fell in love at first sight, as four days later we were out riding and he leant over and asked me to marry him, prepared to gallop off if I said no. This was certainly the key moment in my involvement with the Arabian breed.

 

Reserve British National Champion, Fairfield Chancellor in 1974.

From 1963 to 1980, we successfully bred and showed several British National halter and performance champions, in addition to training students from all over the world. Our foundation mare Hadassa (Rythal x Bashida) produced the bay colt Hassani of Fairfield by Rissani, whom I owned until he died at the age of 20. He successfully competed in so many performance divisions, including eventing and endurance, plus he was well-known for his wonderful Anglos. He was one of the great horses that I have owned in my life.

Our Arabians were exported to many countries.

I was also a founding member of WAHO and I love attending the conferences in different countries as I get to meet so many fabulous people. Travelling is another great love of mine.

 

Liz with the Western team at TA and I in 1981.

I trained and showed in dressage for several years under the instruction of Spanish Riding School trained instructors Charles Harris and John Lassiter. Today, I pass on those instructional methods to my daughter Clare, who is at the top in the US for Arabians in Dressage and Sport Horse.

I became an in-hand and ridden judge for the British Arab Horse Society in 1970 and I continue to be on their panel of judges, but now only for in-hand. I really value those years as a ridden judge as it taught me so much about form to function, although riding all those different horses could be alarming at times.

 

Show-jumping with Hassani.

I really enjoy judging. In the US, although I held my judges card for 10 years, I never really enjoyed it at all and I gave up my card four years ago because of the sometimes ignorant and often political judging. I still judge small schooling shows, which are great fun, because I can help amateurs and children. I love judging overseas and have judged mostly in Australia (six times), but also New Zealand, Canada, Jordan, Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as the UK.

 

Liz judging a Ridden Anglo-Arab class.

My philosophy when judging is to give every exhibitor the same amount of my time and to judge so that people can follow my line of thought, even if they don’t particularly like my preferred type of horse. I want to be accountable out there in the ring so I prefer the European system or judging on my own. Judging in a political way or “face” judging is a slippery slope, down which I would never ever recommend going.

As a riding person, conformation and movement is very important to me, but I also want a horse to scream at me “I’m an Arabian!” I get very frustrated in the US when you go to the ringside and if there is not a Pinto or Palomino in the ring, you are not sure if you are looking at pure- or part-breds – ugh!

I am very hot on legs, too. I hate to see the long cannons and the club feet, which are so prevalent in the US today. I also dislike the ultra-long necks and horses that look like sausages on toothpicks. I want a horse to be balanced in proportions, with a deep heart girth and generous rear end.

The practices that I find abhorrent are gingering and the awful intimidation of halter horses from whip abuse. The US has improved quite a bit since I first came here, but the intense stand-up is what has caused so much of the terrible and unnecessary abuse to these horses. It’s so tragic.

We can all help by reporting such abuse or, as in one case here, several people yelling and pointing to the abuser. Owners must take responsibility for whom they send their horses for training and they must keep a very close eye on them. Some trainers do have a tendency to intimidate owners as well, at least in the US. That has got to stop.

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of seminars around the country (six this year) to try and educate owners about type, conformation and movement, as there have been so many newcomers ripped off and burnt by unscrupulous farms and trainers, simply because those new owners did not know enough to prevent it.

 

The TA and I Handicapped Program in 1983.

In 1980, I was head-hunted and invited to become Equine Science Director and develop the Equine Science programme at Texas A&M University (Kingsville) in South Texas. I brought the programme up to a minor degree within the Animal Science Department, while also creating an outstanding Arabian show string with my students. We even got one student to the US Nationals, where she went Top Ten in Western Trail. I also started a programme of Riding for Handicapped Children.

After six years at A&M Kingsville and following Ronnie’s death from cancer, I moved to Dallas to freelance as an instructor and consultant. Clare was due to go to high school and my son, William, was at university so it was a good time to move.

In 1986 I was instrumental, along with Paul Adams of Adams Quest Arabians, in importing and managing the Arabian international champion stallion *Ralvon Elijah for the Elijah Enterprise partnership. In this highly successful venture, I was responsible for breeding management, breeding sales and general promotion of the horse. He was the other great horse in my life.

I rode Ralvon Elijah myself to win his performance points in dressage, qualifying him for the 1988 US Nationals. The halter trainer had told me that it would take six months to get his performance points after he had shown at Scottsdale. I knew that Caroline Nelson had broken Ralvon in so when he came back to me for the breeding season, I began schooling him. Six weeks later, I showed him in two dressage classes, placing both times. I passed that trainer on the way back from the ring with rosettes in hand – a great moment!

 
Liz riding Ralvon Elijah.

Another great milestone in my life was in 1991. I had been a widow for four years, and, when Clare left home, I was left feeling a bit lonely. So on the way to give a lesson, I heard an advertisement on the radio for a dating agency for professionals. Somehow, I felt compelled to investigate.

So off I trotted for a two hour interview. It was expensive for twelve introductions, so I paid for it on my credit card. Two weeks later, I had a phone call from someone who introduced himself as Phil Crabill, the other half on my sheet of paper! He had also lost his wife from cancer. We talked for over an hour – we had both been watching British comedies, so I knew that we had the same sense of humour.

We met for lunch the next day, which lasted nearly four hours (we thought that the waiter was going to throw us out!). I had to leave for the UK two days later for a wedding and returned 10 days later on a Monday. We were engaged the following weekend and married six months later!

Phil was not a horse person, but he has been incredibly supportive and is now well known in Arabian horse circles. Together, we have travelled to 50 different countries and have had so much fun and many wonderful experiences. We’ve been down the Nile and the Amazon, ridden elephants in India and camels around the Pyramids, for which Phil has never forgiven me! We both love music and bird watching as well.

While all the outward things were happening in the horses, I got started in journalism by writing letters to the Horse and Hound in the late-1960s and I found that many times they were published. Then I got asked by Riding magazine for articles, as well as by the Horse and Hound. I have now written for many magazines including the Arabian Horse Times for 10 years, Arabian Horse World, both Australian magazines and the UK Arab Horse Society News, as well as South African, South American and German publications. I love writing for The Arabian Magazine as both Samantha and Tanya have been wonderful to work with.

I also began doing consulting work when I was at the university as I was asked to give evaluations of horses for insurance and charitable donations. I continued doing that after I left and now travel all over the USA doing a lot of consulting and evaluations, mostly for marketing. I have given depositions and testified in court cases for legal disputes as an expert witness, usually on evaluations for dead horses, but also on cases of neglect. I also advise breeders on their breeding programmes and breeding decisions. I love it and I never know where I’m going next.

Doing this, I come across some unusual stories and my most unusual story actually happened last week. It was pretty scary: I was contacted to evaluate a herd of 30 horses for a very recent breeder. Now I never know what I’m going to find, but can you imagine someone buying all those horses, unseen, off the internet? And this is what I was faced with. This lady did have about eight fairly decent mares of various bloodlines and a lovely Straight Egyptian stallion with a good pedigree, great conformation, type and movement. Otherwise, I advised her to sell or donate the rest, who were so poor in conformation. She had not paid over £2,000 for any of them, mostly about £500 I think. Not the best way to start a breeding programme.

I have had a lot of fun with everything I have been involved with and I must mention working as international consultant with the La Cabreah Farms management team between January 1994 to 1996, promoting their US Reserve National Champion Stallion, Padron’s Psyche***, until they found a permanent farm manager. That was so much fun – I managed their trade-stand at Scottsdale in 1995 and helped them to organise Psyche going to Europe in November 1995 to be presented at the European Championships.

In retrospect, I don’t think that I would have changed anything in my life. Arabians have played such an important part for 44 years; I have loved every minute of it. I have had far, far more highs in my life than lows and my optimistic, positive nature has always carried me through any lows.

 

Liz and husband Phil dining out in Paris in 1981.

My plans for 2007, so far, are taking my husband to the Galapagos Islands for his 70th birthday in January, judging the New Zealand Nationals in February, just after Scottsdale. Then I am off to the Las Vegas Show in April, followed by various local shows around the US. Our show season in Texas goes from March to November, but consulting work is all year round. Then it is onto the Egyptian Event in June, a safari in Tanzania in July, then the British Nationals, the US Sport Horse Nationals, the US Nationals and then the Salon du Cheval to finish the year off in December. Anything else will fit in between! I do have a court case pending as an expert witness sometime next year.

I always feel that so often, life is what you make it, but I am so glad that I got involved with Arabians. It has been fantastic and I hope that there will be many more years to come. I have told my daughter that I’ll go on riding as long as I can. I now own a little 13.2hh Crabbet/Raffles-bred mare for my grandchildren, but I can ride her too. She continues to give me great joy and appropriately, that’s her name: Joye’s Faith.

 

Quick fire questions

Foal or stallion: Stallion

Judging or writing: Judging

UK or European showing style: UK

Sun or snow: Sun

Wine or tea: Wine

US Nationals or British Nationals: British Nationals

Restaurant or BBQ: Restaurant

Scottsdale or Paris: Paris.

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