Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Nature's Ballet and me - Lari Shea

My kids and I have many wonderful memories and stories about Nature's Ballet, whose nickname was "Blue". My kids rode him, often bareback and in a halter, from the time they were 3 years old. He is responsible for my starting what became Ricochet Ridge Ranch, but that's another story. Following is information from a letter I used to send out to folks who were interested in him. His Cougar Rock photo can be seen at

Nature's Ballet, our Russian Orlov stallion, competed successfully for a dozen years, and sired offspring who are proving his value as a sire of performance horses. In a limited career, "Blue" amassed a rather phenomenal record. He completed the "Tevis Cup" 100 Mile Endurance Race five times out of five attempts, which was a world record for a stallion at the time.

The Orlovs were the horses of the aristocracy in Russia. Developed by Count Peter Orlovski in the mid 1700's by crossing 5 Arabian stallions on Danish Warmblood type mares, the Orlov was bred for beauty, elegant action, stamina, and speed. Standing 15.2 to 17 hands high, they were either ridden or driven.

Nature's Ballet has an interesting history. In 1959, Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of the USSR, presented Natourschik, the Grand Champion Orlov stallion of that year to Cyrus Eaton, an American industrialist. The gift was in appreciation of Eaton's having been instrumental in effecting the sale of American agricultural commodities to Russia during their time of great food shortages, at the height of the "cold war." American farmers were able to sell surplus grains which had been rotting in silos, and Russian peasants were saved from starvation. Eaton had also donated some of his own prize Shorthorn bulls to Russia for the enrichment of their agricultural program.

The horse chosen to express the gratitude of the Russian state was Natourschik ("Nature Lover"), the 17 hand high sire of Nature's Ballet. Khrushchev also sent two other stallions to complete a "Troika", or hitch of three stallions, as well as some mares, a veterinarian, and the horses' trainer. When Natourschik died, in 1969 the Russian government sent a replacement stallion, that year's current champion, named Cupal. Unfortunately, that horse was never trained for riding or driving, and died without siring any offspring.

A troika consists of three stallions hitched abreast, pulling a unique light carriage or sleigh, depending upon the time of year. Natourschik performed as the lead or center horse, which trots with head and neck flexed vertically directed towards the front. The two stallions on each side canter, with their necks excessively bent toward their respective outsides, held by unilateral side check reins.

The original Troika sent over in 1959 was timed over 21 miles of snow in 55 minutes, a rate of nearly 23 miles per hour....testament to their speed and endurance. The stallions, Natourschik, Otlik and Konus, toured the country demonstrating their speed and grace. The brochure distributed at the exhibitions specifically notes that Orlovs make excellent dressage horses, "capable of being schooled to the highest degree of Haute Ecole, which shows the natural attitudes and gaits of the horses." After touring, the stallions returned to Eaton's estate in Ohio, and faded from public attention.

In 1976, Chester (Sonny) Ferris, of Fer-Glen Farms, Alberta, Canada, acquired Natourschik's son, Nature's Ballet, and promptly entered him in the Great American Horse Race, a 3000 mile extravaganza celebrating our country's bicentennial. According to the Newsweek article captioning a photo of the Orlov stallion, "if the race were decided on beauty, surely the winner would be the Orlov!"

Although the Orlov did not win that race (the winner was a mule, as a matter of fact), he was in 11th place out of 500 horses at the end of 2000 miles, at which point his owner pulled him from the competition for personal reasons.

Dr. Kerry Ridgway, California's world renowned endurance riding veterinarian, met Blue when Dr. Ridgway served as head veterinarian on the Great American Horse Race. Dr. Ridgway rode the Orlov on the horse's first Tevis Race that year, and bred his own Arabian mare to the stallion. Dressage trainer Michael Norrel took Blue through Tevis the next year, to be followed in 1978 by another successful completion with co-owner Brenda Ferris. Since Tevis has on average a 50% completion ratio, the odds are that any given horse will be unsuccessful half of his attempts. Blue was 100% successful, five times, earning his world record.

In 1979, he was off to three years in horse heaven on the Canadian plains with a herd of select mares. In the mean while, I purchased the offspring of Dr. Ridgway's mare and Nature's Ballet, a colt named Nature's Tzar. Tzar proved to be the horse of my dreams, combining the agility, endurance and flair of the Arabian with his sire's tremendous bone, length of stride, and exceptional disposition. The year I campaigned Tzar at first level in dressage, he earned 27 blue ribbons, with many scores of eight, and the occasional nine. At the California Dressage Society Championship Horse Show, the international judge Col. Andrew diSzigney stopped us as we were leaving the arena after performing a test, and thanked us for allowing him to see such a trot!

Kerry Ridgway was instrumental in helping me acquire a part ownership of Tzar's sire, Nature's Ballet. Coming from three year's retirement on the Canadian plains, at the age of 14 this extraordinary horse earned his entry into the Endurance Horse Registry of America by successfully completing six 50 mile races and another 100 miler within the short course of four months, beginning one month after I obtained him in 1983.

In 1984, I took him on a first for both of us, the Levi Ride and Tie Race. With a big red "STUD" painted on both haunches to warn other competitors not to tie a mare to the same tree with the stallion, Blue impressed all who saw him with his no-nonsense competitive spirit, and his ability to alternately race full out at a gallop or extended trot and then stand quietly resting when tied to a tree waiting for the next rider.

One short month later, Blue was called into action at the last minute for the Tevis race when my Arabian gelding became gimpy. At the age of 15, the incredible campaigner placed 16th out of 274 horses on the Tevis Cup 100 Mile/One Day Horse Race. He finished just behind the front runners, the oldest horse entered that year. The next year, at age 16, he finished 27th out of close to 300 entries on the Tevis. As the miles get longer, Blue gets stronger. With the inclusion of 100 Mile endurance racing at the Olympics, I foresee a real future for the offspring of this remarkable stallion. (Oh, how I used to dream~~~)

From 1982 to 1988, Blue also completed my Tevis Trail Training Seminar, more often than not carrying a student rider on his strong back. The October 1986 Arabian Horse Express featured a 10 page article describing the Seminar. The reporter, a beginning rider who never did learn to post the trot, completed the harrowing 100 miles on Blue, who soon decided to walk all the down hills, and canter all the ups for her, to save both of their backs. Blue carried her in this sensible manner, regardless of what the other horses on the Seminar were doing, ignoring them as they disappeared into the distance on the downs, and calmly passing them in a cloud of dust up the long mountains. It was the experience of a life time for his rider.

Blue has been bred to mares of various descriptions, stamping his distinctive mark on the offspring, which characteristically have his great length of stride, density of bone, stylish action and marvelous temperament. We have found that breeding back to Arabian or Thoroughbred mares seems a good complement, although a few Appaloosa/Orlov crosses are waiting in the wings to show us a thing or two. Blue's semen has been frozen, and is available to ship anywhere in the world. (Not any more.....)

Blue has filled a unique place in the hearts of our family. His phenomenal disposition and intelligence have been evident as he took my children for trail rides or jumping classes, ponied young horses, packed chain saws into the forest for trail clearing expeditions, carried 6 children at a time on his strong back during vaulting classes, or patiently carried handicapped riders in our adaptive riding program. Exploring new trails, if I needed to know I would get there, I always rode Blue.

Sincerely yours,


1 comment:

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