I’ll admit I’ve occasionally frequented bars where such confusion would be understandable, but this was different. This was actual equine wearing products designed to accentuate the eyes and define the nose. I imagine overhearing two Arabians talking about their makeup would go something like, “Does this mascara make my face look long?”
Granted, I know little about horses. My expertise is limited to $2 thoroughbred bets, covering rodeos and falling off sway-backed mares. But until I attended the Region III Championship Arabian Horse Show at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center, I’d always assumed horses had learned to accept their distinctive features.
It turns out Arabians aren’t just any equine. They originated on the Arabian Peninsula about 4,500 years ago. Bred in the desert for speed and endurance, the bloodline of the legendary animals is found in most modern horse breeds.
According to one definition, Arabians have a “distinctive head shape and high tail carriage.” If that makes them sound a little like a horsey version of a cross between Beyonce and J-Lo, well, you’re beginning to get the picture.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Arabians have more than a little diva in them. Although some are flighty and high-strung — and they’ll rear and buck like a rodeo bronc on occasion — they seem to enjoy performing. As I watched the show, I half expected those handsome animals to pause and preen and announce, “I make this look gooood.”
The event is one part exhibition, one part fashion show. Outfits range from Western chic to English top hat, gaudy Liberace with a lariat to incredible costumes that look straight out of an Arabian Nights fantasy.
With their super-blinged saddles, sleek bodies and carefully coiffed tails, at times the horses look more like Vegas showgirls on flying carpets than four-legged performers. Watch them for a while and you’ll begin to appreciate the training horse and rider go through to produce those polished effects.
Now, about that makeup. It’s accepted practice for Arabians in some events to be dolled up with petroleum jelly-based “cosmetics” that bring out their dark eyes and define their distinctive noses.
While I didn’t see any Arabians with painted toenails, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Grooms I listened to talked of the painstaking care necessary to keep manes and tails from splitting. Some of the horse’s tails are longer than Cher’s.
Perhaps the most character-rich part of the event takes place outside the show arena. The stables and stalls teem with activity from before sunrise until late in the evening. While there are plenty of big-name stable owners and trainers — the Brett Becker stable of Grass Valley, Calif., brought 40 horses — there are also a fair number of mom-and-pop operators.
One favorite was Dominique and Ted Sargent of Indian Springs. Ted is employed at the Nevada Test Site. It was obvious from watching Sargent’s effort that showing Arabians is far more than a hobby. It’s a passion that combines the love of the breed with the spirit of competition.
It’s also clear from all the children, teenagers and friendly dogs running around that it’s a family affair for many in the show and behind the scenes.
Other personal favorites were the Mike Damianos-trained entries from Claire Bowman’s Starbucks Ojai Valley Ranch. Las Vegan Patty Romeo, owner of national champion Wyatt Earp, is associated with the stable.
“It’s definitely family oriented,” Romeo said. “From 8 to 80, as long as you can get on a horse and ride, there’s an event for you. I like the competition, and I like the action and the beauty of it. It’s also great to see your barn buddies and cheer on people you know.”
One of Romeo’s buddies is Muna Busailah, who rode Tex. When I first caught a glimpse of Tex, I thought the half-Arabian was making eyes at me.
Turns out it was the makeup.
Just my luck.
John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.