Banks Farm video
produced by Darryl Larson
Past And The Future Of
It was a cool evening in Albuquerque on October
27, 2001. The day had sparkled with that crystalline magic of a northern
New Mexico autumn; the purple-tinged mountains stood out with extra
clarity, and the light turned the cottonwood trees to pure gold. Then
the vivid sunset had darkened, and the energy of the night centered in
Tingley Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, where the Arabian U.S.
Nationals was coming to a close. The final class was the English
Pleasure Championship, and the crowd was on its feet for a competition
of jaw-dropping excellence—pass after pass of high-action trot that
didn’t quit until the 25 top horses in the country arrived in an
exhausted line-up of heavy breath and heaving flanks. Riders wiped the
sweat from their faces, the tails of their perfectly-tailored jackets
lathered white against their saddles.
That night offered a rare, if not unique,
phenomenon in the history of the U.S. Nationals’ open English Pleasure
class. When the reserve national champion was called out, the 6-year-old
A Temptation, ridden by Tim Shea for Strawberry Banks Farm, came
forward. Junior champion the year before, he had topped the card for one
official in this class. Then the name of the champion, who had earned
the other two judges’ votes, was read: Hey Hallelujah, also owned by
Strawberry Banks, with resident trainer Brian Murch up. One farm had won
both titles. More importantly, the two stallions would be united not
only in the record books, but for all their lives to come. A Temptation
embodied the farm’s quarter-century-old breeding program, his bloodlines
selected in a carefully considered effort to create the ultimate English
Pleasure horse; Hey Hallelujah had been chosen to complement his
stablemate in the program’s next level. And that night, no one could
beat either of them.
The U.S. National Show of 2001 was a defining
moment for Strawberry Banks. It confirmed the farm’s sirelines for next
generation. A second turning point came four years later, when Neil Chur,
who with his wife Barbara owned Strawberry Banks, died unexpectedly. For
years, the farm had been a joint labor of love; now Barbara was left to
design its future.
In the opening years of the millennium, then, a
new Strawberry Banks Farm is emerging. Its breeding program is stronger
than ever; its commitment to the breed, long expressed through years of
service to the Arabian Horse Trust and other organizations, has become
even more comprehensive: Already, Barbara Chur has been instrumental in
the inauguration of the Arabian English Performance Sweepstakes, and is
sponsoring incentives for owners and breeders in the Strawberry Banks
program as well. And that, it appears, is only the beginning.
From its all-purebred focus to its futurity
rewards, a special legacy is being created at Strawberry Banks.
This is how it happened.
Barbara and the late Neil Chur
with multi-National Champion stallions A Temptation and Hey Hallelujah
The Magic Foundation:
*Bask and *Elkana
It all began more than 31 years ago, in 1976.
That was the year that Barbara and Neil Chur decided they needed “a
distraction.” The young couple had taken a few years to find their niche
in the business world, finally settling on the healthcare industry. They
moved back to their childhood home in New York, about half an hour from
Buffalo, and devoted nearly every waking minute to their growing company
and to raising their family. When they finally found time to purchase a
home with acreage, they recognized the need for a recreation of some
sort. High school friends Barb and Bob Daily, of Scotch Grove Farms,
introduced them to Arabian horses.
That same year marked a turning point in the
Arabian industry. The breed had been growing steadily since the second
World War, and by the 1970s, prices for the horses were rising. The year
1976 saw a high water mark: At Mike Nichols’ sale, held in May at his
Connecticut farm, Lot 1—1972 U.S. National Champion Mare *Elkana—sold
for $185,000, an all-time high for an Arabian horse at auction. She was
so beautiful that the “New York Times,” in coverage of a sale preview,
compared her to the Mona Lisa. Then as now, she was regarded by horsemen
as one of those special champions who remains an ideal through the
years. After that auction, prices were on an upward trajectory in the
breed; they didn’t slow down until the Tax Reform of 1986, which shocked
and reoriented all equine businesses.
Although their path was destined to cross with
that of *Elkana, Neil and Barbara Chur began more modestly than the
Nichols Sale. In 1977, they purchased a Half-Arabian mare named Jramira,
and that summer, Jramira gave birth … and life changed for them forever.
The gentle, caring mother, and the foal with its earnest little
expression and slender, ballerina legs, transformed their view of the
“Neil and I had never been around a horse that
foaled before,” Barbara explains. “The thing that struck me, and it
still does today, was just the miracle of mother nature. Looking at
those mares with their babies—how they talk to them, the look in their
eyes and on their faces—it’s just incredible. Just watching that mare
and her foal, and the love they shared, we knew we had to breed horses.”
At the time, their “facility” consisted of a
four-stall barn they had built themselves. It rapidly was expanded to 16
stalls, and it remained their center of operations for the next 20
years. Barbara remembers that on trail rides through their countryside,
they occasionally lost their way and Jramira was relied upon to bring
them home. When it came time to christen their Arabian horse venture,
their home provided the inspiration. Two hard-to-miss features of the
property were the banks that ran down to a small river, and the
strawberries that grew wild in the woods.
For all their hopeful beginning, it unfortunately
was not long before they experienced the heartbreak that can accompany
loving horses. In 1979, having decided that they wanted to focus on the
production of English pleasure horses, they went to Scottsdale and
purchased the *Bask daughter Sherribask. They immediately bred her to *Aladdinn,
who while he was not known for extreme performance talent, was respected
for solid conformation and strong bloodlines.
“*Aladdinn went National Champion that year,”
Barbara says. “We came home from Nationals thinking how smart we were—we
hadn’t been in horses that long. Then, shortly after, our beautiful mare
colicked and died within hours, right in the pasture in front of our
They reeled from the loss, but held to their
theory that the best broodmare for the type of program they wanted was a
*Bask daughter. Barbara began a search that eventually took her to Deor
Farm in Butte Falls, Ore., home of *Elkana. She had seen photographs of
the mare and was curious to see her in person, but at the time was more
concerned with what sort of broodmare they would be able to afford on
the $25,000 insurance payment they had received for their loss. She was
unprepared when she first came face-to-face with the classically
beautiful daughter of Aquinor and Estebna. *Elkana possessed more than
just beauty; she also was a U.S. National Top Ten in open English
Pleasure. Add to that, her personality and her huge dark eyes offered
instant rapport. Barbara responded with appreciation, liking not only
the mare, but also the love so easily discernible between *Elkana and
her owner, Aude Espourteille.
But that reaction was nothing compared to how she
felt when *Elkana’s 6-month-old daughter by *Bask was led out. “When I
saw A Love Song, I thought, ‘this is it.’”
A Love Song
From the start, A Love Song was so critical to
Strawberry Banks that she rarely left the farm, not even to be shown.
*Bask daughters were notoriously susceptible to colic, and the risk, in
the Churs’ opinion, was simply not worth it. Besides, the legendary
Polish stallion had just died, and mares of his bloodline increasingly
were being regarded as priceless gems. A Love Song would devote her life
to being the Grand Dam of Strawberry Banks.
The next important mare in the Chur breeding
program was Elegant Crystal, foaled in 1983. She too was a daughter of *Elkana,
this time by *Aladdinn, a match created by special arrangement with Aude
Espourteille, using the Churs’ replacement *Aladdinn breeding from years
That year, the Churs bred the stallion Tempter,
by the *Bask son Cognac, out of the *Bask daughter Tonki. Injured as a
weanling, Tempter was never a candidate for the show ring, but he wasted
no time in establishing his credentials as a sire, with offspring such
as Ericca and A Temptation.
“I jokingly say that when Tempter was born he was
bay, but he’s now so flea-bitten that if he lives another 10 years,
he’ll be bay again,” Barbara smiles. The old stallion, now retired, is a
favorite with everyone, his elegant quality and forceful personality a
reminder of his importance in the history of Strawberry Banks. And that
history is very real—he put them on the map in show competition.
Banks Farm trainer Brian Murch and Ericca
Stars Of The Show Ring
Over the years, there have been many
Strawberry Banks headline show horses. Some have represented the farm in
their wins, while others have emerged from the breeding program to win
national titles for other owners. As a representative of the farm’s
prototypical breeding, the first to spin everyone’s head was Ericca, an
ethereal grey filly by Tempter, out of Elegant Crystal.
Barbara Chur recalls that Ericca made it clear
early on that she had her sights set on being special. “We have a
festival in our community every summer,” she says, “and when Ericca was
a baby, we rented port-a-stalls and took our horses there. We wanted
everyone to see the mares and babies and stallions and know how kind and
gentle they were.
One of the earliest Strawberry Banks-bred
champions was sold just before he went on to national honors. Allience,
a son of *Aladdinn and A Love Song, won the Canadian National
Championship in English Pleasure and three U.S. Top Tens. Then he
stepped up to his true calling in park, and added three U.S. National
Championships, a reserve, and the Canadian National Championship. In a
foray into formal driving, he picked up the U.S. National Championship
there too, and then went on to a successful career at stud.
A Love Song also produced To Love Again, by
Cognac, another who won at English Pleasure (two U.S. National Top Tens)
and then went on to the Canadian Reserve National Championship in Park.
She is now a member of the Strawberry Banks broodmare band.
A sampling of other champions, representing not
only the farm, but also owners who have believed in their bloodlines,
spans the spectrum of the show ring: WWW Breathless won U.S. National
Top Ten honors in Hunter Pleasure, and Starz N Stripes in the Hunter
Pleasure Futurity; Solarra is a U.S. National Top Ten in the Western
Pleasure Futurity; Emperator (U.S. National Champion Futurity Colt) and
Elusive Magic (U.S. Top Ten Yearling Colt and Top Ten Futurity Colt) are
winners in halter. The traditional Strawberry Banks world of English
pleasure has seen such standouts as—to name just a few—three-time
national champion Chaparral DGL; Canadian National Reserve Champion and
U.S. National Top Ten Amoree; HS Justatemptation, U.S. National Top Ten
in the English Pleasure Futurity; The Hurricane, U.S. National Top Ten
English Pleasure Horse; and Hey Its My Toi, who followed up U.S.
National Top Tens in the Futurity and as a junior horse with a
championship at the Youth Nationals.
“I truly love English. I love that performance
level,” says Barbara Chur. “But what I am trying to breed is an athletic
horse, not just an English horse. I want the horse, no matter what
venue, to be athletic and smooth and easy-moving. If one of the babies
is a western horse, or halter or hunter or whatever, I want it to be the
best in that division.”
It’s Not Just The Horses: The
People Of Strawberry Banks
From the days when they built their own barn,
Barbara and Neil Chur were hands-on horse lovers. Neil, however, was
more in the public eye. As president of the Arabian Horse Trust, he
committed time and resources to preserving the history of the breed in
this country. As well, he joined Arnold Fisher, of Dunromin Arabians, in
creating and financially backing the Yearling Sweepstakes program, the
first large money payback system in the industry. At home, Barbara was
in charge of the farm operation.
“I adore these horses,” she says of her involvement. “They are
very, very special to me. I have them because I want to breed them and
create a horse for all to enjoy.”
In the early years, Barbara juggled farm duties
with the responsibilities of a growing family and her involvement in
their business. A trained nurse, she oversaw the interior decoration of
the Churs’ network of nursing care facilities, with an eye toward
incorporating top-level care in an ambience of home. Now, with the
family grown and the business sold, she can direct her energy toward the
horses she loves.
“She’s the heart and soul of Strawberry Banks
Farm,” confirms Melanie Murch. “If they’re foaling at 3:00 in the
morning and she’s home, she’s out there watching every one of those
babies being born. And she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.”
Barbara also was a consistent railbird at shows,
and Neil’s strongest supporter when, with the arrival of Brian, her
husband began showing in amateur driving and English.
She recalls her own progression to showing in the
amateur division. “After Neil’s death, I thought, ‘This is just foolish.
I haven’t enjoyed these horses on the level of riding or driving, and I
have the best driving teacher in the world right here.’ When I mentioned
it to Brian, he said, ‘You need to drive Temptation.’ And I said, ‘Are
you crazy? My first driving horse?’ He said, ‘Barbara, I’m
telling you, he’s the greatest and you’ll just love him.’ So I started
driving A Temptation, and I won the National Championship that year (it
was the horse, not the driver!). That was the best decision of my life,
to get involved with driving. I do love it!”
Trainer Brian Murch’s experience in Arabians goes
back to his childhood; his father is well-known trainer Halsey Murch,
long a figure in the Arabian community and now respected for his work in
establishing the kindness-oriented method of training based on equine
psychology. At the age of 20, Brian went to work for Lasma Arabians, the
dominant showing and marketing organization of the 1960s through the
mid-1980s. As an assistant trainer to Gene and Raymond LaCroix, he
worked with many of the leading horses of the era, before moving on to
Bethesda Farms and Royals Oaks Arabian Training Centre, both leading
facilities in the breed at the time.
Now one of the top English Pleasure and Pleasure
Driving trainers in the country, he has won nearly 50 national and
reserve national championships, along with more than 150 top tens with
his horses and amateurs. His wins at the regional and class A level have
long since passed into the classification of “countless.”
More important than his stellar record, however,
is Brian’s all-around knowledge of Arabians, their temperaments and
their bloodlines, and his ability to communicate with them and develop
their talents. From the beginning, he understood the importance of
Strawberry Banks’ commitment and contribution to the “big picture” of
the Arabian horse breed.
“Everything they wanted to do was something that
I thought I was ready to accomplish in my career,” he says, recalling
the reasons he came to the farm. “Our thoughts were so similar; we
wanted the same kind of English horse, something that is athletic, but
beautiful. The only regret I have is that we didn’t find each other five
or 10 years earlier.”
The years of waiting for A Temptation and Hey
Hallelujah babies to grow old enough for training have paid off, he
says. “We’re finally there, in terms of creating our own product. We’ve
got young English performance horses coming along like we’ve never had
since I’ve been here. It’s certainly going to keep me motivated, because
I’m seeing something pretty special starting to happen.”
Michele Valone, who has been with Strawberry
Banks since 1985, is the farm manager and heads the breeding operation.
“Her duties are endless, and she is tireless,” notes Barbara. “One
minute she is ordering hay, and the next she’s in the lab, sending out
semen. Her love for her work and her horses is extraordinary.”
Michele graduated from Cazenovia College’s Equine
Management program and Colorado State University’s artificial
insemination/cooled semen course. Professionally, she is known for her
wide breadth of knowledge, close attention to detail, and willingness to
exhaust all possibilities in making sure that mares are checked in foal.
In addition to other services, she assists Dr. Joseph Tastjian in
performing on-farm embryo transfers. She also manages the stallions who
have made, or are about to make, their marks as sires.
For all of her manager’s equine expertise,
Barbara smiles most at one treasured memory: Michele, bareback on A
Love Song, out for a companionable stroll.
Melanie Murch, Brian’s wife, is “the backbone of
Strawberry Banks’ marketing and public relations,” according to Barbara.
She created and maintains the farm’s website, keeping it up to date with
information and innovative technology, and supervises the farm’s
A native of North Carolina, Melanie grew up in
Pony Club and has been involved with Arabians since her early teens.
During the heyday of the Scottsdale sales in the 1980s, she worked for
Leo Hansen, and after her marriage to Brian, supported her husband in
his work with high-profile farms and horses. For years, she has shown in
the hunter division, collecting a variety of top tens and regional
awards for Strawberry Banks’ clients.
Into The Future
For 20 years, Strawberry Banks was based on its
original 100-acre farm; it was not until 1997 that the Churs built
a new facility, a 250-acre state-of-the-art layout designed to fully
accommodate the needs of its Arabian population. In 2000, Brian Murch
came aboard to oversee all facets of the horses’ training in what had
been largely a private operation.
Then, in 2007, as the earliest of the A
Temptation/Hey Hallelujah foals came of age for training, the program
itself was expanded. After years of breeding conservatively, using only
a few mares per year, the numbers were increased to welcome 14 foals,
and a new training barn was built. Considering the time it took to
develop performance horses and ascertain which nicks worked best,
Barbara reasoned, it was time to increase their base of knowledge.
With the expansion of the breeding program and
the availability of its stallions to the public, Strawberry Banks’ doors
have opened wider. A limited number of outside horses are accepted for
training now, and its Annual Open House reaches out to even more
potential clients. Perhaps most importantly, the farm’s innovative
financial incentives, in place since 2005, ensure even more reward for
those who believe in the Strawberry Banks breeding program.
Much of this is due to Barbara Chur’s concept of
supporting the Arabian industry. She sees her commitment as breeding the
best horses possible, and providing a network of financial support that
will expand opportunities for breeders. Strawberry Banks, in her view,
should be a point of entry to the breed for interested enthusiasts, as
well as an integral part of the landscape for those already in the
business. And she is clear about her mandate: While her challenge is to
breed for specialized areas of the show ring, she feels responsible
first for producing horses capable of success in whatever careers claim
“I want people to think of Strawberry Banks Farm
as a place that’s friendly and open,” she says. “We enjoy having people
here. We just happen to breed horses that we think are not only
beautiful, but conformationally correct and trainable. In other words,
the kind of horses that people can have fun with.”
Achieving The Goals: Breeding
The Strawberry Banks breeding program today is
the collaborative agenda of Barbara Chur, Brian and Melanie Murch, and
focuses completely on purebreds. “I wouldn’t say we’ll never breed
Half-Arabians,” Barbara says, “but not now. In some divisions, English
included, it seems as if so much of the action has been in the
Half-Arabians in recent years. I feel that the purebreds need us; they
are the root and foundation of everything, and if we don’t have good
purebreds, we don’t have a breed.”
In A Temptation and Hey Hallelujah, Strawberry
Banks offers the most promising English pedigree cross available. Both
sires’ bloodlines reflect *Bask, but after that, they spread the wealth:
Hey Hallelujah, a son of Huckleberry Bey, comes with the Varian
influence that has been a hallmark of the English show ring in recent
years, while A Temptation is entirely free of that line, for a classic
mixture of talent to spare. Between the two, there is something for any
mare owner interested in breeding English performance horses.
With the stallions in place, the first step
toward the future has been refreshing the broodmare band. For years, the
farm had been known for its world-class mares—an ensemble that included,
among others, three *Bask daughters: A Love Song, Dancing Love and Tonki.
But at the dawn of a new century, that group was aging.
“Our beautiful mares are all getting so old,”
Barbara says, “so I’ve been looking for new mares, pretty new
mares, who not only move well and move freely, but could maybe halter at
a regional level. I just think it’s important to never, ever lose that
beautiful face on an Arabian horse. Performance horses and halter horses
each have their own strengths, and they can certainly help one another.
Temptation and Hey are both beautiful stallions, and their babies, for
the most part, are reflecting that.”
To support the breeding careers of A Temptation
and Hey Hallelujah, the broodmare band is expanding with younger mares,
representing more proven English bloodlines. “We are always interested
in the important female line, so we have purchased or are expecting
foals from mares such as CP Shiraz, Ericca, Toi Jabaska, Rumina Afire,
Ultrafire,RY Fire Ghazi, and Hallelujah Bask. We have also added
sirelines of Barbary, Afire Bey V, Hucklebey Berry, Triften, Baskafire
and MHR Nobility.”
Although it is not first priority, Strawberry
Banks sees an opportunity for Hey Hallelujah and A Temptation when being
bred to halter mares. “We’ve learned that in the halter world, our two
studs are producing halter horses,” Brian says. “Are they producing
halter horses on a big-time level? Not yet, but they will if they are
bred to the right kind of mares.”
U.S. National Champion Maggdalina
One “right kind of mare” would be the U.S.
National Champion Maggdalina, acquired in June 2007. In addition to
retaining beauty in performance horses, Barbara enjoys the occasional
foray into halter, a pleasure not afforded for nearly a decade.
“I love Maggdalina,” she says. “I think she’s
absolutely beautiful. It reminds me of when I first saw *Elkana;
I just fell in love with her. How could you not? I feel the same way
Brian concurs. “I tied her national champion at
the Canadian Nationals when she was a 3-year-old,” he says.
“She’s a wonderful, wonderful mare.”
The purchase of Maggdalina set off questions as to whether the farm
would be trying to breed horses capable of showing to national
championships in both halter and performance, as did Ericca. Barbara
demurs. “I think it’s possible, but I think it’s the rare individual
that is a national champion halter horse and performance horse,”
she says. Instead, she envisions a limited halter-breeding scheme in
addition to the role that halter-quality mares are slated to play in the
overall performance operation. “I think it’s important to be cognizant
of the whole of the breed.”
Another concern in the breeding program is
maintaining the four-square balance that both A Temptation and Hey
Hallelujah represent. “The biggest problem I have with performance
horses is that so many of them are too up-front,” she says. “I like them
to be really even. The thing I probably like the least on any
performance horse is when it is only moving up front, and its back end
looks like it belongs to somebody else.”
An important goal as well is reproducing the
attitude and trainability so apparent in A Temptation and Hey
Hallelujah. “Both of them are just incredible gentlemen,” Barbara says.
“Temptation is really, really laidback; he bows up the most when you’re
on him. Hey is a little easier to get pumped. He gets a little hotter
when you’re doing nose-to-nose for photographs—but not much. Year
after year, they have proven themselves by holding up in the show ring
and breeding shed by staying conformationally sound and sweet
Although the farm comes equipped with a
stallion wing, both Temptation and Hey live in the main barn.
“Temptation is in the first stall, then a gelding, then Hey,” she
explains. “They’re right next to the wash rack, where everything goes
on, and they’re loving life.”
When all is said and done, however, the basic aim
of the program remains that of the true horseman: refining and improving
the attributes already in their lines, while minimizing any undesirable
“Strawberry Banks’ emphasis has always been
‘pretty that’s athletic,’” says Brian. “We want to continue to do that.”
Barbara acknowledges that patience is the name of
the game. “The best advice I’ve heard is that sometimes in breeding
horses, people try to correct or establish too many traits in one
generation,” she relates.
Knowing the potential of her bloodlines, she
tries to strike a balance between focusing on each step and envisioning
long-term goals. “Sometimes I’m not sure that I’m looking far enough
down the line,” she says. “I’m not able to plan ahead more than two
generations. Brian, Melanie and I are so anxious and so excited about
breeding Hey to Temptation mares, and vice versa. We have a picture in
mind. We think it’s going to be incredible.”
Already there is evidence that they are on the
right track. “When you see these babies, you see consistency of what
Temptation is and what Hey is,” Brian Murch says. “When you have a foal
crop, you’d like to think that maybe you’ll have close to 50 percent
babies that you’ll really like. But what I’m seeing is 75 percent or
better of babies that I think have a strong chance of making it and
being above average.
“The biggest thing is the look they have,” he
continues. “I’m around Hey Hallelujah and A Temptation every day, and
when you’re around something everyday, it’s easy sometimes to fail to
appreciate what unique individuals they are, how lucky you really are.
But I see it in the babies—I see that same quality, that same
expression. One that’s that special has those big, soft eyes, and when
they look at you, you know that they’re just a little bit better. These
babies all have that look. It’s truly amazing. There are a couple that
when we’ve shown them to people, I just think, ‘My goodness. This is
something special.’ It’s neat for us to be able to see that distinctive
look here. When you’ve been part of the creation, it means that much
The Talent: Training
the breeding program has expanded, so too has the training operation, as
Hey Hallelujah and A Temptation foals get older. The first step toward
the future was the construction of a new 20-stall yearling and
2-year-old barn, to allow every foal to learn basic skills before
starting in a career.
Then they move on to Brian, and the fun really
begins. “There is nothing like training these Temptation and Hey
babies,” he says. “The ones that I’m working so far are training like
the *Bask horses did during the Lasma days. They could bend their neck,
and you knew they’d be easy to train because they were so supple, but
you were blown away by what you saw in them in the beginning and what
they became. With these youngsters that we have, I think that’s what
we’re going to see. They’re very much like the *Bask horses. And look at
the pedigrees—that’s what they should be.”
An added benefit is that their temperaments have
been uniformly workable. “I’m thinking I haven’t had one that is tough
yet,” he says, but adds that horses come into training with different
natural schedules. It is his habit to go slower with the ones who need
more time. “If they have a good neck and good shoulders, if you just
give them their space, it’s going to happen.”
For The Future: Innovative Financial Incentives
One of Barbara Chur’s guiding principles has
been the necessity of supporting the industry in such a way as to
encourage the breeding and showing of Arabian horses. To that end, in
2005, the farm established private futurities for the foals of A
Temptation and Hey Hallelujah, with payouts totaling $130,000.
“Trot to the Gold” is a $90,000 futurity
for 3-year-old performances horses that compete at the U.S. Nationals in
the English Pleasure Futurity, with $45,000 available for the offspring
of each stallion. Under this system, each champion receives $15,000,
divided between the owner ($10,000) and breeder ($5,000). Reserve
Champions take home $10,000 ($7,000 to the owner, $3,000) to the
breeder, and the balance of the Top Ten each are given $2,000.
“A-Hey of a Yearling Sweepstakes” is a
$40,000 futurity available to yearlings in the U.S. National Sweepstakes
classes for colts and fillies. Both systems reward contenders who place
first through tenth, with payments to both owners and breeders.
Another Strawberry Banks program which aids
owners of horses by A Temptation and Hey Hallelujah is now in place, in
which the farm accepts those candidates in training for a three-month
period at reduced rates. The object is to evaluate each horse and begin
its development for the future—a bargain for horse owners which also
allows Strawberry Banks to learn more about the various crosses to the
Also in a gesture of support for the enjoyment of
Arabians, Barbara Chur annually sponsors the Neil M. Chur Memorial
Award, which presents a check for $5,000 to the winner of the English
Pleasure AOTR 40 and Over class at the U.S. Nationals.
And Barbara herself has spent countless hours in
the establishment of the Arabian English Performance Futurity, which
issued its first payouts at Scottsdale in 2007.
On the “soft dollar” side, the farm offers its
Annual Open House each August, with visitors invited to a day of
educational seminars by nationally-renowned trainers in a friendly,
congenial atmosphere. Lunch and dinner is festive and enjoyable, with
presentations of the farm’s horses, music and good conversation. For
longtime breeders and new enthusiasts alike, the day is free of charge.
What’s It All About?
“This is all so much more than just a fun thing
that Neil and I enjoyed,” Barbara Chur reflects when she looks out over
the serene pastures of Strawberry Banks Farm. “The horses are really,
She can’t imagine a day without them, or without
trying to do the best by them. Again and again, that philosophy
resonates through the whole Strawberry Banks operation.
It is nowhere more apparent than her philosophy
of her horses’ competition in the show ring. “If the horse is ready and
it’s something you think is good for it (you know if they want to do it
or not), then I think it’s the good thing to do,” she says.
Consequently, the attainment of a major award—such as A Temptation and
Hey Hallelujah’s repeated championships—does not require a horse to
retire, just so it doesn’t run the chance of being defeated.
“The reason you want to show is to be able to let
people see a fine horse do something well,” she says. “To me, winning
the prize is not the most important thing. I would never want to show a
horse if I didn’t think the horse was ready, willing and able. It’s the
happiness of the horse that’s important to me.”
She recalls when they took Ericca to the last
U.S. National Show in Louisville, in 2006, for the presentation of
champions. “That was so emotional. We almost didn’t bring her. She has
developed melanomas on her head, and I wanted people to remember her the
way she always was. But then I thought, ‘This mares loves to show—she
loves it so much that she deserves to do it one more time.’ And she did
love it. Brian and I were laughing that she felt like the queen again.”
She reflects on her priorities at the farm. “I
don’t feel any differently about that than I ever did. I think I don’t
feel any differently about that than I do about life, either. I
feel it’s important to treat people the right way, and I feel the same
thing about horses.”
She cherishes the past three decades in horses.
The most memorable experience? Well, of course there was that first
night, in 1977, when Jramira started it all with one spindly foal. And
then there was 2005, when A Temptation won the U.S. National
Championship in Pleasure Driving. At the same show, he had already won
the adult amateur title with her. “I was standing there, and I was so
excited. Mitch Sperte came up and waved to me to come into the arena.
Brian moved over on the cart seat, and I was afraid he was going to hop
out and make me drive this horse, but that wasn’t his idea at all. I
joined him in the cart and we went around for our victory lap. And then
we got to the outgate, and Brian leaned over and said, ‘Want to do it
again?’ I said, ‘Yes!’ That memory was incredible.
“Horses are love,” she concludes, “but Arabian
horses are a passion.”