Cover Story - Vol. 48, No.6 - Issue #13
Cover Story: A New Beginning For Maroon Fire Arabians And Shea Stables
by CHRISTY EGAN
“Afire Bey V wasn’t simply lucky genetics,” says Dave Liniger, musing about his 28 years as an Arabian horse breeder. “The breeding concept was created by Sheila Varian. Her great gene pool created Afire Bey V. Gail and I looked at 50 stallions before we settled on him. Yes, really, 50 stallions, before we found Afire Bey V. When we got him in September 1989, we asked Don [DeLongpre] and Sheila [Varian], what type of mares do we need for this horse? They gave us great advice and Don came up with our first breeding program. We bought *Eter daughters, about a dozen of them, specifically to breed to Barbary. Then we bred the best daughters of that cross with Afire Bey V, and the result was spectacular. *Eter was a powerful, aggressive stallion, difficult to train. His daughters were tall, very athletic, stubborn and often plain. Barbary brought beauty, versatility, trainability, a big heart and charisma to the table. We lost some size and gained a great deal of show horse. Afire Bey V brought size, more beauty, length and shape of neck and ability. His offspring were very consistent but sometimes lacked strength, hip and sharp hocks. It took us nine years to find IXL Noble Express and to breed some of those final assets into our herd.”
Over the years, with the mentoring of DeLongpre, Varian and, for the last two-plus decades, Tim and Marty Shea, Maroon Fire Arabians has created a world class band of Arabian broodmares. “For the first many years I always favored the stallions,” Dave laughs. “I loved their fire, charisma and flair. My mentors told me that one day I would still be impressed by the stallions, but the mares would have my lasting love. They were right. We bought Flame Dancer at the Karho Sale in 1989. She was my first really good mare.”
This is a key point in the story. For, years later, Flame Dancer is the mare line where Liniger watched most carefully for his next super sire to appear. Several prospects came along, but for one reason and another, none quite filled the bill.
And what an enormous bill it was. When Afire Bey V passed in 2015, just months shy of his 30th birthday, many in the industry thought it would be the end of the Linigers and Maroon Fire Arabians. What other worlds had they to conquer? By the late-1990s, Afire Bey V had become the Arabian breed’s Leading All-Time Sire of Champions and National Winners. Now, two years after his death, his sons and grandsons jockey with his stablemate, IXL Noble Express for top numbers in the national winning English Arabian polls. Still, the Afire Bey V sons and daughters bring home the highest numbers of champion, reserve and top ten awards. How do you follow an act so spectacular and all-pervasive?
The Linigers did not quit.
“Horse breeders are like farmers,” Dave noted. “Every season you plant for the next crop and you have no idea what is going to happen. In the Arabian breed it takes another one to three years to realize your crop. We are very excited that we got such good advice from such intelligent people that were very fair to us all the time, and I guess the good part, for our part, we listened. We did not have such an ego that we always thought we knew everything. Successful breeding programs are continuous; the changes become minimal after time. You have to try new things but, in reality, you are always looking to the future. What is the Next Step?”
When the Next Step finally came in June of 2013, it wasn’t from an Afire Bey V daughter out of Flame Dancer, but in the classic Arabian horse breeding tradition, it came from an Afire Bey V daughter out of her three-quarter sister, Bacharah. They named the colt Noble Bakari and then, when they realized he was exceptional, they renamed him Inception, because they all believed he was a new beginning.
“Inception is very beautiful,” Dave says, carefully choosing his words. “He’s tall, leggy, athletic, and has an extraordinary neck. My favorite stallions all have charisma … just a sparkle about them. Barbary, Afire Bey V, ‘Noble’ … it’s the same with Inception. He’s kind and laidback, but when it’s time to go to work, he just sparkles. He’s training as an English horse, but he could easily be a park horse. We’ll see.”
“When we first brought Inception into the bullpen as a yearling, you could see that he had all of the ‘boxes checked,’” says trainer Tim Shea. “He’s a dark red color, has an elegant Bay Abi waterfall tail; at four he is still growing. He’s beautiful with perfectly straight, great long legs and round feet. He’s tall, 15.2 hands, taller than Afire Bey V already. He has a very high, soft neck and his hocks are higher and more elegant than his sire IXL Noble Express. Just his great strength of hip is a gift to our program and the breed. What I see in great breeding sires … their mothers are consistent, good horses. Both Flame Dancer and Bacharah were atypical Barbary daughters and, with their extra size, body frame and stretch, they turned out to be the best of the Barbary mares for us. Inception’s younger sister, Noble Blessing is just coming three and is the best female this farm has ever produced. It’s so rare. Gosh darn. When you breed, you always think that what you’ve imagined is going to happen and it usually doesn’t. We’ve got something really different here. Sheila said that breeding stallions have a look unto themselves, and that is Inception. He’s reignited our group and, even though Inception is four generations of Liniger breeding, he’s also brand new!”
“Inception is a very rare horse,” admits his trainer, Joel Kiesner. “He’s great to train, great to show and represents absolutely everything good in his pedigree and nothing bad. How often does that happen? The AEPA at U.S. Nationals was the first class of his life. On Wednesday he was magnificent. On Saturday he was a bit intimidated by the other horses and the crowd. It was his first time in the show ring in a class. I think the MHR Nobility horses can be introverted. Inception gets happy more readily. The longer he was shown, the looser and better he went. He’s built to do this job, he has an awesome neck, his mind is relaxed and he’s ready to show. His unanimous 2017 U.S. National Championship title in the AEPA speaks to his trainability and his readiness to be a show horse. We are very excited to see what he does as a sire next spring. He bred quite a variety of mares this year. Rumina Afire and Heirs Noble Love are both expecting. Will he be able to handle showing and breeding? Yes. He’s very unassuming in the pasture, quiet, good tempered and trainable. He handles breeding duties and training in stride. We’ll be showing and breeding for the next year or two. Will he improve? Oh yes; for sure. He did that in the Pattern class on Wednesday at Nationals and that wasn’t unusual, we’ve seen him do that multiple times.”
Catching up with Marty Shea at the U.S. Nationals, we were able to talk, have lunch in the Patron’s Lounge and watch a few classes. It was the last Friday of the show. It was just a day and a half after Inception’s stunning Wednesday afternoon debut in the AEPA English Pattern competition. During the short hour we were together, at least four separate people stopped Marty to talk about breeding to Inception in 2018.
“He certainly arrived here at the right time,” laughed a very delighted Marty Shea. “He’s a shot of adrenaline … new fire! All of a sudden you want to start all over again. He will breed a lot of mares in 2018. They are slamming the internet! We have 12 foals coming next spring, several Nutcrackers, ALL of the Afire Bey V daughters and others that we thought were compatible. He bred over 50 mares at Joel’s. We thought about raising the stud fee, but the Linigers have this formula they used for Afire Bey V when he was just starting. So, we will hold the stud fee at $3,000, and hopefully get some really nice babies on the ground right away. This is the best purebred English horse in the world. Even the halter guys are giving him a second look for breeding!”
“After you’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, you start to think you’re smart, and then suddenly, you’re not. Sometimes I think you just get lucky,” says Dave. “Inception is the most amazing colt I’ve seen since Afire Bey V.”
Now, there is the wait for spring and the proof that’s in the progeny. The Next Step …
2017 U.S. Nationals
At the 2017 U.S. National Championships, the Lingers and Sheas were the breeders of horses that won a combined 10 National Championships, seven Reserve National Championships and 59 National Top Ten awards. The Sheas were listed as the show’s top breeders; the Linigers were placed third. As they are, generally, counted as a combined farm and breeding program, and notably accepted the USEF Breeder of the Year Award together, that’s an amazing record.
Anyone who tracks statistics and writes about horses at the national level has probably mentioned the great sires at a particular show and hopefully, a great broodmare or two as well. A broodmare that is represented by a number of winning offspring at a national show is always worth mentioning. A breeding program incorporating two such mares at the same national show has serious bragging rights.
Maroon Fire Arabians and Shea Stables had 24 mares representing their breeding program that produced top ten or better winners at the 2017 U.S. National Championships. Four of them: Gina Afire, Vee Gates, Noble Jenna and LBC Nobelinda produced two winners each. Rimone GW and Brassmis had three winners apiece. For Rimone GW, these included 2-time Champion, Divvinci, multi-Top Ten Wildd Flower, and the Top Ten Spartacus Afire. The Brassmis winners were Too Brassi, Reserve Champion Park and English Pleasure AAOTR 40+; Coltrane SS, third in the English Pleasure Jr. Horse, and multi-Top Ten Fire And Brass. Sweet Summer Fire actually had four winning offspring at the 2017 Nationals (all four Champion or Reserve): Noble Soldier, Champion Park and 3-time Top Ten; Shepherd DGL, Reserve Champion Side Saddle English and twice Top Ten; Saxton DGL, Champion English Pleasure, and Sweet Summer Heir DGL, Champion Hunter Pleasure AAOTR Maturity. Up at the top for championship leading broodmare honors is the incredible Ritida, with 5 winners (all sired by Afire Bey V): Lord Of Fire, Champion H/A English Pleasure Jr. Horse and Reserve in the H/A English Pleasure AAOTR Maturity; Emperors Fire, Reserve Champion H/A English AAOTR 19-39, and Eves Fire, the Dark Knightt and The Empresss, who took four Top Tens between them. Ritida is probably the most famous Dutch Harness mare being bred for Arabian-cross show horses. To date, she is the dam of eight national winners, among them seven champion and/or reserve champions.
In the English pleasure division of the Arabian show ring, few people are more involved and intrinsic than breeders Dave and Gail Liniger (Maroon Fire Arabians) and their partners, Tim and Marty Shea. Starting with the offspring of Afire Bey V, and continuing with those produced by IXL Noble Express, these horses have rewritten the record books. There’s been a very good chance that these stallions will be the source of a new level of English Arabian horse in America.
Enter Inception (IXL Noble Express x Bonita Afire, by Afire Bey V), a 4-year-old bay stallion and a show-stopping sensation during his premier appearance at the 2017 U.S. National Championship Show in October. A product of the familiar cross of the two primary Maroon Fire Arabians stallions plus a tail-female line to the exceptional Barbary daughter Bacharah, Inception appears to have gleaned all of the finest characteristics of each of his forebears and virtually none of the shortcomings. Ask any longtime breeder, achieving all of the pedigree assets and none of the liabilities in a breeding is barely short of miraculous.
Inception’s dam, Bonita Afire, is a 14-year-old Maroon Fire Arabians broodmare that has also produced six full siblings to Inception. The oldest is Noble Ballet, Canadian National Top Ten Country English Jr. Horse and Scottsdale Top Ten Country English Open. Next in line, Noble Baccarat, is an AEPA Yearling Champion (Buckeye). Noble Bacharah was a 2016 U.S. National Top Ten in the AEPA English Futurity, and up-and-coming sibling, Noble Blessing is a very beautiful and promising, soon-to-be 3-year-old filly, now in training with Joel Kiesner for owners Starline Arabians LLC.
Bonita Afire’s dam, Bacharah, has produced 13 offspring, nine of them national winners or producers of national winners. Inception is also a 15/16 brother to Noble Ffyre, 2014 U.S. National Champion in the AEPA English Futurity. In compiling a list of nationally successful horses related to Inception, one is forced to stop and consider that the majority of the over 100 national winners sired by IXL Noble Express are already 3/4 siblings to Inception, being sired by IXL Noble Express out of an Afire Bey V daughter. Inception’s big difference in pedigree comes through the tail-female line. The Bacharah line features Reserve National Champion JMA Matisse, 6-time National Champion and Reserve Maverick Afire, Canadian National Champion Monarch Afire, 3-time National Champion and Reserve Bonphire SA, and national-producing sire, A Major Fire. Bonita Afire is also full sister to national-producing sire Bacardi Afire and national-producing mares, Butterfly Afire and Brandie Afire, as well as National Top Ten Bosco Afire and Bolder Afire. Bacharah’s dam, NDL Bokara, is out of the beautiful Negatiw daughter, *Bufa, dam of multi-top ten halter stallion and noted sire, *Hal Gazal.
The question now is, will this leggy, elegant moving paragon live up to his promise and potential as a sire? The verdict is out for a few months longer as his first foal crop is anticipated. The great multi-national champion and national winning producer Rumina Afire is bred to Inception for 2018, as is 5-time U.S. National Champion Heirs Noble Love; and oh, also every Afire Bey V daughter at Shea Stables. It’s the chance of a lifetime …
A Profound Experience
Richard Wright, an Arabian industry fixture since 1972, not only judges Youth, Canadian and U.S. National Championship shows, but is also asked to judge saddle seat horses at the most prestigious Morgan and Saddlebred Championships. This year he came directly to the U.S. Arabian Nationals from judging the Morgan Horse Nationals in Oklahoma City. Among other important judging duties at the Arabian show, he was part of the team that adjudicated the AEPA Arabian Horse Times $100,000 Arabian Futurity, where Maroon Fire’s Inception made his premier show ring appearance. Richard’s experience in the class was notably profound.
“Everybody in center ring was blown away by the appearance of Inception in the AEPA Pattern class on Wednesday afternoon,” says Richard, “Howie Schatzberg every bit as much as the judges. This was, to my mind, a completely different horse in the ring; a perfect storm combination of skill and talent. He was balanced, true-gaited and he had good speed without ever losing form. On his entrance he was remarkably impressive. He stopped the show and the judges. By the time we had adjusted to the fact that this horse was, indeed, a purebred Arabian, he turned to come the other way and went even higher in the bridle.”
“I personally take issue with this current trend of substituting speed for true gaits in Arabian English classes,” Richard notes. “Inception did not do that. He was very relaxed, supple and as impressive at a sitting trot as he was his first way of the ring … effortless and elegant. Joel Kiesner never asked the horse to go beyond its capability and the horse, without stress, honestly set an entirely new precedent for the purebred Arabian English horse.”
“I go back aways,” Richard laughs. “I started in the horse business in the early 1970s. I have been fortunate to witness a number of great horses raise the Arabian English show ring bar. There was Featurette, FF Summer Storm, Baskabella, more recently, Adams Fire … and now, Inception.” At this point, it was mentioned to Richard that he had referenced three mares and a gelding. Inception was the only stallion on his “short list”.
“That’s right,” he said. “And, by the way, I am talking universal quality and ability here. Arabians, Morgans, Saddlebreds … I’ve never seen one like him. I felt that I was standing in a history-making moment and, lucky me, I got to stand pretty close, too.”