Cover Story - Vol. 51, No.2, Issue #6
Greater Than The Sum Of The Parts: Khadraj NA And Larry Jerome
by THERESA CARDAMONE
Larry Jerome’s Jerland Arabians sits on the site of what once was Blaser Arabians, in Cumberland, Wisconsin. A mentor, friend and partner, Larry considers Hermann Blaser extended family and credits him for providing priceless counsel and introducing him to the upper echelon of the Arabian industry. Already with over 40 years of successful Arabian horse breeding and many national champions to show for it, the acquisition of Khadraj NA in 2007 elevated Jerland to new heights.
Khadraj had already achieved an excellent show record himself, winning the 1991 Brazilian National Champion Foal at Side title and Canadian National Championships in both Western Pleasure Open and AAOTR, with six additional top ten honors in halter and performance. He has also proven to be an even more successful as a sire, with eight national championships, six reserves, and 73 top ten titles earned by his progeny through 2006. Larry was looking for a stallion whose bloodlines would complement those of his beloved head stallion, MPA Giovanni (Da Vinci FM x Glitzy, by FS Ritz), the 2005 U.S. National Champion Futurity Colt whose Fame VF/Bey Shah sire line crosses with a Padron/Crabbet mare.
Khadraj NA (Ponomarev x Khatreena NA, by *Padron) offered a double-Salon sire line with a second helping of *Padron and a female tail line back to Lady Anne Blunt's desert-bred Crabbet Park foundation mare, Rodania. In 2007, Larry was traveling, promoting Giovanni, when agent Brad Gallún contacted him with good news, Khadraj was available for purchase. Since Larry already had some Khadraj mares, believing in the cross, he jumped at the opportunity, and a deal was negotiated.
It didn't take long for Khadraj to fit in at Jerland. "We put him in the stall right next to Giovanni," Larry recalls. "They both reached up and touched noses over the top of the stall and nickered to each other. That was it. They never screamed and hollered at each other; they never kicked the stall walls." Larry was thrilled with that development and became even fonder of Khadraj. A deep respect was amplified by the end of the 2007 show season; Khadraj offspring won three more national championships and three reserves, with a host of top ten winners. It was a prelude to an eventual tide of champions that have made Khadraj the all-time Leading Sire of national winners in the Western Pleasure division.
Larry's dreams for Giovanni to win a national senior stallion championship were shattered when he suffered a broken leg shortly after winning the 2008 Scottsdale Champion Stallion title, necessitating seven years of rehabilitation in California. Broken-hearted, Larry credits Giovanni with telling him "to stop feeling sorry for himself and get back in the game." With Khadraj continuing to produce champion after champion for Jerland, many from Giovanni mares, it was easy for the excitement to build anew. According to Larry, when Giovanni finally returned to the farm, he and Khadraj recognized each other immediately. "Their relationship started all over again," Larry recalls. "They had an unspoken love."
Many of the Jerland clients and friends have remarked about the depths of Larry's emotions where his horses are concerned. They saw Khadraj and Larry as extensions of each other and recognized the bond that grew between them. Khadraj was just the fuel that Larry had needed to rocket Jerland Farms into the upper echelon of Arabian breeding operations. In turn, Larry used his sound insights and steadfast belief in Khadraj to promote him, propelling the stallion into the stratosphere as a sire of great Arabian halter and performance horses. It was a perfect example of the sum being much greater than the already significant parts. Larry's inexhaustible passion and enthusiasm fanned the flames, and the two became inseparable in the hearts and minds of the Arabian community.
"Khadraj was a spectacular horse," says Aljassimya Farm manager Bart Van Buggenhout. "He was well put together, beautifully bred, and above all, Larry's great love and pride." Trainer Justin Cowden agrees, "Larry truly wants what's best for the Arabian horse and the people that love them. I don't think there was a better place for Khadraj to land for the latter part of his life, and it was clear to see he was the King of the farm and adored by Larry."
Pam Rose, who grew up with Daria Jerome, recalls the occasion of Khadraj's 25th birthday party in 2016. "Every horse he spoke about brought a shimmer," she remembers. "But when they presented Khadraj, the joy on Larry's face was so meaningful; the tear in his eye showed his true love for that stallion!"
Debbie Treadwell, who came to know Larry when he purchased Giovanni, recalls a particular day. "Sunday, May 6th, 2007, comes to mind when I think of Larry and Khadraj," she states. "It was a moment when I knew history was in the making—one of the best stallions of all time was moving to Jerland." Indira Jerome Van Handel and her husband Mike managed the breeding program at Jerland then. "He was the most intelligent horse I've ever handled," she recounts.
"I'd never seen a horse think so much, and I've been around horses my whole life…I get emotional just talking about it. And Khadraj's eyes, there was so much going on there. He outproduced himself with nearly all of his offspring. You knew when you bred to Khadraj that you were going to get strength in the loin and the hip. You were going to get a massive shoulder and a very athletic animal. That's what I want as a breeder and continue to strive for."
Time and time again, Jerland clients laud the support Larry offers to owners of his stallions' offspring. Many say they first met him at the out gate after their class, or first saw him cheering them and their horse on from the rail. For Larry, stallion promotion goes far beyond advertising pages and racking up wins for himself. It means showing up in person when a Jerland-bred horse competes.
"I try to be an open book," he muses. "I have a cardinal rule; if you ride a ‘J’ horse, I'll meet you at the gate! You're a part of my family." Larry's voice quivers with emotion. "I love them all. Going to the shows is like Christmas. I get to see old friends and make new ones. I invite anyone who thinks they belong there to come into the win pictures with my horses. You don't forget the people that touch you.
"One of my best friends in this industry was Dick Ames. I loved the man and what he stood for; I love his family. I would be happy to accomplish one-tenth of what he accomplished in his lifetime. He gave back to everyone. It wasn't just his philanthropy; it's what he did for people and how he helped them. I was honored to sing at his funeral, and I still miss him every day."
Lara Ames adds, "Our family has the same morals and values as the Jerome family. Larry and my father had a very special relationship, and since his passing, Larry has taken my mom and me under his wing. We share a love of horses, family time, and farming. And no one supports their breeding program like Larry."
"Khadraj brought Jerland to new heights in the industry," continues Larry. "Last fall, his health was failing, and we did everything we could for him. But one day, I went into the stall, and I knew it was time to say goodbye. I picked out his gravesite. I've lost family, friends, great horses, great dogs…it never gets easier." Larry pauses, stifling a sob. "It was one of the longest walks that I ever…we gave him a bath, which he liked. Our friend, his veterinarian, came, we all said our goodbyes, and he went to sleep."
Larry's emotions well up before he can continue. "I thought I'd be over it by the time I got to Nationals. I am grateful to AHA that they gave me the opportunity to pay tribute to him with the video that we produced. I had been preparing for it for some time, but… I'm having trouble talking about it right now. I don't think there will be another horse who will touch Khadraj's legacy in western pleasure. I can't take the credit for breeding the horse or the beginning of his career, but I'm happy to take the credit for keeping his flame burning as long as I can."
Larry is very excited about the Jerland program's future and has several junior stallions that will contribute to the next level. "To me, Khaja J is Khadraj's greatest son, the best of Varian and Jerland breeding. His babies are great, especially Kola J, who has seven generations of my breeding on the dam's side and three on the sire's." Verdict J, a young son of Versace out of an Ali Jamaal daughter, has begun to attract attention, and Larry is thrilled with two-year-old Ansiedad J, a son of RFI Farid out of one of Larry's favorite homebred mares, Unforgettable J (MPA Giovanni x RH Triana). In 2015, Miss Giovanna produced the exciting WH Justice son, Puccini J, another junior stallion. The ten-year-old Fame VF son RA Aloha, out of the Jullyen El Jamaal daughter, RA Mystical Rose, rounds out the roster of Jerland Farms stallions who will contribute to generations to come.
While Larry looks forward to the future, he is also practical about making sure that he provides for all of his horses down the road. "I do a lot of reflecting on what I am going to do to make sure that I take care of my horses. I don't presume that things will stay as they are now. We are stewards; we don't own the land, we don't own the animals, we are caretakers. God gives you these things for a while and expects them to be returned in equal or better shape once you get done. That's how you live life." It is a philosophy that has allowed Larry to build a life, farm, and family that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The family is the foundation from which all things begin…
That core value has supported the Jerome family for multiple generations. Larry Jerome's passion for livestock and genetics was inspired by a father who came from absolutely nothing to be hugely successful in the poultry business. Establishing Jerland Farms over 50 years ago, Larry and Shelley Jerome raised cattle, German Shepherds, Arabian horses and seven children, who have provided them 24 grandchildren to date. Additionally, over 100 international students have lived with the Jeromes over the years, providing a rich, mind-expanding cultural exchange for young and old. The common threads of animals, church, and music weave a recurring pattern in this family tapestry.
Growing up at Jerland meant learning the value of honest effort, dedication, and achievement. Larry is the first to describe himself as "driven and involved" in everything that ignites his passion. "Music was my release growing up,” says Larry. “It allowed me to relax and think; we’re all musical. In the earlier years, we were struggling farmers and the kids needed to learn how to work together. I taught them to be good winners, but to always play to win. If you can do that, you can accept losing. But you need to strive to do your best."
The lessons were well-learned. Son Lyndon was a talented rider on the Arabian circuit who became a successful general contractor. He and his wife Sarah, a nurse, still enjoy horses through their three kids. Lyndon's brother Jeremy also went into business for himself, he and his wife Sara raising five kids in the process. Their daughter Arrya followed the family formula, learning valuable lessons in livestock management before becoming the winner of multiple national titles in Arabian competition.
Jeremy and Lyndon's sister Sacia was also a skilled rider, and embraced the family's love of music, mastering 11 instruments, and earning a master's degree in cello performance. The other four Jerome girls took up the reins as well, winning countless national titles over the years, many times astride Jerland-bred horses. The Jerome clan grew up showing horses together, using the family truck and trailer, and staying with family friends in a recurring odyssey.
Having suffered a severe horse-related accident as a boy, Larry was vigilant about providing safe mounts for his children and grandchildren, a growing cohort of whom are avid riders. He takes great pleasure in seeing the kids and grandkids succeed. "My dad made sure that we didn't grow up riding sales-barn animals like he did," daughter Daria Stransky states. "And our horses had to be able to do all the disciplines: halter, showmanship, performance. My dad values a horse that can do it all."
Daria and her husband Reid took over the Jerome Holstein dairy cattle breeding program, developing several families that they showed to the highest honors. They have four boys, three of whom worked their way through 4-H and the Arabian circuit to collect multiple national championships. In 2017, Daria fulfilled her own dream of riding to a U.S. National Champion title on the Jerland-bred horse, Kharmel J. "She is a Giovanni daughter out of a Khadraj daughter," Daria beams. "That's my dad's favorite cross. She's my 'pie-in-the-sky' horse."
Alicia Wirth is the middle sister and a career nurse who maintains a passion for Arabian horses. The mother of four kids of her own, Alicia reflects on her youth. "Growing up on a farm in a large family of seven children, there was never a dull moment," she recalls. "You learn about life; you learn to care for things other than yourself. Our parents instilled the values of work ethic, family tradition, and maintaining our heritage."
Moriah Jerome and her husband, Matt Fischer, have raised four children while building several successful small businesses from start-ups. Moriah celebrated her return to the show ring after a 17-year absence by winning the 2008 Canadian National Champion Park AOTR title on Brass Star to add to her coffers.
Indira Van Handel is the youngest of the five sisters and, with her husband Mike, spent eight years at the helm of Jerland's expansion. They met when Larry purchased MPA Giovanni from Jerry and Jeff Schall, for whom Mike worked at the time. "My dad had always bred horses, but this deal was what made things take off,” Indira comments. “We were all excited. It was as if my passion had re-ignited my dad's, and it went from there. I still show, compete, and breed horses on my own,” Indira continues. “My four kids ride and show as well; their enjoyment is what drives me. We have fun. I love that I am sharing what my upbringing was like with my kids."
Larry describes his wife Shelley as a “patron saint” who has supported his passions for over half a century. They recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, surrounded by their seven children, 24 grandchildren, and other immediate family. A highlight of the affair was four of their grandchildren modeling the original dresses of the wedding party, perfectly preserved for posterity. It was a tangible image of a family built on a foundation of love and tradition.