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  • J.L. Hardesty

Black Daniels | Against The Wind

By J.L. Hardesty

This is a love story . . . a contemporary reflection on an ancient theme––the eternal romance between horses and humans, a relationship of the most profound nature. Center stage in this allegory is a beautiful black stallion, the horseman who loves him, and a supporting cast without whom this adventure would have no wings.

This is the account of a man with a dream, and the courage to pursue it–even “Against the Wind.” In case you’re wondering what this expression means, here’s the simple answer. It’s an axiom that symbolizes undaunted and resolute response to adversity. It means being creative when the ‘world’ seems to be giving up. It means forging a path of one’s own, despite challenges and contrived limitations. It means being bold and original. It means loving what you do, and doing it well, even when the ‘pause-button’ has been pushed, and the commonly-taken-for-granted animation of commerce and social activity has been suspended.

And what does all of this have to do with that previously mentioned beautiful black stallion and his man? Quite a lot, actually. Think: heart to heart – horse with human. And stay tuned.

The Horse and His Man

Early in 2009, lifetime horseman, Rob Bick, met the exquisite and talented Arabian stallion, Black Daniels, for the first time. Struck by something akin to love at first sight, Rob was ready to buy the young stallion on the spot. But the chasm was too immense between that which resides in the average wallet, and that which expands the heart. Hence, the dream that was beginning to build even then had to be postponed. While Rob waited, he watched and he contemplated. Ideas that he’d never taken time to consider seriously, matured into plans, and settled together into a corner of his mind, where they wouldn’t interfere with the details and exigencies of real-time in the life of a horse trainer. While Rob continued with his career as an ever-more-highly-regarded horseman, the beautiful black English horse saw precious little competitive action. Still, for Rob, out of sight did not equate to out of mind, and the dream lived on, even though it was only visited on occasion.

An Abbreviated Show Career

A mysterious thing happened on the long and winding road of this love story. Black Daniels–despite the reality that he was bred and born, and fit, for far-greater than average achievement–was all but lost to the breed. Here’s how it went . . .

A remarkably elegant version of his eminent ancestors, Black Daniels was a natural at the brilliant dance required of the Saddle Seat Style English horse. The shining black 5-year-old, made his open showring debut in 2010 at Scottsdale, where he earned the coveted title of Champion English Pleasure Junior Horse. Later that year, he powered into the big arena at the Tulsa, Oklahoma State Fair Grounds to achieve the honor of U.S. National Champion English Pleasure Junior Horse. Unshown over the next three years, he turned up once more in 2014 at Scottsdale, where he became the Arabian Pleasure Driving Champion. In September of 2015, he won the Arabian Park class at the National Show Horse Finals. And then he vanished from the public eye. The horse that had first appeared like a shooting star, shined for only a few moments in a sky that turned too soon to night.

Throughout his slightly sporadic, yet highly successful show career, Black Daniels was trained and shown by the legendary horseman, Jim Stachowski, whose contribution to the Arabian and Half-Arabian English performance world must not be underestimated.

Of Dreams and Determination

Rob never stopped following Black Daniels while the stallion was being promoted for breeding and steadily earning respect in that venue. The horseman never stopped wanting to be a part of this horse’s life. And so, he waited.

Then one day, Brian and Joanne Grossman, who had owned and promoted Black Daniels since he was a 3-year-old, offered to Rob and his wife, Caralyn, the opportunity to purchase the horse who had lived for a decade in that aforementioned corner of Rob’s mind at the heart of the horseman’s dream. It happened in the mysterious way of things that bear witness to the existence of the One who operates beyond the temporal plain, answering even prayers that often remain unspoken because we fear that the answer might be NO.

Still and all, purchasing the first breeding stallion that Rob and Caralyn had ever sought to personally own, remained closer to dream than reality. Then, during a genial chat with his sister, Theresa, Rob half-joked that she might want to invest in a horse. And, through another inexplicable spiritual intervention, Black Daniels was purchased and came to live in his own special stall in the RBC barn in Smithfield, North Carolina, where he soon became a beloved member of the family. It was January of 2020, when “Back in Black Breeding LLC” became the registered owner of Black Daniels. Who could have known, at that juncture, that the world was about to hit the wall?

A Change of Plan

The goal had never been to show the 15-year-old stallion. He was proving himself a fine breeding stallion, and his new family simply wanted to continue on that successful path. But, by the summer of 2020, the relationship between this horse and his human was well past the initial walk in the park stage. And the horseman couldn’t resist being the rider of this great horse in just one important competition.

So, together they prepared, the man and his horse. The U. S. Nationals took place that year, during the long winter of our discontent––the time of Covid––and still they went, and a performance to remember, they shined.

It was the last Saturday night of October, 2020, All Hallows Eve, at the U.S. Nationals. In the warm up paddock across the parking lot from the Ford Arena at Tulsa, a horse and rider prepared for the Park Horse Championship class. Among the contenders that night was the shining black stallion that had been here before, but not for a long while, a decade, to be exact. The horse was 15 years old, an uncommon age for a horse to come out of retirement and return to the show ring. He hadn’t competed at all for the past five years. And this year, he hadn’t yet seen the main show ring. The horseman’s plan was to let his horse relax and enjoy the experience, and to let the onlookers enjoy the horse.

After a great deal of TLC, including chop-licking treats, the horse was happy and peaceful and he warmed up easy. Then it was time for the first unknown.

Feeling the animal’s apprehension as they crossed the lane toward the Ford Arena, the horseman calmed himself to settle the stallion. An extraordinary hand with a horse, this rider had the gift of allowing, rather than demanding, of enabling the horse to be both brilliant and confident. On this night, above almost any other, he willed his heart to beat with that of his horse, giving all that he was, all that he would ever be, to this one moment in time.

For over a decade, since he first saw the horse, Rob Bick had dreamed of partnering with Black Daniels in this dance with the wind, the ultimate performance for a horse of his kind.

“Park Horses, your gate is open,” the paddock announcer’s voice echoed. Bringing their mounts to the highest levels of excitement, riders parried for position. The tension in the air was palpable, and collective.

But Rob had other plans. He wasn’t hamstrung by the “gotta-win” anxiety. His joint goals were to go in and show the horse to the public and have them like him. And to share the joy with his sister and her husband of seeing their beautiful horse be just that –– beautiful –– in the show ring. Never before interested in horses at all, Rob’s brother-in-law had spent the most part of two days hanging out in the stall with the black stallion. Was the man mesmerized by the kindness of the horse? Maybe so. Now, he would see Black Daniels perform, in all his glory.

Where a powerful first pass is most often desired in this exciting competition, Rob, that night, chose a different approach. He and the Black cruised into the ring, settling on their path and ever so gently building their frame and increasing their speed. Then came one of those common-to-competition-unexpected-incidents. Black Daniels threw a shoe.

As it happened, this wasn’t such a bad thing. While the farrier reset his shoe, the stallion had a chance to check out the unfamiliar arena, and to just generally relax. When the partners returned to the dance floor, the rhythm together was just what Rob had hoped for. Black Daniels put on a perfect exhibition of beauty and brilliance that improved with every pass around the arena, in the best tradition of the Arabian Park Horse.

For this electrifying class, the stands were filled with Rob’s friends and his peers; with owners and training barn staffers, with anyone who could get a pass during the time of quarantine. As Black Daniels made his smooth and powerful way around the ring, a deep hum of approval followed him; like the vibration of a base string on a concert grand piano after the key is struck, respectful in its steady dwell.

Very ill, with a mysterious malaise –– NOT Covid –– Rob would not remember most of the class. All he could say was that his horse had carried him through a haze of unawareness. He would learn afterwards, that Black Daniels had accomplished exactly what Rob hoped for. The horse had made the public love him. And he had earned a Reserve National Championship in a very strong class, standing second only to the top Park horse of the day.

Rob’s greatest joy came that evening when his sister and her husband had the chance to have their picture taken with their horse in the winner’s circle. The great honor of the evening came from the respect and support given to the horseman and his black horse by Rob’s most admired peers.

It was a night of reunion . . . of camaraderie . . . of excitement! We came together as a family, and as a community. Once again, we were companions on the journey.

Those of us who inhabit the microcosmic realm that surrounds the Arabian horse have always had a powerful connection to one another. Through the horses –– and our love of them –– we experience a rare complementarity of being. Even differences disappear, when we’re in the company of horses.

But maybe –– truth be told –– we had begun to take for granted the gift of the small town scattered all across the world that is, in fact, our hometown. Maybe the horse shows had lost a bit of their sizzle. Familiarity may not have bred contempt (as the saying goes), but a more subtle ennui had entered our ranks. In light of reunion and re-bonding, one might go so far as to say that the craziness of Covid is not always able to harm the human spirit. Such a time was that night of reunion.

Black Daniels –– A Horse-Breeder’s Dream

Horse breeding is an artform –– a gift of INSTINCT, INTUITION, and INSPIRATION. Rob Bick is a natural born artist of this creative form. The combination of horse-breeder and horse-trainer in one mind and body isn’t all that common. But in Rob’s case, it works.

A three-time winner of the APAHA Horseman of the Year Award, Rob has earned his place in that association’s Hall of Fame. Notably, in 2018, Rob and Caralyn shared the stage, winning both the Horseman and the Horsewoman of the Year titles. Also, a lifetime horsewoman, Caralyn has the immense respect within the world of horses.

But when it comes to breeding, with the eyes of an artist and horseman, this is what Rob sees:

An extraordinary English Performance Horse, Black Daniels could be highly competitive in the Breeding division, but even more importantly, he possesses all of the characteristics essential for the most successful breeding stallion. In a litany of superlatives, it can be said that Black Daniels is unquestionably beautiful, extraordinarily talented, truly athletic, remarkably kind, exceptionally well bred. AND, he is a prepotent sire who passes on –– with impressive regularity –– his own exceptional attributes.

Black Daniels has the conformation that is absolutely essential for the big trot. His high set neck is notably longer on the topside –– from ears to withers –– than it is on its underside. The long, snaky bridge behind the poll and above the throatlatch enables and enhances the neck’s ultra-flex and swivel. His low hocks, and resulting positional angle, set his withers a good 4” above his hips, creating a motor in his hindquarter reminiscent of a big block Chevy from the 1960s. And the structure of his front end frees him to fly. The foundation beneath the beauty comes from correct, solid bone, good feet, correct angulation and strong joints, among other more esoteric attributes.

A Pedigree of Intense Excellence A grandson of MHR Nobility –– one of the two or three most extraordinary Arabian park horses of all time –– Black Daniels epitomizes the best of Nobility, as an athlete and as a sire. Bred by Roger and Linda Lervick, respected producers of quality Arabian horses since the 1970’s, Black Daniels carries the Polish/Crabbet cross that has long been sought after in the production of upright and willing, brave and intelligent performance horses. Of primarily Polish heritage, Black Daniels embodies the strengths of his two great-grandsires on the topside of his pedigree –– 20th century imports *Elimar and *El Ghazi, two stallions rarely given proper credit for their importance; perhaps a harbinger of the what almost happened to Black Daniels.

On the distaff side, Black Daniels is a grandson of Huckleberry Bey through one of his great crosses with a daughter of *BASK++. The essential Crabbet connection in Black Daniels’ genetic makeup comes through Huck’s dam, Taffona, a daughter of 1965 U.S. National Champion Stallion, and superstar broodmare sire, Raffon++.

For predominance of heart, kindness and courage, Black Daniels carries three lines to *BASK++, the progenitor of greatness that transformed the Arabian breed to a degree beyond measure. It can be said without apology, that the formidable blood of *BASK++ created the foundation for our 21st Century Arabian and Half-Arabian English performance horses. And that’s only one segment of the astonishing *BASK++ legacy.

A unique characteristic of this stallion is his beautiful face; unusual because excessive prettiness is a rare feature in a powerhouse English–style athlete like Black Daniels. This pretty boy’s face is dry and veiny, with marvelous, masculine jaw and pronounced facial bone structure and large, well-placed nostrils in a strong muzzle. All important, but the hallmarks in this picture are Black Daniels’ big, gentle, intelligent eyes.

From a pedigree perspective, Black Daniels carries his prominent facial bone and musculature from his three lines to *BASK++. His strong *Bask-like-attributes combine in a striking way with the exquisite, more delicate features of the Gainey type, that comes from the Skowronek, *Raffles, Ferseyn, Ferzon, Gazon line that are most prevalent on the tail-female line.

Today and Tomorrow

These days, Black Daniels receives his daily exercise being ridden around the RBC farm by a 13-year-old girl.

Rob and Caralyn Bick, who recently celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary, continue their

separate, but compatible, training and riding instruction programs, and showing, in their most

versatile tradition.

The horse and his humans invite you to drop by for a visit. Let them know

when you want to come because they are a particularly busy bunch.

Author’s Note: Caralyn’s absence from this story is intentional, as she notes that this is Rob’s

horse, Rob’s dream and Rob’s story. The picture painted should be one that captures the

beauty of her husband and his horse on that night in Tulsa, when she and an alliance

of their friends were moved to a place beyond explaining. We hope you can hear the

music of that ride and get just a little glimpse of what it really was.

Black Daniels’ Sons and Daughters in the Show Ring, to Date

Even through a period when Arabian horse breeding numbers have been low, Black Daniels has sired a total of 151 sons and daughters, 74 of individual horses are champions.

  • 60% of his offspring are successful in the show ring.

  • 27% of his winning offspring are successful with Junior riders.

  • 63.5% of his winning offspring are successful with Amateur riders.


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