Phara Farm: Golden Horses of the Sun
By Faye Ahneman-Rudsenske
**Reprinted in the Crabbet Arabian Heritage Magazine, with modifications, and permission from the author and Modern Arabian Horse magazine.
Their eyes met across the crowded space, his dark and liquid hot. He was young with a serene, regal air that hinted at royalty. The sunlight illuminated his golden hair and outlined the sculptured, aristocratic features of his face. His sleek, smooth body was not quite fully mature, but handsome, nevertheless, with a promise of impressive maturity.
She was breathless; her heart pounding with anticipation. He was exactly what she had been looking for! If he looked as good in close proximity as he did from this distance, and, if his personality matched his exquisite looks, she pledged to devote the rest of her life to him. He fulfilled her expectations, and her passion still burns brightly 45 plus years later.
Sound like something out of a romance novel? Not exactly, but this is a love story—of sorts. It’s the story of Annette Weber of Phara Farms, Wallace, Calif., and the Arabian stallion Lewisfield Sun God (Aaraf x Aarafa), the “golden” horse that started it all.
Lewisfield Sun God
It was 1963 in Dallas, Texas. The national show was being held in conjunction with the Texas State Fair Show, and while Annette and Tom Patti were waiting to show their stallion, a small yearling colt in the show ring that didn’t quite “fit” in his respective class with the other big showy yearlings caught their eye. The small colt didn’t win or even place, but Annette Weber was entranced.
“He was breathtakingly beautiful; we couldn’t take our eyes off him,” she said later. “He had smooth, ultra refined conformation and a gorgeous head. He was totally unconcerned with the excitement and the antics of the other colts and their handlers. We had to see him close up.”
Closer inspection didn’t disappoint, but attempts to purchase him did. His multimillionaire breeder and owner James F. Lewis Jr., of Lewisfield Farm in Charlottesville, VA, knew exactly what he had.
Fast forward 12 months later to the same location. Again, Annette watched in awe while the two-year-old Sun God won the large Most Classic class and was named Reserve Champion Junior Stallion.
“He stood quietly,” she later wrote in a 1995 Arabian Vision’s article, “his brilliance shining amidst the antics of the other hyper, excited colts in the class. He didn’t need a slick handler to ‘hide’ faults. He was quite simply classic with the most extreme head we had ever seen with proportioned features only an artist would dream up and his overall structure was reminiscent of the early G.B.E [Gladys Brown Edwards] trophy model. His quiet, gentle attitude was intriguing. This colt gave us renewed hope for the future of this breed. We imagined that if we could breed horses with his look, we could continue in the Arabian business for many years to come. Regardless of fads that come and go, there would always be a market for a horse like that.”
She had no idea how prophetic those words would become.
Sun God matured into a dazzling specimen considered by many to be the epitome of Arabian type. In 1965, he swept five consecutive, most prestigious shows of that era in huge classes under some of the most noteworthy judges of all time with championships and reserves in halter. He became known as “the unbeatable Lewisfield Sun God.” Destined for greatness and perhaps the national stallion championship title that year, tragedy struck, and he foundered at the age of three. With his brilliant show career ended, Sun God would sire only 24 foals before being euthanized in 1969. The golden stallion was Lewisfield Farm and James Lewis was so devastated that he disbanded the remainder of his herd shortly thereafter.
Fortunately, Annette was ready to pick up the reins—the torch had been passed.
Wheels of Destiny
To understand the journey, one must start at the beginning—in Richfield, WI, a small town about 20 miles north of Milwaukee where Annette Peters was born on November 20, 1933, to Helen and Edward Peters. Her parents loved and owned horses throughout their entire marriage so it seemed only natural that Annette must have received a double dose of that equine inheritance since neither her brother Fred nor sister Dorothy shared the same passion.
The Peters family moved to a farm near Hubertus, an area known as Holy Hill, a Catholic cathedral and Basilica, where her dad raised Jersey cattle and her mother bred and showed Great Dane dogs. They owned draft horses, Saddlebreds and other light horses used for riding and fox hunting, but the Peters thought Arabians were “too hot.” To Annette, already a determined individualist, they were her dream horses.
After high school, Annette briefly attended college in East Lansing, Mich., but met her future husband, Tom Patti, a musician, who worked on Broadway in New York and owned a musical instrument business, at a dog show with her mother. He purchased one of her mother’s dogs, and he and Annette started dating. They were married in 1951. During the early years of their marriage, she worked at a variety of jobs, one of which took her temporarily to California. Enamored, she vowed to one day live there permanently. The wheels of destiny were slowly turning.
Annette’s dream of owning an Arabian came true in 1955 with the acquisition of the yearling Egyptian/Crabbet-bred colt, Selmajor (Umar Al-Khayyam x Selmiana) from Dr. Borman, then President of the Wisconsin Arabian Society.
“Selmajor was a wonderful teacher,” she credits. “In the beginning, we both had a lot to learn. He won a total of 16 championships during his show career at some of the biggest shows in the Midwest. He was a great show horse and sire, although, regrettably, we did not breed him as much when we decided to go with the Aarah/Raffles bloodlines that produced Lewisfield Sun God.”
Proving once again that Annette has an “eye” for quality horses, the passage of time has not diminished the interest in Selmajor and his bloodlines, and he will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Crabbet Arabian Heritage magazine.
Although, at that time, Annette leaned more towards the Egyptian/Babson bloodlines, the Egyptian breeding was mostly done by the big farms, and there was no way that she didn’t feel, as a small breeder, that she could compete.
“I had visited the Babson Farm and became acquainted with Homer Watson, and was a huge fan of Fa Serr, she recalls. “I even purchased a daughter. I also owned several others mares of various bloodlines, but even before I saw Sun God, I had already arrived at the conclusion I needed to find a different bloodline that would stand on its own merits. When I looked at Sun God across that arena, I knew in my heart I had found my true destiny,” she says still visualizing and savoring that moment.
Research propelled her to Blanche and Herbert Tormohlen of the Ben Hur Stud in Portland, Ind., the breeders and owners of Sun God’s sire and dam.
“They were very successful breeders and show people,” she relates. “I decided they would know if there were flaws in this particular bloodline since Sun God was the product of a full brother/sister mating. They were honest; there were no flaws.
“Their breeding program was comprised of line breeding and inbreeding, and when they sold the entire herd to Lewis, it gave him an incredible advantage. It was a shame that Sun God was born the first year after that transaction, otherwise he would have been bred by Ben Hur Stud.”
Sold on Tormohlen’s breeding program, Annette decided to continue their strategy. Thus begin her quest for the golden horses of the sun.
The Golden Quest
1965 seemed a magical year. The Patti family, which now included son Thomas, born in 1957, moved to a property near her parents by Holy Hill. While Tom wasn’t particularly interested in the horses, he didn’t object to his wife’s consuming interest.
With a lovely new house already on the property, it was only logical that a new barn with an indoor arena should follow. World renowned equine photographer and long time friend Polly Knoll describes the farm as “truly idyllic for a rural Wisconsin horse farm with its white fenced pastures in a gentle valley where one could always view the horses and almost mystical surroundings.”
“It stood in the shadow of the famed Holy Hill where its many-steepled church sat majestically high on the hill,” remembers Polly. “The challenge was to enter the church by perhaps a 100 or more steps leading up to its entrance. Miraculous stories abound about the crutches left by those who received healing as they successfully ascended the steps.”
Whether divine intervention played a part or not, the time and setting were right; the only part missing was that elusive “golden” stallion.
With Lewisfield Sun God out of the picture, Annette had scoured the country for two years looking for a duplicate. She nearly passed over an Aaraf grandson—a yearling colt at Dr. Robert LaRue’s in Illinois in 1965 because he was half Babson Egyptian, and she wanted all *Raffles.
Fate nudged again. She decided that he would work.
Originally named Ibn La Flag, Annette decided a name change was in order. “I wanted a name that would be remembered,” she explains. “When people saw his gorgeous, deep gold color and the beautiful sheen to his body, almost anyone could see how Golden Pharao (La Flag x Bint Maaroufa, by Fay El-Dine) got his name.”
A beautiful, extremely classic horse, Golden Pharao, set the stage. His show career started at the age of two and, in a short period of time, he attracted a legion of fans and made a lasting impression on everyone who saw him, including the judges.
“He set high standards as a show horse and sire,” Annette admits. “As an individual, he always seemed to anticipate what you wanted. I was very, very fortunate to have found him. He became popular very quickly as a breeding stallion.”
Phara Farms (derived from Patti Horses of Arabia) had finally arrived.
Building a Dynasty
After acquiring Golden Pharao, Annette set out to find a small nucleus of mares. “It was providence to purchase the Sun God look-alike mare Aazkafra (Aaraf x Aazkara), a Ben Hur bred mare, from Heritage Hills Arabians in 1967,” she marvels.
With phenotype that matched her genotype, she is described as having an extremely beautiful head with classic type and extreme action, all qualities she inherited from her champion parents.
However, Aazkafra’s physical qualities paled in comparison to her superior breeding abilities. Her outstanding foals with Golden Pharao became known as the “Golden Cross.” The first born of that mating, Golden Reflection, who was, incidentally, also the first foal for Phara Farm’s new breeding program, went on to sire 41 registered purebred foals himself.
While photographing horses at Lewisfield Farms, Polly Knoll found the second one of the triage of mares who would build Annette’s dynasty—a fabulous, yearling, filly. Although she wasn’t for sale, at the time, Annette put her name on the list and, in 1970, at the age of three, the exquisite mare Sun God Heiress (Lewisfield Sun God x Tailormade Binta) was hers.
Described as Sun God’s most beautiful offspring, Heiress, in time, produced three outstanding colts for Phara Farms including Sungod Reflection and The Midnight Sun, both by Golden Reflection, and Eclipse Ofthe Sun, sired by Heiress’ own son Sun God Reflection.
In 1979, Lewisfield Sunny (Lewisfield Sun God x Farsaana) formed the third part of Phara Farm’s mare foundation, and eventually produced three incredibly gorgeous colts, which included The Indian Sun (x Sungod Reflection), Majestic Sun (x Eclipse Ofthe Sun), and Sun God Legacy (x The Midnight Sun).
“This small nucleus of horses set up our breeding group of top quality class A halter champions and most classic winners, all with the breeding characteristics of Sun God, which is still very much evident,” Annette says.
Multiple generations later, she can point with pride to The Sun Prince (Eclipse Ofthe Sun x Rose Of Fadl), who in her estimation, is the most perfect Arabian stallion living today. “He’s extremely classic; there’s nothing more one could wish for in an Arabian stallion,” she says.
Majestic Sun was retired to live out the rest of his life with Gaye Myers at Sunh-Kyst Arabians in Lowell, VT., who has been raising and breeding the Lewisfield/Phara bred horses for nearly 20 years.
“Gaye lives, breathes, and sleeps those horses and does a wonderful job of caring for them,” Annette praises. “The horses live a long life with her.
Gaye remembers flipping through an Arabian horse magazine when a photo of the beautiful Eclipse Ofthe Sun stopped her dead in her tracks. “We purchased our first Phara bred horses, WRR Raffinee (Golden Reflection x Gaybale) and Crystal Eclipse (Eclipse Ofthe Sun x WRR Raffinee), shortly thereafter,” she grins.
End of an Era
In 1969, Tom Patti passed away. With a farm mortgage, no life insurance and a 12 year old son to raise, Annette knew she had to get busy. “Golden Reflection was just a baby at the time, but Golden Pharao was already making a name for himself as a sire,” she says. “We advertised both of them, and the following year outside breedings poured in. Fortunately, I was able to handle the horses, and always did my own training, which, incidentally, is something that I couldn’t do in today’s world.”
Polly Knoll, who has always admired Annette’s resourcefulness, determination and abilities, remembers those dark days. “She was truly tested after the death of her husband,” she affirms. “She always handled the horses, including many stallions, with the grace of a ballerina and the aplomb of a seasoned horseman. She understood her horses and never resorted to extreme measures in disciplining them. She was also a graceful accomplished rider.”
Luckily, both stallions were very popular, and the demand for Golden Pharao remained high. “My son was a very good rider—a talented horseman,” Annette credits. “He helped a lot. Then, like many boys, his interest turned to motors, motorcycles and mechanics. He started working in the trucking business and didn’t stay with the horses.”
As the years passed, alone on the farm with a heavy work load and cold, snowy winters, Annette decided to find a more conducive climate. California beckoned, and when she found property in north central California near Wallace that resembled Wisconsin, it seemed preordained. The 10-acre property was situated in a beautiful, gently rolling area in the foot hills of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Her son, by that time, was grown and married with a wife and son of his own. He was not interested in moving to California, so Annette struck out her own.
On September 22, 1985, she left Wisconsin in her Chevy van and horse trailer packed with all of her worldly possessions and followed the chartered van with the seven stallions and three mares for the 2300-mile trip. She stopped only when they stopped, for the sole purpose of reassuring her precious cargo.
However, California wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Shortly after her arrival, a car accident sidelined her for quite some time. Fortunately, fellow Wisconsinite Luther Weber came to her rescue.
“Luther had previously been married to my aunt, but he was no blood relation to me,” she explains. “They lived in Hartford, which was close to my farm, and he and my aunt used to visit. Retired from the Chrysler auto plant, he enjoyed the horses and helped around the farm. Soon after I moved to California, she passed away, which left Luther at loose ends. Lonely and bored, he missed the horses, and when I needed help after the accident, he came to California. He helped build the barn and fencing, planted trees and helped me with the horses. It worked well for both of us so we were married in 1989.
“Initially, we bred outside mares to our stallions, but Luther thought we should restrict it to our own mares. His philosophy was that people with the really good mares usually had their own stallions. He was right; we cut back on outside mares and mainly bred our own mares and sold the foals.”
While stud fee revenue was decreased, the change served a dual purpose: it created a niche in the market, since smaller numbers created a higher demand, and allowed the Webers to better control the direction of the breeding program.
While not everyone may agree with that direction, and to counter criticism of such close inbreeding and line breeding, Annette points out that the farm is in its sixth generation of preservation breeding and emphasizes that she has never encountered any genetic weaknesses. “Each generation always seem to improve,” she contends. “They never lacked size, strength or breedability. Plus, they have wonderful natures. If there had been problems, I would have changed direction.
“Years ago, I read that the Bedouins used inbreeding to obtain a small, select group of horses with particular features and characteristics. They bred that small family unit to build on those desired characteristics and achieve the results they wanted with amazing accuracy and predictability. They felt they were breeding the most beautiful, the fastest, the strongest and best horses possible.”
Based on Bedouin philosophy, she closely watched for any flaws. “I was very careful and used my own small, carefully selected group,” she says. “I was also very cognizant of the importance of the mare line.”
Today, she still adheres to the same policy and owns two stallions, The Sun Prince, and the exotic, black chestnut Burgundy Sun, owned in partnership with Carsha Arabians in Hawaii. The 100 percent Phara-bred stallion sired his first inbred foal in 2007, a beautiful filly, Burgundy’s Blessing, out of Miss Burgundy Sun (his own daughter). “Her owner Virginia Nesle in Florida is very pleased and plans on breeding her back again,” reports Annette.
Staying the Course
Annette mourns the passing of the true type in favor of the bigger, hotter horses that she thinks tend to look more like Saddlebreds. Neither does she think everybody should buy Arabians and advises potential buyers to learn about and appreciate the breed for what they were originally bred and used for. “If I was starting a breeding program today, I would certainly look for a bloodline that would stand on its own—not the same cookie cutter horses that we see,” she advises. “It is my firm belief that one should find the right course and stick with it.”
That she has stayed on course has not gone unnoticed. “Throughout the many years that Annette has been breeding elegant horses on a small and personal scale, she has always remained dedicated to the same lines with the same thought—to simply produce splendid Arabian horses that looked like the Arabian horses we all dream of—and she has!” Polly Knoll emphasizes.
“Annette is a wonderful woman who has kept true to her vision and produced some very beautiful Arabians, who, sadly in recent years, have not been properly appreciated in show ring competition,” adds Arabian pedigree researcher and writer Arlene Magid.
Although only a spectator now, Annette kept her horses in the public eye by advertising in the major Arabian magazines, later added a website and showed them at major Arabian shows. When her horses were in the show ring her individualistic thinking found another way to set them apart.
“She was born with the artistic eye,” says long time friend Gloria Bowman of Belle Cheval, Hume, Va. “She is somewhat bohemian, a lover of art and unusual, eclectic things. She had a knack for finding or creating just the right halters to set off the beautiful heads of her horses.”
Polly Knoll, too, remembers the special gold braided halter that Annette made and designed for her horses to wear in the ring when fancy silver or heavy plastic was the only style.
Over the years, Phara horses were shown on a regular basis in a variety of disciplines, and there are too many to name. The most recent national title holder, for example, is the 1988 Exotic Sun (The Sun Idol x Gaybale), owned by Barbara Rauscher of West Seneca, NY. The chestnut gelding took a top ten title at the 2007 Sport Horse Nationals in Show Hack AT. He has won in dressage, hunter pleasure and sport horse under saddle in a career that spans nearly 15 years, which speaks well of their longevity and usability!
Champion Sun Rose Ebony competed successfully in dressage and hunter pleasure before returning to become a treasured Phara broodmare although Annette takes no credit for her training. “Her owners Tom and Sharon McInnis of Antigo, WI, sent her to a professional trainer,” she explains.
According to Annette, most Phara horse owners don’t show unless they can do it themselves. “I think these horses do better with their owners,” she adds. “People are weary of shows and the way handlers treat the horses. I also think they see horses in the show ring these days that don’t look like Arabians either. Maybe my horses wouldn’t ‘fit’ in with the over 15-hand, extremely high tempered, long necked horses with extreme looks that we see today,” she acknowledges, “but they are in high demand. They are family oriented and have the old classic beauty seen in the paintings. Many people still want that look.
“People call from all over the world. I’ve always had a waiting list and most of the time the foals are either sold in utero or as weanlings. Most are sold to families—to people that want them for their best friend—a horse they can use for a variety of disciplines. These horses are so good natured that their owners can handle them.”
Gender doesn’t seem to matter either. The colts sell just as good as or sometimes even better than the fillies. Her horses are so popular that they sell even during a depressed market and are kept like an art collection for personal enjoyment.
Another longtime friend and Phara horse connoisseur, Gloria Bowman, thinks Phara horses are “the most artistically beautiful in the world; as though they just walked out of a Schreyer painting.” She has known Annette since 1972 when she purchased the two-year old bay filly Phara Satin Doll, who went on to become a Region 13 Top Five halter mare and “the best riding horse she ever owned.” In 1976, she returned to purchase the 100 percent Phara weanling colt, Reflection Heir (Golden Reflection x Sun God Heiress), whom she owned until his passing at the age of 31. “He was very active and still trotted and cantered to show off for the mares,” she notes.
Bowman also has a straight Egyptian Al Khamsa mare (linebred Moniet El Nefous) that has produced 3 foals by Phara stallions: The Moniet Sun (by The Sun Prince) now a 4-year old, and starting his breeding career; Ebony Sun (by Burgundy Sun), a 3 year old; and The Sun Orchid (by The Sun Prince) who is 2 years old. These 50 percent Phara horses are owned by Belle Cheval.
Belle Cheval also leased The Sun Heiress, a full sister to The Sun Prince and Burgundy Sun, who is expecting a 2013 June foal by Trussardi. This foal will intensify the Aarah-Raffles line of his legendary dam, Precious as Gold.
“Annette is a true dedicated preservation breeder of the Lewisfield Sun God line,” adds Gaye Myers. “The legacy she is leaving us is priceless. I feel very fortunate to have known Annette for all of these years and to own seven Phara bred horses.”
Although Annette has no 2013 Phara foals due, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. Instead of raising foals at her farm, she stands two fifth generation Phara stallions at stud by shipped semen. They are full brothers, the beautiful golden chestnut, The Sun Prince, and the exotic black liver chestnut, Burgundy Sun, both by Eclipse of the Sun and out of Rose of Fadl, a granddaughter of Lewisfield Sun God.
Annette is living proof that small breeders can be successful in a world dominated by larger farms.
Leaving a Legacy
Life has thrown quite a few obstacles in Annette’s path over the years, yet each challenge has been met head on. In 2003, she lost Luther to a congestive heart condition, and she has encountered some health challenges of her own.
She is extremely grateful for the assistance of Joan Dilworth, nearby friend and owner of Fancier Farm and now owner of The Sun Heiress, who took care of the horses and the entire farm during her extended hospitalization, and her longtime friend Annie Suarez, who stayed with her during her extensive recovery.
Understandably, she misses Luther, her longtime partner, who shared her passion for the horses. However, the one thing she doesn’t miss is the cold, snowy Wisconsin winters.
“Seeing snow way, way up in the mountains is close enough!” she says wryly. “My son still lives in Wisconsin, but they like California and have been thinking about buying property nearby. This place is like Wisconsin on a beautiful day,” she adds enticingly. “It’s a wonderful place to live, and the horses are my dream come true.”
Thanks to Annette Weber of Phara Farm, the torch burns brighter now that it did more than four decades ago. The legacy of Lewisfield Sun God lives on through Annette’s golden horses of the sun and the others who are intent upon perpetuating her legacy.