ArabianCentric Spotlight

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Giana Leah PCF… the dream realized!

Merriam-Webster defines lifestyle as, “the typical way of life of an individual, group or culture.” Over the last twenty-plus years, Shirley and Murray Popplewell have developed and nurtured what they like to call the “Rae-Dawn Lifestyle” at their Arabian horse breeding farms in Saskatoon, Canada and Scottsdale, Arizona.


Central to the lifestyle is, of course, the Arabian horse and— as Murray is quick to point out—the people that gravitate to them. While it is true that the Arabian breed is a common denominator that draws together people from all walks of life, the addition of the Popplewell’s renowned hospitality and attention to every detail beckons many of those people into the Rae-Dawn lifestyle. “Our success centers around being ourselves,” says Murray, “We’re not trying to pretend that we are anything other than what we are. I think some people recognize that honesty and the genuine feeling we have for the horses and are attracted to us.”


“We have always been under the impression that if you can be a good host and treat people with honesty and integrity, good things are reflected back on you,” he continues. “That’s the big thing. The horse industry has to be built on honesty and integrity, that’s what it’s all about. We’re just being ourselves and creating a breeding program that can offer horses people want to own at a very reasonable price so that others can enjoy them the way we do.”

And, enjoy their horses the Popplewells most certainly do. They are completely “hands-on” owners, meaning they have cleaned their share of stalls and still do other daily tasks in addition to being experienced amateur handlers who love to show and win with their horses. Rae-Dawn horses have achieved countless national and international honors, both in-hand and under saddle. Prominent among them is Rae-Dawn chief stallion, Bey Ambition (Regal Actor JP x Bey Shahs Lady, by Bey Shah), a multiple- national champion halter horse—and now a successful performance horse, with a 2017 Scottsdale class win in a year culminating in a top ten at the Canadian Nationals in Open Western Pleasure competition in his first national appearance under saddle.


Bey Ambition’s offspring have brought armfuls of ribbons and trophies to their owners all over the world and earned him the prestigious honor of being voted the APAHA Halter Sire of the Year. His homebred daughter, RD Marciea Bey, the 2016 U.S. and Canadian National Reserve Champion Futurity Filly, is from another homebred, 2010 U.S. National Champion Yearling Filly and 2012 U.S. National Champion Futurity Filly, RD Marciena (QR Marc x NW Siena Psyche).

Bey Ambition scored more 2016 United States national championships with his progeny, including his daughter, Beloved Gracious Lady, who won the U.S. National Champion Yearling Filly title before also winning her class at the 2017 World Championships in Paris—earning the only straight 20s for movement in the process to capture the Best Movement Female award. The natural ability of the Bey Ambition offspring to move and perform under saddle was evident in the Western Pleasure division, where RD Habanero, a maternal half-brother to RD Marciena, was named the 2017 U.S. National Champion Western Pleasure AAOTR Jackpot and, most recently, the 2018 Scottsdale Champion Western Pleasure AATR 40-59 and 2018 Scottsdale Champion Western Pleasure AAOTR 55 & Over. 


Both Murray and Shirley had big wins in amateur halter competition at Scottsdale, with Murray Popplewell bringing home the 2018 Scottsdale Champion Mare AAOTH title with RD Magic Moments (Bey Ambition x GF Simply Magic)—the second time in a row it has been won by Bey Ambition offspring! Reserve Champion Mare in the class went to Shirley Popplewell and RD Lavinya (Marwan Al Shaqab x RD Marciena). In the previous year, the Scottsdale Champion Mare AAOTH was RD Siena Serenade (Bey Ambition x NW Siena Psyche).


As current as they are amongst contemporary owner/ exhibitors, Shirley and Murray Popplewell are highly regarded breeders who celebrated their 20th year in the Arabian horse industry in 2017. They keep an image of what they see as a “complete horse” with form to function in mind, which helps them to maintain clarity in their breeding decisions, whatever the current trend or the tendency toward excess of a particular trait might be at the time.


“The hardest thing we have to do as breeders is stay true to what we feel is the ideal Arabian horse,” Murray states. “We try to breed to stallions that will offer something new to our mare and yet double up on the mare’s strong points. That’s the way we approach it.” At Rae-Dawn that sometimes means finding a daughter of a great stallion or a mare from a program which meets their standards and can contribute to the improvement of their program. One example of that foresight is the Popplewell’s recent acquisition of Madora MI (Allegiance MI x Melody MI) at the 2018 Marquise Auction in Scottsdale. From the famed Mulawa Stud in Australia, Madora MI represents many generations of thoughtful breeding by the Farrell family.


The Popplewells are striving to create horses that can win in world-class breeding classes before moving on to a new facet of life under saddle. “Yes,” says Murray, “We do feel there’s got to be life after halter. Halter is one of the easiest, quickest ways to get your horse into a show ring to promote your program, and maybe in North America we push them too much. At the same time, if you are breeding for the market—the quicker you can get them out and exposed to people, the sooner they might have the chance of selling and moving on to a new home.”


Often that “new home” becomes an introduction to the Rae-Dawn lifestyle for the lucky buyer. An open, trusting atmosphere for visiting and for viewing the horses is a key piece of that lifestyle, whether at home or in the barn area at horse shows. Arabian enthusiasts are welcomed to the many open barns, presentations and barbeques that the Popplewells host. Their enthusiasm and knowledge, which they are willing to share, is appreciated by old timers and newcomers alike. The community feeling extends to the diverse staff of the farm.


Manager/trainer Bruno Guiraldelli is completely committed to the Rae-Dawn horses, and his dedicated staff can always be counted upon to take care of every detail of the horses’ care. Bruno sets the pace, managing his team and working endless hours beside them to achieve enviable results. Bruno not only manages the entire farm, he presents the Rae-Dawn show string to many of their greatest victories. Recently, Bruno posted an incredible win with one of Rae- Dawn’s recent acquisitions, Giana Leah PCF (Polidoro FC x Aliyah Vision PCF), a stunning product of Sam Peacemaker’s PCF Arabians. At the prestigious Scottsdale All-Arabian show—billed as the World’s Largest Arabian Horse Show with over 2,400 entries—the jubilant Rae-Dawn entourage celebrated as Giana Leah PCF was named the 2018 Scottsdale Junior Champion Filly, with Bruno on the lead.


It is a cinch that Murray and Shirley Popplewell will continue to spread the joy that their passion and love for Arabian horses ignites. That passion and love will continue to stoke the flames of the future for the Popplewell family as they nurture the Rae-Dawn lifestyle for a score of years to come.


Rae-Dawn Arabians named leading breeder & owner of Halter winners • Bruno Guiraldelli named leading Halter trainer • Bey Ambition named leading Halter sire
(Includes U.S., Canadian, and Youth National Championships Champion & Reserve wins as compiled by Arabian Horse Times)


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