ArabianCentric Spotlight

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Rae-Dawn Arabians… Pride, passion, & the future!

It all starts so unassumingly… you visit friends who own Arabian horses, not even quite understanding the breed or any of the specifics—and immediately the horses that are staring back have captivated you in the most magical way. This is how one falls in love with the Arabian horse, this is how the Arabian horse lifestyle journey begins, and most definitely how it began for Murray and Shirley Popplewell.


“It started off with two Arabians,” says Murray, unassumingly and completely unaware at the time of what was transpiring and unfolding right before himself and Shirley. “We were visiting friends who were breeders and we bought two Arabians for trail riding,” he shares. “And now here we are near 25 years later,” Murray exclaims, as he takes a quiet moment to reflect on all the goodness that has come into his and Shirley’s life as a result of the Arabian horse.


“It’s most definitely the people, of course the beautiful horses, and the lifestyle that comes along with being involved with Arabian horses,” Murray says. “It continues to be a wonderful way of life for Shirley and I—we enjoy it very much.” Throughout their journey of loving the Arabian horse, there is no doubt the Popplewells have seen change and the evolution of the breed, witnessed in their own horses, as they continue to write many wonderful chapters for the Rae-Dawn story, which now spans two countries and includes Arabian horses bred by the farm having a global reach.


“Perhaps 2008 could be the precursor of what was to come,” smiles Murray. “We were in Las Vegas for the Arabian Breeders World Cup and the most extraordinary colt took us by complete surprise.” Though they were not intending to purchase a stallion for their breeding program, the fiery bay colt somehow sparked a fire within Murray, and as they say, the rest is history. “I think it was then and there that we made the leap to go all in,” says Murray.


That colt was then two-year-old Bey Ambition, and was perhaps the most significant step in Rae-Dawn Arabians’ budding breeding and show program. It should be noted that shortly after the World Cup show, the Popplewells purchased their satellite farm in Scottsdale to complement the Saskatoon operation, so it’s no understatement that the year 2008 was a pivotal year for the Rae-Dawn program. “We are forever grateful to Bey Ambition’s breeder, Lucy Whittier, for allowing him to come into our lives,” notes Murray. “The breeders are everything—the foundation of the industry—so it’s important to Shirley and I to always celebrate the breeders every chance possible.”


A reflection of this sentiment could be seen again at this year’s 2022 Arabian National Breeder Finals held in Scottsdale, Arizona, where Rae-Dawn Arabians proudly sponsored for the third year in a row the show’s High Point Breeder Award. “No breeder … no horse, no industry,” says Murray. “We can’t emphasize it enough; the breeders are everything, they need our support, and we are grateful to all of them for producing beautiful Arabian horses for all of us to enjoy.”


Bey Ambition was crowned 2008 Arabian Breeders World Cup Gold Champion Two-Year-Old Junior Colt and has gone on to capture several national championship titles as both a junior and senior stallion, including his final appearance as 2020 Scottsdale Champion Senior Stallion AAOTH with Murray at the lead. Some 16 years later, as Bey Ambition settles into retirement from the show ring and now stands privately at stud, breeding only Rae-Dawn mares, he continues to be the cornerstone of the farm, and his contribution is continuously felt across the industry, siring excellent Arabian horses. In fact, it could be argued that Bey Ambition is one of very few stallions in our breed today siring both halter and performance horses who are winning championships at the highest levels of competition. His sons and daughters are not only winning in the show rings but are now producing a dynasty all themselves.


Recently, the 2019 Unanimous Scottsdale International Gold Champion Senior Stallion Delacroixx, bred by Laura Koch and sired by the Bey Ambition son RD Dynamo out of HED Caramba, was exported on lease to a prominent breeding farm in South Africa. And Bey Ambition’s youngest son, RD Giuliano, out of Brazilian import Giulia AL, was this year’s 2022 Arabian Breeders World Cup AHBA Auction Futurity Reserve Champion Yearling Colt with Murray. Of course, we can’t forget about one of his most special daughters, RD Marciea Bey, this year’s 2022 Scottsdale Champion Senior Mare AAOTH, who brought home the red roses with Murray, marking this the fourth win for a daughter of Bey Ambition to capture the Scottsdale Mare AAOTH championship garland. Another beauty, RD Raena (out of Syarah Serondella), sparkled under the desert sky this past April as she was crowned 2022 Arabian Breeders World Cup AHBA Legacy Futurity Champion Yearling Filly.


Always mindful of the importance of form to function, Bey Ambition also continues to sire his fair share of top-notch performance winners as well: Big Ambition TRJ, bred by Ross and Terri Danielson and owned by Terra Sano Ventures of Texas, was 2022 Region 11 Champion Western Pleasure Open with Jody Strand; Four Seasons, out of a Sundance Kid V daughter and bred by Cathy Stauffer of Oregon, was 2022 Region 13 Champion Western Pleasure AATR with his owner Joe Frizzell (and Debbie); and TRJ Classic Ambition, bred by Ross Danielson and owned by Mike and Kimberly Beethe, earned the 2021 Mid Summer National Champion Western Pleasure AATR Elite title.


The Popplewells have spent many years establishing their flourishing program, building a solid foundation of show and breeding horses to include the pedigrees of Bey Jullyen, Versace, Utrillo NY, Bey Shah, Falcon BHF, Polidoro FC, and DA Valentino, but continually crosses with outside stallions to introduce new blood to their program. In studying the pedigrees, you will find the likes of Padrons Psyche, Ali Jamaal, Marwan Al Shaqab, *El Nabila B, Magnum Psyche, Sanadik El Shaklan, Shanghai EA, Baywatch V, Truest, FA El Shawan, FA El Rasheem, QR Marc, and Afire Bey V. This diversification is all with the intention of producing a complete Arabian horse, something the Popplewells are very devoted to.


As with most endeavors, evolution and change is guaranteed, but “one thing that has remained steadfast with our farm, the horse industry, and with life in general,” says Murray, “is that the only thing ever guaranteed is change.” And change has it ever. In 2019, Mr. Alcides Rodrigues joined the Rae-Dawn Arabians team as resident trainer and manager of the Scottsdale farm. Rodrigues, a native of Brazil, brings to the farm an immense wealth of knowledge, experience, talent and positive energy, as well as a reinvigoration of searching out and acquiring the absolute best to elevate and represent the farm on the world stage. The collaboration between Murray, Shirley, and Alcides has proven to have formidable results. “It’s so important to always be forward thinking and be open to the idea of adding something new to the program should an opportunity present itself,” says Murray. And Alcides concurs. “We are always keeping our eyes peeled for opportunities to continue to elevate the farm’s profile,” he says.


At the 2020 Scottsdale Show, a young filly presented an opportunity for the farm and MD Massima came into the picture and joined the Rae-Dawn collection. A spectacular daughter of Truest, MD Massima descends from the matriarch herself, MD Mirka, a mare blending the program of Ecuadorian breeder, Mr. Manuel Durini. “Adding to her power-packed pedigree,” reflects Murray, “MD Massima won the 2020 International Gold Champion Yearling Filly title at Scottsdale with then trainer, Mike Wilson, and capped an already momentous year with her crowning of 2020 U.S. National Champion Yearling Filly with Alcides—a perfect ending of the show season.” Alcides adds, “She is one of the most elegant young mares in the world and I am honored to present her in the Futurity Filly class at this year’s U.S. Nationals. “She is ultra-feminine, extremely beautiful, and offers the Rae-Dawn program a lot. We all love her!” It was only fitting and a perfect selection, that MD Massima be the choice to grace the cover of this month’s Arabian Horse Times U.S. Nationals issue—beauty that’s absolutely undeniable.


Along with discovering the next top show and breeding filly for the farm, equally important is discovering the next best, young colt to contribute to moving the farm forward. “A few years ago,” notes Murray, “we had the opportunity to acquire an extra special filly named Giana Leah PCF.” Bred by Sam Peacemaker and under Rae-Dawn ownership, she went on to win the 2018 Scottsdale Junior Filly Championship, 2019 U.S. National Champion Open Filly, and came back the following year to win the 2020 U.S. National Championship Two-Year-Old Filly title with
Alcides on the lead. So beloved was she by the Popplewells, they returned to Giana Leah’s pedigree (Polidoro FC x Aliyah Vision PCF, by PCF Vision), and now look forward to seeing if lightning indeed strikes twice, with their beautiful homebred yearling and full brother to Giana Leah, RD Alidoro.

“Tall, charismatic, and lots of fluff perfectly describes Alidoro,” says Alcides. And he holds quite a high opinion of himself as well. Uniquely similar but also very different than his older sister, RD Alidoro is already on his way, accomplishing a Unanimous Reserve Championship Yearling Colt win at the 2022 Region 7 Championships held in Scottsdale this past April, and has been preparing ever since and is ready for the U.S. National Yearling Sweepstakes Colt class. “He has a similar sparkle like Giana Leah did at this age,” notes Murray, “but he is also so very different. We are very excited! Win, lose, or draw, we know he’s something special and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world sees what we see.”


It’s as if the Rae-Dawn farm in Saskatoon has streamlined into perfect cohesion with the Scottsdale farm, which literally bridges together a smooth running operation spanning both countries, working in unison in raising, training, and showing beautiful Rae-Dawn Arabian horses the industry and the world has come to expect. “The team at both farms is second to none,” comments Shirley, who oversees the broodmares, foaling, and mare care with Saskatoon farm manager Amie Sewell and the team up North. “Everyone knows where they fit in,” Murray adds, “and everyone works together for the betterment of the farm in caring for and preparing the horses in every best possible way. We are very lucky the horses are in such great hands.”


There have been many beautiful horses bred, born, and raised on the Rae-Dawn farm that have gone on to do wonderful things, and 2022 has seen many wonderful moments so far: RD Dynamo (Bey Ambition x TF Falconsimprint) is now exported and living a wonderful life breeding mares down under in Australia; RD Harenaado (Hariry Al Shaqab x DM Endless Romance) is making his mark on show rings around Europe, winning top prizes including three gold championships for owners Al Zoabi Stud; RD Annalise (Pharoah HBV x DM Endless Romance) was 2022 Scottsdale Champion Yearling Senior Filly with David Boggs for owner Stacy Sachen’s Anivia Equine; and RD Prelinda (Preludio OSB x RD Quianna), purchased by friend Manny Vierra, was second in the same class to bring home Reserve Champion Senior Yearling Filly honors, as well as a reserve championship in the Scottsdale Signature Yearling Filly Futurity class. Of course, not to be outdone, she also earned 2022 Region One Champion Yearling Filly in Del Mar, California—wonderful results for Rae-Dawn Arabians and the horses descending from the thoughtful choices of a fine-tuned breeding program.


“This year has seen lots of momentum for the Arabian horse industry,” says Murray. “When news broke that the Canadian National Championships would have to be postponed for the third year in a row, well, we just had to do something about it.” Together with a wonderful, enthusiastic, and dedicated group of Arabian horse lovers in Canada, the group hit the ground running and organized a new show, “Canada’s National Arabian Championships,” which is slated to run September 27-October 2. The show is the culmination of a tremendous collaborative effort between many dedicated individuals who love the Arabian horse and who want to see the Canadian Arabian horse industry thrive and flourish in the great white North.


“Another exciting event slated to take place this October is the $200,000 Breeding Pays Halter Futurity, comments Murray, “that will pay out $100,000 in prize money to both the National Champion Two-Year-Old Filly class and the Two-Year-Old Colt & Gelding class at the U.S. Nationals.” The Breeding Pays Futurity is an exciting new prize money program celebrating both the owners and breeders of halter horses. Uniquely, these two prize money classes, which are in addition to the 2022 class schedule, will be the only year that any two-year-old will be eligible. Next year and beyond, foals must be sired by halter futurity nominated stallions to be eligible to compete. “It is a ‘breeding pays’ futurity which means the prize money will be split equally between the breeder and the owner,” says Murray. A superbly backed group of founding members, along with a reputable and cognizant board of directors, have ensured a top notch program to inject wonderful, positive energy into the halter breeding community.


“It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come,” says Murray. “Shirley and I used to sit high up in the stands at Scottsdale and Nationals when we were first starting out with Arabians and dream of competing and breeding horses on that level. What started out as an acquisition of a few trail riding horses for hobby has transformed into a world-class collection of breeding and show horses, with two separate facilities – the breeding farm in Saskatchewan, Canada and the marketing, sales and show center in Scottsdale, Arizona. It makes us so proud to see horses from our program bring joy to new owners all around the world.”


The Arabian horse lifestyle is a beautiful way of life and Murray and Shirley Popplewell have embraced it fully. With sights set on Tulsa, Oklahoma and the 2022 United States National Championships, we’re sure there will be many more chapters to add to the Rae-Dawn Arabians story.



Written by Braden Davidson



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