Diana Stewart's Letter:
The epitome of an unsung hero for this magnificent breed is an amazing
trainer of both children and adults who is self taught but now an accomplished
and respected horsewoman, Karen Bragg in Sherwood
Oregon. Karen started out as a young girl with a passion for horses but no
access to them. She read everything she could find, talked with everyone
she could meet, saved all her allowance and money she could earn and bought her
own first horse for which she paid all expenses while teaching herself to ride
while in her early teens. She worked all the grunt horsy jobs, stable
hand, groom, rider, cooler while going through college and then decided that her
future was with horses - particularly Arabs. Since then, over the last 30
years, Karen has built her own respected stable of 30-40 horses, including her
family's private mounts and lesson horses - all Arabs and the aprox 20 horses
who board with her.
While other Arab breeders and trainers focus solely on the show ring and flaunt their expertise with more advanced riders, Karen has built a reputation as the person to go to if you want your child to know and appreciate the basic foundations of dressage influenced English riding, care for horses, and how to train your own horse to better and better levels of skill and performance. You never see a trainer mounting one of Karen's student's horses at a horse show to correct behavior to get the horse "whipped into shape" for the rider to mount and take into the ring seconds later. Rather, you see Karen in the ring explaining for the 5 th time what the student needs to do to correct themselves and the horse. My own daughter began with Karen when she was 8 buying her own Anglo-Arab at 12 and training him to Western (he'd never had a Western saddle on his back), successfully showing him in Regionals this summer in Level One Dressage, and competing in 3 day eventing classes...all this on a green broke horse when we bought him.
Karen has amazing ability as a teacher. She can explain a difficult concept clearly, simply, using analogies and then coming up with other analogies when the first doesn't sink in. Children adore her while respecting and wanting to please. Adults keep coming back for more and more. Praise from Karen isn't easily earned and when received is prized.
My daughter, now 20, joins Karen occasionally from college with her horse at local shows. While wanting me to appreciate the well executed dressage movement or well taken jump, she still is eager to know if Karen was in the stands and wants her feedback and approval - years after ending lessons with her.
Karen began, built and sustained a large and success 4-H horse club for over 18 years to allow her students an additional opportunity to learn about horses beyond what the restrictions of a class time would permit. Karen developed a curriculum that is still used by the club now that it's leadership has passed to parents. The members cycle through a 4 year curriculum learning horse anatomy, faults, diseases, horse conformation judging, tack, bits and their proper use, feed and nutrition, and how to buy a horse and what considerations should be in play. Karen has also instituted with her students, their families, and friends an annual horse camping trip taking 18-20 horses into the mountains of central Oregon to camp and trail ride. Karen's own family inspires all who know them with their annual trail rides into the high mountains, packing all of their needs onto their own horses and respecting the natural ecology to do no trace camping.
It is the experience of many families who have never owned a horse, that the experience of 4-H and their varied experiences in the class room, show ring, and mountain trails with Karen have made the ownership of a horse seem possible. Karen goes with prospective families to look at new horse, judge the fit of the horse to the child and help with the negotiation and transportation home. Knowing that Karen is there to come to with the insecurities of having a new horse and being ignorant - has given countless families the willingness to buy that purchase for themselves or their child. Karen clearly knows her stuff. She approaches the care of the horses under her care with the right priorities - nutrition is carefully thought out and money is put into animals mouths with the kind of quality groceries and supplements that leave her barns filled with beautiful sleek animals no matter the age. She discourages owners from spending money needlessly on the latest gimmicks - whether tack or supplements - that do not directly contribute to a healthy, happy horse.
Karen is a great role model and constant advocate for the Arab. She taught herself the breeding and bloodlines of the Arab back to the desert. Many of us have had the pleasure of having Karen draw our pedigrees and then tell us the stories of each of the famous sires and dams. In fact, some of my favorite times with Karen have been around the trail ride camp fire with the girls begging Karen to tell more stories of a famous war mares or of famous studs and how their blood lines reached Oregon.
The lessons learned by children and adults who are not handed a finished product but rather learn to ride and train from Karen last a lifetime. Lessons in horsemanship to be sure, but also lessons in humility, patience, perseverance, and commitment.
And over and over, I've seen the varied experiences what children and adults have had with Karen create a bond between owner and Arab that is unrivaled anywhere.
You can see more about Karen from her website - www.paintedvalley.com. I guess I didn't mention that she is a judge, has written several books on pedigrees and articles about training, care, etc., teaches a series of community education courses on horse training, horse nutrition, and high country no trace horse camping. And certainly not less, she has begun a second and third generation of Arab lovers and horse professionals in her own family. As you can see from her website, Karen's own daughter, Katie, is now the farm trainer and works with students of all levels. Her two year old son is fast on her heals.
Karen is certainly an unsung hero, passing on her unending enthusiasm and passion for the Arab in multiple ways to countless