A life living with horses..
A life living with horses.
The story told is that before he could walk, Michael would crawl on the ground, collect fallen pears, and feed the gathered fruit under the fence to the neighbors' horses. Fearing that he might advance under the wall and into the pasture of horses, his parents would collect him and take him inside. The result was an unhappy child, but, as we now know, where there is a will, there is a way.
With a Ph.D. in Physics and determined that his children would follow academics, Michael's dad did not approve of a career with animals. Unlike most kids, his parents' divorce did not create sadness but proved to be the right opportunity to further his love of horses. With a demanding academic schedule no longer insisted upon, more time was spent on the pursuit of mastering horses. (His father ended up being a dedicated horse show enthusiast)
One might ask, "how did growing up in New Mexico offer an opportunity to be exposed to Arabian horses?" Simple, Arabian horses came to town. In the late '60s and early '70s, there was a lot of publicity around Arabian horses in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Albuquerque was home to the US Nationals, and the Governor of New Mexico, John F Simms, and his wife Ruth were successful breeders. (Michael's father was politically active, which allowed for knowing the Simms family) Richard Pritzlaff also made his home in New Mexico, along with other prominent business people. Although not necessarily a household name, for anyone loving horses, one could hear about Arabian horses without trying.
As his love of horses and his horsemanship grew, Michael was not exclusive to Arabian horses; at this point, any horse would do. He rode "grade" horses up and down the Rio Grande (later Arabians), showed Quarter Horses, Tennessee Walking Horses, and ponied horses on race tracks; basically, any horse he could ride, he did.
A family move changed the horse focus to Arabians. A new neighbor had a barn full of Arabian horses, and a work exchange program allowed Michael to have instruction and begin to show Arabians. The vibrant youth program in the Arabian Horse Association of New Mexico, where Michael participated and became involved with friends who showed their Arabians in "Sunday Shows" along with the three Class A shows in Albuquerque each year. But Michael was ambitious. As the US Nationals rolled back into town in 1974, Michael won his first ribbon in the National competition; this only fueled his passion.
Although college was part of the plan, horse shows took precedent, which required the inevitable: a choice. Horse show life won. Michael traveled from California to North Carolina, then to Florida to study under different trainers. But a fortuitous encounter in Miami, Florida, while on the Florida circuit in 1978, led Michael to a job in California, which, although the job didn't work out, his career took off.
The late '70s and early '80s were monumental for Michael. Stability wasn't a given, but even with job changes, and changes in training centers, the great horses flowed his way. He was tireless, sometimes traveling up and down the Southern California coast every few days to work different horses. And the work paid off. In the late '70s, the National awards started to hang on his drapes. At Regional Championships in California, he was always contending for top ribbons. And at the 1980 US Nationals, Michael won the Open Western Pleasure and, in doing so, announced to the world that he was there to win.
1981 continued where 1980 left off: Michael continued to win. At the 1981 Scottsdale show, every horse Michael took to the show won Top Ten awards, and he also presented the Junior Champion Filly, Ddinnerka. That win changed everything. At the time, there was no distinction between Michael the "trainer" and Michael, the "halter trainer." That was soon to end. Shortly after the Scottsdale show, Michael began receiving invitations to do training seminars and speaking engagements around the United States. And the big game changer was about to happen. A call from Sweden was received wherein Hans and Cecilia Bourghardt invited him to present horses at the Salon Du Cheval in Paris in December. During these years, Michael also began to travel to the Middle East, first to Jordan in 1985.
For the next 30-plus years, Michael traveled the world showing horses for 250 days per year. He also married Ann McGregor, who had a distinguished career as an equestrian. They had three children together; all the while, Michael kept up his ferocious pace.
Although showing in hand had replaced his love of showing in under saddle classes, Michael still managed to ride a few horses and win some notable titles: the United States and Canadian National Champion English Pleasure, United States and Canadian National Champion Pleasure Driving, and United States National Champion Country Driving to name a few. Also, during this time, Ann returned to the ring, where she too added to her list of National Championship wins. Being a horseman was, and is, critical to Michael Byatt's philosophy.
Returning to the '70s, Michael had always had a keen interest in breeding horses, and he constantly read and evaluated pedigrees and was passionate about establishing a breeding farm. That dream began to take shape in the late '80s and early '90s, and the ensuing results changed the show ring forever. One of Michael's essential lessons in his visionary thoughts on Arabian horses was to visualize his ideal horse. His horse had to be athletic and artistic. One mare that embodied his vision was Kajora, the 1982 US National Champion Mare; she displayed femininity while having a sound structure and commanding presence. Kajora had been bred several times and never equaled herself. And as fate presented itself, Michael, through a series of events, was able to be a managing partner in Kajora in the early '90s; now, the choices were up to him.
Before Michael became a deciding voice in Kajora's life, another piece of the puzzle had entered. On a swing through Florida, looking at show prospects, a horse in a pasture other than the one he intended to view made a very profound impression. Anaza El Farid was in a paddock, and although he had not been invited to see that stallion, "Farid" was the one that made the impression. Michael accepted the other to show, who also went on to be successful in breeding and show, but the real deal was in the commitment to Anaza El Farid.
Time passed, Anaza El Farid was what he was expected to be, and Michael became a part owner. Being a part owner of Anaza El Farid and Kajora allowed for a historic decision; Kajora bred to Farid, and Gazal Al Shaqab was the result.
No part of this story, be it the early training or the later breeding successes, did not involve collaboration. There are too many people to name. But the point being, without the involvement of Michael Byatt, the events that occurred over the last 50-plus years, be them in the show ring or the breeding barn, would have been vastly different.