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Hidden Springs Arabian Horse Farm home of champions

NEWTON — Hidden Springs Arabian Horse Farm may be hidden, but it sure is easy to find. Take the Newton exit off I-20 and go due south 2.2 miles on Mississippi 15, turn west on Wickware Road and there’s Hidden Springs — a hideaway that’s nationally famous.

You’ll discover approximately 100 pastoral acres populated with 50 rare Egyptian and Egyptian-bred Arabian horses. In addition to the usual stables, and other horse accommodations, there’s a large covered show arena where those horses are trained — and also where the Newton Chamber of Commerce held its year 2000 annual dinner.

And it was the home of this year’s U.S. National and Canadian National champion half-Arabian gelding “Good as it Gets.” He was sold this year by “private treaty” to Susie and Roger Johnson.

“Many of our local people didn’t even know it (Hidden Springs) existed,” said Andy Armstrong, the unofficial Newton Chamber tour guide. “And then movie star Patrick Swayze visited the farm and that got a lot of publicity.”

Hidden Springs co-owner Betty Gail Skinner shrugs off the reference to Swayze as a celebrity — she calls him “Buddy.”

“We’ve been friends of his for at least 15 years,” she said.

Swayze’s stallion, “Tammen” started the Hidden Springs brood stock and is the parent of many of the Newton farm’s prize-winning horses. Two of Tammen’s mares — and another Hidden Springs mare — were featured on the cover of the magazine, The Arabian Horse Times. Championship trophies, colorful ribbons and garlands are everywhere adorning tables, walls and even the stable’s lab facilities.

Returning from Hawaii

Hidden Springs was founded in 1988 a year after Skinner and her fellow owner, Tricia McGehee, returned from Hawaii where Betty Gail was a University of Hawaii athletic trainer and Tricia was a trainer and researcher of dolphins. Ill health of relatives was the primary cause of their return. They took 10 acres that McGehee owned near Newton and converted them into what became Hidden Springs Farm.

Betty Gail had grown up on a horse farm at the south end of the Meridian airport and one of her horses was an Arabian. “I just picked up where I left off because I missed owning horses,” she said. “I guess it’s in your blood whether you like the mountains or the ocean, or in my case horses — it doesn’t ever go away.”

Skinner is fervent in discussing those Egyptian Arabian horses.

“One of God’s awesome creations was the Arabian horse,” she said. “They are called ‘Drinkers of the Wind’ because they have huge nostrils and a much higher scale of endurance than other breeds. They stayed in the tents of the Bedouins because other tribes would steal them, and also because they’re very human oriented and are almost like dogs. They’ll talk to you and once you have an Arabian, you’ll understand.”

Skinner and McGehee began buying adjoining property — and breeding horses.

“The people around us didn’t want to sell to anybody but us because they knew we would keep their homesteads in the natural state,” Betty Gail remembered. Stables and outlying buildings followed, then the combination arena, office and guest quarters was built in 1999.

Hidden Springs trains horses both in halter and performance. Like Kentucky Derby horses, halter horses are often nominated for national shows before they are born, but Skinner estimates no more than 20 yearlings a year make it to the championship judging.

“It’s an honor and takes a lot of hard work to get to the Nationals,” she noted.

Training a halter horse for judging takes at least three months. The horses are judged for “correctness,” which for a lay person translates to appearance from front to back. It includes legs, width of eyes, size of nostrils, etc.

Performance training costs $600 monthly and takes more than a year. Skinner said that in order to accustom the horse to competition and people, judging in small shows is a necessity before an owner can get serious about national shows.

The co-owners of Hidden Springs attend at least eight shows annually. It’s obvious that their favorite is the Egyptian Event in Lexington, Ky., the first week in June. There, in addition to Patrick Swayze, they rub elbows with the likes of Tom Selleck, Mrs. Anwar Sadat and various royalty including Jordan’s Princess Alfa. Collector’s items picked up from that show include a sheik’s prayer rug and a stained glass window featuring a Bedouin and his “Drinker of the Wind.”

Both of those prized souvenirs were purchased at the art auction in Lexington, the proceeds of which benefit the 300-member Pyramid Society, a foundation begun in 1969 to preserve and perpetuate the straight Egyptian Arabian horse. Skinner is a member of the society’s 12-person board of directors. She also has served as vice president and on the board of directors of the Mississippi Arabian Horse Association.

Hidden Springs’ five employees — including a full time trainer — are in constant motion either exercising, feeding, washing or grooming their charges. And a tour of the stables verifies the gentle friendliness of the handsome breed.

As for prices of their horses, Skinner said that a pleasure horse sells for $1,500 and up depending on age and training. And she strongly encourages parents to buy a horse for their child.

“No amount they spend is too much to teach a youngster the responsibility of keeping a horse. And it will give them so much pleasure,” she said.

A show quality cross-breed could go as high as $25,000. The price of a “top of the line” animal would be set by — here’s that phrase again — “private treaty.”

Asked about any expansion plans, Betty Gail smiled.

“No, we’re as big as we’ll get,” she said. “God has given us excellent babies and our major objective will be to continue to create a better gene pool and keep the straight Egyptian line.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at lanjohnson@aol.com.


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