“The name “Al-Marah” means “the oasis,” a pretty, green, bountiful place. Mother’s farm started in Tucson, Arizona,” Mark tells me, mentioning that the farm was named by Carl Raswan, who visited the irrigated farm in the middle of the desert and claimed “This is a real Al-Marah.”
It’s immediately clear that Mark’s mother, Ruth “Bazy” Tankersley, shared her passion for preserving the integrity of the herd of Arabian horses with her son. When I ask Mark what sparked his mother’s interest in breeding Arabian horses, Mark’s eyes light up, as he begins a fantastic tale of the trail ride that started it all. “Mother liked wide open spaces,” he tells me, so it wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary when she took off on a 50-mile trail ride on her thoroughbred, with a guide who was riding a pony.
This trail ride started at the ocean, and meandered about 50 miles through timber country. Bazy and her guide came to a fire tower, where a telegraph was waiting for her: Bazy’s husband was ill, and she needed to return immediately. Her thoroughbred was too tired to make the 50-mile trek back, so Bazy took off on the guide’s pony. Not only did she and the pony make it back safely, but the pony sprinted the last two miles of the ride, through the sand along the beach, with a full moon above them and the waves crashing beside them. The guide told her the pony was an Arabian, used because the breed has the endurance to do the same work as about 6 quarter horses. “Mother was fascinated, so she started to study genetics,” Mark said.
The rest is history. Bazy started her Arabian horse farm in Tucson in 1942, importing horses from Crabbet Stud and Hanstead Stud in 1956 and sealing the family’s fate as the third family in control of the oldest herd of Arabian horses in the world. Passionate and scientific in their approach to continuing the closed herd’s bloodline, Mark says an Al-Marah Arabian horse should have three qualities:
1) They must be athletes with endurance and agility. Mark tells me this translates into that the horse must be able to run a 100 mile race, and I wonder if this criteria was determined by Bazy’s 50-miles-each-way trail ride on an Arabian. Mark tells me the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile race starting in California and ending in Nevada, is one of his favorite competitions every year, because it allows the horses to demonstrate their hallmark endurance. Mark spends much of the year personally hauling horses around the country with his competitive team, which includes his step-daughter, Keeley Clark, whom he proudly tells me is a natural-born rider.
2) They must be beautiful. Anyone who attended a dinner show at Arabian Nights could attest to the exceptional beauty of the Al-Marah Arabian horses who performed there. Arabian Nights closed its doors in 2013, but Mark has a hopeful vision for the future of the beautiful Al-Marah herd, and created a partnership with the University of Arizona as a means of educating future breeders and preserving the herd’s bloodline. “It’s a way to keep it going… in case no one in the family wants to take it over,” he says.
3) They must have wonderful dispositions. Mark offers to show me what he means by this, and I jump at the chance to venture down to the barn to see the horses. We drive down the hill on the idyllic Clermont farm, past grazing horses and a few riders. The smell of hay and horse hair greets us in the barn, and Mark opens stable door after door to show me some of the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen. “Don’t try this elsewhere,” Mark smiles, as he grips a mare’s tail and leans back, tugging her tail with his full weight to absolutely no reaction from the horse. “Like I said, they’re bred with a temperament to sleep in your tent during a sandstorm,” like their ancestors gathered by Abbas Pasha in the desert nearly 200 years ago.
I exit the barn with the sense that I’ve barely scratched the surface of Mark’s immense knowledge of the art and science behind his magnificent horses. Before I leave, Mark asks me if I know the nickname for the city of Clermont: “the city of champions.” I can’t imagine a more fitting location for Al-Marah’s awarded herd.