Empress Arabians in Peters one of top facilities in Arabian horse industry

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, 10:43 a.m.

Drivers on Sugar Camp Road in Peters often slow down a bit as they pass a particularly pretty patch of land.

Some only know this place's name because it is spelled out in a lush landscape of red and white flowers on the lawn. Insiders know it as one of the top facilities in the Arabian horse industry.

Empress Arabians is a 75-acre, state-of-the-art training and breeding facility. It boasts a 44-stall equine training barn, 30-stall breeding barn, outdoor work arena and heated indoor arena.

“It's magical here,” said Carol Ruscitto, who owns the business with her husband, Lou. Their home looks down on the sprawling facility, which began in the early 1990s with a single barn and the desire to fulfill the dreams of their daughter, Marla, who began riding at age 8.

“She won her first blue ribbon, and that was it,” Ruscitto said. “We said we'd like to build a little barn so she can have some horses. The next thing I know, it's this big facility. My husband doesn't do anything small.”

There are 85 horses stabled at Empress Arabians. Some clients have one horse on the grounds; some have dozens.

Glenn Petty, executive vice president of the Aurora, Colo.-based Arabian Horse Association, called the facility “one of the premiere farms in the Arabian world.”

“They are a staple known nationwide and in Canada,” he said. “They're just very well respected, very competitive and very well thought of.”

Empress Arabians focuses on training, though some owners stop by just to take their horses for casual walks around the lush green pastures. It's not, however, a place where people can pop in and take a lesson.

“We are very serious and passionate about horses,” Ruscitto said. “This is a lifestyle.”

Arabians, known for their distinctive head shape and high tail carriage, were first used by nomadic Bedouins for protection from theft, because the horses are swift and a quick escape could be made. Arabians dominate the field of endurance racing.

The breed is known to be good-natured, quick to learn and willing to please with a high spirit and alertness.

“They are considered the foundation of all horses,” Ruscitto said. “They are the most beautiful with their large eyes and little ears. They have a huge lung capacity.”

Fifteen people work at Empress, from groundskeepers and groomers to trainers and veterinarians. The team travels throughout the year to competitions, some as far as Tulsa, Okla.

“When you travel great distances with horses, they lose several hundred pounds,” said Ruscitto. “As big as they are, people don't realize it's a pretty fragile science, taking care of them.”

On the grounds, rows of white fence separate the fields and training areas. Batches of red cannas — 23,000 total on the property — provide pops of scarlet.

Inside the tan barns, horses approach the edge of their stalls to greet visitors while they await grooming or a training session. Trophies, ribbons and countless rose garlands line the office halls.

Lead trainer Chad Judy joined Empress Arabians in 1995. Judy offers clients his expertise in both training and showing at the national level.

“Arabians are very unique in the way they function, the expressions in the face,” Judy said, as he worked with HCA Lynyrd Skynyrd, a dark brown gelding. “People think they're skittish, but they are so intuitive and smart.”

It's that nature that makes Arabians so special, Ruscitto said.

“You have a connection with the horse,” she said. “It's like your best friend. You look in their eyes and they seem to know what you're talking about. When you're on them, it's like you're on the top of the world.”

In 2001, the Ruscittos were named Breeders of the Year at the Professional Horseman's Award banquet. Their most prized stallion, Hucklebey Berry +/, is one of the breed's all-time performance horses and a respected sire.

The stallion entered the show ring in 1986, winning Pacific Slope Top Five Stallion as a 2-year-old. During his career, he became the only horse to win the National English Pleasure Championship three times by unanimous decision.

At the 2000 Nationals, the stallion was crowned National Champion English Pleasure Adult Amateur Owner to Ride 18-39 with rider Marla Ruscitto.

He died at 27 on Nov. 15, 2011, leaving nearly 500 offspring.

Karen Root, who lives near Salt Lake City, Utah, owns one of those daughters and keeps her 30 horses at Empress Arabians.

“It is so serene and so peaceful,” she said. “The whole focus is on the horse.”

Despite the 2,000 miles separating Root and her animals, she said she's at ease knowing they are well cared for. She travels to the area every three weeks to train with them.

“It's been an amazing experience,” she said. “It's like joining a family.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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