By Kaye Bennett
Growing up in Vicksburg, Maureen Eshlaman (daughter of Dick and Jackie of Indian Lake) was one of those horse-crazy girls. She got a pony at age nine, after promising her dad that she’d clean up after it. But for Maureen, horses weren’t just a phase. Today, she and her husband, Keith Krichke, own one of the top Arabian horse breeding training facilities in the world, located on the same Sprinkle Road farm where Maureen (now Maureen Krichke) has lived since seventh grade. And now, it’s the Krichke daughters, Faith, 11, and Hope, 9, who are the ardent young horse lovers.
The Krichke Training Center has five barns and both indoor and outdoor arenas. Five full-time employees help with breeding, feeding and conditioning the 50 or so purebred and half Arabian horses housed there. (The Krichkes have another farm in Scottsdale, Arizona, site of the biggest Arabian halter-training competition, held each year in February.) These days, only Keith is doing the training, and he’s doing it well; his many honors include being named Arabian Professional Horse Association (APHA) Male Halter Trainer of the Year in 1997, 1998 and 2011, and a place in the APHA Hall of Fame. Maureen cut back on her training activities after Hope and Faith came along, but she won the APHA Female Halter Trainer of the Year award in 1999.
First, a definition: halter training, says Maureen, is teaching a horse how to pose. There is no rider and the trainer (or sometimes the horse’s owner, having him- or herself been trained by the Krichkes) shows the animal’s confirmation and ability to respond to commands. It differs from performance judging, in which riders put their horses through the standard Western or English gaits. The Krichke Center trains in both halter and performance.
And why is the Krichkes’ program limited to Arabians? Maureen says both she and Keith have always been drawn to the breed. They’re so smart, she says, “. . . they’re spookier, but smart. They catch on really quickly.” Because Arabians are more flighty, she adds, many people are scared of them.
But Maureen never had that fear; her first pony was half Arabian and half Hackney, and, even as a youngster, breaking out both Arabs and quarter horses, she was drawn to the Arabs because, “. . . they are high on themselves. They like to show off.”
It was, in fact, Arabians that brought Maureen and Keith together. He was from Fowlerville, where he had a training business. They met at an Arabian show when she was 20 and he was 29; six months later (23 years ago), they were married. They moved back to Vicksburg, to the farm which Maureen’s parents had been running as a boarding facility, and started their business in 1991.
That business began primarily as a venue for training and showing horses, as well as teaching and coaching owners who wanted to participate in the show ring themselves. Over the years, the breeding side of the business has grown, and now consulting, evaluating and marketing horses for sale are a major part of the Krichkes’ work. Their clients come from all over the U.S., and from countries around the globe, including Belgium, Kuwait, Dubai, Brazil, Australia and Uruguay. (Little-known fact: It costs about $10,000 to fly a horse from Michigan to Kuwait.)
Krichke’s services include helping those clients evaluate their horses for shows and for breeding potential, then helping match mares and stallions to achieve the look and talent sought after by future owners and judges. Some of the traits breeders try to maximize in Arabians, Maureen says, are pretty faces, straight legs, arched neck, tail carriage, and minimal white color.
Keith takes horses to about 10 major shows a year; he and friends drive three or more large rigs that hold eight or nine horses each. In addition to Scottsdale, other big Arabian competitions are held annually in Tulsa and Albuquerque. Through the years, Krichke-trained horses have won many awards at regional, national and international competitions.
Maureen wants people to learn more about the breed she and her family love: She once brought all 60 Kindergartners from their daughters’ school, Kalamazoo Christian West Elementary, to the farm to ride the family’s two ponies and learn about Arabians. She laughs, remembering the sight of 60 children going home with the stick horses she’d been up all night making for them.
If you’d like to learn more about Arabian horses or schedule a visit to the Krichke Training Center, call 269-649-1282, or visit www.krichke.com.