Maine’s Pioneer Arabian Breeder
By Stephen Kinney
Linneus potato farmer Jake Bates holding one of the fillies, named Bint Khalasa, born in 1951.
In the post-World War II economic boom, J. Gordon “Jake” Bates set out to pioneer, bringing Arabian horses of the leading bloodlines of his day to remote Linneus, Maine. The results of his efforts in this geographically distant outpost supplied breeding programs and launched training careers in New England for decades to come.
THE WIDE WORLD OF HORSE BREEDING
Today, the directions to Houlton, Maine are easy. You drive on Highway 95 North and when it ends, you’re there. But, in 1948, when the newly affluent potato farmer determined he was going to breed horses, there was no interstate highway. Local newspaper accounts, which documented the arrival of this exotic livestock to the rural area, state Bates and his wife Adelaide put 10,000 miles on their Cadillac visiting Arabian farms. Research into Arabian Horse Registry records confirms he purchased his foundation stock from Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kansas. His son Donald, youngest of eight children, followed his parents on some of these trips driving a stock truck with a canvas covering to transport horses home.
Newspaper interviews also reveal Bates had read everything he could about Arabian breeding in America in the era. The stock he acquired made it obvious he was not looking for a horse next door. The animals he brought to Northern Maine, three bred by legacy breeder Albert W. Harris in Illinois, prove he had done his homework. Studying old photos in family albums also confirms the legend Bates would eventually acquire in the New England Arabian horse community, specifically that he was obsessed with producing chestnuts (a red-brown color) with four white socks and a blaze.
This is also confirmed if you have some familiarity with Arabian horse pedigrees. Jake Bates foundation stock was rich in the blood of the stallion Mesaoud. Dr. Ron Dow, who bought mares from Bates in 1959, says Mesaoud and the stallion’s son, Abu Zeyd played a key role in the breeder’s vocabulary any time pedigrees were discussed. For reference, Mesaoud was a chestnut stallion with white markings and athletic build imported to England from the Bedouin tribes in 1891 by Sir Wilfred and Lady Anne Blunt.
The Blunt’s breeding program at the Crabbet Stud in Great Britain, perpetuated later by their daughter Lady Wentworth, would influence Arabian horse breeding worldwide well into the mid-20th century, exporting purebred horses to Russia, Europe, America and even back to Egypt. Evidence is again in the pedigrees, that in the horses he selected, Bates sought a connection to this historic equine dynasty.
The desert-bred stallion Mesaoud, imported to England in the late 19th century, and his American grandson Gulastra were famous horses who captured Bates’ imagination. They appear frequently in the pedigrees of the horses he brought to Northern Maine. Bates’ stallion Zaka was in their image.
Sandra [Hines] Cowett was an area schoolteacher who knew Bates and bought her first Arabian from him in 1959. She says, “I think he was aware of what he was doing. When he was in the money he went to Kansas and bought [his stallion] Zaka from a well-known breeder at the time. Then he bought [a second stallion] Kalat and some of the mares in Pennsylvania. He was determined he was going to have Arabians. He wanted something that was special. Somewhere he had gotten information about particular people. He looked for animals that came from [Roger] Selby and [Albert W.] Harris.” Selby and Harris were legendary importers of Arabian horses from distant lands to America in the early part of the 20th century.
The stallion Zaka, with is high-headed build and dramatic coloring, personified Jake Bates’ ideal. He sired 39 foals for the pioneer horse breeder.
Kalat was the other stallion acquired by Bates, coming from a breeder in Pennsylvania.
He sold him to Hope Brown in Belfast, but kept his daughter Bint Khalasa as a broodmare.
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
Local newspaper accounts state that Bates’ first brought Arabians to Aroostook County in 1950. We have photographic evidence that is not precise. There is a photo of Zaka in the pasture on the farm in Linneus from 1949. It has to be dated correctly as registry data shows Zaka was born in 1948 and the photo clearly shows a yearling colt. So Bates had begun his quest in the final years of that decade, acquiring the colt from an Ira Goheen in Kansas. Zaka is central to this story. If horse breeding is an art, Zaka was Jake Bates’ muse.
Sandra Cowett says, “Zaka was one of the most interesting shades of chestnut I’ve ever seen. He was such a dark chestnut he was almost black. He had a wide white blaze. [Bates] really, really liked those markings.” Zaka’s first three foals were born in Maine in 1952. He produced 39 foals in his lifetime and J. Gordon Bates is listed as breeder of all but one. Jake Bates kept the other stallion, the grey Kalat mentioned above, for only a short period of time before selling him to Hope Brown in Belfast. Interestingly, international Arabian pedigree guru Arlene Magid of England, reports Kalat’s sire, Aldebar, “…was foaled in 1919 in England, bred by HRH The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII.” More evidence Jake Bates sought lofty associations through the livestock he brought home.
This photo shows Zaka at pasture in Linneus as a yearling, meaning Bates traveled all the way to Kansas in 1948 or ’49 to begin his quest to breed Arabian horses.
In his extensive travels, Jake Bates purchased only three mares. These mares were Khalasa and Sunbuk, both bred by the aforementioned prestigious breeder Albert W. Harris of Chicago, and Alissa. They were rich in the bloodlines Bates had been studying and their photos show them to be of the phenotype of athletic, chestnut, and distinctively marked horses he preferred. One mare he had bred before transporting her home, one was purchased already in foal, and a third was bred to Kalat when she arrived home in 1950.
Good fortune was with him as all three mares produced fillies (females). As local newspapers recorded, these were the first Arabian foals born in Aroostook County arriving in 1951. By retaining the three fillies, the Bates Arabian Farm started with two males and six females. This nucleus would populate horse breeding, provide family horses, and influence the growing sport of horse showing in Maine and throughout New England for generations into the future.
The three foundation mares
—Alissa, Sunbuk & Khalasa—brought to Maine in 1950, with the three fillies they produced in 1951.
A local newspaper proclaimed they were the first Arabian foals born in Aroostook County.
Holding the mares are, left to right, Jake Bates and his sons George & Donald.
The Carl Smith family of Mars Hill—Carl owned the Carl W. Smith Food wholesalers and was a one-time state legislator—had Arabians for four of his five children to show locally in the 1960s and ‘70s. His daughter, Holly Johnson of Presque Isle, has contributed photos of the geldings acquired from Jake Bates for this article.
The Mars Hill family of Carl W. Smith all grew up riding Arabians at local horse shows.
The Zaka son Gul-Rife taught all the kids to ride. Heidi Smith is shown riding another Zaka son, Zamir, in a pairs class with her brother, well-known Maine businessman Rick Smith, riding a mare named Welcome Linnea.
Dr. Ronald Dow, an English professor at the University Of Maine Presque Isle, started a breeding herd of Arabians on a small family farm in Perham by purchasing foundation mares from Jake Bates. Barbara Carlson traveled all the way from New Jersey to buy mares for breeding purposes. In 1964 George “Don” Weston purchased a Zaka daughter, Zabuk, who had been one of Carlson’s acquisitions. Don’s wife Linda remembers that when Barbara Carlson priced the mare at $1200, Don said ,“for that much money she better come bred to [the Carlson’s stallion] Indy.” The resultant foal was Mount Hope Dahab who became Hall Of Fame Trainer Mert Sartre’s first big time show horse. Halsey Murch would leave Maine in the 1970s to become one of the most decorated show horse trainers of his era. His first important competitor, a bay stallion named Jamlin N’ Kor, was a son of a Jake Bates bred mare.
The bloodline survived in another way that is a circle of life story. Linda Stewart of Hodgdon, knew about her grandfather’s horses largely through stories told by her father, Donald Bates. When Linda married her high school sweetheart, now retired Houlton EMT Paul Stewart, he promised her she’d have a horse one day. In 2004 she was helping to take care of a co-worker’s mare who, the next year, had to find a new home. Linda jumped at the opportunity and Paul built a barn on their property. They knew the mare only as “Taja” but when they saw her registration papers her actual name was Orana Van Tajaa. On the bottom side of her pedigree were her great, great grandparents, Zaka and Alissa, two of the horses imported to Northern Maine all those decades before by Linda’s paternal grandparents Jake and Adelaide Bates. Taja was chestnut with four white feet and a blaze. She lived out her life in the barn christened “The Taj Mahal” passing away in 2009
Linda Stewart of Hodgdon realized a lifelong dream of having a horse when she acquire the Arabian mare Orana Van Tajaa in 2004. When she looked up the mare’s pedigree she realized she was descended from Zaka and Alissa, two of the horses her grandfather Jake Bates brought to Maine decades earlier.
Among the papers in Linda Stewart’s family albums is a census of Arabians living in Maine in 1965. It is handwritten but published on letterhead for members of the Arabian Horse Association of Maine. Of the approximately 80 horses on the list, nearly half were bred by Bates or descended from the stock he brought to the state beginning in 1948.
THE FINAL CHAPTER
Linda Stewart was a young girl when her grandfather had the stroke that would disable him in 1960. In Adelaide Bates’ handwriting there is an account of prices gotten at a 1961 auction of farm and household goods, including a horse trailer. Whether horses were sold at that auction or privately, the prices of five are on this list including Sunbuk, one of the original mares. Linda says her grandfather lay infirm in an upstairs bedroom, where he could hear the auctioneer’s voice over a loudspeaker in the yard. His ambitious Arabian breeding endeavor had spanned only ten years.
Adelaide Bates on Khalasa, one of the original mares purchased for the farm.
Another family letter takes us on a trail to the final chapter in Zaka’s life. In 2006 an Edward Chapman wrote a letter to Donald Bates, the youngest son who drove horses home on the back of a truck all those years earlier. The letter recalls the story of Jake Bates hauling Zaka south to breed two Saddlebred mares owned by Chapman. It also contains a brief mention of a young Dean Homstead seeing Zaka at a farm in Pittsfield, Maine. Eventually, Dean would become a breeder in Maine, specializing in black Arabians.
The circumstances that led to Zaka arriving in Pittsfield are disputed. In an email exchange, Homstead said he was sent to Earl Friend, Jr. (known as Junior Friend) for training. Linda Stewart says it was a lease. Either way, the stallion, who never left Jake Bates ownership, spent the remainder of his life with Friend. Dean Homstead says Zaka, “….was used to breed partbreds and Junior rode Zaka with the Shriners in parades. That stallion was what attracted me to Arabians….Zaka broke his leg running in the pasture. They put him in a sling, but it didn’t work and he was euthanized.” Dean Homstead later purchased Junior Friend’s farm where he has kept Arabians for 45 years. “Zaka is buried out back,” Dean says. “He was a flashy liver chestnut with four white socks. A piece of early Arabian horse history in Maine.”
FOR THE LOVE OF A HORSE
Much has been made here about Jake Bates enthusiasm, perhaps obsession, with chestnuts and flashy white markings. That might lead us to conclude Zaka’s color was the horse’s primary appeal to his owner. According to Sandra Cowett, however, the attraction was also emotional.
“The most important thing to him was Zaka’s personality. He had a disposition which was really friendly. What you read about the old Bedouins and the bond they had with their horses…Zaka was a stallion you could sleep with in a stall. Jake had taught him to do several things. He’d groom him in the aisleway without crossties and tell him to go back in his stall and the horse would just walk back in. The horse knew commands really well. Jake Bates adored Zaka.”
Stephen Kinney is the editor of The Morgan Horse, the official journal of the Morgan breed.
He lives in Houlton, Maine.
© Stephen Kinney 2021