By day, Tom Oben works for a printing factory in Belgium where he is an electro mechanic. Come the weekend, however, he will be found at one of the many shows on the European Arabian horse circuit, handling his own horses and those belonging to a selected number of clients. At 23, Tom already has a wealth of experience behind him and he is one of the most popular young handlers on today’s showing circuit. Talking to The Arabian Magazine, Tom talks about his love for the Arabian horse and why he thinks of himself as a national handler rather than a professional. 

“I left school at the age of 18,” grins Tom. “I had been studying electro mechanics, but I left so I could work for James Swaenepoel of Swatam Arabians where I stayed for almost four seasons. During that time, I spent three months working at the Midwest Training Center in the US. It’s fair to say I have an all-round experience of horses!”

One could be forgiven for thinking that Tom may have only been in the Arabian horse scene for five years, but the truth is that he was born into an Arabian horse family. “From the day I was born, my father has had Arabians. He started with part-bred Arabians and in 1988, he bought his first pure-bred, Kings Court Tarab, a Plakat** grandson of mixed bloodlines. I always joined them at the shows and people were used to seeing me in the collecting ring, looking at the horses and watching what the handlers were doing. I guess you could say I was a handler in waiting!”

Tom was given his first horse when he was seven years old, a Welsh Section B pony called Bo’ke. It was a few years later, when he was too big to ride her, that he decided that riding wasn’t for him and that, instead, he would like to show the Arabian horses at halter.

“My first halter show was in 1996,” recalls Tom. “It was at the Belgium National Championships, held at Christine Jamar’s farm in Balen, and I showed TS Aphrodite. We were third in the class and that was it, I was hooked. From that moment on, I knew that this was what I wanted to do and, 11 years later, the passion I have for showing is as strong as ever.”

As he was based in Belgium, it was almost natural for Tom to start grooming for the then newly-opened European Training Center (ETC) run by Johanna Ullström and Philippe Hosay. Every weekend and during school holidays, Tom would go either to the ETC or attend shows with them, helping to prepare horses for the show-ring.

“That was a great time,” says Tom. “While I was at the ETC, I learned so much including basic conditioning and schooling of the horses, new systems and techniques and general grooming as well as detailed clipping. After I left Swatam Arabians, Johanna and Philippe asked me to become part of their team as an assistant trainer. I was with them for two show seasons and it was then that I met my girlfriend, Eline, and decided to work for myself.” 

Tom is quite clear on his role in the Arabian horse world: “I call myself a national handler, rather than a professional handler. I don’t think that I would like to be a full-time professional handler because there are lots of costs involved, you are always having to search for horses and you need your own facility, which we just don’t have. Also, there are too many full-time trainers in Belgium! I like to spend time working on the horses I own with my family although, that said, I do enjoy showing horses for the few selected clients that we have at the moment.”

With Eline (Raes), Tom owns five horses. These include the Straight Egyptian Shahim Al Nakeeb (NK Hafid Jamil x Shameerah), a three-year-old colt whom Tom and Eline have high hopes of. “We have decided to focus on Straight Egyptian bloodlines as we prefer those,” explains Eline. “But that said, we are open to other influences. We are only a small stud and we plan to breed just one foal a year. Whether we keep to that remains to be seen!”

Of Tom and Eline’s other horses, they have Rawaat Ezzain (Ansata Almurtajiz x SEA Nazooka), who is leased to Al Nakeeb Arabians in the UK for the 2008 breeding season. They also have the mare NA Joy (Warandes Plakat** x Hamira), who is in foal to Marwan Al Shaqab* for a 2008 foal and is owned in partnership with their good friend, Axel Somers. Tom and Eline have also leased VD Ethni (Ansata Sinan*** x Mel Quebria) to breed a foal with from Memphis 27. VD Ethni is currently in foal to Tom and Eline’s stallion, Shahim, for her owners, the Hensen-Schoefs family of Belgium.

As well as these horses, Tom and Eline have also bred some horses, owning two generations of the same family. “We bought Rawaat Ezzain from Usamah Alkazemi of Kuwait when she was in foal to NK Hafid Jamil (Ibn Nedjy x Helala),” says Tom. “The resulting foal was Ra’hidah, who won the Reserve Foal Championship at both the Egyptian Event Europe and the Egyptian Event in Brecht, Belgium.

“Rawaat was the first mare that our colt, Shahim, could breed to and the resulting foal was Ra’jwa, who will definitely be shown in the near future. We are very excited by the qualities and bloodlines of our horses and have high expectations for our breeding programme.

Such is Tom and Eline’s commitment to the Egyptian Arabian that they are both on the organising committee for the 2007 Egyptian Event Europe (EEE), which will take place on 4 and 5 August at Slot Pietersheim Lanaken, Belgium. “Eline is a great asset for the EEE team,” says Tom. “The show is being run by my family and the Bielen family on behalf of the Pyramid Society Europe and without Eline, I think we would struggle on the organising front! She is a great help.”

Tom and Eline have been together for three years and Eline, also 23, competes in dressage with some of the clients’ Arabian horses. “Eline is my second hand at the shows and a big help. We have the same goals and the same plans. I was invited to be the farm manager of the new Dubai Arabian Stud, but I couldn’t leave my normal life here in Belgium, nor could I leave my relationship with Eline.

“I know that I will have plenty of opportunities to travel. I have already helped Rhodri Jones with his horses during the shows, both here in Europe and in the UK, and I have also worked for Martine and Paul Despeghel of Dion Arabians. Going further afield, I have worked conditioning and showing horses for Shomookh Al Mezaeed of Egypt at the International B show in El Zahraa. I don’t think that turning down the Dubai job was necessarily a bad thing.”

Tom already has enjoyed much success in the show-ring to date. Asked on his major wins so far, he pauses before answering: “AS Natsir-Apal**** (Ibn Estasha** x Saskia RJ), who I took to the Belgian National Champion Stallion title just before he was exported to the UAE. I’d also select Lady Psyche (Psytadel** x Ibara), who I showed to two National Championships. I had the pleasure of showing El Amin* (Psytadel** x RA Cool Elygance) to the Junior Champion Colt title when he was a yearling as well as his half-sister, Psity of Angels (ex Nathanya), whom I took to the European Foal Championship and the Junior National Champion Filly title.

“One of my biggest wins was with TS Gradadell (Psytadel* x Amoraya), owned and bred by the Oben family. He was the first horse that could beat Nijem Ibn Eternity VI* (by Eternity Ibn Navarrone-D***) and I showed him as a yearling at the Belgium Nationals, where he took the Reserve Junior Champion Male title against very strong competition. I must also mention my win last year with the Psytadel** colt, Al Zafir de Croissart. We won the foal title together at the 2006 European Championships, beating the Belgium National and Borgloon Champion Foal Hypnotic Ibn Eternity, also part of the famous Eternity family. These are moments which I will treasure for the rest of my life.

As to the future, Tom hopes that things continue in the same vein. “Eline works as a speech therapist and is at the beginning of her career. For me, I like my work and I spend my out of work hours training horses at home.

“I would also like to restart my career as a football player. When I was younger, I used to play at a very high level, but then I had to choose between the football and the horses. I miss playing football, but I do enjoy my life with the Arabians. Maybe that will change one day?

“Finally, my biggest aim is to make the EEE as good as possible and to continue to organise the event in future years. I think it is good to do something which people can enjoy!”

text by Samantha Mattocks / The Arabian Magazine


                                       [Home]  [About Us]  [Stallions]  [Mares]  [Progeny]  [Sales]  [News]  [Contact Us]

designed by Eyecatcher-advertising.com 2007 - all rights reserved