BUCHANAN — Top-of-the-line rides were all the rave at Amethyst Acres Equine Center this weekend.
“Ferraris, that’s what we like to call them,” said owner Deb Burke of the Straight Egyptian Arabian horses the 47-acre facility has come to feature.
Saturday, Deb Burke and co-owner and husband Mark Burke put the breed and the breeding business on display for about 20 people during their open house, “Summertime with Arabians.”
“The fillies, when they hit the ground, they’re worth about $30,000. That broodmare … I’m sure she’s insured for at least $60,000,” Deb Burke said.
During the four-hour event, the couple explained the reason for the hefty price tag, as well as how the guests, even with little or no horse knowledge, could become involved in breeding Straight Egyptian horses.
“They are the oldest horses known to man. They are the horses King Solomon owned in the Bible,” Deb Burke told the guests.
Today, she estimated that out of the 9.2 million horses of various breeds in North America, there are only about 4,800 of this breed, which features broad nostrils, high arching necks, and vertical flying tails.
Many of those horses have connections with the Waco, Texas-based farm Arabians Ltd., which is the largest Straight Egyptian breeder in North America and of which Amethyst Acres is an affiliate farm.
As part of the two organizations’ agreement, the Buchanan farm houses the mares and the Waco farm houses the stallions. The breeding then comes via overnight FedEx packages of horse semen and Mark Burke’s experience in artificial insemination.
“What that means is we’re kind of like a fertility clinic,” Deb Burke said.
Shawn Crews, the senior vice president of Arabians Ltd., was Saturday’s guest speaker and highlighted many of the people she’d known to come to breeding from other careers.
The key for most was to start small and grow slowly, she said, while also advising to purchase mares instead of stallions.
Crews said she first met the Texas native Mark Burke when he was working at an auction as a teen. Years later, after he obtained a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M University and married Deb, she hired him as the breeding manager for Arabians.
In 1999, Deb Burke, who grew up in Norfolk, decided she missed the green of her home state and she and her husband relocated to Buchanan and launched Amethyst Acres as a facility that specialized in equine reproduction for all breeds.
But about six years ago, the couples’ love for the Straight Egyptians took hold and they decided to add a focus on the rare breed.
“They’re such an intelligent breed and they’re so interactive that once you get to interacting with them, it’s hard to get it out of your system,” Mark Burke said.
Many of those in attendance Saturday seemed to be developing a similar affection.
“I like how they look magical,” said Jackson Rike, 11, of Richmond.
Jackson and his two younger sisters, Addison and Olivia Rike, came to the farm with their grandmother, Inez Farrell of Salem, who saw the event advertised on Facebook and said she couldn’t pass it up.
“[I like] this one, because she’s white,” said Olivia, 5, of the 7-year-old mare Shahsria Moon.
Shahsria Moon is owned by Warren “Skip” Skipper and Jean Skipper of Rocky Mount. Warren Skipper said he loved his wife and his wife loved horses, so he ended up in the horse business after he retired as production director in Virginia Beach.
He said being connected with Amethyst Acres and leaning on the knowledge of the Burkes had been the perfect way for he and his wife to be successful with their new hobby with limited experience. They now own two mares and hope to start producing a foal every year.
While the money to be made from the breed is appealing, both Mark and Deb Burke said, the horses’ ability to work well with humans was their best asset.
“The cool thing is because they’ve been associated with man for so many centuries, they’re like big dogs,” Deb Burke said.
Keeping the association with the rare breed for centuries to come has become one of the Burkes’ top priorities.
“We feel like it’s our responsibility to keep them alive for the next generation,” Deb Burke said.