Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A rough rider for fine horses

Idaho Mountain Express and Guide


Valley People

Allah reached up, blew in his hand and out came the Arabian horse, his gift to the faithful: "Drinkers of the Wind, Swallowers of the Earth, Light as a Feather Blowing Across the Land." So the legend goes.

Robert Bouttier, known by his friend and neighbors as "Archie," a buff, wind-burned, enthusiastic man who loves to ski as much as ride, breeds these legendary horses, races them on the track and rides them in endurance contests all across the West.

Many of his horses have won national honors. They include French Kiss, Colorado Race Horse of the Year, and Zabkin, National Endurance Point Champion, who logged over 1,400 miles in one year and won several 100-mile races.

At last count Archie had 57 Arabians on his 85-acre ranch, called Drinkers of the Wind, on Broadford Road in Bellevue, along with three dogs and four cats. Archie is a romantic, at least as far as animals are concerned. He still has his old polo pony, Rose Real Matuse, now 35, which he used to ride at the Broadford Polo Club, which he co-founded after moving to the Wood River Valley in 1973. And he still has his old white Pyrenees, Big Molly, which he got to protect his cats from predators.

"I had a white cat at the time and I'd look out the window and see that cat trying to stalk mice with the big dog right behind her just doing his job, but scaring all the mice off," he laughs. "She was really annoyed. All my dogs and cats get along, though—they're old pals."

Archie was raised in Manhattan Beach, Calif. His father, who was in flight training at the time, died of spinal meningitis four days before Archie was born in the waning days of World War II. His grandfather, a cowboy from Colorado, worked at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.

Archie graduated from Long Beach State, eventually became a pilot and, at age 26, went to work for United Airlines as a flight engineer. "I had nightmares about going to work in an office, so when a friend of mine painted this wonderful picture of making a quarter million a year flying with lots of time off, I went for it."
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Although he worked his way up to senior co-pilot on international runs before he retired early in 2003, he was furloughed along with 500 others during the recession of 1971. It was at that time that he moved to the Wood River Valley, started to buy property on Broadford Road and got his first Arabian.

There are a variety of Arabian horses, and he breeds and raises Polish Arabians, descendents of Polish cavalry horses that were the finest in Europe for 200 years. "You know, most people think of Arabians now as expensive show horses, but that's an unfair categorization. They're really a great all-around horse, and although they have sturdy feet and a heart as big as a thoroughbred, they have less body weight so, like the legend says, 'they move light across the ground.'"

Polish Arabians, Archie explains, also have a wonderful temperament. They're easy to get along with; they're not high strung. They are also very athletic. He races them on the California Fair Circuit and in Colorado. Horse racing is generally in decline, he explains, but endurance riding, in which a horse might run 25 miles a day in the novice class and up to 100 miles as a veteran, is growing in popularity.

This combination of track racing and endurance riding gives Archie a way to live by an ethic he has about all animals: You don't abandon them if things don't work out. "Look, over 90 percent of thoroughbreds that are bred to race never make it to the track. Most of those that don't make it are just discarded. I'm not going to do that.

"If I have a horse that likes to run on the track, that's where I take them. And if they get tired of it or just don't take to it, we go on the endurance circuit. Then either way, I've got a stable of great horses."

In the West, there's still a good market for a well-trained family horse, he notes, and he's got plenty of those. But he also sells his Arabians all over the world. "I recently sold an endurance champion to a buyer in the Middle East, so one of my 'Drinkers of the Wind' went back to where it all began. Isn't that something?"

Unlike many horse breeders, Archie is a one-man show. He gets help when he needs it, but for the most part grows his own hay, builds his own fences and foals his own colts. He has foaling stalls where he can sleep on a raised platform next to the mares that are about to give birth. "That way I'll always be there when they need me," he explains.

Robert Boullier is there for all his horses, whether they're young, old or sick, get hurt or just didn't work out as champions. "I feel about horses the same way I feel about dogs and cats. It doesn't matter what color they are or whether they're big or small or pretty or ugly—they're all great to have around as far as I'm concerned."

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