Archive Article #12 - 03/00/05
Carol Lyons: A Rare Element
Carol Lyons made a difference. She achieved what is to my mind the highest plane of human accomplishment -- she lived her dream and helped other people achieve theirs. In the process, she helped save many precious bloodlines from extinction. There is a spark inside each of us that lifts our lives above mere existence. It is that which drives us to be more, to do more, and to strive for greater meaning. Each of us contains deep within, at that level which defines who we are, an element called spirit or soul. Carol’s soul was so great that it created its own gravity and it drew people to her.
Some people are born with a passion that emanates from the soul and drives life’s choices. Carol was passionate about horses and her passion was coupled with an outstanding intellect and academic curiosity. Wherever Carol went, people were attracted to her and she was always ready to share her knowledge and passion. She was simple and direct and would quietly offer her opinion if she was asked for it or she thought the timing was right. Her influence changed the lives of many breeders. Sara Jones, a friend in Illinois said of Carol,
“Carol Lyons exemplified the whole idea of Al Khamsa in every way. She was a wonderful mentor. No question was unimportant. She had the knowledge, the vision, and the out reach. She did research and shared that knowledge. She fired up people. And besides, she was one helluva breeder and horsewoman.”
Carol was born in 1931 in the Chicago suburb of Beverly, Illinois. She did not grow up surrounded by horses but the genetic potential for EOS (equine obsessive behavior) was there nonetheless. After high school, Carol attended Northwestern University near Chicago and graduated with a degree in Biology in 1953. Jim Lyons grew up in Beverly and graduated from Colorado A&M in 1950. Although it was shortly after Carol graduated that they first met, their paths were perhaps destined to cross again after the “pony incident.” In 1932, an itinerant photographer traveled the neighborhoods around Chicago with his itinerant pony, taking pictures of children on the pony. The photographs below show Carol at 12 months of age and Jim at 4 years, both pictures taken on the same pony. Carol always felt that it was fate that they would some day meet and marry.
Jim and Carol were married in 1955 and moved to an apartment in Chicago for a few years until the late 1950s when they built their home in Hinsdale. It was in Hinsdale that their son James and daughter Diane were born. Carol’s life was all about caring for and helping others; whether her horses or the people that came into her life. After she graduated from college, Carol worked in a medical lab in a hospital in Chicago.
In 1962, the Lyons family took a vacation, traveling by train to Flagstaff, Arizona. Their train passed through Oak Creek Canyon and they were so impressed with the scenery that they vowed to make their home in Arizona. Once the Lyons decide to do something, they act on it. It took but a year for them to fulfill their vow and in 1963 they bought 70 acres in Dewey, Arizona. Jim retired then because of a heart condition and Carol worked at an unemployment agency in Prescott, again helping other people. Of course with 70 acres, they thought it would be nice to have “a horse or two.” Outside of the pony incident, Carol’s only previous experience with horses was when she took riding lessons in high school; a choice she made in part because it was the best option for her Physical Ed requirements in a school with no gymnasium. The Lyons decided to buy Arabian horses because they were, compared to other breeds, easy keepers. The first two horses they bought were a colt named Tamaczar from the Robert Laste estate in New Mexico and a filly named Darjala from Bob Asti in Scottsdale. These two Arabians set Carol on the path. She was captivated by the breed and became obsessed with collecting every bit of information she could find about them including books, articles, or searching out other Arabian horse breeders. The more Carol learned, the more she realized that there were bloodlines and family groups that were on the verge of extinction.
In February 1964, Carol wrote to Charles Craver asking him a lot of questions. He responded with information about Arab families and strains. These first correspondences developed into a friendship that grew and lasted through her entire life. She began to narrow her focus on the rare breeds and developed a special fondness for the Davenport horses. In 1965, Carol bought Rosaline from Charles Craver, the first Davenport mare he had ever sold – an illustration of Carol’s powers of persuasion.
“The overlooked American bloodlines were of special interest to Carol. If there was a line that she felt was not getting enough emphasis, she sometimes arranged for it to have increased usage. In this way, she was influential in bringing the Asara line to prominence in Davenport breeding. Towards that end, she worked on the Core-Haifi group. This was a major change of direction for Carol. If she found a genetically different group among the Davenports, she sought to preserve it. Carol bred some of these horses and interested others in breeding them as well.
“Carol used the Babson stallion Fa Maar, who was near Jefferson City, Missouri when Carol lived in Lake of the Ozarks. She bred to him because she noticed his line was not carried on in Babson breeding. She noticed that Jauhara (Davenport) was not being used, so she used him. Then she noticed there were 5-6 lines without Blunt breeding lines. They weren’t ‘Blunt,’ so she called them ‘Sharps.’ There are now a lot of Sharps because of Carol." Charles Craver
“Carol was always interested in the whole picture of horses and their impact on history. She questioned, was willing to think outside the box and entertain other possibilities. Carol showed wisdom, restraint, and openness when she was President of Al Khamsa.” Jeanne Craver
One of the Lyons’ new friends in Arizona was René Pierre Feuille. René was living in Prescott when the Lyons moved to Dewey. In late 1964,René was on his way into the office of an insurance agent in Prescott when he saw a van with "Little Bit Arabians" written on the van's side. He went into the agent's office and asked who owned the van. It was Jim Lyons' van and "Little Bit Arabians" was the name of the Lyons' farm. René told Jim that he (René) would like to see Jim's horses. Jim said, "How about tomorrow?" The next morning, René arrived at 9:00 and stayed the whole day.
Recalling that first day at the Lyons home and farm, René remembers that Carol had a lot of clippings from the Arabian Horse News. One clipping was a photo of Charles Craver holding the Davenport stallion Sir. René told Jim and Carol that Sir was René's idea of a perfect horse and he recalls Carol being very happy with his comments because Carol wanted a horse like Sir, too.
In 1966 after Carol’s mare Rosaline died, Charles sent Portia to Carol. The mare was in foal to El Alamein. René and Jim got a trailer and traveled from Arizona to Charles Craver’s farm in Illinois. They picked up Portia who was weaned from her foal 10 minutes before she was put in the trailer, and Cristabel (“Tinkerbell”), a filly who was just weaned from her dam 10 minutes before she was put in the trailer. René remembers that Portia was uncomfortable because she was full of milk and they stopped frequently to check on her. In the meantime, Tinkerbell, missing her dam’s milk, decided to nurse on Portia.
In 1973, Carol attended the Nationals where she met Jeanne Craver, Carolyn Burket, Walter Schimanski, H. B. “Chub” Stubbs, Connie Cobb, and Diana Marston. They visited and discussed the need to define a separate group of Arabian horses that, with all reasonable assurance, can be determined to have descended entirely from Bedouin-bred stock. They came to the conclusion that these special horses could best be protected and preserved by forming a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research, preservation, and promotion of what they called the Al Khamsa Arabians; The key to the Al Khamsa concept [is] the Bedouin as the original source of the foundation horses…
Over the next 18 months, and largely over the telephone, by mail, and with several meetings in Illinois, the organization took shape and was named “Al Khamsa.” By early 1975, the organization had evolved to the point that the first National Al Khamsa convention was held in Edwardsville, Illinois. Carol was there from the beginning and never ceased to be a leader, a motivator, and a keeper of the organization’s mission.
In 1976, within just three years of their beginnings, Al Khamsa published the first Al Khamsa Directory. Carol and Jackson Hensley wrote the Introduction. In it is an explanation of the origins of the group’s philosophy and goals, a history of the horses in the Arabian Desert, and a concise description of the principle tribal areas that provided the “homogenous background” of the Al Khamsa foundation horses.
Missing both of their parents back in Illinois, Jim and Carol decided to buy a farm a bit closer to them so they moved to Barnett, Missouri in 1977. It was in Missouri that they met Nathan and Robin Howard. If you went visiting with Carol, you could be assured of an adventure. The Howards share their special memories of Carol:
“At first I only knew of Carol from others and that she was involved with some Arabians known as Al Khamsa. It was at a time when we had decided to change or improve our breeding program but we had no idea it would lead us to Al Khamsa. I wanted (and needed) the help of someone who was much more knowledgeable than I was. I called Carol and she went to Illinois with me (we both lived in Missouri then). We had a wonderful day of horses and horse talk.” (Robin)
“It started many years ago, but thinking on it now brings it up close again. My first real recollection of Carol was when my wife was talking about driving to a small town in Illinois to look at a stallion for breeding to our general list mare. Carol went with Robin to help her decide if the stallion was the real thing or not. When they returned, I learned that we needed to go get a mare my wife had bought. I was having trouble making the connection -- you go to check out a stallion to breed to your mare but instead you come back with another mare. I was still naïve then.” (Nathan)
“She also took me to Charles and Jeanne Craver’s farm that day. The depths of her incite, knowledge, and friendship began to dawn on me. She became a mainstay of my list of advisors. Carol also went to Oklahoma with me when it was time for a stallion for our emerging program. (Robin)
“Oh yes, the trip to Oklahoma ‘just to look at some horses’ that Robin had asked Carol about. After a few days I warmed to the idea but did not like Robin driving by herself. She said Carol was going with her. I felt a little better then. When the day came, she had me hook up the horse trailer. Naturally I said, ‘What for, you’re just looking?’ Well of course I knew the answer without asking, having been bit once before, but Robin still did not admit it. I took solace in that Carol would not let her bring back a nag (if such a thing exists).” (Nathan)
“Our first Al Khamsa convention was in Ohio in 1989 and the rest as they say is history. With Carol's guidance we were fully introduced to a different world of Arabian horses. Not one built on glitz, as we had begun, but rather built on the substance of the horse itself. Carol was always there with words of encouragement and guidance. I truly believe that God used her to save the Sahanad horses through us. But it wouldn’t have been possible without Carol’s friendship. Carol’s knowledge of horse, especially Al Khamsa lines, seemed immeasurable.” (Robin)
“As I think about our last meeting with Carol, at the Al Khamsa convention in Denver last August, what strikes me is her concern for Al Khamsa and the Al Khamsa Arabians she loved so well. How better could we pay tribute to her than to continue with what she did, with what she wanted, with what she spent much of her life ensuring would not perish -- the Al Khamsa Arabian Horse. (Nathan)Carol edited the Al Khamsa Arabians, the 1983 directory. She was Chairman of Al Khamsa at the time. The first Al Khamsa directory (1976) had drawn on the Blue Arabian Horse Catalog, with the kind permission of the author Jane Ott. This time, the work was begun from scratch. It was a ferocious, stressful job because every line of the foundation sources of Al Khamsa horses had to be researched. The publication is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the early founders of Al Khamsa. Carol’s energy and tenacity were driving forces in the compilation and success of the directory.
Carol was a teacher and mentor and was always willing to share what she had learned. Her own passion inevitably infected others and inspired them to achieve more. In 1984, Carol met Robert Root at the Al Khamsa National Convention in New Jersey:
“Carol has been such a friend for 20 years, since my first hour at my first AK gathering in New Jersey in 1984. She has been responsible for much of what I've learned about our horses, our people, and our research challenges. I don't know that there is anyone who has done more to identify and bring to public attention the many genetic lines that have been in danger of disappearing through oversight or misfortune in the last three decades.”
In 1985, Randall Harris was encouraged by Sharon Ferriss to go after the endangered strain horses and was told to call Carol. He met Carol at the Springfield, Illinois Al Khamsa convention the next year and early in 1987 got Tarrla from Carol:
“At first I was going to lease Tarrla from Carol. Carol asked me for 20 personal references. I could hardly believe it, but got all 20 and Carol checked out each one. Carol ended up giving me the horse because the mare was old and had thyroid problems. Tarrla died without producing for me, but she got me into the endangered horses. I leased the Davenport mare LD Jubilee Gem from Carol.
"At the 1987 Al Khamsa convention in Memphis, Carol brokered a deal with Eileen Sass for me to buy Belladonna CHF who was out of Rubic and the granddaughter of Tarrla (Belladonna to Rubic to Tarrla). In order to get Belladonna, I had to return Jubilee Gem who belonged to Diane Lyons.
"I would call Carol and ask her, ‘Where do I go next in the breeding program?’ All I needed to say was here is what I have now. She was always there for me. She always had time to talk. One thing that Carol used to say and I will always remember is, 'Express the mare line. Don't keep breeding over and over to the same stallion.’"
Carol increasingly concentrated on the rare elements and spent much of her time persuading breeders to join in the quest to save these endangered lines. In her article entitled Al Khamsa Tail Female Lines—Blessed are Our Broodmares, Carol presented a chart, “The Ten Most Rare Al Khamsa Mare Lines,” which included Tarrla, “the only Al Khamsa daughter of an only Al Khamsa daughter the Kuhaylah Ajuz mare *Nufoud.” Also listed are *Nejdme, Bedowia El Hamdani (ARA), *Munifeh, *Sawannah, Nafaa (Inshass), *Sindidah, *Samirah, Selma (AP), and Kariban (AYZ). She challenged breeders to seek out and breed true to Al Khamsa these rarest of horses and save them from extinction. The lives and lines of many horses were saved because of her efforts.
With each move, Carol developed a new circle of Al Khamsa breeders, each new contact a friend for life.In late 1986, Carol started shipping horses to Oregon on lease to Carol Tummonds and continued until the Lyons moved from Missouri to Sutherlin, Oregon in early 1989. By then, Carol had made a lot of friends in Oregon and became very active in CenPak, the Al Khamsa affiliate in the Pacific Northwest. René Feuille, whom they first met when she lived in Arizona, had moved to Oregon and has been a close friend of Carol and Jim for the last 40 years.
Carol was friendly with the Crabbet breeders in Oregon and encouraged joint meetings and events with Al Khamsa and the Crabbet breeders. It was at one of those joint events in McMinnville, that Terry Doyle remembers,
“My enduring image of Carol Lyons is one of her at a show in Oregon a few years ago. She was almost 70, petite, riding a wide-eyed hot stallion under control and enjoying every minute.”
Carol possessed an intensely strong will and never blamed life for the obstacles that confronted her. In 1996, she had planned a trip to Syria and Jordan, but a few weeks before she was to leave, she was hit by a school bus going 50 mph. It flipped her into the air and she struck the ground so hard that her heel was completely shattered, her arm broken, and she suffered a concussion (the bus mirror clipped the base of her skull). Still she tried to go on the trip but she couldn’t quite make it. Randall Harris made the trip and brought back for Carol a saddle, clothing, some halters, and more than 12 hours of video. Carol had given him her old video camera to take with him.
People who never met Carol in person came to love and respect her. She always made you feel like you were the only person that mattered. When you talked to her, she gave you her full attention and was never judgmental but always had words of encouragement and praise. Carol had a great deal of influence on a lot of people and many have left tributes to her on the Al Khamsa website (www.alkhamsa.org). Robin Weeks has this to say about Carol:
“I never had the privilege of meeting Carol in person. We only knew each other via phone calls and a few e-mails. As a breeder, she helped me realize the importance of ALL the different bloodlines. Straight Davenport, Al Khamsa Arabians were indeed her favorite, but that certainly didn't keep her from speaking admiringly about other individual horses or various other groups.
“Carol, often times, was able to verify or dispel my own ‘opinion’ on a certain older horse or breeding group, as she knew many of the animals personally and had seen their progeny for generations! I greatly valued her opinion as well as the wonderful anecdotal memories she had to share.”
When Carol and Rosemary Doyle traveled to horse shows, they would walk through the barns and Carol would point out all the good features of each animal, rarely the faults. Carol admired the show people and their dedication and gave them full marks for their efforts. She never decried other bloodlines or strains. She had character. She always looked for the good in people and horses.
Charles Craver remembers her joy at simply being with the horses.
“When we had an open house here at Craver Farms in 1996, we were showing the stallions. Carol got into the ring and started running around, chasing the stallions, and having a great deal of fun.”
Carol’s daughter Diane remembers that day.
“I wish I had more pictures of Mom with horses, but I just don't. There are two images of her that just stay in my mind. One is real, and one is from a dream of a friend of mine.
“The real one happened at Cravers', before she got hit by the bus. The Al Khamsa convention was in Illinois, and Charles and Jeanne were turning out the stallions one by one for showing off for the large group of people that had gathered there. Mom was in the turn-out area helping stir them up, playing with the stallions, getting them to show off -- rattling a plastic jug with rocks in it, chasing after them a bit -- having a ball doing it. I'll always remember her joy that day, sharing the love of these horses -- look at how beautiful they are!
“The other was a dream my friend Cheryl had shortly after Mom’s cancer was diagnosed. I wish I had kept that email because it so perfectly described her. In Cheryl's dream, Mom was at the barn showing the horses to a group of people, talking animatedly, and walking normally. The further away from the horses she got, the more difficulty she had walking.
It seems like a picture of Mom wouldn't be right without a horse or two in it.”
Carol shared a final bond with her beloved horses. Shejointly owned the Davenport stallion Audobon with Marge Smith. The stallion lived with Marge. Audobon suffered from kidney failure and before Carol's death, she and Marge talked about putting him down. Marge had the vet come to her farm to do the job. Unknowing when the vet would come, and unknowing when Carol would pass on, Audobon and Carol both died at 7:30 a.m. on August 25, 2004. Both had been born in September; Carol would have been 73 and Audobon would have been 24.
Carol said of her cancer that it was “ridiculous,” almost as if it was a rude interruption in her momentum. Her death, however, is not so much about a life lost as a life given; given selflessly and joyously; a life that is exemplified by her passion and joy, dedication and research, optimism and encouragement. Carol never tooted her own horn but was unassuming and supportive of others. She was a great champion of Al Khamsa horses, a mentor, and a mother hen to new Al Khamsa breeders. She always took the time to talk to people and she listened to them. All who were receptive to her message were deeply affected by her. Whether she was a life-long friend, an email buddy, or someone known only through her publications, we were all drawn into her world by the gravity and warmth of her soul and we are all better for having known her. Carol made a difference.