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ARABIAN DELIGHTS \\\

By royal appointment
What does it take to rise to the top of the Arab horse-breeding world? Emma Beddington finds the answer in rural Belgium, where one woman has struck out in a male-dominated arena to impress sheikhs, kings and equine connoisseurs with her handsome, noble creatures Photography Alexander Popelier

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here’s a wonderful moment when I’m walking around superstar Arabian horse breeder Christine JamarDemeersseman’s stud farm, hidden down an anonymous lane in the Flanders countryside, when one of her grooms persuades a group of about 20 yearlings to gallop across a muddy paddock towards us. It’s an extraordinary sight and sound, as these equine teenagers – all power and grace – come to an abrupt, jostling halt at the gate. They’re curious and friendly, occasionally squabbling, longlashed and softly endearing as teddy bears in their thick, mud-spattered winter coats. But it’s only later, talking to Jamar, a feisty, frank woman with an infectious laugh,

that I realise exactly what I saw. Her horses, she tells me, sell for anything up to €4-€5m, so 20 together in one field? The thought leaves me light-headed. “Not all of them,” Jamar amends. “Some might sell for €500 if they don’t have a pretty face. They must have the look, the big beautiful eyes, the dishy face.” It’s hard to imagine the sweet, spirited horses I meet as assets, but that’s what they are: bred for their prize-winning beauty, they are living works of art, minutely appraised and admired with the ultimate aim of recreating, or further perfecting, that beauty in the next generation. “But perfection is also about character,” qualifies Jamar. “A good Arabian must love people. They’re more

like dogs than normal horses – they used to sleep in their Bedouin owners’ tents at night. “They’re sensitive, they learn extremely quickly, they have such spirit. When I’m judging, I must feel something, a connection with a particular horse, something that makes me go: ‘Yes, that’s the one.’ My clients say my good eye for horses is a gift from Allah.” Jamar’s infallible eye, that gift for finding the particular combination of mare and stallion that will create perfection, has brought her extraordinary success in a highstakes, male-dominated universe. Her client list reads like a who’s who of Middle Eastern royalty, her office is stuffed with trophies and rosettes marking her successes and she’s also a highly respected judge.
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Clockwise from top left: Christine Jamar-Demeersseman describes her stud farm as a seven-star hotel for horses; one of Jamar’s top Arabs with its groom; Jadem Stud is in the heart of the Belgian countryside

She could hardly have imagined it would turn out like this back in 1978 when her fiancé, Guy Demeersseman, persuaded Jamar to buy two Arabian mares, hoping he would see more of her if she gave up her career as a budding showjumper. His gamble backfired spectacularly. I ask Jamar how her husband copes more than 30 years later with a wife who eats, sleeps and breathes Arabian horses, who describes herself as: “Obsessed, passionate, a perfectionist.” She smiles ruefully. “It’s not easy for him. He likes the horses, but not everything that goes with them, the travelling, the competitions. But as his father said to him once: ‘You have a happy wife, and that’s more important than anything.’” Demeersseman can certainly be proud of

his wife’s drive and commitment: from those first two mares, Zwia and Rakthala, Jamar has built the world-renowned Jadem Arabians stud, “a seven-star hotel for horses”, with a world-class artificial insemination centre. Of the 100 ‘guests’, half are Jamar’s and half belong to her clients, who entrust her with their horses for breeding and showing. Perhaps one of Jamar’s most exceptional achievements, though, is the niche she has found as a trusted advisor to royal stables in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Dubai and Qatar. Her connection with the Arab world started 20 years ago, with a role as agent to King Hassan II of Morocco (whose stud manager apparently followed her fortunes for eight years before making contact), buying and selling horses on the king’s behalf.

My first Middle Eastern client, from Saudi Arabia, had never even seen a Western lady before
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Word of her talents spread gradually to Arabian horse connoisseurs in the Middle East and now they are central to her business. But how did she win their trust, and is it hard being a Western woman in such a closed world? “It’s wonderful, wonderful,” she says emphatically. “My first Middle Eastern client was from Saudia Arabia: he had never even seen a Western lady before, and he spoke almost no English. But I sold him a beautiful black filly belonging to King Hassan for a good price, and he came back and wanted more.” The process she describes is a long game: a gradual building of trust, respect for tradition, cultural sensitivity and even some basic Arabic. Perhaps surprisingly, Jamar says that the cultural differences with her own upbringing were not as great as she imagined. “I was brought up in a Catholic family. We went to church with our heads covered, and the men and women sat separately. At home too, the men and women were separated;

Jamar particularly prizes her brood mares and is always there when they give birth

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Quel effet cela fait-il d’être une star dans le milieu de l’élevage des chevaux arabes ? Emma Beddington a trouvé la réponse dans la campagne belge, où une femme suscite l’admiration des cheikhs et des jurys avec sa sublime lignée Se promener dans le haras de Christine JamarDemeersseman, la superstar de l’élevage de chevaux arabes, est un moment de pure merveille. Ma première vision dans cette campagne de Flandre, fut un groupe de poulains galopant vers moi à travers un enclos boueux. Epoustouflant, ces jeunes équidés racés et gracieux, s’arrêtant net et trépignant à la barrière ! Ce n’est que plus tard, en parlant avec Jamar, que je mesurai l’ampleur du spectacle. Aucun de ces chevaux, me dit-elle, ne se vend sous la barre des 4 à 5 millions €. Faites le calcul, avec 20 bêtes dans un champ ! De quoi donner le tournis. Leur valeur est déterminée par leur allure et leur caractère, poursuitelle. « Un bon pur-sang doit aimer les gens – autrefois, ils dormaient la nuit dans la tente des Bédouins, leurs propriétaires. » Grâce à son extraordinaire talent pour l’élevage, Jamar s’est hissée au sommet dans un univers habituellement dominé par les hommes. Elle a commencé avec deux juments arabes, un cadeau de son mari Guy Demeersseman, il y a 30 ans d’ici. Aujourd’hui, le haras Jadem Arabians a acquis une renommée mondiale et offre de précieux conseils aux écuries royales d’Arabie saoudite, du Koweït, de Dubaï et du Qatar. Mais comment une femme occidentale a-t-elle réussi à gagner la confiance d’une telle clientèle ? Par le respect de la tradition, de la sensibilité culturelle et un minimum de connaissance de l’arabe. Là-bas, on la considère désormais comme une sœur. « C’était à peine croyable, mais lorsqu’une des juments du prince héritier d’Arabie saoudite a remporté le titre mondial, le Cheik Mutlaq bin Mushrif, son manager, m’a sauté au cou pour m’embrasser. Je me suis presque évanouie ! », s’esclaffe-t-elle.

FR De race royale

Arabian horses are curious and intelligent creatures and very drawn to people

They’re more like dogs than horses – they used to sleep in their Bedouin owners’ tents at night
the men were off smoking their pipes and telling jokes. So when I went to the Middle East for the first time, I asked myself: What would my grandmother do? I showed them a lot of respect, I took a step backward when they were speaking, I didn’t try and shake their hands.” Jamar describes how her Middle Eastern clients have found a convenient fiction to enable them to deal with her on equal terms. “After two years, they said: ‘Okay, now you are my sister.’ That allows them to look me in the eye and talk to me, which they couldn’t with a woman who isn’t a family member. So I’m everyone’s sister and it works very well!” Now, their mutual passion transcends differences. “I couldn’t believe it when one of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia’s mares became world champion and his stable manager, Sheikh Mutlaq bin Mushrif, jumped up and kissed me. I almost fainted!” she laughs. It’s a strange world that Jamar describes: one where the tiniest details mean the difference between success and failure; where horses are bought and sold for dizzying sums, given and received to oil the wheels of business deals, zealously guarded as trophies. It’s a world of professional jealousies and unlikely friendships, but it’s also a world
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dominated by a shared love of these fabulous creatures. When I ask which horses are particularly special, her voice softens. “All my brood mares. What makes me happiest each year is when the babies are born and the mares give me this happiness. I love everything about it, cleaning them, helping them feed for the first time, the smell of the amniotic fluid. I can never bear to part with my brood mares, even when they are old.” Later, amidst the bustle of grooms preparing horses for yet another championship, Jamar poses for our photographer with the aptly named Glamour Girl. The two-year-old filly is clipped and groomed to a high, silken sheen, muzzle and eyes darkened and oiled for her close-up. They make a fabulous pair, she and Jamar, chestnut and blonde manes contrasting magnificently. But then I think Jamar – whose entire life and livelihood is built around creating perfect pairings – probably knows that already.
FROM JUST

Hoe word je een ster in de Arabische wereld van paardenfokkers? Emma Beddington vond het antwoord in landelijk België, waar sheikhs en kenners ontzag hebben voor haar innemende kroost Ik vind het prachtig om rond te lopen in de fokkerij van superster en Arabisch paardenfokster Christine Jamar-Demeersseman, op het Vlaamse platteland, wanneer een van haar stalknechten een groep van eenjarigen overtuigt om naar ons toe te galopperen. Het is uniek om te zien hoe ze abrupt halt houden bij de poort. Pas later besef ik precies wat ik heb gezien. Ze vertelt me dat haar paarden verkocht worden voor 4 tot 5 miljoen €, dus 20 samen in een weide? De gedachte alleen al doet me duizelen. Hun waarde ligt in hun uiterlijk en karakter, aldus Jamar. “Een goed Arabisch paard moet van mensen houden.” Jamars gave om de perfectie te fokken maakte haar zeer succesvol in een mannelijk universum waar veel op het spel staat. Ze ging 30 jaar geleden van start met twee Arabische merries geschonken door haar echtgenoot Guy Demeersseman. Vervolgens richtte ze de wereldvermaarde Jadem Arabische paardenfokkerij op en werd de vertrouwde raadgeefster van koninklijke stallen in Saudi-Arabië, Koeweit, Dubai en Qatar. Hoe is ze erin geslaagd om als westerse vrouw het vertrouwen te winnen van haar klanten? Door respect te hebben voor traditie, culturele gevoeligheid en een beetje Arabisch te spreken. Vandaag beschouwen ze haar als een zus. “Ik kon het niet geloven toen een van de merries van de kroonprins in Saudi-Arabië wereldkampioen werd en zijn stalverantwoordelijke opsprong en me kuste. Ik viel bijna flauw!” lacht ze.

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