For 60 years, New Mexico’s Hindi Ranch has bred and raised its Arabian horses for both endurance riding and ranch work.
Story & Photography by Tim Keller
Growing up ranch and rodeo in Carrizozo, New Mexico, Marcia Hefker knew nothing of the Hindi Ranch just an hour’s drive up Highway 54 at Duran. Knowing nothing, she would have scoffed at the Hindis’ Arabians. “Growing up, I thought Arabian horses were beautiful but flighty, unintelligent, and really useless for our kind of work, which was ranch work and rodeoing.”
That changed when she met Jamil Hindi at the annual White Oaks-to-Lincoln Pony Express Race, a 41-mile relay event won for many years by Hindi horses.
“It wasn’t until I met the Hindis and observed their Arabians, which were heavy-boned, tough as nails, wonderfully mannered, and extremely fast and intelligent,” Marcia recalls, “that I learned to appreciate the breed for what it is.
“That flightiness is not because these horses are afraid: it’s because they’re intelligent. If you look at the core of any breed of horse, the Arabian is at that core. The fight-or-flight response is much more heightened in the original breed. It’s not because they’re stupid: it’s because they’re smart. They are sensitive, but in an extremely intelligent manner.”
Watching Brahaim Hindi clap his hands, relaxed and turning as his eyes follow a flea-bitten gray stallion around the ring, you’ll miss by at least two decades if you guess his age. He was born 93 years ago in the white house just across the dirt lane, here in Duran. His father Alex Hindi emigrated from Lebanon to Las Vegas, NM, in 1908, following his brother William and other Lebanese and Syrian families such as the Maloofs, Frams, and Macarons.
Alex and William worked as itinerant peddlers, with team and wagon, first in Mora County and then here in Torrance County. Railroad workers established Duran in 1900; the post office opened in 1902. “William Hindi and Brother”, a general store, was established in 1915.
Alex married Clarita Duran; born in 1918, the second of seven children, Brahaim learned Spanish and English simultaneously as his native languages; he also learned Arabic. The Hindis prospered, soon joined by more brothers from Lebanon.
As area homesteads failed during the 1920s and 30s, Alex bought them up, building a sprawling sheep ranch of 120 sections, complete with a bunkhouse and commissary for ranch hands. Brahaim had his first of countless horses at the age of 8. He raised and trained horses for the ranch – mostly Quarter Horses then – the only job he’s ever had to this day.
Brahaim, at 32, had married and started a family when his father Alex made a fateful 1950 return visit to Lebanon. His brother, Subhi Hindi, was a breeder and trainer of Arabian horses who raced successfully at the famed Beirut track. Alex bought a champion stallion, Daham, and a pair of mares, Dalal and Bint Attebe, bringing them home in specially-made crates via ship to New York City, rail to Las Vegas, NM, then truck to Duran, accompanied by Subhi all the way.
To say the least, Duran is off the beaten path. Today’s population is 35. Near the geographic center of New Mexico, it’s 100 miles in various directions to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Roswell, and Ruidoso. Of necessity, Brahaim bred and trained the Hindi Arabians for ranch work.
But he liked to get away, too, taking 10-day pack trips into the mountains from Santa Fe to Yellowstone for fishing and hunting, riding Hindi Arabians and leading pack mules. In the 1960s, he started riding his Arabians in endurance races. Though the Hindi Ranch was remote, the Hindi horses didn’t entirely escape notice.
In her classic text The Arabian: War Horse to Show Horse (1969, 1973, 1980), Gladys Brown Edwards noted the 1950 Hindi importation, praising the three imports and their descendents. “All of these Hindi horses,” she concluded, “are used for ranch work, none pampered in the least.”
When the International Arabian Horse Association in 1964 inaugurated an annual 3-day competition called Ranch Trials, Brahaim enlisted his friend and neighbor John D. Holleyman to ride. A champion professional roper who’d won his first money calf-roping at Pecos, Texas, in 1940, Holleyman went on to compete twice at Madison Square Garden before marrying his rodeo sweetheart and buying a ranch near the Hindis.
The Ranch Trials, held in Nebraska and New Mexico, consisted of events testing real ranchwork skills – team roping, cutting, and other stock handling. Holleyman won three Ranch Trials on three Hindi horses – Hindi Ajman in 1966, Hindi Badia in 1967, and Hindi Bint Antal in 1969 – so dominating the series that the trophy was retired early. Today the large wall plaque hangs in Brahaim’s living room, across from Claire Goldrick’s oil painting “Ranch Trials” which depicts Brahaim and Holleyman team roping in the 1966 Ranch Trials. The painting was used for the March 1967 cover of New Mexico Stockman.
His Quarter Horses out back of the house, 91-year-old Holleyman speaks fondly of the Hindi Arabians. “All the Arabians I’ve ridden have been Hindis. I’ve used Quarter Horses for my own ranch work, but the Arabians are good horses, calm and gentle and as good as any other horse as far as ranch work is concerned. Besides the Ranch Trials, Brahaim and I won cow-penning competitions in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.”
He laughs and shakes his head at one memory. “Brahaim rode an Arabian stallion without a bridle in a parade from Tingley Beach on the Rio Grande all the way out to the state fairgrounds. He was just showing off to do it without a bridle.”
Asked why Arabians would have a reputation as not being suitable for ranch work, Holleyman responds, “I couldn’t tell you.”
The bunkhouse caught fire and burned down in 1980; Alex Hindi died in 1974. The ranch was divided between Brahaim and his siblings, several of whom sold off their sections in the 1980s. Today Brahaim runs 1500 sheep and 300 cattle on his 21 sections plus 9000 leased acres, assisted by his son Jamil and daughter Anna. Jamil, 55, has long taken over the horse operation, breeding and training the Hindi Arabians for ranch work and endurance riders.
Jamil’s brother Brahaim, Jr., known as “Brother”, took care of all the horse registrations until his unexpected death last February, just before his 60th birthday. Brother continued the family tradition, all the way back to Lebanon, of naming each horse in Arabic, considering the horse’s pedigree, appearance, and personality.
Jamil divides his time between the ranch’s two headquarters, one in town and the other seven miles east out a dirt ranch road. He trains horses at both. “You can break every horse the same but you gotta take a little more care with an Arabian,” he says. “You just gotta put a lot of miles on ‘em. Then, when they give in to you, they just love you; they’ll die for you.
“These horses all go back to racing blood. We brought in two real good Arabians from Poland in 1970 and we have offspring from them plus the horses we brought in from Lebanon. We sell to endurance racers. Most people want a 4-year-old that’s ready to go, like turn on the key and go. They want all the work done. So I do that. We haven’t advertised lately but from way back people have known our horses forever.”
Jamil and Brahaim scoff at the notion of Arabians being flighty. “These horses would run 2-3 races in the summer,” Jamil says, “and then in October we’d take the same horses on hunting trips in the high mountains, leading out mules packed with elk.” Brahaim recalls, “Doyle Stanfield killed a bear up at the Trinchera Ranch in Colorado. We skinned the bear out and Doyle rolled the hide and tried to tie it onto the back of his horse but the horse bucked and away went the bear hide. I was riding Jalam (a Hindi Arabian). I got the bear hide and threw it over my saddle and Jalam never moved. I carried the pelt out.”
Brahaim speaks affectionately of Hindi Bint Attebe, one of the mares imported from Lebanon. “I used to show her a lot. She was the Grand Champion Mare at Estes Park, Colorado, in 1958.” He also took her hunting – for ibex in the Florida Mountains near Deming, for oryx at White Sands, for Barbary sheep and pronghorn near the Canadian River. “I’d lay my rifle across her saddle as a gun rest and I’d fire. She’d never move.”
Another favorite was the stallion Hindi Siyar, who during the 1970s and 80s “did all the ranch work, raced on the track at Santa Fe, and ran 25- and 50-mile endurance races.” In fact, Brahaim has a rich stream of memories. Every room of his sprawling home has overstuffed bookcases dominated by history, the West, and horses. One bookshelf holds Arabian Stud Book annuals dated from 1944 to 1997, when they went online as the Arabian Horse Registry. Recent newspapers and magazines are stacked all over.
His collections of New Mexico Stockman and Western Horseman go back decades. Brahaim shows a photograph dated 1937. He’s on one of J.R. Jenkins’s horses. “Jenkins raised lots of horses, hundreds of horses. He told me then, ‘Subscribe to Western Horseman.’ I’ve subscribed ever since.”
Asked how he’s managed to remain so fit and energetic at 93, he says, “I still ride horses! I’ve always been active. My grandmother in Lebanon lived to be 116. I’ve been lucky and blessed.”
Marcia Hefker has long gotten over her bias against Arabians. After dropping her barrel-racing scholarship at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces to focus on her coursework, she went on to the University of New Mexico for medical studies. Today she is a Nurse Practitioner (N.P.) with a practice in Raton.
“I went 10 years without horses. Then in June, 2000, I saw a flier for the Colfax Coal Rush, an endurance race at the NRA Whittington Center outside Raton. They had a 9-mile trail ride, too. I called my dad and he brought a Quarter Horse for me and a pair of mules for himself and a nephew. We rode out on the 9-mile ride. There’d been spring rains so it was gorgeous.
“All along the route, people kept racing by us on the endurance race, and they were all on Arabians. That night we saw them camped together, with laughter and camaraderie around a campfire. After that day, I said, ‘I want to do that.’”
Marcia started on the horses of Susan Norris, an American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) mentor in Raton, but two years later bought a trailer and a pair of Hindi Arabians. Official AERC online listings show that, since 2001, she’s participated in 58 endurance rides totaling 2470 miles. Her 12-year-old son, Cy Brower, has been riding since he was 3. Now he’s racing, too. In 2010, mother and son ran 100-mile races together in Montana and Arizona, completing the courses in 13 hours of horseback time, plus three hours of required vet checks and rest stops. Cy – an avid woodworker as well as baseball, basketball, and football player – found himself ranked number 2 in the AERC Junior National 100-Mile rankings.
Marcia, meantime, has taken up team roping on a third Hindi horse, Hindi Aziz, whom she shares with Jamil Hindi, since Aziz is Jamil’s favorite ranch work horse
Riding with Cy across Bartlett Mesa along the New Mexico-Colorado border near their home in Raton, Marcia laughs at how the Hindi horses have worked out for her and Cy. She rides Hindi Bint Samia – nicknamed Samiacita, then just Cita – but she used to ride Hindi Fawaz, now Cy’s horse, nicknamed Goose. “Brother named Fawaz after a Lebanese terrorist. He’s lived up to his name, giving me two concussions, cracking three of my helmets, and breaking some halters.
“But there’s something about horses and kids. Goose is a completely different horse with Cy. He lets Cy get away with murder. He takes care of Cy. I think with me he feels the pressure of all our wrecks and my yelling. He’s a mess, but he can run like the wind.”
The Hindis have produced only one horse with terrorist tendencies, but they’ve long made a practice of producing horses who love to work and who run like the wind – like the wind that sweeps down from the Sangre de Cristos and accelerates as it whips across the eastern New Mexico plains past the Hindi Ranch.