Julie Lawson loves Arabians. And she wants you to love them, too. When she talks about the breed, you can feel how much she genuinely reveres them. “I have always tried to be a good ambassador for the breed,” Lawson explained. “I think Arabians get a bad rap. People think they’re idiots. But they are so smart. They are so trusting and loyal. They give, give, give, and how can you ask for more?” said continued. “Plus, I’m not very tall, so Arabians have always been perfect for a short person like me!”
The 4’10” Lawson grew up in Long Beach, Calif., in the 1940s and 50s, endlessly wishing for a horse. “I always loved horses, but I lived on the beach, and it’s not exactly conducive to riding horses,” said Lawson.
Bitten by the bug but unable to ride regularly, Lawson devoured anything horse-related she could get her hands on. The extended family of her stepsiblings had Arabians, and each month Arabian Horse Magazine would arrive at her house. “I perused it every month and oohed and ahhed. That’s what really said to me I wanted an Arabian,” Lawson said.
But it would be a long time before Lawson would have her Arabian. When she and her husband moved to Utah in 1971, she was given a Quarter Horse mare as a gift. “In ten days, I rode her five times, she threw me three times, and the last time she threw me I broke my pelvic bone. And so, she left real quick,” she recalled.
Lawson wanted to keep riding, but had lost her confidence. It wasn’t until a friend of hers convinced her to go look at a little white Pony of the Americas that she found her way back. “Her name was Chiquita, and she gave me back my confidence in riding,” Lawson said. “I rode her for probably a year or more, and she was just the sweetest little critter. She would go anywhere. She would go as fast as you wanted her to go, and she was just perfect because I didn’t have to worry about being hurt,” she continued.
Buoyed by this new confidence, Lawson was ready to do more. She finally realized her dream of owning her first Arabian, Al Hurrah. A friend of hers encouraged her to try saddle seat with her new partner, which she did for the next 20 years.
When she lost Al Hurrah to colic, she began to search for her next partner. And she found him in a 10-year-old bay Arabian stallion called Na Wahid. A striking horse, Na Wahid was a winner of the Most Classic Arabian based on looks and confirmation. Lawson fell in love, and the two competed in saddle seat for many years.
Lawson spent a lot of her time in the tack on trails—on day trips, pack trips, or vacations to Montana, where she would take her horse and ride while her husband fished. “Na Wahid became the most wonderful trail horse. And by then I sort of decided to not do too much in the [saddle seat] show ring anymore,” she continued. Now a mother of four and a full-time paralegal, Lawson couldn’t justify the show schedule. “They had changed things so much for an amateur owner that you had to take so much time off of work,” Lawson said.
Lawson lost Na Wahid when he was 24 to a devastating pasture accident. Brokenhearted, she didn’t feel like doing much other than trail riding for several years.
Then in the mid-1990s, a friend came to her with a request. “She said, ‘Will you do something with me? I want to ride dressage,’ and I said, ‘Oh man I don’t want to do that—I’ve done enough riding in circles! And besides, I ride Arabs!’” Lawson said, aware of the common stereotypes of the breed. “But, she talked me into it, and I found us an instructor. That was about 22 years ago—I still do it, and she took one lesson and quit!” she said with a laugh.
Lawson had found her new passion. “It got me hook, line, and sinker. I don’t think I’ve done anything in my life that is mentally and physically challenging as dressage. And put it on top of the fact that you’re on a horse—well, what more could you ever ask for?” she said.
Her dedication for the breed she loves was unwavering as she tackled dressage. “I competed through Intermediate I, and I’ve always done it on an Arabian,” Lawson said.
As her dressage education progressed, a nagging hip began to bother her more and more. “I’ve always been really active, and I’m really short, and I think I just wore myself out,” Lawson explained.
In 2006, she decided to finally have her right hip replaced. But complications arose, and Lawson wound up having seven surgeries in four months. “On my right side, I have very little feeling, and I have no muscle because every time they went in they cut out more muscle which is a problem with dressage,” Lawson said. “Right half pass for me is very difficult because it’s hard for me to sit on my right side. I can sit there but I can’t feel it! I try to sit level but that’s about all I can do,” she added.
A few years later, Lawson had surgery to put a plate in her neck to alleviate pain. Add to that herniated L4 and L5 discs, and Lawson sounds like someone who should stay away from horses. “My doctor says I need to have surgery [on my back], and I’m not doing it! I get a cortisone shot in my back once a year, and that helps,” said Lawson. “And riding horses to be honest is what really keeps my back moving. To me the movement is like going to physical therapy,” she added. When she had her left hip replaced a few years later, she mercifully had no problems. “So, I’m still walking today!” she said.
Shortly after her first hip surgery, Lawson acquired purebred Arabian called HR Electron+ (Ba Bey Elation—HR Cologne), more commonly known as Red. “He’s just the most agreeable horse. I have my not-so-good right side, and I’ll do what I do, and he’ll say ‘Is this what you want?’ He does whatever he thinks I want him to do. Willingly. He never ever acts out. And he always does his job. I have been unbelievably lucky and blessed with this horse,” she said.
Through work and lots of lessons with her trainer Margo Gogan at Hilltop Dressage in Hogan, Utah, Lawson and Red climbed to Intermediaire I, and began to eye two goals she’d had for some time: competing at the Scottsdale Arabian Show in Arizona and the Arabian and Half Arabian Sport Horse Nationals in Nampa, Idaho. She and Red not only made it to those shows, but earned a third place finish in 2012 at Intermediaire I at Sport Horse Nationals.
After reaching these two goals, Lawson bid adieu to competition. “Competition is not my forte. I get very nervous. But I wanted to be able to accomplish that,” she said. But ending competition didn’t mean ending her education. “I’ve never stopped riding. I’ve never stopped my lessons. I’ve been trying to get my horse to [Intermediaire II], but somebody has a hard time with the ones, and it certainly isn’t him,” she added with a laugh. “I love the learning experience, and I don’t have to be in the show ring to do that. In fact, I prefer not to be.”
The plus sign in Red’s show name indicates that he as earned his Legion of Honor, an important milestone in the Arabian breed. But another horse dear to Lawson’s heart became a star in his own right in the twilight of his life.
HK Muster was a purebred Arabian that Lawson got as a 5-year-old and became an amazing trail horse. “He took me thousands of miles though mountains and valleys all over the West,” she said..
He did it without fanfare or recognition. But in June of 2016, an ageing Muster got his day when he and Lawson joined up for a Century Ride. She was 73, and he was 28. The two performed a training level test, and Muster got to be in the limelight. Friends made a rosette for him, and he was the special one for the day. “Red has done so well and gotten so much recognition, and Muster really deserved the recognition for what he had done for all of his life,” Lawson said.
Lawson and her husband have recently retired to Montana, horses in tow. For now, 23-year-old Red and 74-year-old Lawson will keep working on those changes and keep learning and growing.
Lawson added, “I love to see amateurs doing what they do and enjoying it and enjoying their horses because that’s what it’s all about. Whether they do cow ponies or dressage or English pleasure or whatever they do on whatever breed they ride, it doesn’t matter. The point is they’re out there doing it. You don’t have to be a professional; you just gotta enjoy your horses. It makes life much happier. As long as I can get on a horse, by God, I’m getting on a horse. Because it makes me happy. And to me, that’s what’s important.”