Chapter 13: A GIRL AND HER HORSE: Susan Webster, Nejma and The Hobby Farm.

Photo by Mildred Webster
Susan Webster, age 12, at the Hobby Farm with her
beloved horse, Nejma. The horse was descended from
the top three Arabian strains – Kuhaila – with both
mother and sire – and her sire was bred by the Shawaf
line of the Sheikh of Bahrain. (Photo by Mildred
Webster, courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)

“Arabian: a unique horse of Arabic breeding with an unusually arched neck, short back, arched tail, dished face, and fewer bones than that of any other horse breed.” – The Feed Barn “Glossary of Horse Terms” “Arabian horse (noun): One of a breed of horses, raised originally in Arabia, noted for their speed.” – Random House College Dictionary. Ken and Mildred Webster presented their younger daughter, Susan, with her own horse for her 12th birthday in January 1953. This was truly a momentous occasion in Susan’s childhood, as she was “horse crazy” from an early age and spent most of her free time riding and honing her horsemanship at The Hobby Farm for years prior to this special gift. Her parents finally surprised her with a beautiful Arabian filly named Nejma, which means “star” in Arabic. Not quite three years old and small for her age – only 13 hands high – Nejma was from the Kuhaila line (one of the top three Arabian strains, according to the Webster letters) and was already expecting to foal in the spring. But she was a beautiful “strawberry roan,” as described by Mildred, and had a “wonderful disposition.” Following are excerpts from the family letters of 1953 describing Susan’s love affair with her horse and its foal, Nura, illustrated with photos from that special time in Susan’s life. Included are my mother’s recent recollections about a time she has always described as her happiest while living in Arabia.

Dear Folks
Susan Webster’s horse, Nejma,
which means “Star” in Arabic.
(Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia January-December 1953 Dear Folks: KEN: Visited [the] Don Wassons [in Ras Tanura] yesterday for a while, taking the Sam Shultzes with us, and tried Susan on a horse for sale there. It is a three-and-one-half year-old mare, born in Ras Tanura and raised by a girl, and we think will foal in about one month. Sired by a reputedly fine Arab steed which may be our start in horses. . . we shall buy it as soon as the stable is finished here at the Dhahran Hobby Farm and we are admitted as members. The only real holdup is feed, but that problem should be solved soon when we bring in some hay from Africa and grain from Persia (Iran). Susan doesn’t know yet, but suspects very strongly, and is treading the straight and narrow while all excited. . .” SUSAN: “The true story about Nejma is my dad said he had a friend who had a daughter and that he was looking for a good horse to buy – and would I come with him and check out the horse Nejma. I said I would, and I did, and I know that part of me was hoping the horse was for me and part of me just didn't believe any of it! In fact, I was very angry at my father for 'using' my knowledge of horses to benefit someone else! However, once I realized that Nejma was mine, I was overjoyed!!!"

Dear Folks
Susan Webster with Nejma at a gymkhana
at the Hobby Farm, mid-1950s.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)

KEN: Spent the morning at the Hobby Farm watching Susan ride Neji, as that is our whole life now. Guess I’d better get Mildred a horse, move two beds to Hobby Farm, and see the family several times per week. “Neji” is short for Nejma, which means “Star,” [in Arabic] and Susan is in seventh Heaven. . . SUSAN: “I remember the days at the Hobby Farm and training Nejma as the best time of my young life. Riding solo in the desert was very exciting and the feeling of being totally alone outside in the vast lands of the desert was probably the greatest feeling of joy I ever had. Just my horse and me and no feeling of danger, although now looking back on my several trips outside the farm and outside our compound, I realize it was dangerous and I should have been frightened, but I wasn't. Once I rode through a Bedouin camp and my horse kept bucking and striking out towards the Arabs crowded around me. I soon realized they were trying to cut off Nejma's tail to use for whatever. I got out of there really fast! The scary part is that I didn't feel afraid for myself at the time, but I should have.”

Dear Folks
Riders and their horses lining up for a barrel race
outside of Dhahran, early 1950s. Susan Webster,
sitting on Nejma, is second from left.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)

MILDRED: We had to get up early, as there was a Gymkhana at the Hobby Farm, so Judy, Susan and I left Ken asleep and went down at 9:30. They had a very good turnout and the events were very exciting. Susan made us very proud of her riding. She came in with the first in one event where she was competing with all the grownups in the group and with some very expert riders – making a record of 25.5 seconds to set a record. Received the blue ribbon for that. Also came in second in another and third in another. Nejma isn’t a racehorse, so speed in a long race is too much for her, but she sure is a good little horse. Most of the events were games: relays, barrel cloverleafs, etc... SUSAN: “I competed in the barrel races at the farm. I was top rider in the group and Nejma loved the race of it just as much as I did. She would chase her tail round and round, but when the gun went off she always ran in the correct direction. I had taught her to bow, so when it was our turn to receive our ribbon, she would bow down to receive it. I kept her mane and tail beautiful with shampoo and wild root cream oil as a conditioner and it shone in the sun!”

Dear Folks
Susan Webster grooms Nejma in her stall at the
Hobby Farm. Susan kept her horse’s coat sleek and
shining with lots of tender loving care. “I kept her mane
and tail beautiful with shampoo and wild root cream oil
as a conditioner and it shone in the sun,” she recalls.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)

KEN: Thursday afternoon and Friday, of course, we went to Hobby Farm to see Neji and watch Susan ride. The Austins [parents of Susan’s best friend, Judy Austin, who also rides] got their horse late Thursday and on Friday the whole family went down to clean the animal. Looked like he hadn’t had his coat brushed in years, and they washed him, shampooed him with Drene, olive oiled his mane and tail, had an expert clean his feet and cut the excess hooves away, and then tried to ride him. He was spirited and the children could not ride him. One expert hopes within a week they can decide if he is a horse for the two children. Thank goodness we have a very gentle mare, four years old, and raised by a girl. She is “infanticipating” in maybe three months, so we are well started on our “stable”... MILDRED: This morning we went to Hobby Farm, also part of afternoon, and the rest of the time visited. Neji gets larger every day and we should have a colt soon – maybe in three months. We hope to have it before we leave on vacation in late June . . . SUSAN: “She was truly a beautiful mare and when I got her she was already with foal and we were fearful that she would have a hard time at the 'birthing,' but she did really well. I continued to ride her right up to the day of the birth – so she was in peak condition and did very well.”

Dear Folks
Susan Webster and Nejma on a ride in the desert,
around 1955. “Riding solo in the desert was very
exciting and the feeling of being totally alone outside
in the vast lands of the desert was probably the
greatest feeling of joy I ever had,” she says.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)

MILDRED: I have just dug all the shamaal out of my eyes and ears – off my clothes, etc. We went down [to the Hobby Farm] about 11 but it kept getting worser and worser [sic] so we gave up and came home. Susan went out into the desert for quite a little ride anyway and came back with white hair, eyes and skin. – even she admitted it was silly to stay. Neji is darling and getting big as a house – surely can’t be much longer. Susan took her lunch today in a brown paper bag and was standing by the tack room with Neji when the horse nipped into the sack and about got the lunch – she is just like a puppy dog and has a wonderful disposition... SUSAN: “Whenever I would take the bus out to the Hobby Farm, as I would get off, I would whinny to Nejma and she would whinny back, even though her stall was some distance away inside the farm. She was also a very 'stubborn' horse and really was only broken for me to ride, with love. If she didn't want to be ridden at a given time, she would move just out of hand’s reach and would not hesitate to bite me. Finally, I started biting her back! I would bite her ear and hold her nose as I did it and she soon learned that she didn't want to be bitten.”

Dear Folks
Susan Webster was madly in love with her beautiful
Arabian horse, Nejma. Here they are together at the
Hobby Farm about 1954. (Photo by Mildred Webster.)

MILDRED: Susan went off to the Farm with her lunch with friends and we will go down this afternoon and bring her back. Her best friend, Judy Austin, has a horse, too, so they have a wonderful time there together. I talked to the man yesterday who had Neji from the time she was born and got some information on her lineage. It is good. Right now she is a Strawberry Roan – but he says they change color sometimes three times before settling down at about four years. She is also younger than we thought. Not quite three. Anyway, she is a wonderful pet and very cute. I wish she would hurry up and foal (he thinks April) so we could get that over with before we leave . . . SUSAN: “Nejma was a small horse. She was stunted by eating garbage in Bedouin camp, so she was only 13 hands high. Nejma would receive her daily allotment of dates and it was great fun to watch her eat them and spit out the seeds as she chewed. I taught her to single foot, which is a smooth kind of rocking motion, very comfortable for the rider and beautiful to see, and I would ride her into the compound and ride her home and would keep her at home for a few days. She loved to walk down between our front hedges on our sidewalk and hang her head over the gate, and watch people walking down the street. ” MILDRED: Neji looks daily more like delivery day is nearer, and has a fine sleek coat from innumerable brushing and loving by Susan. Needless to say we are at the Hobby Farm nightly. . .

Dear Folks
Nejma’s foal, Nura, at the Hobby Farm, shortly after her
birth in March 1953. The arrival of the baby caused
quite a lot excitement at the Hobby Farm and in
Dhahran, with many Aramcons and Arabs coming to
see the pretty little foal. (Photo by Mildred Webster,
courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)

Andullah, Calipha and Sala, the three Arabs who take care of the [Hobby] Farm, had a consultation last evening and said Neji would foal in about 4 weeks: “Yemken arbah (weeks) Neji Small Boy.” I said, “Yemken Bint (girl).” Many giggles, but still “Small Boy.” She is really bulging but still full of pep . . . Looks like the event will be very soon and Ken and I are holding our breath that all goes well. She’s much too young and it could be bad. But we will hope for the best. She’s such a darling – Susan is going to give the colt to Judy. . .Susan still lives mostly for the horse and the Farm. . . the sire is a big red stallion called “Red” and a very good horse. So we will keep our fingers crossed! [Nejma is] a light strawberry roan with dark reddish mane and tail. No doubt you can guess I’m as silly about her as Susan! Guess that is where Susan gets her love of animals. . . SUSAN: “On one trip into the desert, this time with friends riding with me, we started to herd some camels just for the fun of it. However, one of the camels didn't like it and started chasing us. I had my horse at a full gallop, her head and mane and tail all in a line and myself low on her neck and the camel trying to bite me, and all I could do was hope the camel got tired sooner than Nejma, which he did, thank goodness!”

Dear Folks
Little Nura at Nejma’s side, spring 1953. (Photo by
Mildred Webster, courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia March 20, 1953 Dear Folks: We have had a big event in the family – Nejma had a filly Monday morning, the 16th, at six o’clock. The stable boys called us – we got Susan up and away we went. She is just darling – brown with a white blaze down her face. She is very strong and active and has the cutest curl in the end of her black tail. Neji is very proud – but until today wouldn’t let anyone in the stall. We wired up the gate so no one would disturb her and upset her [for fear] she wouldn’t have milk. Looks as if she has plenty – surely hope so for would hate to literally move down there to bottle feed the baby! Today she was much better tempered and we were able to take her with the baby into the running pen for a little while and it was cute to watch her nudge the colt and make her run.

Dear Folks
Mildred Webster with Nura at the Hobby Farm, spring
1953. (Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)

Susan rode her to and from with one of the boys walking by in case she got worked – the horse, Nejma, I mean – but as long as the colt ran by her side, she was OK. In 10 days Susan can ride her for exercise and the baby will run along by their side. She is really the excitement of the Farm and many others have driven out to see her. The last colt is nine months old now, so a new member of the Hobby Farm was welcome. We have Neji’s line – she is one of the top 3 Arabian strains – Kuhaila – with both mother and sire – and her sire was bred by the line of the Sheikh of Bahrain – called Shawaf – the strain, I mean, but it is also Kuhaila. We don’t know much about the filly’s sire except he is a big red stallion at the Farm -- brought down from Baghdad. Of course, none of them are registered out here, nor does it mean Neji is a perfect horse, but she is darling and from all the expert remarks, the filly is good. I took pictures of the pet that first day and several times since and will send some if any good. She is still unnamed, as Susan wants to give her to Judy and we felt Judy should be in on the naming. The stable boys want to call her Jamilla (beautiful). Love to all, Mildred et al. SUSAN: “I actually was allowed to skip school that day, so we drove to the farm to see our precious new baby and what a wonderful sight she was, trying to walk on her shaky little legs and with Nejma keeping her body between the foal and us, nudging her along. Her coat was still damp from the birthing. I thought she was just beautiful, but yet so tiny. When she was full grown, she was much larger than her mother, but for the time being she was simply gorgeous and so small. Nejma was very careful not to let anyone near the baby, but she did communicate with me with little whinnies and I kept telling her how proud I was of her baby.”

Dear Folks
An Arab stable boy poses with Nura—Jadeeda Nura
Bint Maharoos – at the Hobby Farm, spring 1953.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)

March 27, 1953 We are still intrigued by the “baby” – and spend a lot of time down at the Farm with her. Neji is in excellent shape and has her ‘figger’ back now. We had never seen her before she was pregnant, so didn’t realize just how pretty she is. So far, we haven’t been able to get any picture that was very good. Pip Squeak moves so fast or always manages to get her mother between us and the camera. She is growing like a weed. Susan has been riding Neji for short runs to give her some exercise and taking the filly along, too. They both love it but Neji wants to really GO and we have to hold her in because of tiring the baby. . . April 7, 1953

Dear Folks
Susan Webster with Nejma and
Nejma’s foal, Nura, spring 1953.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)

The horses are fine and Nura grows like a weed. (Editor’s note: Judy decided on the name, Jadeeda Nura Bint Maharoos, which in Arabic means, “New Light Daughter of Big Red.” The family called her “Nura” for short.) She is getting as tame as a puppy dog. It is a lot of fun to work with them. Still haven’t gotten a real good picture of Nura, but Judy left the good camera home, so should have better luck. The ones I sent were with Susan’s little camera, which has a leak in it . . . April 24, 1953 It is getting hot now but the evenings are still cool and nice to sit out. We have given up going to the Farm except early in the morning or late in the evenings – which is practically never, as Ken gets home too late to eat and go. Besides, he isn’t really interested, so it isn’t much fun to rush through dinner and take off. By the end of the day he is ready to relax and sit.

Dear Folks
Susan Webster with Nura at the Hobby Farm, 1953.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)

I take her [Susan] at least every other day during this school vacation, but when school starts we will have to figure some other system. Nura is growing very fast and can be led with a lead rope or hackamore rein – runs by her mother out on the desert and cuts all sorts of capers – full of energy and beans – cute and really handsome to watch. She is strong and runs like the wind. Neji still gives an argument when we try to take her out without Nura. They both put up a fuss, but we try to do a little of it each time. She has to learn... SUSAN: My concern was how to exercise Nejma and work her out for the barrel races. Mostly I was just glad the ordeal was over and all I wanted was to get things back to normal. Nura took all of Nejma's milk and just kept growing and soon I was riding my horse with Nura running along side of her. Eventually, Nura was weaned – and that was that. I gave her to my sister and soon afterwards the two horses were separated into different stalls. Nejma once again was all mine and although she kept a careful eye out for Nura, she was content to ride into the desert again and we had a lot more adventures together. May 1, 1953 Vacation is over and Susan goes back to school tomorrow for the home stretch. It has been a busy one for her with so much activity with the Youth Recreational Program plus the horses, and the Scout Camporee. There have been few days she has missed going to the Farm. Nura is a big girl now, the tops of her ears are level with Neji’s shoulders. She is tame as a puppy. . . Susan left at 8 to go to the Farm with friends – they are going to ride the horses up into Camp – about 4 miles. She will ride a borrowed horse, as Nura couldn’t make that trip and Neji would never do it without her. This is the ultimate, ultimate finish for her vacation...

Dear Folks
Nura with Mildred and Ken Webster, around fall 1953.
(Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)

May 15, 1953 Nura grows like a weed and is cute as a button. She is getting so tall…[she] will be two months old tomorrow. I must get down and try and get a picture. She is impossible to get as she won’t stand still or moves toward you just as you are ready to snap – or backs her ears, etc. . . May 28, 1953 It has been very hot and the AC hasn’t been up to snuff – I’ve gone to the Farm several times quite early in the morning – then or after 7 at night is the only time it is bearable. The horses don’t even want to go out. Nura still grows like a weed and is adorable. The next three months will see the most growth and we won’t be here. (Editor’s note: The family was getting ready to go on long home leave to the States for the summer.)

Dear Folks
Susan Webster helped raise this tame Oryx at the
Hobby Farm in the early 1950s.
(Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)

June 21, 1953 We have a young man whose wife just came out to take over on the horses. He has one and will buy one later, but they are happy to do it for us [while we are on long leave] and as both have ridden a lot and know about horses, it will be fine. . . Nura is getting very large and is in excellent shape. She will no doubt top her mother by the time we get back. Nejma isn’t very big and having the colt at such an early age isn’t likely to get her full growth – too bad – just carelessness up at the Ras Tanura stables. Susan dissolves in tears about leaving them and I hate to leave them, too. But feel they will get excellent care. The three Arabs down at the Farm are my friends, too, and will see to things. . . Love, Mildred

Dear Folks
A picture of John Ames, which appeared in
the Arabian Sun & Flare in 1959. At the time,
Ames was employed in Aramco’s Geodetic
Division, Exploration. He taught
Susan Webster how to ride and
coached her in barrel racing.
(Photo courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)

SUSAN: “In addition to my horse, I had lots of other pets while growing up in Saudi Arabia. Among them was my very own Oryx. I helped nurse it on a baby bottle at the Hobby Farm. The story goes that John Ames, a man who worked for Aramco, and a hunting group shot the mother Oryx and when they realized she was pregnant, they gutted her and saved the baby. Mr. Ames phoned me and asked that I help nurse the baby, which I did. I also had a baby gazelle that I nursed on a baby bottle but I had him at home in a pen my Dad had somebody build for me. John Ames in those days was like a second father to me. He took me under his wing, taught me how to ride and spent hours training me for the barrel racing. I went out in the desert one time with him while he and a bunch of guys were searching for oil. They had some Arabs with them who were fattening up this huge lizard. They had wire around his hind legs and he dug a hole in the sand and then they would feed him insects and hamburger meat. The lizard was called an Arabian 'thug' and had very strong jaws and a tail it would thrash from side to side for protection. I convinced everyone I needed this lizard to take home, so finally I was allowed to keep it. At our house, we had a patio outside of our screened-in porch and there was a tree growing there with a circular concrete bench around it, so I put this lizard there so he could catch bugs. I kept him tethered to the tree. I even took him to school for ‘show and tell.’ His jaws were so strong he could break a pencil in half. Eventually, I gave him to our gardener and I suppose he made a great tasting stew out of him. John Ames was a gentle and loving man, who was missing his own family very much, so he looked kindly on me, and we became very close. He taught me many things, but mostly how to ride a horse and how to compete on horseback. He was a wonderful teacher and a grand friend, and I have never forgotten him.”

Dear Folks
Judy Webster, Nura and Ken Webster at
the Hobby Farm, circa 1953. Judy was at
school in Beirut when the horse was
born, and Susan gave the foal to her
older sister. (Photo courtesy Judy
Webster Bauer.)

UPON RETURN FROM LONG LEAVE, FALL 1953: KEN: Nura is almost as tall as Nejma and fat as a pig. She whinnies when we go to see her. New saddle fits fine and Susan is happy. We feel we are back in the groove . . . MILDRED: Guess we will move Nura away from her mother today. Neji doesn’t seem too inclined to have her nurse – and Nura has bitten her several times. She is a little glutton anyway and eats all of Neji’s food. Poor Neji is thin as a rail! So, we will probably have a bad week with it all . . .I think I will start riding lessons next week. Susan hasn’t ridden once without her new saddle and loves it. We have a very good instructor at the Farm now – one of the Army men. Susan is going to take a few lessons as he says she rides very well but needs a little posture correction. Hasn’t bothered Nura or Neji to be separated – except for a lot of whinnying the first day. I’ve had the offer to borrow a nice, old, broad-beamed mare to use for lessons – just my speed!

Dear Folks
Whenever Nejma and Susan won an event at
a horse show, Nejma would bow with a
flourish while receiving her ribbon.
(Photo by Mildred Webster.)

SUSAN: “One day I was out riding in the desert solo again, and Nejma and I were descending into a type of pit with jagged walls of rocks. There was a sort of trail leading to the bottom of the pit and all was going well. Nejma and I were descending at a slow walk when all of a sudden she reared and took off running, but not back up the trail -- towards the jagged rocks! I was terrified because she was lunging up the wall and the rocks were bruising her and finally she could go no further and I dismounted and took her reins and gently led her up a smaller slope and finally to safety. She was bleeding and had cuts on both her hind legs, so instead of riding her back to the farm, I walked back, leading her at a slow walk. What had frightened her was a snake, an asp that struck out at her but, thankfully, did not bite her.

Dear Folks
Susan Webster riding Nejma bareback
at the Hobby Farm, mid-1950s. (Photo
courtesy Susan Webster Slavin.)

"When we finally got back to the farm (we were at least two miles from the farm and a very long walk for me!!), I washed her up and disinfected her wounds and asked one of the Arabs to check her out, and he agreed she was just bruised, so a few days of rest was all she needed.” MILDRED: The Hobby Farm had a Fun Rodeo this morning and they had a wonderful time playing all sorts of games on horseback and having races and events of skill. Susan held her own with all the grownups. This was sort of a practice for a big rodeo someday . . . SUSAN: “I had many, many animals to love, but my horse was my favorite. Before long, it came time for me to go to boarding school, and the first year there I grew five inches. It became very apparent that I was getting too tall for Nejma, so eventually she was sold. She was taken to California to be bred, but she never did have anymore 'babies'. So she lived happily ever after in sunny California and was loved by many.”

Dear Folks
Susan Webster Slavin as she looks today. She lives in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ken Slavin.)

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Chapter 14