Arabian breeder Donald Forbis dies

December 19, 2008


Donald and Judith Forbis celebrate Don's 80th birthday, on November 27, 2007.

Longtime US arabian horse breeder Donald Forbis died on Monday in Mena, Arkansas, at the age of 81. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer in June.

With his wife, Judith, Forbis founded the renowned Ansata Arabian Stud in 1958. The couple met in Turkey in 1957 while he was working as an oil well manager and she was with US International Cooperation Administration's Turkish Mission. They married in March 1958.

Both were horse lovers and while living in the southeast Diyarbakir region, bought Arabian horses to race in the local races for "something to do." Don trained them, and Judith rode them in the races. Her book Hoofbeats Along the Tigris chronicles their hazardous racing career as they won races and earned the respect of the Turks, Kurds and Arabs.

On leaving Turkey they visited the Egyptian Agricultural Organization's El Zahraa Stud Farm near Cairo. Inspired by the farm's beautiful Arabians they decided to buy two Nazeer yearling fillies - Bint Mabrouka and Bint Zaafarana. Don insisted they should also take a colt - and they chose Ibn Halima who eventually became one of the great sires of the Arabian breed. These Egyptian youngsters made a dramatic impact in the United States and, as a result, the renaissance of Egyptian Arabian horse breeding in America began and spread throughout the world.

During the course of their marriage Don was assigned to various countries including Libya, Iran, Greece, Columbia, and England. In 1967 he accepted a management position in Egypt, in addition to his daily work, he lent a helping hand to many breeders who visited the country and bought horses, often assisting with the time-consuming exportation procedures.

In the meantime their Egyptian herd in America was growing famous under the name, Ansata Arabian Stud. While home on vacations, Don trained and showed some of their horses at halter, winning with Ansata Ibn Halima in local and national shows, and later US National Top Ten awards with Ansata El Nisr and Ansata Halim Bey.

While Judith planned the breeding programme and created books, Don created the farms. The first was in Chickasha, Oklahoma, the second in Lufkin, Texas and the third in Mena, Arkansas, which was completed in 1981. Don oversaw the design and construction of what evolved into the landmark "Ansata" - one of the most naturally beautiful Arabian horse stud farms in the world. Respectful of nature, he constructed the buildings of pine lumber and native rock to harmonize with the wild beauty of the surrounding forests and mountains. Ansata, whose name stands for the "key of life", became a sanctuary for all kinds of animals, including herds of deer. Don made sure all were protected. His big farm dog, Bo, a cross between chow and wolf, accompanied him in the back of his El Camino while on patrol of the property, and woe to any hunter who trespassed.

In 2008 the Forbises celebrated their 50th "golden" anniversary. Celebrations of this milestone event were held at Al Rayyan Farm in the Arabian Gulf country of Qatar, and at the Egyptian Event in Lexington, Kentucky. In the meantime the landmark Ansata farm was sold to Dr Thomas Roesener, a retired orthopedic surgeon who raises Thoroughbred and Arabian horses, and the Ansata herd was dispersed to HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Ruler of Qatar, HH Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, Ruler of Sharjah, and other breeders worldwide. However, the Forbises retained a few horses in association with High View Egyptian Stud in South Carolina and Chase Arabians in Texas.


Donald Forbis with Ansata Ibn Sudan.
In June 2008 after the Egyptian Event, Don was diagnosed with lung cancer. A civic-minded patriot who came home victorious from WW2, this time he fought a battle he could not win. However, he lived long enough to realize his dreams, to know his life's work lives on, and that he contributed an important chapter to the world history of the classic Arabian horse.

Born on November 3, 1927, Don Forbis grew up in Chickasha, Oklahoma, where he became the school's star football player. He was fond of animals, raised prize winning chickens and sheep, and was also a fine horseman. For love of country he enlisted in the US Navy during World War 2 and saw action in the Pacific aboard the USS Antigua. Returning home he finished high school and attended Tulsa University on a football scholarship. He was later employed by the Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company in Duncan, Oklahoma, and managed field operations in Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and other foreign countries.

Don enjoyed driving cars and trucks, piloting boats, and flying planes. He was active on the Pyramid Society board of directors headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky and often co-piloted the Ansata planes to various states on ranch or Pyramid Society business. In the mid-90s the Forbises purchased a magnificent stud farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. Don remodeled it and Ansata horses were kept there during Egyptian Events and for other breeding purposes until it was sold.

Don Forbis is survived by his wife, Judith, and brothers Gary, Keith and Wesley, and sister Sharon. A memorial service will be held in Mena, Arkansas, early in January.