A horse named Zar has traveled across the ocean to one day make its home in Rome. When he arrives he will be the first of his kind in the United States.
This journey begins in 2019 when Rome resident Melissa Phillips and her mother, both horse enthusiasts, had planned a Ride, Wine and Dine trip to Spain. Melissa also happens to be a volunteer assistant coach with the Berry College Equestrian Team and has been riding horses for more than 30 years.
Before the trip, however, the women traveled to the island of Menorca in the Mediterranean Sea.
“We get to this beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean and we got to ride these beautiful black horses,” she said. “I fell in love with them.”
What Melissa had fallen in love with was the Menorquín Horse, a breed of horse indigenous to the island of Menorca. It was officially recognized as an indigenous breed in 1989, and is listed as one of the breeds in danger of extinction. The Food and Agriculture Organization lists it as “endangered” with a total population reported to be 2995 in 2011, of which fewer than 200 were outside the Balearic Islands.
The breed is known for its agility, energy and slender build and in Menorca is ridden in traditional festivals with a dressage riding style.
Fast forward to February of this year. Melissa got a call from her horse trainer in Aiken, South Carolina who says she’s planning a program to import some Menorquín horses to the United States (none have ever come to this country). She wanted Melissa to be a part of the process to eventually start a breeding program here.
Melissa remembered how she fell in love with the breed and was excited about the prospect of owning a Menorquín and agreed to be a part of the program.
But shipping horses overseas requires a lot of paperwork and transportation logistics. Not the least of which is making sure the horses are disease free. Only healthy horses can enter the country.
As it turns out, of the 10 horses chosen to be tested for travel to the United States, only one passed all the health requirements. It was Melissa’s horse, Zar.
“So we’ll be the first,” she said. “Zar will be the first of his breed in the United States. He’s the first outside of Europe, I believe.”
All Zar’s tests were completed in April, and in May he underwent veterinarian inspections and passed those. On May 17, Melissa wired all the fees to Menorca and Zar was officially hers.
This is when Zar’s journey to Rome officially began. He first traveled from his tiny island, across the Mediterranean Sea by ferry, and then on to Barcelona, Spain where he stayed for more than a month.
From Barcelona he was flown across the Atlantic and just last week arrived at JFK International Airport in New York City. Zar is currently at Rigbie Farms in Darlington, Maryland where the stallion must undergo another quarantine.
“On August 24 he’ll go to Aiken, South Carolina, where my trainer is,” Melissa said. “That will be sort of a re-naturalization process for him. He’s been traveling so much and been in quarantine away from other horses. So this will be where he sort of learns to be a horse again. He’ll be introduced to other horses.”
Zar probably won’t be in Rome until around Thanskgiving. And Melissa can’t wait to introduce him to his new home here.
“He’s trained for upper level dressage,” she said. “That’s my goal and focus with him. I want to go to horse shows and dressage competitions with him. The goal is for him to come back and live in Rome and we’ll commute to horse shows in the southeast.”
Melissa hopes that when Zar’s journey finally ends in Rome, that he’ll be an ambassador for his breed and that others might see his beauty and his strength in dressage, perhaps sparking an interest in the breed.
“I can find an upper level dressage horse anywhere in the southeast,” she said. “But I fell in love with that breed and I feel honored to be able to own Zar and to have him teach me a few things.”
And although there is considerable expense and patience required to ship a horse halfway around the world, Melissa is says it will all be worth it.
“But will totally be worth it,” she said. “(Zar) has competed in Spain and Menorca in horse shows. So he’s not only a beautiful horse but he has a lot of experience. I’m hoping he’ll teach me a few things about upper-level dressage.”