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Arabian steeds prance through the real-life dream of a corn-flake king

November 20, 1986|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

Just off the San Bernardino Freeway, nestled between the hills and housing tracts of the East San Gabriel Valley, W. K. Kellogg's childhood dream still comes true on the first Sunday of each month.

People come from miles around to see performances by the beautiful Arabian horses of the Kellogg ranch, as riders and trainers show off the animals' intelligence and versatility.

Old W. K. would be proud, say students and faculty who replaced Kellogg's staff after his vast ranch became Cal Poly Pomona in the 1950s. They are carrying out his wish to continue breeding and showing his stable of Arabians long after he deeded his land to California for a college.

The 61st year of monthly Sunday afternoon horse shows began in September. They were initiated by Kellogg soon after he started building his ranch in 1925 and have been carried on by students since his ranch became a college.

Norman Dunn, director of equine operations and professor of animal science at Cal Poly Pomona, estimated that more than 100 students enroll at the school every year because of the horses that were part of Kellogg's legacy.

In his office, surrounded by hundreds of ribbons and trophies, Dunn said the shows are "a way for students to get experience, to find out if they want to work with horses after they graduate or if they want to do it just for pleasure."

When Kellogg was a youngster, long before he became America's corn-flake king, he is said to have had a part-Arabian horse. According to one of the legends that grew up around the immensely rich and determined man, he loved that horse and pledged to some day have his own stable of Arabians.

After building his cereal fortune in Battle Creek, Mich., Kellogg came west in 1925 to start a ranch and to develop a line of Arabians. He chose a site at the foot of the hills that mark the Pomona Valley, at what is now Pomona's western border.

Early pictures indicate that the ranch was popular with movie stars of the time. Clara Bow, Tom Mix, Rudolf Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. were among the guests. Will Rogers was master of ceremonies at one of the horse shows.

A masterful booster of his products, Kellogg invited the public to Sunday afternoon horse shows, where he gave away sample boxes of cereal.

By the time Kellogg died in 1951 at the age of 91, he had given his entire ranch away. After turning it over first to the University of California and then to the Army and changing his mind both times, he settled on Cal Poly Pomona, with the condition that his fine Arabians would continue to be bred and shown. According to one legend, some family members were angry that they were not the heirs.

Now everyone who pays a $1.50 admission fee is an heir of sorts to the Kellogg legacy. That's what it costs to see the descendants of Kellogg's Arabians in what has to be a horse lover's bargain.

At 2 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month from September to June, hundreds flock to the arena in the Arabian Horse Center, where they watch students and horses in a variety of performances.

The 800-seat grandstand at a recent show was almost filled with an audience that ranged from infants to the elderly. Prof. Dunn was the announcer, students and horses were the performers.

A horse pulling an antique carriage, driven by Allison Elwell, did tricky maneuvering. A liberty horse--meaning it is rein-free--stood on its hind legs, knelt, walked backwards and otherwise displayed fine intelligence and what Dunn called "good manners." Appropriately attired riders on English and Western saddles, and others wearing authentic Arabian costumes, led horses through a variety of gaits and maneuvers.

Children squealed and cheered the popular "egg ride," a contest in which several riders balance eggs in teaspoons. They applauded a trick horse that put a doll in a cradle and rocked it and put a coin in a cash register. Martha Dilworth rode the jumper Red Rum, and Jill Przelenski led a trail horse through intricate maneuvers.

The sudden appearance of a frisky 2 1/2-week-old foal and its mother, Spring Charm, stole the show.

It wasn't enough, though. When the show was over, almost all the audience prowled through the stables for hours, treating both the students and horses as if they were stars like those who visited the ranch in the 1920s.

Finally, they left the W. K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center, drove up Kellogg Drive and over Kellogg Hill onto the San Bernardino Freeway.

"That was a day," said a grinning Adolf Burnier of San Gabriel, carrying a sleeping child and accompanied by this wife, Millie. "Best afternoon I've had in a long time."

"We get to most of these," said John Davis of Pomona, who said he had been "a cowboy of sorts long ago." Herding countless grandchildren to his car, he said, "See you next month."

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