Arabian Horse History

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Posted by Sadie from D007072.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 at 8:19PM :

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Arabians: Egyptian Arabians, the Mystique Unfolded
By Barbara S. Lewis, Baraka Farm and Studio

The Arabian. Never mistaken for another breed, yet is the root from which all light breeds sprang. It captures the soul as no other can, and is favored by artist, photographers, historians and poets over all others. What is the magnetism this breed holds? An early student of the Arabian will find a maze of puzzling terms and subtle type differences. What do they all mean? Constant reference to the Egyptian Arabian horse may make one wonder if it is a separate breed. What is a Straight Egyptian Arabian horse? What does the term Egyptian Related mean? Is there more than one kind of Arabian?

Terms like Strains, Al Khamsa, Blue List, and Sheykh Obeyd often refer to these horses. What is their meaning? While it lends its fine qualities to others, the Egyptian Arabian remains virtually unaltered since the beginning of history. The oldest documentation of the Arabian horse was a fine carving uncovered in a cave in Turkey. It depicts a leaping, fine-headed horse of pure Arabian type, its mane flowing and tail carried high. Scientific data places this at 8000 BC.

Evidence of the domestication of horses emerged in Syria, dating 2000 BC. In an excavation, halters adorned the bones of horses and horses in artistic drawings. In 1330 AD, the first pedigrees recorded, referred to the Arabian by name, although there was no mention of strains or types. As time went on, early travelers questioned the crossing of apparently different “breeds” by the people of the Desert.These were not, in fact, different breeds but strains, or families, of the same breed.These strains gather their names from the important tribes who bred them.

Basic among many variations are the Maneghi, Seglawi, Obeyan and Kuheilan, all descending from the Keheilan, which means “purebred.” Each strain showed distinctive characteristics, no doubt as the result of the individual needs or type preference of the tribe members. A study of the pharaonic horses of the tombs and temples of Egypt places the horse in use in Egypt as early as 1580 BC and show these strain characteristics. These relief paintings appear to be actual portraits of horses that must have existed. Today’s Arabian is a product of constant crossing of these strains, as no individual carries the blood of a single, undiluted strain. This is not to say that an Arabian of pure, undiluted, Desert blood does not exist. Therein lies one of the major differences in the Straight Egyptian Arabian and those of other bloodlines. The Straight Egyptian is the blending of strains of pure, undisputed, Desert heritage. We might compare that to the marriage of a man from one ancient desert tribe wedding a daughter of another tribe. They are pure in race (breed), but from different families or tribes (strains). Their children would then be a blending of the two. Though of great significance, the purity of the Egyptian Arabian is not the only reason for their preservation. To delve deeper, we must understand the history of the Egyptian Arabian. The Pharaoh Thotmose III (1504-1450 BC) and his son Amenophis, “could not be overtaken in races,” in large scale military use of the horses of Egypt. Ramses II credits his horses for saving his life in battle against the Hittites. His own words reflect his devotion and appreciation for their valor as he proclaimed, “Henceforth their food shall be given them before me each day when I am in my palace ....” The Pharaoh Piankhi (751 BC) grieved when learning that a rebellious Egyptian King had left his stable in total chaos and cried, “I swear, as Ra loves me..... it is more grievous in my heart that my horses have suffered hunger, than any evil deed that thou hast done, in prosecution of thy desire.” We can easily see from our first documentation of the horse in Egypt, how they had already established themselves as an animal of the greatest importance. They were loved, admired, and cherished by the noblest of men and the desert nomad. As history progresses and the Prophet Mohamed established his teaching out of the desert, he taught that “every man shall love his horse.” Bedouin warriors when mounted on their finest Arabian steed, proved to be invincible as Islam's power spread throughout the civilized world. Egypt was submerged in this Arab tide. Come now, the extraordinary horsemen, the Mamelukes, who swept over Egypt. Their ruler, Ahmad Ibn Tuleu, (1193-1250) built palatial gardens and a magnificent hippodrome to house his collection of the choicest Arabian horses. Saladin¹s horses, who prevented Richard the Lion Hearted from conquering Egypt, were hailed by Sir Walter Scott. He writes in “The Talisman”: “They spurned the sand from behind them -- they seemed to devour the desert before them -- miles flew away with minutes, yet their strength seemed unabated . . . “ In 1279-1382, Sultan Nacer Mohamed Ibn Kalaoun, was obsessed with obtaining the choicest Arabian horses and built an equally impressive Hippodrome for their comfort. Price was no object. For a single mare, he paid the equivalent of $5,599,999., plus land. These horses were indisputably the most beautiful, courageous and exquisite horses in the world. Solomon, King of Isreal, built 40,000 stalls for his Arabian horses.

More recent history of the Egyptian Arabian begins with the Turkish ruler, Mohamed Ali the Great, during the time Egypt was a province of the Turkish Empire. Like Sultan Nacer before him, Mohamed Ali bore a passion for collecting the most superior horses in all of Arabia. He built palatial stables and used every means to collect the best of the best. Great fortunes were paid. Mohamed Ali demanded Arabia's most priceless Desert horses as terms of a peace treaty with Arabia. His collection brought to Egypt, 1100 of the most beautiful, and valuable Arabian horses in all the world.

Inheriting his herd, was his grandson, Abbas Pasha. He was an extremely methodical man and kept very detailed records of each horse, their pedigrees and heritage. He went to great length to prove the purity of each animal. He had also built an impressive herd of his own, primarily from the horses of the Bedouins. He also used his great wealth and any other means to acquire the equine treasures of Arabia. Abbas Pasha, like his father before him, used political maneuvers and favors to add to his outstanding herd. The freeing of Feysul Ibn Saud from the Citadel was repaid with 290 mares and a fine collection of stallions. These horses were the absolute pick of the Desert and considered to be the most authentic collection of pure blood ever made outside the Peninsula. They were legendary and felt to “rival those of King Solomon.” Throughout time, the greatest and most noble horses of Arabia Deserta, found their way to Egypt.

Sadly, upon the death of Abbas Pasha, the palace and stables was abandoned and left to ruin. The horses were dispersed at auction. In a frenzy to save these cherished treasures, Abbas chief Bedouin groom, Hashe, approached Ali Pasha Cherif, a young man of great wealth, and as passionate as Abbas about the horses. Upon the advice of Hashe, Ali Pasha Cherif bought the cream of the herd, which remained with him in Cairo. Although this love was instilled in his sons who carried on after him, eventually Ali Pasha¹s herd was dispersed.

A major purchaser at this sale was Lady Anne Blunt, who divided them between her Sheykh Obeyd Stud in Egypt and her Crabbet Stud in England. Happily, most of the balance of the herd remained in Egypt with wealthy, royal and titled Egyptian families.

It was at this point that the government of Egypt realized the significance of their equine treasures, and the degree of devotion among their breeders.

In 1908, they formed the Royal Agricultural Society whose leaders gathered the best descendants of the Abbas Pasha and Ali Pasha Cherif herds for the overall good of the country. Today, the R.A.S. is known as the Egyptian Agricultural Organization. This is only a name change, however, as it continues with the same devotion and with the blood of theses precious, earlier horses.

The reputation of the beautiful horses of Egypt found it’s way to America. The Blunts had sold a handful of Egyptian horses to an occasional American and a few other had also found their way here. Having heard of their superior qualities, Mr. Henry Babson traveled to Egypt He was thrilled with what he saw. In 1932, seven horses arrived at the Babson farm in Illinois, from Egypt. In the same year, W.R. Brown imported horses from the Egyptian stables of Prince Mohamed Ali. Their arrival changed the complexion of the Arabian breed in America for the next thirty years. To this day, the term, ”Babson Arabian,” designates horses with blood stemming from his imports. Mr. Brown, on the other had, did not maintain a straight Egyptian program and much of that blood has been lost to this program. Twenty years later, Donald and Judith Forbis imported a trio of superior horses from the Egyptian Agricultural Organization, as did Douglas and Margret Marshall and Jim and Eloise Kline. The imports of the Babson era are sometimes referred to as, “old” Egyptian and the latter, as “new.”

Dedicated breeders of the Egyptian Arabian are committed to the preservation of this purest of all equine blood. To lose the purity of a single mare through careless breeding, is a sin among them. Aggressive research clarifies any question concerning the purity of a Straight Egyptian pedigree. Within this group are several passionate researchers who have devoted their lives to the continued documentation of these horses.

In 1952, Miss Jane Ott began a list of the horses proven in every line to trace directly to the Desert. This is the “Blue Catalog.” She continued this catalog until the early 70¹s, when she closed her research. The organization known as "Al Khamsa" was born to continue her work. There are some variations, as Al Khamsa accepts some horses not listed in the “Blue Catalog” but may have been, given time. All these horses trace directly, in every line, to horses from Bedouin Tribes, or to exceptional individuals, such as Abbas Pasha and Lady Ann Blunt, who only purchased horses from these sources. The terms, “Blue List” and “Al Khamsa” indicate that this horse is believed pure by theses meticulous organizations. The term, Asil, meaning purebred, is a German based organization with the same goals. The term, Egyptian Related, is a term for a purebred Arabian horse whose sire, or both grandsires, are Straight egyptian Arabians.

In the late 1980¹s another group formed, calling themselves, Sheykh Obeyd. This name is in honor of the Egyptian stables of Lady Anne Blunt. Horses they list as, “Sheykh Obeyd,” must trace directly to Egypt/Blunt horses as defined by Al Khamsa, and are referred to as ³old² Egyptians. It should be noted that not every horse listed as Al Khamsa or Sheykh Obeyd are considered to be straight Egyptian.

Lady Anne Blunts stables of royal Egyptian horses were a continuation of the ongoing blood of Abbas Pasha¹s stables and other important Egyptian sources. Volumes of accounts of her life, devotion, and work with and for her horses make interesting reading for the breeder enthusiast. Sadly, her daughter, Lady Wentworth, did not possess her strict devotion to purity. When she inherited the well know Crabbet Stud in England, she changed the complexion of these horses completely. Horses known as “Crabbet Arabians,” carry an extremely high percentage of Egyptian blood in their pedigrees.

Reference to “Polish,” “Russian” and “Spanish” Arabians refer to horses from breeding programs of those countries. Interestingly, the horses of Egypt have played an important part in their foundation. In 1936, Lady Wentworth sold 19 Crabbet mares to the Russian Government. In 1899, de Sdanovitch purchased five horses with heavy Egyptian blood. He later purchased from the Blunts, the Ali Pasha Cherif, Egyptian mare Sobha. Count Stroganoff purchased Makbula in 1900. The world famous Mesaoud, from the Blunts herd, traveled to the Kleniwewski Stud in 1903.

The most influential modern day horse of Russia was Aswan. The Tersk Stud of Russia used him extensively throughout his life. Aswan was a straight Egyptian stallion, a son of the legendary Nazeer out of the fine mare, Yosreia. Many of his daughters remained at the stud as cherished broodmares. The blood of Egyptian horses is strong in both countries even though ³straight Egyptian² breeding programs do not exist. In Spain, Egyptian blood is thick through the blood of Crabbet horses purchased by that country.

Modern breeders have recently, rediscovered the value of crossing the blood from these other bloodlines with pure Egyptian blood. Many of the most successful and sought after horses in the American show ring today are the results of the infusion of pure Egyptian blood. Likewise, other breeds often choose to infuse Arabian blood to strengthen or add their prepotent characteristics. This may be for overall beauty, refinement, or endurance. Since ancient times, throughout the world, man has looked to Egypt as the source for the best blood.

The Straight Egyptian Arabian represents less than 2% of the Arabian breed registered in America, yet holds 30% of the National titles. In the mid 1980’s, when the horse market of all breeds crashed, the Egyptian Arabian maintained the highest position in value over all other Arabian bloodlines.

The organization, The Pyramid Society, is a well-organized nucleus for the preservation of the purebred Egyptian Arabian horse. It, and its members, works tirelessly to perpetuate the straight Egyptian and offers its advantage to breeders of other bloodlines through the Egyptian Related program.The Mecca for Egyptian breeders is the annual, “Egyptian Event.” It occurs each June at the Lexington Kentucky Horse Park, which also houses it’s offices. Here one can see the cream of the current breeding programs, attend seminars and enjoy the ongoing hospitality of the various breeding farms.

The purity of the Egyptian Arabian horse has endured from the beginning of history due to the passionate devotion of its caretakers. The fittest have survived centuries of battles, and harsh use across torrid Desert sand. It has earned respect with its great beauty, intelligence, strength, courage, and stamina. Gold has adorned its head and he has walked on carpets of silk. It has slept in the tents of its owners and taken food before kings and pharaoh’s. Is there any wonder why its blood, fine qualities, and purity are so precious?

-- Sadie
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