This article is reproduced here with the authors’ permission. Thanks Tzviah!
The Hungarian State Stud at Babolna
and the Desert Arabian Horse
by Tzviah Idan
Copyright 2005 & 2008 by author.
All rights reserved.
I first became curious about Babolna upon noticing that so many of our best-loved Egyptian mares were bred there — from Simeon Stud’s original foundation mare 27 Ibn Galal 5 (Ibn Galal\Magdi x Hosna) to Imperial Egyptian Stud’s exceptional import *Pharrah (Farag x Tamria). After studying her at the 1984 US National Championships, the Ansata import *Ibn Galal 1-7 or ‘Gala’ (Ibn Galal I x Lutfia) became my personal ideal of an Arabian mare, and I began collecting every bit of information I could find about Babolna.
Sixteen years later, in May 2000, Kuti Aharon and I made our first of several journeys from Israel to Babolna. The unbelievable happened, and horses that we had thought to be unobtainable were suddenly available for purchase. We ultimately exported one stallion and eight mares and are today the only private Arabian stud dedicated to preserving the ‘Babolna Egyptian.’
Relatively speaking, there is little information written in English about the Babolna Stud and its Arabian breeding program, and for many Westerners, the story of this historic stud remains largely a mystery. For some the name conjures up famous photos of General Tibor von Pettko Szandtner driving four or five elegant pure white Shagya Arabians; for others it recalls Egyptian mares such as 27 Ibn Galal 5, Pharrah, and Hanan — all of which left Hungary to make valuable contributions to the breed in other countries.
This article will sketch a brief history of the Stud and look at the role of the Desert Arabian horse at Babolna. Many desertbred Arabian horses used at Babolna or their direct progeny had a far greater impact on various light European breeds than they did on purebreds. A few animals were even used to develop more than one other breed, and much can be learned about individual Desert Arabian horses by researching those man-made breeds.
For those of us who are concerned about the future of the Desert Arabian, an in-depth look at Babolna’s history clearly brings home two universal truths. The first is the unparalleled role of the Desert Arabian as the great progenitor breed. And the second is that the fate of even the most entrenched state-supported stud hangs merely by a thread. Given a particular set of circumstances, generations of diligent breeding can vanish practically overnight.
Babolna lies approximately halfway along the main road joining Vienna and Budapest. The stud farm was established in 1789 as a Royal Imperial Stud of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to supply horses for the army and the Royal Guard. At first it was a branch of the Meszohegyes Stud, situated near the Empire’s border with Romania, and in its time, the largest military breeding stud in Europe. But early on Babolna replaced Meszohegyes as the source of the Empire’s most elite horses.
Cavalry Captain Joszef Czekonics, who became Babolna’s first Director, envisioned a farm strategically placed between Vienna and Budapest that could supply the Empire’s cavalry needs. He successfully petitioned Emperor Joszef II to purchase the large ‘Babolna-puszta’ estate of Count Szapary to this end; the documentation of the actual purchase is still on display at Babolna’s on-site museum. Today Babolna can legitimately claim to be the longest established state stud still operating in Europe.
The reader should consider the following: Hungary was a prize well worth fighting over throughout the centuries because of its great fertile plains, the ‘Hungarian puszta’, and temperate climate, features that made it the breadbasket of Europe. Second, the Hungarian people, or Magyars, have a long and illustrious tradition as talented horsemen and livestock breeders. And finally, Hungary was ruled by the Turks from 1526 to 1699, and large numbers of oriental-type horses came to Hungary with the Turkish conquest – their superiority to the local Hungarian stock was apparent and their blood used to upgrade local stock.
The stud at Babolna was conceived during an era when several other private and royal studs were active, both within Hungary and throughout Europe, notably in Germany and Poland. A long tradition of cooperation and ‘horse-trading’ back and forth developed among them. Many of what later became foundation horses or leading families at one stud had their actual origins at another.
The first recorded ‘oriental’ horses were gathered at Babolna in 1800. Some were of local origin, some brought from government studs within the Empire or captured from France during the Napoleonic wars, and still others were acquired from reputable European horse traders who either traveled themselves or sent agents throughout the Middle East.
Babolna is exceptional in that it always distinguished between original desertbred Arabians and their progeny, and ‘oriental’ or ‘Arabian-type’ horses. This distinction continues throughout the Stud’s history, and resulted in the development of two parallel programs: the purebred (Arab teliver) program based on authentic desert stock with full ancestry [although horses of questionable sources from other European studs were later introduced]; and the larger partbred (Arab fajta) program from which developed the extremely successful Babolna prototype known today as the Shagya Arabian.
As early as 1816 an edict at Babolna allowed only purebred Arabian stallions to cover not just the purebred, but all of the Stud’s mares in order to upgrade the quality of the entire herd. At various times during its history this edict was temporarily forgotten but later reinstated.
Consider as well that Babolna’s partbreds, known as the ‘Araberrasse’, the Arab Fajta Horse, or ‘Babolna Arabian’ — what we today call the ‘Shagya Arabian’ — are recorded in written herd books dating from that time (1816). These written records are almost as old as those of the English Thoroughbred, which date back to 1793, and are older than most of our earliest Arabian herd books. (See sidebar for more details about the Shagya Arabian).
A FOUNDATION OF EXCELLENCE
To speak about the Desert Arabian horse in Hungary, one must begin with the legendary white Arabian stallion Tajar, whose name translates from the Arabic as ‘the flying one’. Bred at the stud of Murad Bey near Gizeh [Cairo, Egypt] at or around the turn of the 19th Century and used at stud until 1830, he is said to have lived to be 40 years old, although many would argue that it was closer to 30.
Legend has it that Tajar survived the infamous ambush during which Mohamed Ali Pasha treacherously murdered his dinner guests, political rivals all, after cunningly trapping them within the Citadel of Cairo. In any event, when brought to Europe by the renowned horse agent Baron von Fechtig in 1812, Tajar bore several scars on the throat, neck and forearm.
In his index entry for Tajar, Carl Raswan describes this famous horse in detail: “Horsemen from Hungary, Poland and Germany agreed that never before had they seen such a faultless horse of perfect conformation and harmonious proportions and with it enormous strength and vitality and all of the characteristics of the true — but rather small — Arabian type.”
[Tajar was]…”specifically admired for the soft texture of his shining coat of silvery white hair and the silk-like black skin underneath, and for the classic Arabian features of his finely chiseled head and the huge eyes with their mysterious inner flame of fiery, but intelligent expression, which aroused in the heart of his admirers an immediate and deep affection.” (1)
Raswan also writes that Tajar was so fast as to be compared to a gazelle and defeated horses even 15 years his junior.
Tajar sired 207 foals at Count Emerich Hunyadi’s Urmeny Stud in Hungary, and some claim he was the first purebred Arabian stallion to arrive at Babolna. Although equine historians might argue about his thin genetic legacy, they do agree that he was considered the ideal Arabian horse of the 19th Century. A famous lithograph of this classic Desert Arabian is still used as the frontpiece of the Arabian Horse Stud Book of Hungary. (2)
Regarding the direct desert importations made to Babolna, it is not my intention to burden the reader with endless lists of horses that are of purely scholarly interest today. Suffice it to say that, beginning in 1836, several major buying expeditions to the Arabian Peninsula were undertaken by various Stud administrations. Their very scope clearly illustrates the centrality of the Desert Arabian horse within the Babolna program. For example, in 1856 the Brudermann importation alone resulted in the purchase of 14 stallions and 50 mares. At the Stud museum one can review authentic photos of many of Babolna’s original desert imports, shot both in the desert and later at Babolna, and study fascinating contemporary handwritten descriptions.
Many of these imported desertbred horses were influential for several generations within the Babolna program, only to have these lines eventually die out. Some became famous as the progenitors of other European breeds. Their impact is so vast that only a few random examples are described below, and these in no particular order:
Siglavy 1810 – grey desertbred stallion bred by the Bani Sakr in Syria and imported to Hungary in 1816. He went to Lipica to found the only Arabian sire line in the Lipizzaner breed.
Abdul Aziz 1863 – grey desertbred stallion who stood first at Babolna and then at Mezohegyes in the latter part of the 19th Century. He was a particularly influential sire in what became the Shagya Arabian breed.
Siglavy Gidran – chestnut desertbred stallion, believed to be a Siglawi Jedran, imported to Hungary in 1816. Foundation sire of Hungary’s local all-chestnut Anglo-Arab cross, a breed called Gidran in his honor. The Gidran is considered a high-quality riding and driving horse that excels wherever speed, endurance, agility, and courage are required.
Shagya 1830 – grey desert bred stallion recorded as being of the ‘Koheil Siglavy’ strain imported from Syria to Babolna by Baron von Herbert in 1836 and named head stallion that same year. Described as “particularly tall and well-formed”, Shagya put his stamp on Babolna’s partbred program to an unprecedented degree. When the World Arab Horse Organization [WAHO] recognized these horses as a distinct Arabian subspecies in 1978, the breed was officially named the “Shagya Arabian” in his honor.
Hamdani I/Hamdany I – grey 1816 desertbred mare who arrived at Babolna in 1920 but departed for Weil in 1921. Her fame comes through her daughter Sady III, the dam of two important sons sired by Bairactar and used at Weil: Selim 1828 and Amurath 1829, the latter chief sire at Weil from 1836 to 1856.
More recently, the familiar stallions Kuhaylan Zaid and Kuhaylan Haifi were selected in the desert by Polish expert Bogdan Zientarski in 1931 and exported with the help of Carl Raswan for the benefit of both Poland and Babolna. Kuhaylan Zaid was specifically selected for Babolna, where he served as chief sire from 1931 to 1946, leaving 32 producing daughters by 1943. He also established the famous “A” line at Janow Podlaski, which includes horses such as Alegria and Aloes. Kuhaylan Haifi, the stallion that travelled with him, was also used in Hungary but is remembered chiefly for his tremendous impact in Poland, where his get included Ofir, the grandsire of *Bask.
Throughout its long history, wars, horse plagues, and other mitigating factors decimated Babolna’s breeding program time and time again. This was often the main reason behind the repeated desert expeditions. However, one must also recognize that a great number of horses were ‘lost’ through the Stud’s extremely rigorous culling practices and progeny testing. Very detailed information on this subject can be found on various Shagya websites, and some of the descriptions are compelling enough to quote here:
“The Babolna State Stud and others throughout Europe kept strict breeding principles and records. they maintained a rigorous set of performance tests for mares and stallions before they could be used for breeding….A careful record was made describing each horse’s jumping, speed, condition, disposition, and how good a ‘keeper’ the horse was. Those not up to standard were not used for breeding. Only about one out of every 30 stallions made the grade.
Extensive progeny was also tested. New desert Arabian stallions were bred to 30 mares for each of three successive years. Ten of the stud’s best, ten of the middle quality, and ten of the lowest quality mares were used. At the end of the three-year period all 90 offspring were brought up before the breeding committee for evaluation. If the group was not up to standard, both the stallion and the offspring were eliminated from the breeding program.” (3)
Selection practices used in Babolna’s partbred program are described by Shagya breeders Suzette Bernhold and Donna J. Coss in an on-line newsletter as follows:
“Stallion prospects were put into training at three and a half years of age. At four and a half they were sent out to hunt clubs where they were screened for training, temperament, and hardiness. Those who passed were sent out on a grueling, ten-day, 480 mile endurance test. Successful candidates were test-bred to a minimum of thirty mares of varying quality for three years and the offspring were evaluated. Only those stallions that consistently improved upon the mares were permitted to be used for breeding … Judicious linebreeding and outcrossing to purebred Arabians once every four generations assured predictability…[Those which did not make the grade] were sent to Stallion Depots to serve local farm horses. The Army took the rest for remount. Mares were also required to prove their quality under saddle as well as in harness before being used as breeding stock.” (4)
Although rigorous testing and culling are still practiced today at Babolna, it is no longer feasible to adhere to these former standards.
INFLUENCE IN CONTEMPORARY BREEDING
The reader might ask, “What has survived from the Babolna program that could today be considered a true Desert Arabian horse?”
The 1983 volume of Al Khamsa Arabians lists seven desertbred stallions and two mares imported to Babolna that are now accepted as “Europa” Foundation Stock [See Table I] (5). All nine come together in a single descendant mare, the celebrated Soldateska (Souakim x Sylphide I by Amurath 1881), foaled in 1911 at the Weil Stud in Germany. A closer look at Soldateska beautifully illustrates the degree of cooperation that existed among the leading studs of Europe at that time.
R.J. Cadranell describes Soldateska in an article about her granddaughter *Azja IV, dam of living legend Azraff, who was imported from Poland to the United States by Henry B. Babson, as follows:
“Soldateska was from the Murana I line, one of the oldest in the breed. Soldateska is said to have been ridden as a cavalry horse in World War I, after which she became a Weil broodmare, and later a cornerstone of Marbach breeding when the Weil stock was transferred to Marbach in 1932.
Soldateska died in 1935. Her sire Souakim was an en-utero import to Europe, his dam Smyrna having been purchased in foal in Damascus. Soldateska’s dam Sylphide I was a daughter of Amurath 1881, probably the most influential sire bred at 19th century Weil. After standing at Weil, Amurath 1881 went to the Austro-Hungarian state stud of Radautz (now in Romania) in 1895 and sired 315 foals, both purebred and partbred Arabian. His get are found in Arabian, Shagya, and various European Warmblood pedigrees the world over. Through foundation stock obtained from Radautz, Amurath blood has become part of Polish state Arabian breeding since the end of World War I. Sylphide I’s grandsire Djerid had been imported to Germany from Egypt as a gift during the time of King Karl, son of King Wilhelm I. The rest of Sylphide I’s pedigree represents the lines of original Arabians imported to Weil from 1817 to 1861 during the time of King Wilhelm I, with the addition of Mehemed Ali, bred at Babolna in Hungary and added during the time of King Karl. Soldateska is the female line ancestor of Plum Grove Farm foundation mare *Sanacht, granddam of 1978 U.S. National Champion Stallion Amurath Bandolero.” (6)
THE FAMILY OF 25 AMURATH SAHIB
There is one old family at Babolna of true genetic interest to preservationist breeders, that of the 1952 grey mare 25 Amurath Sahib (Amurath Sahib x 221 Kuhaylan Zaid). This mare traces back in tail-female to the 1876 Babolna foundation mare, 60 Adjuze (also spelled Adjuse), and was sired by Koheilan Adjuse DB, the very same horse that founded the Koheilan sire line at Tersk. 60 Adjuze (1876) was an original desertbred mare imported to Babolna from Arabia in the late 1880’s by Stud Director Michael Fadlallah el Hadad. Her sire, the 1932 Polish-bred Amurath Sahib represents even older blood descending from authentic desert stock found at Weil, Poland and Babolna. Amurath Sahib was the maternal grandsire of both *Bask and *Aramus, and remains the only source of the Bairactar sire line today.
Special mention must be made of her 1967 filly foal, 3 Siglavy Bagdady VI, for she brings in additional rare desert lines through her sire, Siglavy Bagdady VI (Siglavy Bagdady V x 250 Kuhaylan Haifi I). According to information provided by Charles Craver III, a daughter of this mare left Babolna for a private program in Europe where she produced progeny sired by a straight Davenport. (7)
25 Amurath Sahib and some of her progeny are recognized by the Asil Club of Europe, but have yet to be accepted by Al Khamsa, Inc., presumably because no asil horses representing this family have been imported to North America. To my knowledge hers is the only purebred desert line of Babolna predating World War II that survived intact. A look at the most recently published Hungarian stud book (1997) shows that Babolna was conscientious about preserving it in its asil form, though many from this family have more recently been crossed with modern non-asil Arabians.
The progeny of 25 Amurath Sahib were bred to several of the Egyptian horses imported to Babolna in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and these often carefuly linebred back to 25 Amurath Sahib. The tail-female line has been thus preserved, and many predominantly Egyptian source horses bred at Babolna also carry the Amurath Sahib blood through the middle of their pedigrees.
Some examples of horses representing this line are the exquisite mares 235 Jamil (Jamil x 207 Farag II), 220 Ibn Galal I (Ibn Galal I x 20 Farag), and the stallion Ibn Galal III (Ibn Galal I x 20 Farag II). As Babolna’s breeding program was almost totally devastated following both world wars, it is amazing that even this one family survived intact as long as it did.
Today, because of recent breeding policy at Babolna, its future is once again at great risk.
POST WAR WAR II DESERT IMPORTATIONS
Babolna made its only post-World War II desert importations through the purchase of 14 mares and three stallions from the El Zahraa and Al Badeia studs in Egypt during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s under the direction of Stud Director Robert Burgert, and in cooperation with Dr. J Hans Nagel of Germany. (See Table 2 for a complete list of these imports). At this time Hungary was still a Russian satellite and part of the Soviet bloc. It is particularly ironic that General Tibor von Pettko Szandtner, who served as Director at Babolna prior and during WWII and as Director at El Zahraa after fleeing Hungary’s Russian occupiers after WWII, was largely responsible for the creation of this new generation of imports.
Many of the original imports to Babolna became the property of Dr. Nagel, and eventually were exported to Germany to be used as foundation Egyptian stock either in his own program or to found other private breeding programs in Germany. Examples include the influential stallions Ibn Galal [Magdi] (Galal x Mohga), Farag (Morafic x Bint Kateefa), and Ghalion (Morafic x Lubna. Mares of influence include Momtaza (Sameh x Mamlouka), Hanan (Alaa el Diin x Mona), Mahiba (Alaa al Din x Mouna) and daughter Kis Mahiba by Ibn Galal, and Lutfia (Alaa el Din x Bint Kamla), who left Babolna as an aged mare.
The Egyptian importation brought new vigor and focus to Babolna and immediately attracted much attention throughout Europe. A Babolna Egyptian prototype was created, known for its great refinement, long flowing lines, extravagant movement, and overall elegance. The prolific daughters of the stallion Ibn Galal I (Ibn Galal [Magdi] x Hanan) proved to be of particular value.
Although other Egyptian-born horses joined the program later on, none were of these were imported directly from Egypt to Babolna. Dr. Nagel retained very close ties with Babolna over many years, and helped arrange that Ansata Halim Shah, Ansata Abbas Pasha, and Salaa el Dine, among others, would cover some of Babolna’s finest mares.
Babolna-source Egyptians have long since proven themselves beyond question as valuable foundation breeding animals in programs worldwide and as competitive show horses. Much more can be written about them and their accomplishments, but this is beyond the scope of this article.
Curiously enough, in 1965 Carl Raswan wrote an intriguing letter to American breeder Richard Pritzlaff that perhaps hides a mystery. It seems that Pritzlaff was planning a trip to Europe, and Babolna was on his agenda. Raswan wrote:
“Your plans about Babolna are good. You will love the country and the people — and will see for yourself what good horses they have and what great horsepeople they are. Their good Arabians may not be as good and true Arabians as yours, but you may be able to encourage them and advise them how to get a new authentic foundation stock of Arabians. With their history and traditions the Hungarian Government should make all efforts to go to Egypt and Arabia itself and search for ASIL stock and start Babolna again with a dozen broodmares and two stallions, and thus create a NUCELUS of doubtless pure (ASIL) Arabians (and keep this ASIL “nucleus” through the coming generations and centuries — by exchanging with studfarms like yours and Mrs. Ott’s, Marshall’s and others).” (8)
Whether or not Richard Pritzlaff actually played a role in Stud Director Robert Burgert’s decision to import horses from Egypt is an open question that will be left for others to answer. But of one thing I remain absolutely certain….the glory of this historic State Stud still lives, reflected in some of the finest Arabian horses being bred throughout the world today.
Tzviah Idan, originally from Detroit, Michigan, combined her passion for Arabian horses and her dream of living in Israel and “went up” to live in The Land in 1984 with three Arabian horses –the Babson stallion Ser El Roc (Serr Rou x Serr Beth), the mare JM Talumi (Ansata el Salim x Tatumi RSI) and her *Fakher El Din daughter, Fakher’s Teekatu. Tzviah established a breeding program under the farm name Idan Atiq, with the accent on preservation breeding, a rather novel concept in Israel even until today.
In late 1998, longtime friend and veteran livestock breeder Kuti Aharon joined the venture, and in May 2000 the two made their first joint trip to Babolna. The combination of Kuti’s spoken Hungarian, Tzviah’s familiarity with the bloodlines, and their combined experience as breeders was fortunate. Over the next few years they were able to acquire eight mares and one stallion to establish their “Babolna Egyptian” program.
In 2004 the herd came “home” to Moshav HaYogev, a small farming village situated in the biblical Jezreel Valley, just across the road from ancient Megiddo [Armageddon], where impressive remains of the reputed King Solomon’s stables can be seen to this day. Today the Idan Atiq herd numbers close to thirty horses.
The author extends a special thank you to Kuti Aharon, Sara Gefen, former Babolna Stud General Director, Tamas Rombauer, Dr. Walter Hecker, Jon Michael and Kent Mayfield for all their technical assistance. Any errors are solely the responsibility of the author.
1 Carl Raswan, The Raswan Index and Handbook for Arabian Breeders, 1969, v.2.
2 Society of the Hungarian Arabian Horse Breeders, Arabian Horse Stud Book of Hungary, 1997, v. 6: frontispiece.
3 Suzette Bernhold and Donna J. Coss, “Shagya: The Great Improver,” Lily Creek Ridge On-line Newsletter (2002).
4 Bernhold and Coss.
5 Al Khamsa, Inc., Al Khamsa Arabians, 1983, 61. See also Al Khamsa, Iinc., Al Khamsa Arabians II, 1993, 92-101. Soldateska and her anceestors were officiallly incorporated into the Al Khamsa roster as a result of business conducted at the 2003 Al Khamsa Convention.
6 R.J. Cadranell, “Fortunate Outcross – *Azja IV,” Arabians Vision Library Archives; originally published in Arabian Visions (October 1992).
7 For a recent overview of this quintessential American bloodline of Desert Arabian horses, see R.J. Caderanell, “Homer Davenport and His Horses,” Al Khaima, 1: 1 (November 2004): 19-24.
8 Carl Raswan to Richard Pritzlaff, private correspondence (March 27, 1965) originally published in Khamsat, 5:4 (October 1988).