In response to the “Combined Source” challenge

By Joe Ferriss

Posted on April 12th, 2010 in General

The Noble Stallion Zarlan

Pictured above is Zarlan the handsome 1964 chestnut Al Khamsa stallion who I saw at age 15 and was noble and full of Arabian character. His pedigree blends 5 different ancestral elements. In person, he was beautiful, agile, noble and the image of many of the traditional turn of the century horses in my old books.

I want to thank Edouard for such a stimulating series of posts on the fate of Al Khamsa bloodlines. I wish to add my reasonable reply here in response to the this topic “combined source” and “straightness”. This subject has its complexities which are great food for thought and need to be explored further. Since my reply is a bit long I decided to put it up as an additional thread on this subject.

I am just old enough to remember the common types of terminology that were circulating in 1970 and also before that, when such terminology was found in various books and magazines on the Arabian horse.

Before there was a Pyramid Society, there was, for a long time, a general interest in labeling terminology in the Arabian horse market place in America so we need to put the roots of this thinking into context. Nationality terms like Pure Polish were found in Arabian magazines before any formal “marketing group” was formed. Also Pure Crabbet was another, a kind of “core” English nationality bloodline. One would also find “Pure Spanish” and “Pure Egyptian” used but tied mainly to the “Nationality” of the horse.

These labels seemed to focus on a source that had an assumed qualitative identity associated with it. In the case of Pure Polish, Pure Spanish, and later Straight Russian and Straight Egyptian, the “Nationality” was the defining concept. The ingredients for each nationality may have been acknowledged occasionally in an article or two but not in breeders advertisements. The “nationality” was the identifying label without regard to its ingredients.

As with all animal breeding and true to human nature, newcomers tend to precipitate toward easily identifiable names in the market place, not always in an analytical way but in a way that such name might be a trusted resource for getting at what they desire as a breeder, the ideal Arabian horse (in their mind’s eye). The believe is that these “nationalities” are like containers of something which will get them swiftly to their goal. Yet there was a reaction to this by some advertisers actually using the term “the forgotten American” in their ads with respect to their bloodlines.

So already before official organizations like The Pyramid Society were formed and actively promoting, nationalities were familiar “breeding group” labels in Arabian breeding. This is the root psychology behind many breeders precipitating toward straight this or straight that.

In the late 1950s to mid 1960s The Blue Catalog was the first to create the terminology of Straight Egyptian before there was the Pyramid Society. As I recall The Blue Catalog’s terminology was to identify “root Egyptian” non-Blunt type breeding because it was already labeling different desert bred components as “Sources” which later in Al Khamsa became extrapolated as “Ancestral Elements.” (“Egyptian” was a separate source from Blunt, hence the mention of “straight Egyptian in the Blue Catalog). So a kind of straightness was introduced though the intent was to define sources. Of course Davenport being a single “source” breeding group also fit the desire for bloodline identity.

The irony for post 1970 “Straight Egyptian” breeders is that some of them came out of the Blue Catalog movement and viewed their horses as “a kind of desert breeding” while the broader “Straight Egyptian” market also drew from the larger Arabian market in the U.S. where many other people were already buying horse labels only by nationality. At any given show I attended in the early 1970s if you asked a competitor about their horse, they usually gave you its nationality. Any further discussion was not of concern about the recipe within that nationality other than maybe a famous sire embedded and repeated therein. This was true of Straight Egyptians also and still is considered a nationality first in may parts of the world without regard to its recipe. Yet the preservationists often see it as more than a just nationality hence the “straight Egyptian” has two kinds of audiences.

So how much have things changed today really? Anyone who knows my wife Sharon and myself and the sprit in which we took the Khamsat into the magazine format, will remember how we repeatedly championed interest in ALL ancestral elements. From the beginning we engaged Carol Lyons in our efforts and together we sought to make sure that as much as possible that all Al Khamsa people should learn about and appreciate all the elements of the “recipe” of Al Khamsa breeding, and I have focused on this broad recipe often.

But today Edouard, through his charts and comments, sounds a great and significant alarm which reveals that our efforts in the 1980s were not enough. I think for awhile it seemed to be working and even “combined source” Al Khamsa horses were competing at the Egyptian Event and in other Class A shows in the mainstream American environment. Some of these groups saw growth in the 1980s but the “nationality” market had expanded at so great a pace that it was headed for bust and taking lots of collateral damage along the way.

It had taken years for the rebound of what happened in the late 1980s to early 1990s, but many Arabians bred in America became accessible to other countries and it spawned new interest and growth in the Middle East and elsewhere, which was based mainly on the “nationalities.” But did the campaign for the “combined source” return with this resurrection? In article research I remember coming across and occasional Syrian desertbred exported to the Gulf and then crossed with a straight Egyptian and no progeny after that. Perhaps a sign of the missing campaign for ALL “Asil” breeding.

Were the “combined source horses” collateral damage? Perhaps. Maybe it was because they were lesser known in a transformed market, less of a sure thing in the market place. How did they miss the market place? Did the market place become too expensive for the small dedicated breeder with a well thought out plan? Did small breeders give up in a transformed Arabian market? These are all significant soul searching questions to consider and I am sure there are others.

Perhaps it is just human nature to go for the sure thing in the short run. It is useless to play a blaming game for what is really not known. Valuing the whole of Asil breeding takes some work and time, and most of all to plan for its future takes a willingness to visualize the bigger picture. In the present atmosphere of world economic pressures, and the intense and fearful reaction by some against any long term decisions, and the fear of patience, we could not have picked a worse time for the championing the bigger picture of the Asil Arabian horse.

But history has shown there has never been an ideal time to start. Mr. Babson was already 57 years old and in the midst of the great economic depression when he chose to start breeding Arabians. Sure, easily enough said, he could afford it apparently. But what if each of us did some one little thing to advance the awareness of this challenge in whatever avenue fits our resources? I can’t do anything more than write and talk but so can everyone else. Just keep it up. Just keep the message out there in every way you can until it hits fertile ground, where it will again be able to flourish. No matter how great or small the resources or fame or anonymity of the people you talk to, or what you assume their interests might be, they all have the potential of discovering and sharing your passion for the horse of the desert. Do not be shy.

3 Responses to “In response to the “Combined Source” challenge”

  1. Great post Joe! I never knew that Mr. Babson was 57 when he started breeding. Gives me hope.

  2. Wow Joe. Great Post. I have given up on looking at horses as a “business”. I do it for my pleasure and my passion. And I think if more folks looked at it that way, we would have a great deal more Al Khamsa, “Combined Source” Arabians running around with not pure this or straight that. But…

    We all would like to pay the feed bill. As I do my taxes, I realize, that I have to remove some horses from the feeding program. The old will stay and the younger, more “marketable” (if you can say that in this day and time) will have to go… even though I need them for the future of my breeding program.

    I will keep all as long as I can.

  3. Boy- where can you find Stallions like this nowadays? He’s got a great coupling with a neck set about as high as it can possibly be. In addition his legs show good bone substance. To me he’s reminiscent of the french Stallion El Sbaa, maybe not in quite as good physical condition, but with similar angles..
    best wishes
    Bruce Peek

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