Joe Ferriss article on El Dahma

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on June 22nd, 2010 in General

One more issue of Joe’s inisghftul articles about Egyptian foundation horses in the Arabian Essence magazine, this time about the matriarch El Dahma of Ali Pasha Sharif, her ever growing worldwide influence through some of her most famous descendents.

Joe, in the spirit of discussing your article here, I am intrigued about your statement on ”the rule book standard of an ideal Arabian horse”. I am sure you are not talking about how you personally view these horses, but rather about how the lay Western eye tends to see them — and in that case, indeed I would entirely agree with you.

It is thrice disheartening to realize that (a) that such a rule book standard even exists in the Western eye; (b) that a single group of horses — the descendents of El Dahma — is generally perceived as embodying it ; (c) to see the extent to which the Western eye has succeeded in defining what an Arabian horse ‘ought to’ look like.

In the 1980s, the late Edward Said, of Columbia University, and one of the most influential Arab intellectuals of his generation, developed the concept of “Orientalism’: a theoretical construct with practical applications, referring to the West’s produding its own knowledge about the East — in this case, about what ideal Arabian horses ought to look like — and then mainstreaming it as the Easterners’s own standard knowledge, soemtimes even imposing it on them, thus creating another reality.

As a wise Syrian horsebreeder, who will go unnamed — once told me, when showing me his 150-plus herd of mares, all unique: “Westerners think there is only one ideal Arabian horse type, and are desperately after mass-producing this one type. I think there are 150 ideal types”.

Years ago, I once visited a stud that breeds some of the most valued Arabians alive today. Wonderful,  magical animals. Glorious cookie cutters. I was genuinely unable to differentiate one from the other. Homogenized perfection. I remember crying on the way back.

13 Responses to “Joe Ferriss article on El Dahma

  1. This tendency to go to one certain type of Arabians in the last decades is a point of great importance. We see only a few bloodlines getting in the focus of nearly everybody, especially with breeders that breed for shows. Many other bloodlines and types of asil horses exist with small breeders, never to be seen in the public.
    On the other hand it is a sign of progress in a breeding programme if You reach a certain amount of uniformity, just look at the horses bred to perform on the racetracks or as dressage or jumping horses.
    The breeding stock we have as origin is very diversified in our Arabians, and that You see in the many different full siblings You even get with inbreeding.
    I believe we need both, uniformity in a breeding group and other, different groups of different bloodlines and types. To call it with an Arabic expression: different marbats.

  2. Edouard I was in fact referring to the rule book standard, as used by the AHSA in describing for show judges what to look for in an Arabian. It is a facet of Western thinking that it seeks parameters and benchmarks often more narrow than is real in nature. This is an inherent issue in most all western thought when it comes to breeds. I was involved in the production of the book The Saluqi, The Coursing Hound of the East, and I remember well how the issue was debated about Western thought versus Eastern thought on breed characteristics. In the end we must recognized and celebrate the diversity of the breed as it developed in the originating culture. However this is a concept which takes lots of time to steep in the Western world. Continued education about the horse of the Bedouin in all of its facets is necessary for people to fully appreciate the diversity.

  3. Just as I will defend the orginal source of breedings, what is now kept asil separated, today, away from the orginal home; I think, should be defended as well.

    I will illustrate only one group, the Bradley-Davenport. They have changed in many ways, yet, also they are the same as they arrived here in the USA. One breeder, Charles Craver has created sub strains and types beyond what was first imported. Unlike things, these horses will present a continous change. *(I can send a painting to another country the painting remains unchanged with years.)

    As to a standard type, quality is the only standard, this standard began with the Bedouin and must remain his
    alone as to orginal. Any thing else is not a Bedouin’s orginal horse. Combined Orginal Sources, the Al Khamsa Asil offer many types, thank goodness! Like looking at art what one artist has to say is valid only as to the statement made. There are indeed many statements.

    So what did Charles have to say when he started, he said, lets try this with the open mind that the horses will fill their own expression, then the sense to follow through. (selective type and family strain breedings)

    Yes, there have been others, many others. Who like what the Bedouin bred and have continued. Where the Asil was maintained, the Bedouin Horse has remained. The standard of the Bedouin’s horse is what these words, and other writers express, and what is now found alive and cherished. These horses hold no secrets, they always express what is asked.

    As to this web, it is addictive in expressions, thanks
    Edouard, and all the Charles Cravers of now. Unlike the Bedouin, who rode for survival, we ride for a different reason; but yet the reasons do meet and we form a life style as did the Bedouin. The true result of any breeding
    is found only in the foal.

    Bedouin Arabians

  4. Edouard, I follow your thinking and logic – similarly, Joe in his comment here. More education is required about the full functionality of phenotypes within the asil for them to become more acceptable. Western people, it appears, have a problem accepting an individual that isn’t quite absolute PERFECTION. This is what the Standard is advocating. The individual asil is not necessarily perfection in itself but is perfect for what it should be able to do per its original parameters / breeder/user requirements. Who are we, as westerners, to change this? Westerners need to learn that it’s not about perfection but what is functional – lengths, angle/angulations, balance etc. Until this is done, the variety of the Breed won’t be fully understood and therefore accepted.

    Western “perfection” will be the bane of the asils’ life I think

  5. Diane you’re absolutely correct.. We westerners have bred horse with exagerated long necks- table top croups- refinement to the degree that it leads to tiny bone…Whereas if you look at the Davenports or Edie Booths Saudi line horses they have good bone, necks that are just the right length, and hindquarters that they can tuck under themselves so as to move in self carriage. Do you recall that video that the Booths posted of riding their stallion through their mare herd. Not only was he controllable, but he was a silken mover, not with extravagent calorie wasting motion, but an efficient gliding trot suited for covering ground. The same could also be said of the Turfa horses.
    I think if we stay with breeding to the desert standard that we were lucky enough to inherit , and test our horses with athletic events- endurance, three day eventing, then we will able able to preserve these precious gifts.
    Best wishes
    Bruce Peek

  6. The show system (any show system) is likely to be the bane of any natural creature. IMO!

  7. These are extemely precious insight Diane and Bruce, and I could not have phrased them better.

  8. Jeanne, and the racing system, too! French Masterbreeder Mauvy had this quote from a Bedouin: “Le cheval de course est le cheval du diable!” which means: “The racehorse is the horse of the devil.”

  9. As long as I’ve been involved with Arabians, the standard has been quite changeable, and was/is dependent upon who and what is winning in the showring.
    Those of us, who spent years, looking at horses all over the US, Canada and some of Great Britain, for nearly 50 years, did and do recognize that the word “type” which is debated hotly and without knowledge on many websites, is meaningless.

    Less appreciated in this contemporary world of the show ring in the US is soundness and good conformation, and that is where two words: functional and type are often diametrically opposed especially where “halter” classes have become less of a representation of breeding stock and more of a beauty queen/king walk of the moving favor of an unknowledgeable fan club.

    No matter how functional a roman nosed, underslung necked, low backed, small eyed, lop eared horse is and no matter how beautiful a horse which can barely walk into an arena without going lame is, (and I’ve seen both in the ASILS) there has to be some reasonableness in choosing breeding stock, unless of course, we are marching along to our own drum beat -and that is entirely a different matter.

  10. Type as I have found goes along with tail female, both sire and dam when line bred. Generally speaking there are as many types as there are tail females.

    Some types vary to the crest of the neck, shoulder, leg placement, hind legs as to curve above the hock or the lack of,etc. I have found that each line has a varied type as to the crosses used. Photo’s distort! One needs to see and understand, what one is seeing.

    Each mare line and stallion has individual type which
    in many ways follows the tail female. This is then expressed as to age of the individual. The standard here
    is not to be taken away from the breed discussion as to
    example per registry standard. The standard there is not
    Asil or of understanding, Al Khamsa Arabians can not be
    seen as to the general registry standard.

    Just as the horses still found in possesion of the Bedouin and State breeding farms of Arabia. The standard
    type is the orginal source as to the breeders of the past and present asil breedings.

    I know Joe knows this as do most breeders of Bedouin source stock.

  11. Al Khamsa horses vary in appearance, depending on the lines bred, Non-Asil Arabian Horses often vary in appearance, especially if they are not bred for the show ring, I’ve had stallions that stamp foals like cookie cutters, no matter the tail female line of the dam, and I’ve had stallions whose foals vary from mare to mare.

    If you are breeding the same line of horses over and over with each other, you will or should fix a particular look. Whether that is retained in whole or part with a complete outcross, also varies.

    Some mares seem to be mere incubators for their foals, even if closely bred, and others put frame and size on their foals, even if the finish comes from the stallion.

    Standards for appearance are one thing, standards for functionality are another, even the definition for standard is not standard when it comes to subjective

  12. Ms. Craver is correct about show ring standards. When the standard for Hereford cattle, included a while eyelid, the reality was cancer of the lid on range cattle.

  13. What is being danced, but not spoken. The standard and type is not what you or I think, the show ring, or racing! Nor any breeder outside of the Bedouin.

    The standard and types are simply, what is called Bedouin Source Bred. Nothing more, nothing less!

    Al Khamsa comfirms this with its research, photo’s, DNA, and what ever else. The source of all type is
    the Bedouins Home. To think otherwise is unwise, and contradicts all writings of the years past and present.
    Yes, Al Khamsa beats to a different drum beat. So do the horses, source and types are not ours to change. This is
    Al Khamsa, all rights belong to the horse and the Bedouin who we call source.

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