On filling the knowledge gap between modern Egyptian horses and their desert bred heritage

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on September 16th, 2010 in Egypt

Yesterday night, as I was sitting to draft notes for my presentation at National Breeder’s Conference tomorrow in Atlanta, I had some thoughts on the evolution of asil Arabian breeding, which I thought I’d share with you, for feedback:

The greatest risk – and there are many – facing the asil Arabian horse today is the “decoupling” of the “Straight Egpytian” Arabian from the rest of the asil Arabian community. The “Straight Egyptian” brand/label is so strong, so prevalent, so well-marketed that your average Arabian horse breeder — including an ever increasing number of Middle Eastern breeders, completely disconnected from their ancestors’ breeding legacies and traditions — now believes that the only asil Arabian horses left in the world are the “Straight Egyptians”.

The implications of this disconnect are several, and they play themselves out on many levels: at the financial level, where the gap between the prices of some “Straight Egyptian” horses and those of other asil horses is ever widening; at the genetic level, where the gene pool of the “Straight Egyptian” horse is ever narrowing; finally, and perhaps most significantly, at the cultural level, where the “Straight Egyptian” horse is being experienced, branded and understood as more “Egyptian” and less “Arabian” (less “Arabian” as in less from Arabia, the land, not the equine breed).

From a historical documentation perspective, the ties binding the “Straight Egyptian” horse to its “Arabian” geographic, tribal, societal and folkloric heritage are loose: recorded information on the desert-bred antecedents of many of the original foundation horses of Egyptian breeing is still missing: for instance, the two most important tail female lines in Egyptian Arabian breeding, the Dahman Shahwan line of Bukra and the Saqlawi Jadran line of Moniet El Nefous respectively trace to two foundation mares from Ali Pasha Sharif, El Dahma and Roga El Beida, neither of whom are desert-bred or trace to specific desert-bred individuals. Most of the horses of Ali Pasha Sharif are in the same boat. Of course, it’s got nothing to do with the horses themselves, only with how little we know about them, and the asil status of these Egyptian-born mares and others who like them trace to unidentified desert-bred ancestors is not in doubt, far from it. What is threatened, however, is today’s breeders’ general awareness of the specific past and present connections of these “Straight Egyptian” horses to their “Arabian” (ie, from Arabia, the land) desert heritage.

Granted, the monumental and inexhaustible “Abbas Pasha Manuscript” is there to make these very specific connection come to life. The Manuscript is a detailed, lively investigation record of the horses bought by Abbas Pasha, and their desert background. But few, if any, of today’s breeders are capable of understanding the implications of the stories told in the Abbas Pasha Manuscript on the horses they own. Besides, as far as I could tell, only one Egyptian foundation horse with modern descendents is explicitely mentioned in the Abbas Pasha Manuscript: the mare Hajlah, “the Dahmeh Nejiba of Ibn Aweyde” (She is the dam of the stallion Jerboa, who is the sire of the Shueymah mare who is dam of the stallion Shueyman, who is the sire of the mare Helwa among others, herself dam of the Blunt mare Bint Helwa, dam of Ghazala, dam of Radia, dam of Bint Radia, dam of Shahloul, sire of Bukra and Moniet El Nefous, etc, etc.).  Today it is not yet possible to link foundation mares like El Dahma and Roga El Beida to specific individual ancestors mentioned in the Abbas Pasha Manuscript.

I believe that these links between the Straight Egyptian horse and its “Arabian” heritage need to be rediscovered, restated, and reinforced. There are a lot of such connections that are not yet explicit, because of the current status of the research. This needs to change. This is why this blog will have a new series of posts, titled “Missed Connections” that will seek to shed light on the multiple ties binding the “Straight Egyptian” arabian to its past but also present desert heritage.

17 Responses to “On filling the knowledge gap between modern Egyptian horses and their desert bred heritage”

  1. You know, we were talking about “Connections” at the Al Khamsa Convention. I believe it is the theme for next year’s convention, and the term came up over and over.

    It is important that we emphasize the connection of all bloodlines back to their parent stock, as that is what makes them desirable today!

  2. On January 01 1925 the French minister of Agriculture named Inspector-General of the French National Studs, M.Rieu de Madron as Chief of Mission in charge of buying Pure Arab horses in Syria and the Levant.

    De Madron started his journey in Egypt:

    “Actually the land of the Pharaohs was not unknown to me .I had served as secretary to two previous National stud missions to Egypt both lasting two months in 1912 and 1914.Iwas hoping to meet certain personalities of the sporting world. But how death had ravaged their ranks in fifteen years! The Pasha Khayat who had sold us Telemese and Nibeh, had died. Mr Ismalun who had sold us Farid was dead.”

    The situation of horses in Egypt (according to De Madron):
    A few years prior to this mission, horse breeding was almost nonexistent in Egypt. In 1912 the only broodmares were those of the Khedive Abbas-Hilmi stud and of Lady Blunt in Matarieh. In the absence of the Khedive, I was not authorized to visit his breeding farm. I was only able to examine the broodmares of Prince Mohamed –Ali and those of Lady Blunt..
    Prince Mohamed Ali had a quite a large stud in the outskirts of Cairo, on the bank of the Nile. His broodmares, mostly greys, and coming from the coast of Syria, were well built, but did not have the characteristics of the specimen found with the major nomadic tribes: they had neither the look, nor the bone, nor the muscular definition. In this unfavorable breeding environment, they had lost their desert look to take on the look of a domestic animal.
    Lady Blunt had a few broodmares in Mattarieh, about 20 km distant from Cairo, on the spot where, legend has it, the Holy Family took refuge when fleeing from Egypt. Her mares, tough small in size, definitely had the Arab look and, as they been bred since 1914 with two Nejd stallions which I described earlier, I was very interested in seeing their offspring. But the Mattarieh stud no longer existed upon my return this time.
    Hence, there was no breeding activity in Egypt as from a short while before. Therefore ,the large numbers of horses needed for the coaches of Alexandria and Cairo ,as well as those needed for the military, were imported, coming above all from the plain of Akkar and from the Syrian coast.
    Over the prior 10 years only ,some private individuals have to tried to breed horses on a limited basis and not have been successful .The silty Nile valley is not propitious. These private breeders mate their mares with English Thoroughbreds, and usually the mediocre stallions at that. The result is a horse they call Country-bred a sort of Anglo-Arab produced with no methodology or guiding principles, a complete failure, which has no destiny than to race in the category reserved for this type of horse.
    In conclusion, as regards breeding, Egypt holds no interest for our mission. End of the Madron quoting.

    After reading this report, we may conclude that:
    —Neither the Nile climate was suitable for horse breeding.
    — Nor the Egyptian breeder in 1925 had the competence to breed horses.
    All the Arab countries knew that Egypt and its people were not a traditional horse breeding country, and that they don’t “respect” and mistreated horses.
    The best proof is when the Australian cavalry, who came to Egypt and fought during WW1 in the Sinai , the Negueb and Palestine, were ordered to return to Egypt at the end of the war. When the Australian Army did not found boats to repatriate the horses to their native land ,the horsemen were ordered to give their horses to the Egyptians ,many of them refused ,seeing how the Egyptian people treated horses ,in conclusion they choose to shoot their beloved “Walers” and not to give them to the Egyptian.

    “The fate of the horses left in Egypt and Palestine is more contentious, some historians suggesting they were either all shot or ‘sold into slavery’ (eg Cooper page 47, Gammage page 138)”.
    Anyone who was in Cairo have seen the miserable poor horses pulling carts in Cairo street ,anyway Cairo is the only town on earth to have a “Horse Hospital” due to British funds.

    “No doubt some Australian horses were among those sold in Egypt after the war, whose mistreatment led to the establishment of the Brooke Hospital at Cairo in the 1930s, see Cooper page 48.”

    Moreover it seems that the “Egyptian Horses” are suffering from a disease
    (The Horse) an article by Stacey Oke September 14 article # 16939

    “This year has been an exciting one for Arabian horse owners. Not only has the genetic mutation for lavender foal syndrome (LFS) been determined, a test that can identify affected foals and horses that carry the gene for the disease has been developed.
    Lavender foal syndrome is a heritable and fatal neurologic disease that is primarily found in Egyptian Arabians”.

  3. Really a fantastic job to come Edouard…

  4. I know in my personal Arabian horse journey, it has really been an evolution of thought and beliefs. An ever occuring growth. Today with all of the fantastic information we have available in our own homes via the internet, it will be neverending! There is so much more to the Asil Arabian horse than just Egyptian heritage! It is a shame that there have been so many wonderful horses lost over time because they did not have a label.

  5. “YET” they do have a label! Simply, Bedouin Arabians! not: Polish, Spainish, English, nor or not even Egyptian. Only from Arabia comes the true Arabian Horse, the Bedouin’s Arabian Horse.

    Those that trace to the source are the true Arabian.
    In truth no outside breeding group can be a source. There is only one source, the Bedouin and its breeding groups. In truth “The Bedouin Sources” are the only term
    that discribes Al Khamsa. Of certain Nations do not, nor can they ever create what is a Bedouin Source.

    The sooner we as care takers realize that it is the Bedouin who was and is the source the better! How can, say, an Egyptian Arabian be more then its original source?

    YES, they can remain constant if safe guarded, anything less, is no longer Bedouin Source.

    The great flaw in Western writtings is the assuming that
    the Bedouin and his horses were only of merit when enhanced by superior thinking, care taking, and presentation; however, we as non Bedouin can only present what was gifted.

    “Bedouin Source Arabians” is the only true hallmark as to presenting the past into now.

    Jackson – Bedouin Arabians

  6. Good job!

  7. Excellent topic, Edouard! I would be interested in learning how your talk was received.

  8. It has for decades been told by different authors (Raswan, Forbis, Schiele in Germany and also Lady Blunt and her daughter Lady Wentworth) that the best breeding stock of Arabian horses had left the Arabian peninsula during the 19th century through the Egyptian Pashas by force or negotiations or as gifts. The stud of Abbas Pasha I was famed for its unrivalled quality of authentic Arabian horses in his times and until today. Even we have a report that tell us that horses of Abbas Pasha were brought back to the tribes because of their reputation. One such stallion was bought by Von Bruderman (an Austrian) for his government from the Rualla for exportation to Europe and we are told that this particular stallion was even exchanged between the tribes for mating their mares after he had come back from Egypt.
    As a result of this and also because of missing information from the Arabian countries, the opinion was wide spread in the West that nothing or not much of interest was left with the Beduins who had already been settled in the second half of the last century, when a greater interest in Arabian horses aroused in the west. And was it not much easier to buy horses in Egypt than in Arabia? So only a few came from Arabia to Europe or America. And not all of those have been accepted by the studbooks as pure breds!
    Also financial interests had taken advantage of the information of the superiority of the Egyptian horses going back to Abbas Pasha and the fairy stories.
    And from the very much inhomogenous foundation stock of Egypt a certain type of Arabian emerged after not so many generations of humane made selection. (The same happened in Poland or in other Western countries). Even modern genetic findings support this observation: We find more different m-DNA types in Arabians than in most other breeds so that scientists give not more than 200 years for the existance of the Arabian breed (I do not agree but this would lead to a different discussion point) In Arabia the so called Arabian breed existed and still exists to a certain degree without the uniformity western horse breeders like to have.
    For me there is no difference between asil horses from Egypt or Arabia, but there are still some missing links we cannot fill yet. An not to forget that we have even less information for horses of Saudi “origin” than for many Egyptian horses. It has always been my intention as breeder of Straight Egyptians to know the origin of my horses with the beduins, i.e. the tribes and breeders of the root horses. Because of missing information I refrain from certain lines within the Egytians.
    And if I understand right all the information of this blog and the books I have read there has always been such an immense exchange of horses inbetween the tribes not only in one area but all over Arabia that we cannot exclude one section of asil horses from the rest. Facing some genetic deseases and also some infertility in some lines today we need all sources of Asil breeding for the future. Let´s work together and not against each other for the sake of the breed! The Egyptians have always been connected with Arabia and have never been disconnected except maybe in the thoughts of a few.

  9. The “Egyptian horse breeder ” is a kind of fairy tale. He never existed until recently.
    The West, until know, does not admit, maybe for financial reasons, that Egypt was never a “Horse breeding Country”.
    The “Egyptian Arab” that we know today is the creation of two foreigners Dr Branch and General Von Pettko Szandtner.
    the best proof:”Nazeer” was found by the General in a stallion depot in the Delta where he was sent by the R.A.S Egyptian “experts”.
    The real “Horse Breeders” in the Middle East are the Bedouins ,not the Egyptians.
    As for the Egyptian Pashas, at least one of them used to breed Anglo-Arabs and called them “Asil” (Raswan Index Vol II) Arabic scans

  10. Hi Edouard and others,
    First let me say I thoroughly enjoy this blog and have learnt alot from all of you who regularly write here. I have one quite controversial question. Why, when there are loose ends in some Straight Egyptian pedigrees, is the Asil status of these horses NOT in doubt?
    Joe Achar’s post above reminded me of this:
    From Lady Anne Blunt Journals and Correspondence 1878-1917. Edited by Rosemary Archer and James Fleming. 1986.


    March 26th
    “Then he [P. Napier] came with us to Mr Branch’s stable where we were shown the prize mares an Egl. Thoroughd. 5 year bay – good, and the wonderful so called ‘Ali P. Sherif’ white mare, more than 13 years old so it is not being too young that would prevent her being a daughter of Wazir but she is not Ali Pasha Sherif at all nor could she be of the Abbas Pasha lot. I do not know if it were possible that Wazir could be the sire of such a mare from a common beladi mare, but I should doubt it from her appearance. I mean if unknown to the Pasha, the horse could have been used as he would never have allowed it. The eye is quite the wrong shape and formation, the head generally too shallow, the quarter is just what one does see in the countrybreds with a certain style but the tail set on all wrong. Nothing would have induced me ever to buy such a mare, and though she is a fine strong one I cannot but wonder at such an authority as Branch* being taken in about the breeding. From his own point of view I suppose he is right as she has got prizes – two prizes!* – at the Cairo show! Which shows either ignorance or deficient quality in the rest exhibited. While we were looking I dared not turn in the direction of Mutlak, who preserved a dead silence while I tried such remarks as I could about “size” and “a good mare”, etc.”

    pp 328
    “The sensation of the show was the sudden appearance of a quite outside white mare much bigger than any of the others, and when I saw her I exclaimed to Prince M. Ali “This is one that has not been seen here” wondering what could be her origin as she did not look of the same class, and to satisfy my curiosity I got up and went to see her at closer quarters, with the idea of beckoning Mutlak look at the outsider, for Ali Effendi as I rose was saying that this was a mare whose dam was Bint Azz and her sire Ibn Nura!!! Mutlak had not waited to be beckoned for, as seeing me walk towards the mare, he was seized with alarm lest it should be from admiring her and he said “this is the mare you saw” – and indeed it was the Branch 100g. mare (which he now wants to sell). She could not possibly be the offspring of Ibn Nura and B. Azz, and I remarked this to Prince M. Ali as I sat down and then somebody who was talking to Valensin in English stated that she was bought in Ali Pasha Sherif’s sale in 1897. But, I replied, I was there, and this mare was not in it. Oh, she was only 2 years old then, was the answer!!! But the only daughter of B. Azz and Ibn Nura there sold was my B. Azz who then passed in to Osman Bey’s hands and was called 2 years old though I think she was less. She is like both parents. Branch’s mare was priced to start with at 70 E pounds and got no further. This brazen forgery of pedigree does not surprise me but it is interesting to record it!”

    *under notes to the journals page 478; MS pencil notes by Judith against ‘such an authority as Branch’ she wrote ‘Branch was an unscrupulous dealer and probably made up the pedigree himself’ and against the words ‘two prizes’ she wrote ‘or a paid judge’.

  11. Very good point, Demelza, and courageously made too. “Why when there are loose ends in some Straight Egyptian pedigrees, is the Asil status of these horses NOT in doubt?” Two honest answers: first, and personally, because I don’t want to start too many fires at the same time, and second, because I trust Lady Anne Blunt. If horses are asil by her standards, then they are by mine. And she personally knew most – most – ancestors of Straight Egyptian horses today, even those with loose ends in their pedigrees, and they were acceptable to her. But your question is worthy of a fresh topic. Will get back to it.

  12. and more from Lady Blunt’s J & C:
    pp 283
    “It was 11 before Valensin left, what he told me of the Khedive’s and Prince Ahmed’s stud was rather interesting – the former has however jumbled up blood by breeding with such A.P.S. mares as he had with foreign horses”

    pp 257/258
    “It was on Wednesday 30th December that I saw the poor remnant of APS Stud tethered out in the garden of one of the Pasha’s palaces…
    under arcade
    1 Bint Azz (v. old) wh.
    1 Bint Mumtaza ch.
    1 Brown mare Mahrussa not pure bred
    1 Bay filly has daughter not pure bred
    1 Grey (?colt) 2 years
    1 Ch. half-bred 2 years

    pp 323
    “Prince Mohd. Ali spoke with keen eagerness of Arabian horses, declared that he meant now to keep no others and has actually got rid of everything else, that he regretted his brother having given them up – for he said “My brother has two Dahmans from Ali Pasha Sherif, which I asked him to let me buy from him as he did not wish to breed Arabs, but he would not, and then I found he had them covered by Cedar (an English horse)””

    pp 325 (“…” indicates portions removed by me for brevity)
    “…to visit the Khedival stables at Boulak in order to see the Bahreyn bay Dahman (from the Ibn Khalifah) now for sale… the person in charge, a portly French speaking effendi… I perceived that his knowledge was vague… (and from the Othman I heard she was in foal to the English bred ‘Cedar’)

  13. In the Raswan index Vol II you will find photocopy of the Stud Book of an Egyptian pasha:
    H.E. Effendum Abd el halim Pasha in 1895, where under the word “Asil” or its plural “Assayel” there is anglo-arab horses registered under the # 49 to 55.
    i.e # 50 a colt Sire a Hamdani Simri .Dam a Thouroughbred called The Rose.
    what happened to these horses,considered as “Asil” by the Egyptian?
    Had they been incorporated to the “Asil” breeding?

  14. Personally, and in my opinion only, I think the contemporary designation: “Straight Egyptian” has been an absolute disaster for the breeding of asil horses in the US. I cannot speak for them elsewhere.

    One of the last actual “Straight Egyptians” (sans Crabbet blood) was Hallany Mistanny and it is almost impossible to find his blood today, except for a handful of horses and the non-SE’s, but asils descending from the Perdue herd (Rudalaro Arabians) and a handful of others, who used his blood in combination with *Turfa, and some of the Babson breeding.

    It used to be a lot easier to find a good, straight legged, well conformed asil horse, back in the late 70’s and into the 80″s. With the all the nonsense of the so called Straight Egyptian (marketing tool, with horses of a large percentage of Crabbet blood) and limiting the gene pool to this inaccurate classification, it has gotten harder and harder to find a stallion , to which one would want to breed a well conformed asil mare, as many breeders of asil horses left the playing field due to lack of interest in quality and more interest in fan clubs.

  15. I tend to agree with you, Lorriee.

    That said, some serious students of Egyptian horses believe in their flexibility, the ability to revert some of these negative conformation trends. What is your take on this?

  16. Reading these comments is informative and lively. As a breeder of Arabian horses with a focus on the Straight Egyptian, I have to say it was never a question of purity. With all the evidence today using Mitochondrial DNA studies we will all be eating crow before long as to where and from what our horses originated. History is only as good as those writing it with their knowledge of the moment. SE’s by definition are a “breed within the Breed” and were established just as any other breeds, through a group of horses serving as the foundation bloodstock. As some stated in comments above it is the same as the Spanish, Polish and Russian horses creating thier families. Maybe because I am older I am more sanguine about these age-old arguments but I do find it endlessly fascinating. Now the challenge among many is to blend science with historical perspective. Has anyone here seen the information regarding genetic dilution? Looking forward to more discoveries on all fronts. Christie Metz

  17. I fully agree, Christie, and new discoveries directly and specifically linking Egyptian Arabians of Abbas Pasha and APS to their desert heritage are on their way!

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