By Edouard Aldahdah
The idea of an international registry for Asil Arabian horses has been gaining momentum over the last few years, not only within Western Asil breeeders’ circles, but among Arab breeders as well. Such a registry is long past due and would be the purists’ answer to WAHO.
Several Western organizations have come close to establishing such a registry. The largest effort so far is that of the Asil Club, which in addition to bloodlines represented in Western breeding [Egyptian bloodlines, various bloodlines from the USA, the Asil remaining lines from Crabbet in the UK, Weil-Marbach in Germany and Babolna in Hungary] also includes the horses of the Royal Arabian Studs of Bahrain and those of the Saudi Arabian government stud of Dirab. In the 1970s, the Asil Club has also considered adding the Tunisian horses to its list, and is currently considering adding the Syrian horses (more on this move later, and what I think of it).
Then there is Al Khamsa. While their roster is not the most inclusive (indeed, they tend to consider only those horses whose descendants came to the USA or Canada), it is without a doubt the most serious effort at researching the horses’ background and establishing their authenticity.
Most recently, the Institute for the Desert Arabian Horse has been trying to establish such a global registry of Asil horses, but I am not abreast of the latest developments on this front [I need to call Anita].
A few years earlier, US and European preservation breeders like Rosemary Byrnes Doyle and Hansi Heck-Melnyk to name just a few, gathered in Abu Dhabi during the WAHO conference there, to discuss the idea of an International Registry of Desert Arabian Horses (not sure if that was the exact name they gave it). They got a lot of initial traction, but the effort ultimately faltered because of the difficulty to reach an agreement on what is the definition of an Asil horse. The reason why they felt that a definition was important was because it allowed to determine which bloodlines were Asil and which ones were not.
The matters was an easy one as long as Asil Arabian bloodlines bred in Egypt and in the West are concerned. Al Khamsa and the Asil Club, and other too, are in near complete agreement about which horses are Asil or Al Khamsa eligible, and which ones are not.
But what about the others, the ones still in the countries of Arabia Deserta, the original homeland of these horses? What about the Bahraini horses? It is complicated. What about the North African horses? It gets more complicated. The Syrian horses? Even more complicated. And the Iraqi horses? Here ones reaches levels of complication never attained before. And I am not even mentioning potential Asil horses from Iran, Turkey, Libya, and other countries on the fringes of Arabia Deserta.
How can one ascertain the purity of these horses in an environment where, until recently, such knowledge was transmitted orally, and where opinions and sources of information differ tremendously? One cannot help being drawn into issues of legitimacy, which complicates the task even further. You’d hear things like: ”Who are Western breeders to determine if our horses are Asil or not?” or even better: “We Arabs know more than Westerners do, because these are Arabian horses”.
In my opinion, both Arabs and Westerners are equally well positioned to do the job of identifying and preserving the world population of Asil Arabian horses. This is why they need to work hand in hand, and why they need each other. Westerners are well positioned because they already undertook this registration effort in their own countries, with some success (e.g., Al Khamsa, Asil Club). Arabs are well positioned because their standards of purity are different from those of the Westerners, and because one needs to abide by these standards if one wants to preserve the horses of the Bedouin the way Bedouins did for centuries. That said, not all Arabs are Bedouins (far from it), and Arabs do not have the monopoly of knowledge on Arabian horses..
That said, debates about definitions are endless. One could discuss forever what purity means, and if desert-bred automatically means Asil, and what is Asil, and who decides what is Asil and what is not, and according to what criteria, etc… The discussion is fascinating, but there is a point of diminishing returns, a tipping point where discussion need to end and action needs to start, even at the expense of precise rules of the game.
In the interest of practicality and of getting things done, I suggest the following simple framework to assess the eligilbility of desert Arabian horses in any future Global Asil Horse Registry (GAHR).
It consists of three levels of eligibility in the form of concentric circles [Jane Ott’also had three levels: BLUE STARS, Blue Lists, and Sublists, but mine are different]. There are specific eligibility criteria attached to each level of course, and a lot to say about who has the privelege of fixing these criteria, but lets hold on to that thought for later. Note that these criteria apply for those Arabian horses of desert bloodlines, currently living in Arabia Deserta (Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabian, Iraq, Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Lebanon).
So, here goes:
Level A: These are the purest of the pure, and include any or all of the following criteria:
– the ones there is a broad consensus about in their place of origin
– the ones we are fairly certain (as certain as one can be in an oral culture) can be traced back to a long time
– the ones bred by the owner of the strain
– the ones kept in relative isolation
– the ones not bred to outside stallions except very choiced ones
– the ones we know for a fact don’t have an admixture of foreign blood.
Level A horses are comparable to the best-authenticated Al Khamsa Foundation horses (for example: Queen of Sheba and Sherifa of the Blunts, Urfa, Reshan, and Haleb of Davenport, and Jalam al-Ubayan and Turfa of the Saudi Arabian imports to the USA). These are few and precious.
Level (B): These are the ones we guess are pure, or should be pure, or rather about which there is no reason to think they are not pure, although:
– they no longer belong to the original owner of the strain
– they changed owners and tribes frequently (thus maximizing the risk of exposure),
– they have been bred to stallions outside the tribe, etc.
This is the category the wide majority of the Syrian horses falls in. They are comparable to the average Al Khamsa Foundation horse: many Danveports (Kusof, El Bulad, Houran, Farha, etc), a couple of the BLUE STARs (such as those “said to be from Ibn Saud”), many Egyptian horses (El Samraa, El Shahbaa, El Deree), etc.
Level (C): These are the ones we need to learn a lot more about so they gain Level B status. They are comparable to the Al Khamsa horses we know little about (e.g, Maidan, Kismet, Dwarka, Mameluke, etc)
Of course, there is an additional level. which consists of the ones we know are not pure, or we seriously doubt are not pure, and these have no place in the registry. Let other worry about them.