On Carl Raswan as a reliable source of scholarly information on Arabian horses

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on April 23rd, 2010 in Egypt

Take the time to (re)read this article by RJ Cadranell, one of the best ever written on the sale of Egypt’s Ali Pasha Sharif collection of asil Arabian horses, drawing on two souces: Lady Anne Blunt (her Journals, her Sheykh Obeyd Studbook, and some of her private, unpublished notes) and Carl Raswan (his Index).

By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever shared with you my personal assessment of Raswan’s standing versus Lady Anne Blunt’s, as sources of scholarly information on Arabians. I don’t think many of you will like this assessment, but here it is anyway: I have found Lady Anne Blunt to be generally correct unless the contrary is proved; and Raswan to be generally incorrect unless the contrary is proved.

Raswan’s defenders usually use such statements as “he was not a native speaker of English”, “his thinking was so complex and elaborate that few could understand it” or even “he was constantly making corrections to what he wrote” to absolve him. All this may be true, but scholarly research on Arabians is not rocket science, yet in my opinion, Raswan’s monumental body of work (his Index) is cryptic, garbled, ambiguous, incoherent, confusing and often downright contradictory. It generally complicates rather than clarify.

Note that RJ’s article implicitly agrees with my above assessment of Raswan’s work: it consistently uses Lady Anne’s information on the Ali Pasha Sharif horses to verify Raswan’s information, and not visa versa. Similary, the authors of Al Khamsa Arabians III (2009) have relied on Raswan’s Index much less than they did when preparing Al Khamsa Arabians II (1993) and Al Khamsa Arabians (1983).

10 Responses to “On Carl Raswan as a reliable source of scholarly information on Arabian horses”

  1. I often wonder if perhaps, when we are breeding horses, we get to caught up in a conformation or perhaps a “breed type” that we forget about what makes many of the greatest horses we have ever known… great.

    It was performance… and personality. Can they do the job and how much of a “person” did they become while doing it?

    I have found this with my tobiano APHA horses, and I think if I would have understood the concept a bit better while I was breeding AK Arabians… I wouldn’t have been so critical!!

    Of course, we don’t want to purposely reproduce poorly conformed equines… but sometimes those undesired physical traits can certainly be over-ridden by mental traits in my mind. Some of our most famous race horses were conformation disasters. But they went down in history as great and produced great runners who were physically sound and passed it along.

    Heart is what I want in my equines. Whatever the breed, I always thought that type was the most important in Arabian breeding, but I have since learned better. Type comes in a mental package. Not just physical. I would like to have both if I can.

    There are a great deal of horses that have never become great by performance, but they are great by personality.

  2. Meaning, with the above post… that perhaps Raswan saw the actual horses, in the flesh, way different than we view them today, after we see their pedigree. He saw their “spirit”…

  3. It does seem that Raswan had an artistic sensibility rather than a scientific one.

  4. I think the only commendable thing Raswan has left us is his definition of type – masculine (blue) and feminine (red). This really sums up the overall types (x2) within the Breed. The add-mixtures of the others being the result of the crossings between these two significant types. If only we can relate to these and understand them instead of insisting that each strain name has an individual type (which it doesn’t).

    my thoughts.

    ps I’ve deliberately left out the notion of brown (Ma’anaghi) as this was an emotive call rather than anything based on reality. It’s been well proven that this individuals expressing this strain name can be either masculine or feminine depending on the actual ancestors and the amount of concentration of bloodlines. As in any individual and their strain name designations.

    Not reading many of Raswan’s works, but having read Lady Blunt’s works, my thoughts are that Raswan is more emotive and easily swayed by those around him. Lady Blunt dealt with reality and recorded it as such. However, for better descriptions of desert bred individuals, I believe Major RD Upton’s works are very credible.


  5. ps, re the article, it states
    “Nejran (Azrek x Nefisa), sold to Australia in 1904″… there’s no Nejran of this era noted in the AHSA stud book. Any more detail on this individual? ie was individual exported to Australia?

  6. Raswan raised awareness for preservation of the Authentic Arabian Horse, at a time when people just bred one Arabian Horse to another. There was no Al Khamsa, Institute of the Desert Horse, Pyramid Society, Asil Club, Sheykh Obeyd, Heirlooom. All of this groups exist now because of people like Carl Raswan and Jane Ott. Whether you agree or disagree with Raswan’s theories, whether you think he was a charlatan or a hero is not as important as his overall general message, calling for preservation of the Asil. For that, I am grateful for Raswan’s life mission and all of his efforts.

  7. Amen! And you can add in that he was a great photographer of the Bedouin culture.

  8. Oh I definitely agree with both of you, and have always said it. He is the intellectual and genealogical father of every single preservation movement of the asil arabian in both Europe and the USA. I was just commenting on the reliability of his scholarly work as a historical source of information on the horses of the past.

  9. And the other thing that absolutely needs to be said is that he did the very best he could to spark peoples interest in preservation breeding. Now his best might not be equal to the best that Ann Blunt and her husband with their enormous wealth and secure circumstances were able to do, but he was effective. Else we would not be doing this now. And he paid an enormous price for that too. For example Gladys Edwards- the queen of cut and paste research, often found column space to ridicule Raswans strain theories specifically, and Raswan in general. She of course directly benefitted from importing Polish partbreds and wrote fawning coverage of their accomplishments in the U.S. show scene. And she certainly had to have strongly suspected that most all of the Polish horses were not even close to being asil. I never met Raswan, I only had the pleasure of studying his index and other books at MSU. Yet there are a number of people in the horse world who still today call him names ,claim he was a nut and dismiss his ideas carte blanche. However it must be admitted that if you breed to strain you inevitably end up inbreeding to a greater or lesser degree. Its basic genetics that there are only two ways to breed- inbreed or outcross. The truth is as Joe Ferris has remarked most all Arabians not found in the Arab nations today are to a greater or lesser degree linebred to the Crabbet Blunt horses. The New Eygyptians are- the CMK’s certainly are, and of course the Wahos are as well. Without Raswans emphasis on preservation there would not be the few islands of Asils here in the U.S. that are not swamped with the Crabbet-Blunt horses. The Davenports of course, and the Saudi horses too. And without Raswans emphasis on preservation most of us wouldn’t be interested in this either. I for one would more likely be dealing with warmbloods or quarter horses. Both gene pools of which tend to get too much body size in relation to leg bone. So you spend most of your time trying to keep them sound. 1250 pound warmbloods with 7 1/4 inch cannons- similar dimensions can be found in the Quarter horse realm. But if breeders continue outcrossing Arabs in pursuit of size they are going to lose the legs, they have pretty much already started to lose the coupling. And that is why Asil preservation is so crucial. In the not too distant future there is going to be a demand for horses with cannon bone to body size co-efficients of .8 or better. You can still find lots of arabs these days with legs this good. The more you get into halter showing the smaller the legs get and the more pronounced the dish becomes. Its going to be sooner rather than later that value of the desertbreds will be demonstrated. The Arabian race stallion Line Dancer comes to mind as an example he has 3 lines to the Saudi mare Hamra Johara(sp)
    Best Wishes
    Bruce Peek

  10. I agree with many of these comments. Because we don’t always know the sources of Raswan’s information relating to ancestors deep in Egypt, there are bound to be contradictions and later discovered inaccuracies, so I do not consider him the final word on everything. I believe his intent was sincere however, and as a visionary thinker his work is often interpretive with respect to solving the mysteries of the past. However what I most value him for is his undying devotion to preserving the kinds of horses that he personally experienced, and his inspiration to all to value and not forget the originating culture, the Bedouin tribes. I have also had the opportunity in the past to read among some of his personal correspondence as well as his books and generally I feel most comfortable with his record of those horses that he personally saw and the people he personally knew or traveled with in the Middle East that enriched his journey. Sometimes that is all we have to go on for some horses. I agree that his perspective is more artistic than scientific, which is a challenge for some researchers and people comfortable with linear thought, facts and tangibles. But such a visual person is an excellent record of what he saw and given Lady Wentworth’s comments about his uncanny ability to judge horses, I have good reason to listen to his descriptions. Raswan along with Homer Davenport are among the first people’s writings that I read about when I began my quest for learning about the Arabian horse in 1970 and I am so glad that I started there first.

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