Why do Arabian horse imports from Saudi Arabia don’t have ‘substrains’?

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on July 10th, 2010 in Saudi

Blog reader Mathias, from Germany, asked a pertinent question a few weeks ago: How come, he observed, “the horses from Saudi sources […] mostly have one strain name and no substrain, like Turfa and […] the mare Ghazala imported to Germany from Saudi Arabia”?

I had never noticed before, but Mathias is correct. Check out the available, recorded information on the Saudi horses sent to Egypt’s royal Inshass Stud as gifts: Nafaa, a Kuhaylah, but what Kuhaylah? Hind, a Saqlawiyah, but what Saqlawiyah? Mabrouka, a Saqlawiyah, again with no “substrain”, or marbat; El Kahila, a Kuhaylah with no marbat, etc. Now check out the recorded information on the Saudi horses imported to the USA: *Mahraa and her daughter *Muhaira: Ubayyan, but which Ubayyan? *Al Hamdaniah: Hamdaniyah, but no substrain; *Taamri, *Jalam al-Ubayyan, *Al Obayya: all Ubayyan, no substrain; *Amiraa, *Rudann, *Halwaaji, *Sindidah, *Bedowia El Hamdani: all Hamdanis but no substrain; *Turfa: Kuhaylan, but no substrain, etc. etc.

These horses came from famous and well established studs like that of Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud at Al-Khorma, or that of Saud Ibn Jalawi in al-Hasa, they were from the Bedouin tribes, who were justifiably proud of their horses’ origins and who carefully, albeit orally, transmitted information related to their horses’ backgrounds.  If there were only one of two instances of the lack of mention of substrains (typically: Simri for Hamdani, Sharrak for Ubayyan, etc, etc), or marabet, from the importation records or the authentication documents (hujaj) pertaining to these horses, then it would be easy to dismiss it as mere omission, whether on the part of the person who prepare these documents, or the person who supplied the information. Yet, at least two dozen Arabians from Saudi are lacking a substrain or a marbat on their recrods. So what’s the deal here?

The short answer, or at least the short version of my take on it, for whatever it’s worth, is: POLITICS.

Before I get to what the longer answer is, here’s some basic background on the issue, keeping in mind that things are more complex than the general broad-brush picture I am about to paint:

Up to the first third of the twentieth century, most Bedouin tribes in what is today the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where nomadic and roamed the Arabian Peninsula as free agents, not subject to any government. The Arabian horses they bred and owned were war machines and objects of prestige and power at the same time. As King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud (d. 1953), founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was building, then modernizing his nation state, he sought to gain and sustain control over the highly mobile, turbulent, and war-like Bedouin tribes. He strove to do so by offering them incentives to give up their nomadic lifestyle, settle in sedentarized communities (hujar), and join his army. Getting the tribes to surrender their horses (ie, their war machines as much as their source of prestige) to him was a key part of implementing this sedentarization policy; it essentially meant disarming, demobilizing, and dismantling the Bedouin tribes’ armed forces. Thousands and thousands of desert-bred Arabians were surrendered and parked in large studs, or distributed to royal family members and staff (or occasionally give as gifts to foreigners).

Now these horses came from specific marabet (Bedouin studs), and most of these marabet were usually known after the Bedouins families and clans who famously owned them.. and so the horses carried the names of their previous owners: Kuhaylat al-Nawwaq, Kuhaylat al-Tamri, Kuhaylat Rodan, ‘Ubayyat al-Hunaydis, Hamdaniyat al-Simri, are some examples, among countless others names. This meant that the memories and of the feats and deeds of these Bedouins individuals, clans and tribes, and indeed, part of their heritage and identity, were being perpetuated through the names of these horses, who were now in the possession of the Saudi royal family. Any enterprise of nation-building that was trying to build and sustain a central state had to suppress and appropriate the symbols of independence, identity and power, which the horses but also the horses’ names and strains, represented. In the new Kingdom, the strain names of the Arabian hence became (and remains) the subject of contention between the centralizing royal authority and the tribes.

This may explain why, in the Saudi government documents such as the horses’ official export documents and the government-signed hujaj (e.g., those of the Roach imports *Taamri, *Rudann, *Halwaaji and *Amiraa), the family names of the horses, their ‘substrains’ and their marabet are omitted. Of course, this does not mean that these horses had no substrains or marabet; quite the contrary; recently emerging information is showing that they not only had susbstrains and marabet, but that these were quite prestigious, and well respected, too; it only means that their substrains and marabet, when they tied these horses to the names of individual Bedouins, clans or tribes, were purposefully omitted, in an attempt to downplay the heritage of the Bedouins tribes as owners of these Arabian horses, sources of power and autonomy.

26 Responses to “Why do Arabian horse imports from Saudi Arabia don’t have ‘substrains’?”

  1. Thanks for this. Quite interesting, and totally new information.

  2. Thank you so much, Edouard. Very perceptive! I have wondered about this for a long time (the Harris imports, in 1931, had substrains, but not marabat, right?), and this explains it. All were to be subsumed in the Saud stud: a Kuhaylan of Sa’ud instead of a Kuhaylan Al-Nawaq.

    A lot makes more sense now!

  3. Actually, El Kahila (INS) is recorded as a Kuhaylah al Kurush, rather than just a Kuhaylah. An exception that proves the rule?

  4. The exceptions were those horses whose substrains were not named after the names of the owners: e.g, Kuhaylat al-Kurush (Kuhaylah of the Belly) for Inshass’s El Kahila and one of the Cavedo mares; Kuhaylat al-Dhabi (of the Antelope), which is the strain of the mares imported to the USA but without offspring or Kuhaylat al-Musinnah (the Listener), which is the strain of another Saudi import to the USA. In these 3 cases, whether these substrains were kept or not was irrelevant, because they were not attached to people’s names.

    For the Harris imports, they were exported so early in the state formation process of Saudi Arabia that the policy of which the above is illustrated was likely not yet implemented.

    Compare with the Bahrain horses, all of which has substrains and marabet. In Bahrain, there was no nation building, no identity construction so there was nothing at stake.

  5. According to Dr Mabrouk book on his trip in Saudi Arabia,Iraq,Syria ,Lebanon in order to buy stallions for the EAO.Dr Mabrouk states that a lot of horses died in Saudi Arabia due to thikness(Dourine if my memory is good).Consequently King Abdul Aziz receive ,as a gift,a lot of mares and some stallions from Ibn Meheyd and from Iraqi tribes,which means that maybe some “Saudi” horses are sons of these Syrians and Iraqi gifts which may explain some “lacks” in strain names

  6. Edouard: So the bedouin revolt aginst the Saudis would have been part of the resistance to the settlement policy if I understand it correctly. So that would have been where numerous saudi ancestral elements came from?
    best wishes
    Bruce Peek

  7. King farouk of Egypt was the most powerful King in the Middle East until his resignation in 1952.His Inshass stud received many horses as a gift.King Abdel Aziz sent a lot of horses to Inshass some with a complete strain like “El Obaya om Grees or Jreiss in early part of 1931 and some like “Al Kahila” presented in April 1927 with “no details of her strain or breeding recorded” as per Colin Pearson and Kees Mol “the Arabian horse families of Egypt”
    Mabrouk also visited Prince Faisal stud in Taif and the king stables at Al Kharj and recorded the strains and take picture of the horse.
    So the horses were well identified in 1936.Question why some horses were sent to Inshass without any infos?
    Mabrouka born 1930 Saklawieh presented 1945
    Nafaa 1941 Koheila
    Saada 1939 no strain
    El Zarkaa presented 1945
    Mabrouk 1943 presented 1945 a Sowayti ben Kowyel.

    It seems strange that when a King present a horse to another King (the most poweful of his time)there such a lack of information.Never King Abdul Aziz should have presented unkown strain horses to King Farouk .It must be or a mistake by the Saudi clerck or by the Inshass clerk or as Edouard wrote the Saudis really did not know the horses strain and,who knows,even their origin.

    Another exemple is the Albert Harris 1931 mare imports:
    The registered breerder is Mohamed ed el Rouaf (Consul of Hejaz and Nejd)while all the mares were originated from the Al Saud studs.It seems that this gentleman was the representative of King Saud(Al Khamsa II)
    if he was originated from Djeddah(the Saudi port) he may be not an Arab (as the majority of the inhabitants of this port at this time) and not even acquainted with horses which means that he could not care less of the horse’s strains or he may have judged that the infos given was good enough for a Christian Westerner.
    this could also explain why some Saudi horses who went to the West are whit incomplete strains.

  8. quote: How come, he observed, “the horses from Saudi sources […] mostly have one strain name and no substrain, like Turfa and […] end quote.

    No so with Turfa. Among the importation documents for Turfa is her certificate of transfer from Gen. W.H. Anderson in England to Henry Babson in the U.S. On that certificate it gives the strain of Turfa as “Kuhaylat Ajuz Al Khorma. While the “Al Khorma” is likely a location identifier, I have always taken this document to mean that Turfa’s substrain is Ajuz, so she, like the Harris imports did indicate a substrain. Whether considered a specific Marbat or not, the Ajuz is itself a substrain and a very old one. Perhaps this remained in Turfa’s records because she was born in 1933, in the early years of the Saudi Kingdom formation? As thorough as Anderson was as Secretary for the British registry, I would presume that the Kuhaylan Ajuz strain given for Turfa was accurate.

  9. Hi, Joe (F): About *Turfa, yes Anderson’s papers do mention her as Kuhaylat al-‘Ajuz, but that’s a generic strain.. and because it is so old, it is likely to have had a string of marabat tied into it, just as the Kuhaylan Ajuz of Ibn Jallab, those of Ibn Rodan, those of Tamri, those of al-Khdilat, those of of al-Haif, etc, etc. The point I was trying to make is that this information is missing in both *Turfa and *Nufoud. Only the “‘Ajuz” part was left in their cases, and the specific marbat (K. Ajuz of whom) was omitted.

    Joe (A): Remember that in the case of the Harris imports, our national poet Amin al-Rihani was the intermediary, and he was a good friend of Ibn Saud (see his book, Tarikh Najd al-Hadith); that said, I sort of agree about the “information being good enough for a Westerner”. Why go through the trouble of mentioning all the family names of individuals and tribes.. when this information is irrelevant to the West’s different culture, and when Westerners just want a pure-bred Arabian horse. Interest in the detailed origin of the desert horses was the exception rather than the rule (Raswan, LAB, Upton)

  10. Question: are we certain that the mare El Shahbaa, the Ubayyah Umm Jurayss, tail female to the Nagel horses among others, is from ibn Saud? Pearson is the only reference, and he does not cite his sources..

  11. re. El Shahbaa: Al Khamsa, Inc. does not have any information about a connection to Ibn Sa’ud. Doesn’t mean it is not there; just that we don’t have any. Her entry:

    EL SHAHBAA (INS) Inshass
    1925 grey ‘Ubayyah Umm Jurays mare of Muhammad Ibrahim al-Hajj of Cairo, Egypt, purchased in 1931 by King Fuad.

    By a Hamdani of al-Nasiri and out of an ‘Ubayyah Umm Jurays.

    NOTES: The above information is from the Inshass Original Herd Book, horse #12.

    Dam of 5 foals, including:
    Nader 1932 cs by El Deree (INS)
    Shehab 1935 cs by Rasheed (KAD)
    El Mahroussa (INS) 1937 cm by El Zafir (INS)
    Naser 1939 cs by Ibn Fayda (KAD)

  12. Ameen Rihani was not only King Abdel Aziz friend,but according to some sources,he and and St John Philby (Hajj Philby) father of the famous British KGB spy Kim Philby,where also his advisers.It is believed that trough their advise,the King granted substantial authority over Saudi oil fields to American oil companies.

  13. The “Asil Club” and the Saudi Horses.

    Last year I sent the email below to Dr Olms,the Asil Club President.

    “”In the ‘Araber Journal’ dated April 1998 page 32.Dr Johannes Flade in his article on the purity of the Bedouin horse wrote.

    “At the beginning of the 19th century Ottoman troops invaded the Hedjaz and Nejd .mounted on Turkish, Ethiopian, Sudanese ,Egyptian horses.

    These horses left a progeny in the Hedjaz .

    In 1811 arrived in the Hedjaz 1800 Turkish cavalry men who sold 200 horses to the Bedouin.

    In 1813 3000 Egyptian horsemen were defeated by the Wahabi forces who took 400 horses from the Egyptian cavalry ,some of them where later used as stallions””.End of my email.

    Please note that Dr Flade book on Arabian horse is found in the King Fahd library in Riad and that he wrote many articles in the “Asil Club” yearbook .

  14. I would like to put forward the hypothesis that in, al-Hamdani al-Nasiri, sire of El Shahbaa, al-Nasiri refer to the Sharif Nasir (or Nasser) b. Jamil of Jordan. The ‘Ubayyan Umm Jurayss strain is also represented in the Jordan Royal Stud of Princess Alia.

    It would be great if one managed to get DNA samples from the El Shahbaa tail female mares, and from the Ubayyan Umm Jurayss mares from the Jordanian Royal Stud, and compare them to each other.

    I wonder who can help us get samples from Jordan.

  15. Dear Joe: Tangentally, Rihani, and Philby wanted the americans to get control over developing the oil fields because A, the americans were ready to get on with development, while BP were playing games,B Britain had an unfortunate history of having been a colonial power in the region while the americans did not have such a history- at least at that time C Philby for one really really disliked British Imperialism and all its works.
    Best wishes
    Bruce Peek

  16. Edouard: Very interesting hypothesis which I suspect contains truth. It would be difficult to prove, however, because conditions of the Kingdom seem to suppress information.

    It is such a good thing that we have been able to find more information on the substrains.

    A little Off Topic, but I have posted to youtube 3 parts of a historical video of our Peninsula imports and their progeny.

    If you have only time to watch a little, you must see Part III… the last 3 minutes are a delightful exchange between a four year old boy and a one day old colt. And feel free to share … it is a breath of fresh air no matter what your taste in horses.

    Here is the url for each of the three parts in order, Part I, II, III. Please forgive some of the older footage quality:





  17. Hello,
    thank You Edouard for Your theory about the missing substrains in Saudi horses. It could be so, but could I ask “pure man” about his opinion to this subject?

    The origin of El Shahbaa of Inshass is not clear so far and the source of information that she comes from Saudi sources is not given by Pearson. Does anyone know where he could have this from? Edourd´s theory is interesting and it would be nice if it could be proofed.

    Some thoughts of mine also to the king of Egypt, owner of Inshass. Has he really been the most important ruler in the middle east of his days? Or not only a kind of marionette for the British? Ibn Saud was much more active in politics than him, I suppose.

  18. King Farouk was not a figurehead for the British
    Quoting Wikipedia:

    During the hardships of World War II, criticism was leveled at Farouk for his lavish lifestyle. His decision to not put out the lights at his palace in Alexandria, during a time when the city was blacked-out because of German and Italian bombing, was deemed particularly offensive by some[who?]. Due to the continuing British occupation of Egypt, many Egyptians, Farouk included, were positively disposed towards Germany and Italy, and despite the presence of British troops, Egypt remained officially neutral until the final year of the war. Consequently, the royal Italian servants of Farouk were not interned, and there is an unconfirmed story that Farouk told British Ambassador Sir Miles Lampson (who had an Italian wife), “I’ll get rid of my Italians when you get rid of yours”.[citation needed] In addition, Farouk was known for harboring certain Axis sympathies and even sending a note to Hitler saying that an invasion would be welcome.[citation needed] Farouk only declared war on the Axis Powers under heavy British pressure in 1945, long after the fighting in Egypt’s Western Desert had ceased.(end of quoting)

    Moreover the Royal Court of Egypt was founded by Mohamed Ali the Great while the Saudi clan was still a Wahabite group.

    The Saud family at the time of King Farouk had no Middle East political influence what so ever.
    The Saudis was sending gifts to the Royal family of Egypt while the Egyptians Kings never send a gift to Saudis ,shunning them since their invasion of Nejd (see the Dr Flade article).
    While the Saudis were still living under the tent ,prince Mohamed Ali Tewfik (the King’s cousin) was spending the summer at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo

  19. Edouard wrote
    “I would like to put forward the hypothesis that in, al-Hamdani al-Nasiri, sire of El Shahbaa, al-Nasiri refer to the Sharif Nasir (or Nasser) b. Jamil of Jordan”

    Sherif Nasser reputation was certainly not as a “Pure Arab horse breeder”

    “the obese Sherif Nasser, who became rich enough from smuggling guns and hashish to build a $900,000 palace for himself and his young second wife (quoting Time magazine june 1970)”

    As a horse breeder :he sent a horse as a gift to “Hamdan ” stables which products were deresgistered by the EAO.(look in the egyptian horses family book of Pearson)
    He use the Thoroughbred “Tabush” on his mares some of them pure Arabs that he had received from the Jordanain tribes.
    the only Arab horse he sent to the USA was “Al Dhabi” who was from King Hussein and Santiago Lopez breeding.
    So I doubt that a strain of pure arabs were named after him.
    Furthermore Al Shahbaa was foaled in 1925 by Hamdani al nasiri when the Sherif was 21 or 22 years old I doubt that a strain of horses could be named after him

  20. Maybe, Joe. But remember that Lawrence of Arabia’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom mentions the role of the troops of Sharif Nasser (as well as the Bedouins of Awda Abu Tayeh of the Huwaytat) in the battle of the Aqaba, which took place during the Arab Revolt in 1917.. so he must have been old enough to fight at that time..

    That said, I agree with you that he was not exactly know for breeding pure arabians, at least in his later years..

    In 1976, my father saw his stud in the Biqa’ valley, and told me that he saw small, desert-bred asil arab mares, with products by part-bred arabs at their side, and the asil stallion Ash-hal being used as a cover for the partbred stallions. See also the mention of Sharif Nasir’s anglo-arabs by Klynstra.

    That said, if this hypothesis is correct (and it is still a hypothesis), then it makes sense that al-Hamdani al-Nasiri was asil because of how early this was. Recall that before Sharif Nasir took part in the Arab Revolt alongside King Abdallah and King Feysal, sons of his cousin Sharif Hussein, he was still living in Mecca and that his stud was part of the stud of the Sharif of Mecca..

  21. “then it makes sense that al-Hamdani al-Nasiri was asil because of how early this was”

    I never said that al Hamdani al Nasiri was not Asil.I just said it is hazardous to say that “Al Nasiri” could be linked to the Sheriff Nasser who was too young to have a strain bearing his name.
    Even King Abdallah does not have a horse,or a mare, linked to him.
    As for Cherif Nasser and Lawrence ,his role was a rather small one “La suprematie de Nacer etait seulement admise parceque j’etais son hote” page 322 in the French translation “les sept piliers de la sagesse” (Nacer suprematy was admitted only because I was his host) hoping that the translation was good !!
    The most important of the “Mecca Cherifs” seems to be Cherif Charraf.

  22. If I understand Edouard right Hamdani Al Nasiri does not mean a stain name used by the beduin but an expression of an Egyptian man in the Inshass stud book?

  23. Yes…

  24. The Saudi Horses 1936

    History of the Royal Agricultural Society’s stud of authentic Arabian horses.
    By Dr Abdel Alim Ashoub
    EAO S.B vol 1 .second edition 1983.

    In the introduction, HE Fouad Pasha Abaza member of Governing Body,Director -general Royal Agricultural Society of Egypt;wrote
    “Recently the Royal Agricultural Society presented pure Arab stallions to HM King saud of Arabia,HM King Fesul of Iraq and HM King Abdallah of Transjordania.”
    “Altough some fine mares were found ,their origin was always in doubt.Even the Amir Feisul would not give a certificate of authenticity to any imported animals,however fine they might be.he recognized only the Nejd horses bred by himself,wich were very few and in Dr Mabrouk’s opinion,were,if not inferior to the stock of the RAS certainly not better.”

    About Dr Mabrouk’s journey to the Saudi Kingdom in 1936 “During a journey of 250 miles to el Khorma to see the horses of HH Prince Feisul no mares were met with in nthe hands of the Bedouins.Among a group of mares belongging to HH Prince Feisul no foals were seen,although four stallions were left loose with the mares.Most of these horses have been imported from Syria and Iraq,with no records of their pedigree other than the memory of the owner or his servant.
    Stallions were scarce.They are only retained in small numbers for stud purposes and the colts not required to serve as stallions are slaughtered at birth ,especially if their dams are old or weak,or in times of shortage of grass due to lack of rain.
    During the journey ,the Hedjaz horses were seen dying of plague.
    Page 10

    So according to Fouad Pasha there was in 1936 in saudi Arabia:
    – Egyptian stallions.
    -Syrian and Iraqi horses (males and females)

    Question:Is the Saudi horses imported to the West are all of them “Pure Saudis”? even when according to the Egyptian RAS authorities :Fouad Pasha,Dr Mabrouk and Dr Abdel Alim Mashoub their quality was inferior to the RAS standards(that’s why Dr Mabrouk did not buy any of them)

  25. Good question, Joe.. I agree

    The notion of a pure Saudi or a pure Syrian for that matter is a dubious one anyway.. the desert had no boundaries. remember how in Hail, in Central Arabia, Lady Anne Blunt saw and liked the k. Ajuz mare of Hamud Ibn Rashid, and upon asking about her, was told that she came from the Northern Shammar in what today is Syria or Iraq…

  26. July 10th Bruce wrote
    “So that would have been where numerous saudi ancestral elements came from?”
    best wishes
    Bruce Peek

    I fully agree that “the desert has no boundaries”
    I was just answering Bruce question,not taking into consideration the insanities of Dr Flade’s article of April 1998 on the origin of some Saudi horses.

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