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St or y a nd p h o t o s b y B e t t y F in ke


The Arabian horse itself, while in no danger of dying out, is in the process of changing beyond recognition.

S ahara ,

a desertbred mare of the


19 th

istory teaches us that progress is inevitable and cannot be stopped. Since the early nineteenth century, progress in all spheres of human life has steadily accelerated, and is still doing so, but not all results have been an improvement. True, industrialization and mechanization have made life easier in many respects. But they also introduced a whole new set of problems that continue to affect us. When machines take over more and more of the work, this means that more and more people are out of work. Craft has been transformed into industry. Everything today is an industry, even healthcare. This is also true of Arabian horse breeding, which is now referred to, even among breeders, as “the industry.” But what does this actually mean? In every industry, those who benefit the most are those who have created it and, by acting according to its dictates, keep it going. At the same time, those who refuse to conform to its rules quietly drop by the roadside, since the AHW > 1 < 10.19

century .

market functions strictly according to the demands of the industry. You might call this survival of the fittest in the context of a capitalist world. It’s a fact of life, but the implications for the survival of the Arabian breed are dire. This statement may raise a few eyebrows. After all, the Arabian appears to be thriving. Arabian horses are being bred, owned, and shown in more countries around the world than ever before. And speaking of shows, never before have point scores reached such dizzying heights as they do today. Never before have the champions been so radiantly beautiful. Surely, we must be living in a golden age? From a certain


You might call this survival of the fittest in the context of a capitalist world. It’s a fact of life, but the implications for the survival of the Arabian breed are dire.

perspective, it may well appear so, but we should not confuse the business and the product. The industry may be thriving; but the Arabian horse itself, while in no danger of dying out, is in the process of changing beyond recognition. To explain why this is so, we need to take a step back in time and take a look at the beginning and the subsequent development that led us to where we stand today. Coincidentally (or not), Arabian horse breeding in Europe began around the same time as industrialization, during the 19th century. Though they had nothing to do with each other initially, industrialization also had an impact on horse breeding. In the early 19th century, horses were still a necessity, for the Bedouins in the Desert as well as for farm work, transportation, and warfare in Europe. But they were already on the way out. Increasingly, the development of mechanized transport, of tractors and motorcars, made horses superfluous. In terms of horse breeding, it meant that horses, from being a necessity of everyday life, eventually became a luxury. In the course of the 20th century, this led to the development of competitive equestrian sports and leisure riding. Arabian horses were originally imported to European countries to improve the local horse breeds, especially horses for the cavalry, since Arabians were valued for their toughness and endurance as well as for their beauty. Arabians for the use of the cavalry were originally bred by the state studs, primarily in Eastern European countries like Poland and Hungary, but also in Spain. When the cavalry became superfluous, the breeding goals changed. It was in those days that private breeding farms first came into being. All the original private breeders were noblemen and aristocrats, since only they had the means to import horses from Arabia: King Wilhelm I of Württemberg, the Sanguszko Princes of Poland, Abbas Pasha I of Egypt, followed a bit later by Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt in England, and the Duke of Veragua in Spain. Breeders today owe a huge debt of gratitude to these pioneers. But the aristocracy, too, was overtaken by progress, and during the 20th century the Arabian horse became a concern for people in all spheres of top to bottom : M odern society. One might even say that the show type A rabians Arabian horse was a great equalizer, from U.S., G reat B ritain , P oland , A rabia , and because the love and admiration for this A ustralia , respectively . most noble of equines brought together

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top to bottom :

G azala (S aker x S ultanah ), a 20 th century G renlandia (E ukaliptus x G etynga ), a pure , old mare and W ermut (P robat x W armia ), a stallion of old breeding .

desertbred mare ,

P olish P olish

… each of these countries had its own distinctive foundation, and they all did something different with it. The result was that each country developed its own type of Arabian, influenced to some extent by the prevailing ideals.

all kinds of people. Regardless of their social background, Arabian breeders were, and still are, united by their love for the breed. As Arabian breeding evolved in different countries during the early 20th century, so did different types of Arabians. Each county that bred Arabians had its own foundation stock, imported from the desert by their pioneer breeders. Poland was one of these countries, as were Egypt, Hungary, Britain, France, and to some extent Spain. While they also imported horses from each other, each of these countries had its own distinctive foundation, and they all did something different with it. The result was that each country developed its own type of Arabian, influenced to some extent by the prevailing ideals. Hungary and its neighbors even created their very own Arabian breed, the ShagyaArabian. In Britain, with its rich pastures that were so different from its native desert, Arabians grew bigger and stronger. In Spain, breeders favored horses with long, arched necks like their native breed, but not necessarily dished faces. In Egypt, closest to the Desert, breeders focused on type and refinement, creating a horse that appeared ethereal by comparison with its European cousins, while in France, Arabians were selected for racing performance with little regard to what we think of as “type.” Poland, meanwhile, succeeded in creating the perfect balance of type and performance ability by using the racetrack as just one means of selection, but by no means the most important. Russia, which imported its foundation horses from Poland, England, France, and Egypt, followed a similar principle while blending the lines of the other countries to create something very close to the ideal Arabian, long before anyone else had the idea to try this. The U.S., that great melting pot of the world where immigrants from all countries mingled to create a new nation, became something similar for the Arabian breed. While America also had its very own desert imports, most of the foundation horses came from Europe and from Egypt. Initially, these horses were blended together to form what was later called “domestic” Arabians, also known today under the name CMK Arabians – the letters signifying the Crabbet, Maynesboro, and Kellogg Studs, which supplied most of the foundation stock for American breeders. During the second half of the 20th century, more and more horses were imported from different countries, and it became fashionable to breed “straight” within a certain bloodline group. Today we are familiar with the term “straight Egyptian,” but in those days there were large groups of breeders breeding straight Polish, straight Russian, straight Crabbet, and, in a few cases, straight Spanish. Breeding within these groups had its advantages, especially for new breeders. It limited the number of background horses you needed to be familiar with, and you already had a pretty good idea of which of those bloodlines went well together, because the state studs had already done it. Also, as the first stages of the “industry” came into being, labels like “straight Russian” or “pure Polish” were useful marketing tools.

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One might even say that the Arabian horse was a great equalizer, because the love and admiration for this most noble of equines brought together all kinds of people. Regardless of their social background, Arabian breeders were, and still are, united by their love for the breed.

All these different groups of Arabians, each with its own bloodlines and characteristics, created a broad diversity within the breed. Yet as different as a Spanish Arabian may have been from, say, an Egyptian Arabian, they all fitted comfortably inside the definition of Arabian type. We have to remember that there was no single Arabian type in the Desert to begin with. What these horses had in common was their dryness and refinement, their good disposition, and their toughness, agility, and endurance. Some had dished profiles, but many did not. They may all have carried their tails high, but they did not all have long necks or level croups. Early experts on the breed were well aware of the different types, even referring to them as different “breeds.” The Arabs knew many of these and had different names for all of them. The German traveler and Arabian expert Carl Raswan, who was the first to attempt a systematic classification, divided them into three large groups which he called Kuhailan, Saklawi, and Muniqi, representing the stronger, more powerful masculine type (Kuhailan), the extremely refined, more feminine type (Saklawi), and the angular, less pretty racing type (Muniqi). Later authors would sometimes assign the characteristics differently; what is important here is that there have always been different types of Arabians, and none of them are any more or less valid than the others. The breed standards in European stud books took this into account, stating, for example, that the head might be “straight or slightly (!) dished.” The common denominator for the head was not the dished profile, but large eyes, wide nostrils, and overall dryness and refinement. Taking into account these different original Desert types, you could say that each country favored a different type. If you use Raswan’s system, Spain and Britain preferred the Kuhailan type, Egypt the Saklawi, and France the Muniqi, while Poland and Russia created a blend from all of them. The point of all this is that well into the 20th century, the Arabian was a very rich and diverse breed. Before the advent of AI and shipped semen, each country was using stallions from its own gene pool, creating populations that were each of them unique and different. If you went to the shows back then, what you got to see depended very much on where you were. If you traveled abroad, you were certain to see something different, something new and exciting. You would see

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top to bottom :

R ebat A l T arek (R awwah x A l G azyah ), a straight E gyptian S tallion , the very influential E gyptian mare H anan (A laa E l D in x M ona ), and L olwah A l S harg (A nsata H ejazi x A mira A l R ayyan ). offspring of stallions you had never heard of before, so you would try to find out something about them and broaden your horizon in the process. Naturally, none of these groups, with the exception of


top : the

F rench racing sire M arwan (M anganate x M arifa ). bottom :

F rench

in action .


A rabians

the Egyptians, were completely isolated from all others. Breeders imported horses from other countries to insert fresh blood into their breeding programs, but at that point the populations were consolidated to such a degree that using outside stallions did not cause any radical changes. Poland is a case in point. At least until very recently, the state studs managed to “absorb” all outside influences without changing the basic type of horse. The British population of Crabbet Arabians, which during the mid-20th century was huge, similarly absorbed the Polish and Egyptian stallions introduced at the time. If you wanted new blood, it was easy enough to find a suitable outcross that added

a little more refinement, perhaps, without changing the basic type beyond recognition. The trigger for the radical changes was twofold: the expanding international show scene, and the advances in equine reproduction technology. From the first, the international shows tended towards favoring certain fashionable types. During the 1980s in Europe, for example, you had the best chance of winning with Russian horses, because their movements were second to none and type was not yet measured by the depth of the profile. Egyptians, on the other hand, didn’t stand much of a chance, which led to the creation of the Egyptian Event and other shows where they competed only against each other. The Americans imported many horses from Europe, especially Russian, Polish, and Egyptian horses, but Europeans only rarely imported horses from the U.S. This changed with the collapse of the U.S. market in the late 1980s, which led to an increasing number of American horses coming over to Europe. In the 1990s and leading to the turn of the century, the Arabian countries rediscovered their ancient heritage and began to import horses from both Europe and the U.S., and a global market developed. Even those countries which had so far kept their own breeding apart from others, opened up to new impulses. The Polish state studs, which (with the exception of Palas) had only admitted outside horses that brought back lost Polish bloodlines, started to use outside stallions. While Monogramm was still classifiable as pure Polish, and Gazal Al Shaqab was nearly half Polish, this soon included straight Egyptians, El Shaklan sons, and today’s fashionable show lines. In Egypt, which had long remained strictly separate from all others, private breeders began to import not only straight Egyptian horses, but also show horses of mixed breeding. While there is certainly no danger of losing the straight Egyptian Arabian, either in Egypt or elsewhere, it is becoming increasingly difficult with other groups. It is no longer easy to find a pure Polish Arabian, even at the Polish state studs, which are using one foreign stallion after the other. Hardly anyone breeds straight Spanish anymore, even in Spain. Russia’s former state stud at Tersk, now privatized, still has some traditional Russian Arabians, but also breeds modern show lines and French racing lines. Britain’s Crabbet Arabians have shrunk from a huge population to an endangered species. Unlike the straight Egyptians, none of these dwindling populations have a really strong, international lobby to represent them and ensure their survival. You may, of course, wonder if this is such a bad thing. The Russians were the first to blend bloodlines from all sources to create a nearperfect Arabian, so why not do the same thing globally? The modern show Arabian was created in the U.S. on the same principles. The horses that win today are a blend of Egyptian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and Crabbet lines, all thrown into the great big melting pot of the showring to create the perfect Arabian show horse. In theory, this actually sounds quite good. But is it, really? The (so-called) perfect Arabian horse that wins championships today, is not only far removed from the original horse of the Desert, but is rapidly becoming interchangeable. The horses now

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BRAVE NEW WORLD look so much alike, and the point scores are so close together, that you might as well draw straws to pick the winner. The reason is obvious: Arabian horse breeding has become global and, as a result, is losing its diversity. International shows across the globe are using the same judges, who are all judging to the same standard and the same ideal. This standard and ideal is not that of the stud books, but something created by the showring itself, with the emphasis on a deeply dished head with a bulging forehead and tiny muzzle, a long neck, a flat topline, and a highly stylized pose that takes a professional trainer to achieve. Even if actual conformations vary, this particular pose helps to create an identical look, which is the look that gets top marks. This ideal is far narrower than any stud book definition ever was, and does not permit any deviation. It has also created a vicious circle. Because the showring rewards this particular look, people now breed for a kind of conformation that was originally achieved by artificial means. In order to do this, it is only natural that they use the stallions that sire the winning horses. Breeders today, unlike their predecessors, are in the happy position to be able to use any stallions they want, regardless of where they are; and they do. This is where modern reproduction techniques come into play. With the aid of AI and frozen and transported semen, anyone who can afford it can use any stallion in the world. As far as progress goes, this is not a bad thing, because it also allows preservation breeders of small and endangered bloodline groups to use stallions that would otherwise be too far away. It is being done by Crabbet breeders in England, for example, who can now use stallions in Australia whose bloodlines have been lost in England. But at the same time, the show industry has been employing AI on a commercial level, with the end result that everyone, no matter where they are, is using the same stallions and breeding the same bloodlines. Wherever you go to shows, you now see the same horses with the same breeding, often looking so identical that they might have come off a factory production line. The descendants of todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dominant super sires are literally everywhere, even in Poland and Egypt. And these horses are the ones that win, so the cycle just goes on and on. But the inflation of certain bloodlines by use of modern reproduction methods does not end there. Some breeders, who have the monetary and technical means to do so, now employ embryo transfer on a large scale. There are mares that have produced up to 10 foals by the same stallion in one year, thanks to the use of surrogate dams that are often not even Arabians. It seems strange to me that especially breeders in Arabian countries will use non-Arabian surrogate dams, since in the past an entire bloodline was stigmatized because a mare was said to have shared a field with a donkey! Not to mention that the effects of surrogate dams on their foals have yet not been fully explored. The consequences of this method for the breed, however, are painfully obvious. In addition to creating even more horses of the same bloodlines, it floods the market with showring rejects that are sold without papers for small money to hobby riders, or even to butchers, who then barter them off as rescues to the same hobby riders. This

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top :

S eren G olden W ings (W inged S aint x S hadowed G old ), a modern pure C rabbet mare . bottom : pure

A ustralian A rabians of C rabbet lines .

effectively ruins the market for small, serious Arabian breeders who invest much effort in breeding and raising useful horses, but are unable to sell them for adequate prices. Here again, embryo transfer can be a useful tool if you want to rescue an endangered bloodline. But instead of using it to increase the number of foals of rare bloodlines, it is being used to produce even more horses of the same show-winning lines, while mares of old and rare bloodlines find themselves in the roles of surrogate dams rather than producing their own foals. Like everything today, embryo transfer has been commercialized. You can even choose a mare from a catalogue, and the owner will breed


top to bottom :

P hidias (S tar S easons x Z aphelia ), a modern C rabbet stallion , B en R abba (A urab x R ollicka ), an influential old A merican (CMK) stallion , and N apevniy (P iligrim x N agruzka ), a straight R ussian stallion . of the

you an ET foal by the stallion of your choice. Not only that, but unborn foals fetch high prices at auction; there are now entire auctions just for embryos. This has nothing to do with breeding anymore; it is gambling. What else would you call it if people pay a lot of money for something

that doesn’t even exist yet, and may very well not turn out to be what they expect? The ironic thing is that, at the same time, small breeders are unable to sell perfectly good horses, because perfectly good is not enough. It has to be fashionable. Everyone wants to own a product of the current big name sire. People’s eyes light up at the sound of certain names, even if they have never seen the horse in the flesh. It seems not so much about the actual horses anymore, but about the name and the image. So more and more of the same is being produced, while other bloodlines quietly drop by the wayside because nobody wants them. Unfortunately, once they are gone, you can’t bring them back. You might argue that it doesn’t matter, because no one wants them anyway. But if this continues very much longer, we may eventually reach the point where we desperately need outcross bloodlines in order to undo some of the damage done by breeding the same bloodlines to each other again, and again, and again. If we are unlucky, we may find there are none left. And it isn’t even as if the development has reached its end. While some people in the larger equine world are beginning to reconsider their actions – a prominent breeder of dressage horses recently announced publicly that he will no longer use ET, because of the effect it has on the donor mares — there are now the added threats of cloning and gene editing. There is already one successfully cloned purebred stallion being used as a sire for endurance horses. This is all very well, but, since by WAHO rules his get can’t be registered as purebred Arabians, this is of no advantage for the breed. It is rather the opposite, because it also means that mares are producing foals that can’t be registered and are effectively lost to the breed. Would it be better if they could be registered? There is some cause for doubt, because even a clone is not 100% identical to the original horse. It would be more sensible to look for the same bloodlines through other sources. Besides, if cloning became an option to the extent that ET is now, it would effectively mean the end of breeding. Why should we try to breed a good horse, with all the trial and error involved, if we can just clone the latest champion? Given the fact that many of today’s show horses look like cloned copies anyway, it would barely make a difference; it would only do away with the inconvenient necessity of actually breeding horses. But is this what we really want? The implications of gene editing are similar. If you can manipulate a foal’s, or an embryo’s, genes in such a way as to get exactly what you want and eliminate what you don’t, what is the point of selective breeding? Besides, the side effects of such practices have not yet been sufficiently explored. Genetic traits can be linked to one other in ways that we know nothing about. This is one reason why it might actually not be a good idea to entirely eliminate the genes that carry certain genetic defects. While it may sound like a good idea to get rid of SCID or CA for good, the fact is that we do not know what else we might lose at the same time. Besides, with the easy availability of genetic testing, there is no need to worry about them anymore. This is one area where progress had indeed been beneficial. Gene editing, on the other hand, along with cloning, is a step too far, and WAHO has wisely ruled that no horse created by such means may be registered as a purebred Arabian.

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Perhaps the saddest thing is that so many younger breeders, who have grown up in this new global and technologically advanced world, never having known anything else, don’t even realize that something has been lost, let alone what.

Rules and regulations, however, have never halted technological progress. We may be sure that these things will be done regardless, simply because they can be done, and a sports rider who wants the best possible horse for competition will not care if that horse is registered, never mind as what. If you can enhance muscle development by manipulating genes, producing a horse of superior athletic ability — why not? Well, there is a reason this is also known as “gene doping.” It would be unfair towards the other competitors. Horses sired by a cloned stallion are one thing, but horses that have been genetically “enhanced,” quite another. Besides, such a development would profoundly affect the market for sound, athletic Arabian sports horses, causing further damage to the breed. At this point in time, the serious and dedicated breeders of useful, old-fashioned, athletic Arabians (and they do still exist) are the only counterbalance to the showring industry. It is there that you find those bloodlines you no longer see at the shows; where you still find the original, wonderful diversity of the Arabian breed in all its facets. It is a sadly dwindling resource, because many traditional breeders who refused to follow the prevailing fashions are giving up. Some are getting too old to continue and have no one to take over from them, others are disillusioned with the global development of the “industry” and the inability to find a market for their horses. You can hardly blame them. But it means that precious mares are no longer being bred from and stallions of rare bloodlines are gelded or grow old without siring any foals to carry on for them. As long as there are still breeders who are passionate about those lines and able to continue, the breed’s diversity may be preserved, along with those other original characteristics that have been sacrificed on the altar of Beauty. But if things continue like this, they live on borrowed time. Perhaps the saddest thing is that so many younger breeders, who have grown up in this new global and technologically advanced world, never having known anything else, don’t even realize that something has been lost, let alone what. There is a whole generation now that fell in love not with the original, traditional Desert Arabian, nor with any of the wonderful different types it brought forth, but with the modern showring Arabian. Nor can you blame them, because the sheer beauty of these horses is unlike anything ever seen before. When I look at these exquisitely refined creatures, I am tempted to misquote Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”: O brave new world, that has such horses in it! But at what price?

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top to bottom:

Badilla (Kadi x Nata), Old Spanish Breeding from the military stud, Ojinegro Qahira (Ghandour x Bel Princess), a straight Spanish stallion, Dafina (Amurath Muntahi x Dukna), a classic WeilMarbach mare, and Shuwaiman Al Kebir (Krayaan Dilmun x Shuwaimeh Bint Warda), a stallion of straight Bahraini breeding. a mare of

Profile for Arabian Horse World

Brave New World  

Globalization, technology, and their impact on the Arabian breed. Story and photos by Betty Finke

Brave New World  

Globalization, technology, and their impact on the Arabian breed. Story and photos by Betty Finke

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