Windt im Wald
A Wind in the Woods
Geauga County, Northeast
Ohio since 1995
DB: El Emir DB
was anything but "pretty", but the name and tribe of his
breeder are on record, as is his strain. Both he and his
contemporary Dwarka DB appear in some modern Crabbet pedigrees
DB: Dwarka DB was
registered as "a Kehilan bred by the Anazeh," which was
not sufficient for acceptance to the Blue List. Both the
Asil Club and Al Khamsa today accept him as "asil."
DB: Unlike El Emir
or Dwarka, the purity of El Deree DB was never seriously
called into question, although far less was known about
his origin. Neither his year birth nor his breeder are on
The Davenports as a closed
breeding group have passed the test of time amazingly well
They probably have the most valid claim to being "asil,"
and they are the closest thing to a "straight American"
Arabian, i.e., an Arabian bred in America of original imported
desertbred stock. Kuhaylat mares, left to right: Soubrette
CF, Cantabide CF, and Challis CF demonstrate the uniformity
of type in Davenport horses.
The Russian-bred Palas is
a prime example of the way the Polish studs incorporated
imported sires into their own breeding program and developed
it without fundamentally changing it. To confuse things
a little more, Palas, though bred in Russia, was an Egyptian.
Hardly anyone would deny
that Nazeer was the most significant Egyptian sire of the
20th century. But many Egyptian breeders don't realize that
he was 25 percent Crabbet through his maternal grandsire
Oran, foaled in 1940, was
the last Crabbet stallion that traced exclusively to the
original horses imported by the Blunts.
Skowranek was a major influence
in more than one way. Bred in Poland, he was the only Crabbet
foundation horse not imparted from Arabia or Egypt; he significantly
changed the look of the Crabbet bred horse; and he sparked
the controversy about the Polish bloodlines that resulted
in the Blue List and its successors.
Dargee was the second outside
stallion brought into Crabbet Park during Lady Wentworth's
time. Although his pedigree was mostly Crabbet, he also
carried lines to El Emir DB, Dwarka DB, and Mootrub DB,
and to the mares Ishtar DB and Kesia DB. His Crabbet-bred
offspring are considered "pure Crabbet" purely by virtue
of having been bred there, as were Skowronek's.
Mikeno, bred at Hanstead
Stud, was of entirely Blunt breeding except for one line
to Dwarka DB and one to Maidan DB, in other words, to an
even larger extent of Crabbet breeding than Dargee. He has
the distinction of having sired the very last asil (i.e.
Skowronek free) Crabbet/OE horses in Britain, who were out
of a full sister to Dargee.
British National Champion
Darjeel was sired by Dargee out of a mare tracing to Nuhra
DR, a Bahraini mare imported to Britain in 1939. He was
the first and last outside stallion used on Crabbet's mares,
bringing in yet another new bloodline during the final years.
Psyche carries a high percentage of Crabbet blood, both
through Padron's dam Odessa, who was straight Crabbed/OE,
and through his Russian ancestors. He is also a perfect
example of Crabbet breeding with a size and type that very
much embodies what Lady Wentworth bred for.
The Babson horses carry a
strong percentage of old Blunt breading. The straight Babson
stallion The Shah (Fabah x Blint Fada), when bred to mares
of Crabbet breeding often sired perfect examples of the
pre-Lady Wentworth "old" Crabbet type.
II: The purity
of *Nureddin II has been called into question because of
his size and his plain heard. But as he was bred by the
Blunts, who never compromised purity, there should be no
question about this, and it should be remembered that many
early desertbreds and their descendants did not conform
to the modern ideal of extreme type.
When we speak about "preservation breeding"
today, we should remember that once upon a time, Arabian breeding by definition
was preservation breeding.
Not all that long ago, the Arabian horse
was primarily an ingredient that helped to shape other breeds, to the extent
that there isn't one light horse breed today which doesn't to some degree
owe its existence to the Arabian. The Thoroughbred, with its nearly all-Arabian
background but, through selection, totally different appearance, is the
most prominent case. It should also remind us that any horse breed is shaped
first and foremost by its breeders, according to the purpose it is bred
for. That is why the Thoroughbred looks the way it does: selected purely
for speed, it is the world's most efficient equine running machine. If you
look far enough back in its pedigree, you will find that it is almost totally
Arabian - what little there is in the way of non-Arabian blood hardly signifies.
Yet it does not look like an Arabian - with a few exceptions, because the
blood is there and will from time to time assert itself. Mostly, it looks
like a horse made to run fast. And, incidentally, those who complain that
French racing Arabians tend to look like Thoroughbreds should keep that
in mind. If you select horses by speed only, that's what you get - even
when their pedigrees are pure Arabian. I am certain that it would be perfectly
possible, by selection only, to breed a pure Arabian draft horse. Only who
would want to? And eventually, if selected purely for strength of bone and
the ability to pull heavy loads, it would no longer look like an Arabian.
If you're still skeptical, take a moment to remember that all dog breeds,
no matter what shape or size, ultimately trace in all lines of their descent
to wolves. That should tell you something about the power of selection for
The very first breeders of Arabian horses outside the
desert didn't just breed Arabians for their own sake. Their chief aim was
to create a nucleus of pure Arabian blood for upgrading local stock. Wilfrid
and Lady Anne Blunt, for example, whose Crabbet Stud influenced Arabian
breeding around the world more than any other private Arabian stud in history,
didn't at first set out to breed Arabians. Their original intention was
to bring in fresh Arabian blood to cross into the Thoroughbred breed. After
getting to know the Arabian horse, they became so convinced of its superiority
that they changed their minds - and history. You might say the Blunts were
the first preservation breeders.
In many other countries, there were
people like this, though few of them had a similar impact. But this is where
the power of selection comes once more into the picture. Different breeders
have different ideas, and as a result, different types of Arabian developed
in different countries.
Now a newcomer may well say "Huh?" to that,
but yes, there was a time when you could tell a Polish, a Spanish; an Egyptian,
and an English Arabian apart just by looking at them. Something that, with
the rapidly increasing interchange of breeding stock between countries and
even continents, is becoming more and more difficult. The Arabian is fast
developing into an international show horse with a melting-pot pedigree
and standardized looks that mostly include a dished face, a long neck, a
flat topline, and thin legs. Why? Because the same group of international
judges who judge all over the world, tends to put this type first. So, naturally,
this is what everybody who wants to win, tries to breed.
where preservation breeding comes into the picture. All preservation breeders,
whatever they call themselves and whatever their preference, have two things
in common: they don't run with the crowd, and they see the need to preserve
something that is rapidly getting lost. This "something," however, can vary.
Some groups, like Germany's IGMAL, may simply be concerned with preserving
the essential qualities of the Arabian horse rather than specific bloodlines,
but most "preservationists" focus on particular bloodlines.
is where the problems start.
The very first preservation group was
defined by the Blue List, today's Al Khamsa, and its European-based cousin,
the Asil Club. The aim here was pretty straightforward: purity of blood.
Pedigree research had came up with the fact that if you go back far enough,
many Arabian pedigrees most particularly those of Poland - ended rather
abruptly somewhere in Poland with horses whose origin was not known. So,
said some people, how do we know these horses were actually Arabians? They
could have been anything. Some researchers even went so far as to claim
that these were local Polish horses, from which it followed logically that
Polish Arabians are not purebred. I don't want to repeat the whole debate
here, which is largely a matter of faith anyway; I would merely like to
point out that the obvious answer to the above question "How do we know
these horses were Arabians?" is quite simply: "Because their breeders and
the owners of their descendants at the time said they were." But the fact
is, due to the scarcity of surviving records of that time, it is impossible
to prove they were purebred (or, for that matter, that they were not). As
a result, those people who needed to be absolutely certain that their horses
traced to the desert in all lines of their pedigrees started to register
those where this was possible, and to breed them "pure."
isn't as straightforward as it sounds. For one thing, the various "asil"
groups never managed to agree on which desertbred horses to accept and which
not. You may well ask what makes one desertbred horse more acceptable than
another, but I shall leave that problem to those who deal with that sort
of thing on a regular basis. The Blue List, for example, excluded several
quite well-documented horses purely because of their looks, including the
English foundation stallion El Emir DB (who was spectacularly ugly but whose
credentials were better than those of some accepted horses) and the Crabbet-bred
Nureddin II, who should be above reproach since he was bred by the Blunts,
who were absolute sticklers for purity. Another British foundation stallion,
Dwarka DB, was accepted by some groups, but not by others. Oddly enough,
the Egyptian foundation horse El Deree DB, whose background was equally
muddy, was never even questioned. Or not so odd, because excluding El Deree
would mean excluding most of the really good straight Egyptian horses, who
make up the biggest part of the asil gene pool ....
tried to go even further, creating several "purer than pure" groups who
focus on preserving only certain bloodlines - Abbas Pasha, Blunt, Babson,
and so on- from the asil group.
All perfectly legitimate; of course,
but the problem should be glaringly obvious. The asil group is limited right
from the start, and, with the Bedouins of Arabia no longer available as
a source of new blood, it's going to stay that way. Sooner or later, you
end up inbreeding; even sooner if you limit the bloodline pool even more.
Purists usually argue that asil Arabians are resistant to inbreeding, meaning
that they can't breed on undesirable characteristics because they have none.
But even if this is true, it still doesn't eliminate the basic problem,
and the smaller the group gets, the greater the problem becomes. Some exclusive
groups, like the Davenports, appear to function surprisingly well, possibly
because the original group of foundation stock wasn't too closely related
in the first place, and the horses certainly look more like the original
desert Arabians than our modern show horses.
On the other hand, I
have seen representatives of another preservation group, probably the smallest
in existence, which was built up on the basis of just two horses who were
already closely related. Their descendants sure look very much like their
foundation ancestors - the question is, however: is this desirable? It isn't
as if every foundation horse, purely by virtue of having lived a hundred
years ago, is the epitome of Arabian type and quality. This kind of preservation
strategy leaves no room for improvement.
Another problem that arises
is that all these preservation groups tend to exist in a kind of splendid
isolation. We should ask ourselves, what is the sense in preservation? For
its own sake, it doesn't do any good on the larger scale. Even the above-mentioned,
extremely inbred individuals of that small preservation group might actually
be interesting as outcrosses, but is anyone doing that?
In all the
cases mentioned above, the uniting factor is "purity of blood" - seen that
way, at least the aril groups make sense; as long as you believe that the
Bedouins or the Egyptians are more trustworthy than, say, the Poles. But
the smaller splinter groups usually center on one particular breeding program
as their target for preservation, and this has also been carried over into
the non-asil population. We all remember the days when "pure Polish" or
"straight Russian" was the order of the day, though this was more in the
line of fads than of preservation, since these groups hardly need such efforts
- though there are pure Polish fanciers who try to stay clear of later Russian
imports to Poland, like Palas.
The case in point here is, specifically,
Crabbet. For one thing, it needs preservation - more than any other bloodline
group. The other aspect is that preservation is getting increasingly more
difficult. In fact, it is a group that best exemplifies both the basics
and the problems of preservation breeding.
Crabbet Park was, without
doubt, the most influential privately owned Arabian stud farm in history,
on a worldwide scale. None of today's major breeding groups would be what
they are now without Crabbet. Not Egypt, not Russia, not Spain, not Poland,
certainly not the United States. Without Crabbet Park, there'd have been
no Khemosabi, no Bey Shah, no Padrons Psyche. Of all the great horses of
the last century, there are only a few Polish-bred horses that had no Crabbet
blood at all. Nazeer, the most influential Egyptian sire of the twentieth
century, was 25 percent Crabbet-a fact conveniently forgotten by many straight
Egyptian breeders who are often the most violently anti-Crabbet. Because
the strange fact is that these bloodlines, which helped to shape Arabian
breeding around the world, went totally out of fashion within a bare decade
after Crabbet Park itself closed down for good.
The reason for this
is the gradual shift in the direction of Arabian breeding, on a global scale.
Crabbet Park closed its gates in 1972; it took another 10 years for the
initially small world of Arabian horses to expand into a worldwide "industry."
Before that, each of the major breeding countries had its own distinctive
breeding group and there were fairly few imports, resulting in the distinctive
"national" types mentioned earlier. In Britain, the breed was at this point
totally dominated by Crabbet bloodlines; the few imported horses were either
absorbed into that pool with barely a ripple, or kept rigidly among themselves.
These imports, most of them from Poland at the time, were already indicative
of a reaction by breeders who simply didn't like the prevalent type. Like
many other countries, Britain had remained almost unaware of the fact that
there were purebred Arabians in other countries as well (other than the
Crabbet "colonies" in Australia, America, or South Africa), and once they
noticed that there were, indeed, other and different types of Arabians around,
they divided into two groups: the Crabbet aficionados who didn't think anything
of the others, and those who experienced some sort of epiphany at seeing
a different type of horse, and turned away from Crabbet for good.
Now everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and both attitudes
are perfectly valid; the problem is that the second group slowly gained
the majority. As the world of Arabian horses began to be dominated by halter
shows, which called for a certain type of horse, more and more owners wanted
that particular type of horse in order to be able to compete; and whatever
the Crabbet horse is, it usually isn't that type of horse. Which, in turn,
makes it more valuable today than ever.
Confused? We'll get back
to that in short order.
As I have already mentioned in passing, the
Blunts, who founded Crabbet Park back in the nineteenth century, originally
intended to import Arabians for use in Thoroughbred breeding. They became
confirmed pure Arabian breeders because they came to appreciate the qualities
of the Arabian horse- emphasize "horse." Back then, horses, and that includes
Arabians, were meant to be used, and the Crabbet horses were. They were
ridden, even driven, and some of them even raced (against Thoroughbreds,
too). They also won at shows, but those were real breed shows, where the
horses were judged on their merits as riding horses and breeding stock,
not on the way they were conditioned and posed. It wasn't enough to be pretty;
it was more important to be a good horse. And no, some of those old Blunt
horses weren't at all what we call pretty - though I suspect that modern
conditioning and photography would have made them look considerably more
Britain, perhaps more than some other countries, kept
the emphasis on riding, and it still has the largest, and best, ridden classes
at the shows within Europe. And more often than not, it's Crabbet or Crabbet-type
horses that win those classes. And in many cases, those same horses get
left in the second row in halter competition. Because, as opposed to the
current fashion, their heads are too straight, their bone too strong, their
hindquarters not level enough. It is also easy to get them too fat, and
when they are, they look like overweight cobs. And some judges dislike a
lot of white, which most of them have. So, if a judge has to decide between
a basically correct horse that shows nice, ridable movements, is a little
too fat, and has four white socks, and on the other hand, a slim, well-conditioned,
pretty-headed, straight-backed individual with matchstick legs and a spectacular,
but totally unridable, trot - well, you get the picture. And because those
pretty horses that have little outside the showring have all but taken over
the scene that's why we need those others even more. If we don't watch out,
we'll end up with a gorgeous Arabian show horse that may have the beauty,
but none of the other essential qualities of the original Arabian horse,
which was, after all, an extremely tough and athletic war horse. Which gets
us right back to the subject of preservation; why it is necessary and why
it is not easy.
Preserving the Crabbet horse is an especially difficult
business, and a prime example of what sort of muddy waters you can get into
when trying to define your gene pool.
For one thing: where does one
draw the line between what constitutes "straight Crabbet" and what doesn't?
Or, more pertinently: does it really matter?
The original foundation
stock of the Crabber stock consisted of a group of desertbred horses imported
directly from Arabia or via India, and a second group of horses bred in
Egypt from Abbas Pasha stock. So, if you wanted to be very precise, you
would have to limit "pure Crabbet" to horses tracing entirely to the original
imports of the Blunts.
Unfortunately, the last horse to fit this
description, at least in England, was the stallion Oran, who died sometime
in the 1960s. Yes, there is a tiny group of straight Blunt horses in the
U.S., and one British breeder actually imported two mares, but they are
being bred to Egyptian stallions; another imported a stallion, but his stock
is never seen. In any case, these horses are simply too few, and their pedigrees
represent only a very small part of the foundation stock.
for this situation is that the Blunts' daughter, Lady Wentworth, added the
Polish stallion Skowronek to the Crabbet Stud, with the result that, with
the few exceptions mentioned above, there are no straight Blunt horses.
In other words, "pure Crabbet" usually equals "Blunt plus Skowronek." But
that's not the last of it. Lady Wentworth also added the stallion Dargee,
who was mostly of Blunt descent, but also carried lines to a few other desertbred
imports that had nothing to do with Crabber Park, like Dwarka DB, Mootrub
DB, and El Emir DB. Dargee's Crabbet-bred descendants are usually regarded
as pure Crabbet. But what about horses that carry those lines in addition
to Blunt-Skowronek, but not through Crabbet-bred horses? A case in point
is the stallion Mikeno, who was pure Crabbet (in fact, pure Blunt, no Skowronek)
with the addition of the same non-Crabbet DB lines that Dargee carried.
That's still not all. During the last years of Crabbet Park, an outside
stallion was used, Darjeel, who was by Dargee out of a mare descended from
the mare Nuhra DB, who had nothing to do with Crabbet. So, since Nuhra's
blood got into Crabbet, does that qualify other Nuhra descendants as Crabbet?
This serves to show how tricky this kind of "straight" thinking can
get. Someone came up with the handy term of "Crabbet/Old English" to define
all these horses, which was actually a very good idea and sums all these
horses up neatly.
This also gets us to another problem that I regard
as the basic fallacy of all strict bloodline preservation programs. If you
insist on breeding "straight" according to some no longer existing breeding
program, you suppose that the original program would never have added any
outside blood. This is neither true nor practical, and Crabbet demonstrates
this perfectly. Lady Wentworth added both Skowronek and Dargee, adding (in
Skowronek's case) totally new genes to the program, and taking it forward
a step. One can hardly argue the point that the Crabbet horses after Skowronek
were more beautiful than those before him; whatever one may think of him,
he added much in the way of type. If Crabbet Park still existed, I have
no doubt that in time, other bloodlines would have been introduced. This
is true of most other programs targeted for straight breeding. Poland's
state studs have always brought in new blood, beginning with Negatiw and
*Naborr, continuing through Palas and Parma right down to Monogramm and,
most recently, Sanadik El Shaklan. Are the descendants of these horses pure
Polish? It's up to the individual breeder to decide. Does it matter? No,
not as long as they're good horses and embody what the Polish Arabian has
become famous for. And they do, no doubt about that.
Which gets me
to the final, and central point: what is the goal of preservation? More
precisely: what do we want to preserve? In too many cases, it has become
simply a matter of the right pedigree; never mind the horse. But breeding
pedigrees seems, to me at least, to be beside the point. Yes, it is the
easiest way to go about it: collect horses with the right pedigrees and
breed them, and you automatically get more horses with the right pedigree.
Which is all very well; but what use is a good pedigree if it belongs to
a substandard horse? Preservation shouldn't be about preserving straight
pedigrees, but about preserving those qualities the bloodlines were famous
for. These qualities often appear in horses that may not be straight, but
strongly influenced by those bloodlines. Many Russian horses, for example,
are wonderful examples of Crabbet type; which isn't all that surprising,
since they carry a strong percentage of Crabber blood. I personally suspect
that Lady Wentworth, were she alive today, might want to use a horse like
Padrons Psyche. The older Crabbet type, favored by the Blunts, still tends
to turn up in Egyptian horses, thanks to the Blunt-bred horses that were
imported to Egypt. The Babson imports had a lot of this blood; and it isn't
surprising to find that the Babson stallion The Shah, who was imported to
Britain back in the 1970s, in combination with Crabbet mares got some very
Blunt-like stock. That is to say, there are qualities of Crabbet Park which
are more easily found today in horses that are not necessarily pure Crabber
or even Crabbet/QE. It's a sad fact that the remaining actual pure Crabbet
stock, at least in Britain, is very much reduced in numbers as well as in
bloodlines. There has been a strong shift in British breeding; many of the
old Crabbet breeders have either died or stopped breeding. During the last
few years, many of the mainstays of British breeding simply vanished from
the scene, while new breeding farms shot up all over the place, all based
on imported stock. Some of the remaining older breeders started to breed
their English mares to imported stallions.
In recent years, a few
dedicated Crabbet breeders have got together to register and promote the
remaining horses, but these horses are too few, and mostly of similar breeding,
with an overemphasis on the two lines of Indian Magic and Bright Shadow.
Actually registering these horses and getting the breeders organized is
a start, but it has to go on from there. Other countries have other Crabbet
stock- Australia, for example, probably has the largest number of Crabbet
horses in the world, including some lines that are lost in Britain. If the
Crabbet horse is to be preserved, two courses could and should be followed.
In breeding pure Crabbet horses, there should be some international cooperation
and an exchange of bloodlines; in these days of frozen semen, this could
be done even without expensive importations. Such an exchange could also
involve horses of predominantly, but not all, Crabbet breeding that have
the right characteristics, as exemplified by the CMK group (Ben Rabba, who
was leased to England for exactly such a project, is a good example, but
it takes more than just one horse to get there). The other course would
be the use of carefully selected stallions with the right characteristics
on Crabbet mares, the next step being to breed the resulting stock back
into the Crabbet gene pool. In short, a horse suitable for this kind of
preservation project should never be excluded simply because his pedigree
might contain some "wrong" blood. What we need here is not "pride and prejudice,"
but "sense and sensibility." It would be a long-term project, it would take
a lot of people to work together on a worldwide basis, it would need some
sort of coordination - a kind of International Crabbet Studbook, perhaps-
and it would also need the promotion to accompany it and get the Crabbet
horse back into the spotlight.
Sound impossible? I don't think it
is; but it would be very difficult. But then, preservation isn't easy; just
as breeding good horses isn't easy in the first place. Having a specific
goal in mind, and being limited in your gene pool, doesn't make things easier.
Breeding "paper horses" is easy- preservation breeding, if it is supposed
to mean something, is not. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work and
more than just one lifetime, because you're working for something that hopefully
will last longer than you do. Remember, what the Blunts started back in
the nineteenth century has survived until the present day.