The Arabian horse evolved to meet the needs of the bedouin as a vehicle of war. They had to be tough, swift and monoeverable. The lean physique that functions best in desert conditions and the necessary requirement to live in close proximity with their masters, resulted in by-products of beauty combined with sensitive and amenable temperaments. The end result was a unique breed like no other.
The modern world has no need for war-horses. The conditions that created the Arabian horse no longer exist. We are now reliant on those who collected and bred the Arabian horse away from its natural environment, and on how well these various breeders maintained the breed's innate characteristics.
Lady Anne & Wilfrid Scawen Blunt - the Crabbet Stud
Lady Anne and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt were English aristocrats with the skills and funds to salvage some of the Arabian's special inheritance before it was too late. Wilfrid's flair for Egyptian politics along with his taste for adventure combined with Lady Anne's meticulous research, perfectionism and fluent Arabic to enable a project to collect authentic desert Arabians and bring them to England to breed pure there.
In the 1870s the days of the desert war-horse were already numbered. The Blunts were not the first to purchase horses from the desert but the horses they brought together remain one of he best authenticated collections the world has ever seen, and also one of the most influential on pure-bred Arabian breeding today.
The Bedouin purchases
The first Blunt purchases came direct from the bedouin tribes. Lady Anne rigourously cross-checked oral accounts of tribal breeding to verify the credentials of their purchases. The bedouin were proud of the purity and nobility of their horses but it was a purity recorded orally using their system of strains (tail female lines) and there were no written records. Many of these early purchases had seen active duty as war-horses and carried the scars to prove it.
It is perhaps unsurprising that many of these lines direct from the bedouin were tough athletes and remained the lines of Blunt breeding renowned for outstanding movement. The horses were shipped to the Blunts' home at Crabbet Park in Sussex, England, and the Crabbet Stud was founded. Those early years saw the spectacular moving grey stallion Azrek as the most successful sire line, particularly via his son Ahmar, from the famously stylish bedouin mare Queen of Sheba.
The Old Egyptian additons to Crabbet quickly overwhelmed the original bedouin sire lines. Mesaoud, Feysul and the Ibn Mahruss son Rijm took over completely on the male line with the bedouin stallions maintaining inheritance through the middle of Crabbet pedigrees. Mesaoud was used to such an extent that modern Arabians of all Crabbet descent still average close to 25% of his breeding despite a gap of some fifteen generations or more. It was the bedouin mare lines that proved the most prolific and influential for the most part, however, with Rodania and Dajania coming to dominate.
Arabians bred at Crabbet went all over the world providing foundation stock for other breeders. Crabbet-bred ancestors are found in the pedigrees of Arabians that are classified as Polish, Russian, Spanish and Egyptian just to name the most obvious. The Royal Agricultural Society of Egypt purchased a number of Crabbet Arabians to regain those old Ali Pasha Sherif bloodlines and it is interesting to note that early Egyptian and Crabbet horses were both based on the combinations of these Old Egyptian bloodlines and the Blunts' bedouin purchases - they are cousins under the skin in different countries.
Many of the differences perceived between Arabian bloodline groups today are more to do with breeder priorities between then and now than any inherent difference in those foundation stock.
Lady Wentworh takes over the Crabbet Stud
The Crabbet Stud passed to the Blunts' daughter Judith, Lady Wentworth. The Crabbet Stud entered a new era with Lady Wentworth rationalising numbers and adding some new lines to the stud. The best known of these were the stallion Skowronek, bred in Poland by a desert bred sire, and the English bred Dargee who was of predominantly Blunt bloodlines but with some other early imports in his breeding. The need to reduce the scale of the stud in this new era allowed Crabbet bloodlines to further influence breeding programmes abroad but sales to UK breeders also increased.
The horse world was changing and some significant new breeders started to contribute to Arabian breeding in the UK. Foundation stock was available from Crabbet and some also used Arabians with other early English lines. Lady Yule's Hanstead Stud was arguably as important as Crabbet, if never as large, and Bill Clark's Courthouse Stud bred its own brand of Crabbet combined with other early imports. The term GSB was coined to signify Arabians descended entirely from Arabians imported before the foundation of the Arab Horse Society in 1920 and registered therefore in the General Stud Book. Imports after 1920 but before the Second World War later became known as Old English in recognition of the fact that they were added into the predominantly Crabbet gene pool without any attempt being made to alter the overall breeding tradition.
That breeding tradition was based on a world that had still been largely horse-powered at the foundation of Crabbet. Funcitonality remained key. It was only after the Second World War that horse shows began to be a significant end in themselves. Only then did anyone attempt to import more than a horse or two from other Arabian breeding traditions and breed something different by breeding them to each other, rather than blending them with the existing Crabbet residents.
Today many of the world's top Arabian performance horses in endurance, ridden showing and other sports remain of predominantly Crabbet bloodlines. Crabbet Arabians remain truly authentic descendants of the bedouin war-horse.
Check out Research
for sources of bloodline information and the Booklist
for recommended reading on the people and horses of the Crabbet story and related subjects such as the genetics of horse breeding.