By Alexia Ross (photos from the Arab Horse Society News)
** Originally published in the January 1999 Stallion Issue of The Crabbet Influence in Arabians Today magazine.
The making of a great sire is complex. Horses do not run breeding programmes or choose the crucial decisions in their life. The story of all great breeding horses necessarily becomes the story of visionary and determined breeders. Ben Rabba’s success is no less great therefore for owing much to the circumstances and people that have driven the events of his life.
There were many special people in Ben Rabba’s life but two of them stand out from a European perspective. First was Ed Hubbert who spotted his potential as a youngster, was almost alone in his faith in the stallion’s importance for years, and was still generous enough to share him with others and give him the chance at international influence. The second was Beatrice Paine, who brought him to the UK and still unflaggingly promotes his descendants. She persuaded a number of breeders to send some of their best mares to her in Ben Rabba’s short time at stud and has been instrumental in carving him a permanent place on the UK breeding and showing scene.
England was a different world back in the early 1980s. Many Crabbet related horses were still winning high profile honours supported by big commercial studs, but the pressure of imports was already increasing and quality Crabbet stallions were becoming hard to find as so many studs brought in outcrosses and gelded or exported their homebred lines. Beatrice Paine was determined to restore some of the early Crabbet lines that had been lost to exportation over the years and so the hunt was on for an import that could offer top class quality and expand the Crabbet gene pool. No stone was left unturned. The problem was always going to be finding a horse that both matched up to the strict quality requirements and was available. In the end it was America that provided the answer.
Ben Rabba’s visible debt to the Nasik son Rifnas appealed to many of the breeders of Crabbet lines at the time. It reintroduced a factor for extreme shoulder and front structure that was hard to find within the surviving Crabbet gene pool in the UK. Less obvious to the English eye was his debt to other early American influences, notably the Davenport importation. It is to this influence that Ben Rabba owed his good hindquarter and exceptionally well muscled loin, the latter a trait often overlooked by Arabian breeders for the show ring but essential to genuine athleticism in any horse of any breed. A strong loin allows the horse to flex the croup, track up underneath and carry itself, and its rider, with natural power and balance. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Ben Rabba descendants on both sides of the Atlantic are known for performance ability. In England this has shown up particularly in Arab racing.
Just two full seasons at stud in the UK resulted in a total of 44 Ben Rabba progeny, exactly half fillies and half colts. Some were exported to other countries, 17 bred at least one foal in the UK while others made their mark as performance horses. All no doubt are loved companions but some stand out in terms of making a lasting contribution.
Looking though the photo albums at Beatrice Paine’s home, one cannot help but be struck at the extreme consistency of the English Ben Rabba progeny. Most have a symmetry of proportion, excellent fronts and are well made though the loin and hindquarter resulting in balanced, athletic movement. It is hard to believe that the horses in these photos are now veterans. Indeed, I became reacquainted with Ghazirieh at the National Show this year where she placed second in the veteran mare class, looking as well made and clean limbed as ever.
Two of the most well known show horses of the Ben Rabba daughters were both combinations with the Crabbet ‘Silver’ family. Iona Bowring’s Silver Aura (from British National Champion mare Silver Sheen) placed third at the Paris International in 1980 and was Champion Junior Broodmare at the UK Nationals in 1984. She is an ethereally elegant mare who now resides at Gadebrook stud and is producing a series of successful show horses by their resident stallion Silvern Sceptre.
The other prominent ‘Silver’ line daughter was Abbah (from Jean Kirch’s Silver Flame daughter, Azeme Bint Gleam). She was exported to Israel where she was National Champion and was then snapped up by Cashwan Arabians, USA, and went top ten. She proved to be just the start of a long love affair between her dam and the Ben Rabba line as Azeme Bint Gleam was then bred to the Ben Rabba son Aurelian, followed by Aurelian’s son Istfahan, producing an outstanding result every time.
These are not the only successful combinations of course and several other mares have done well and are breeding on. One such mare is Sunlea Golden Hannella (from Sunlea Golden Hannah), a good producing mare who has bred, amongst others, the stunning bay show filly Sunlea Gai Hanna. This filly’s sire was another American import, Gai Gaspacho. Then there is Haworth stud’s beautiful dark chestnut Benitah who has been bred very successfully to stallions of Egyptian and El Shaklan bloodlines.
The Ben Rabba progeny have also excelled in racing and daughters Benita, Benetta, Taffita, Pearl’s Reflection, Rihma Bint Rabba and Badrya all did well and have produced the next generation of race winners. Some, such as Taffita, have been sold abroad but she has left several progeny to continue her good work with sons Abishai and Uttoxeter course record holder Benburb carrying the family flag at home and abroad. The beautiful little bay, Benita, and her brother, another race winner by the name of Auda Abu Tayyi, are the only examples I am aware of where Ben Rabba’s type was completely overpowered by the dam. This is a compliment to their dam, Beatrice Paine’s stunning Nefertiti (dec), and an indication of Ben Rabba’s otherwise habitual dominance.
Ben Rabba was not in England for long and, in many ways, it was only after he left and some of his sons became established as sires that the majority of the Arabian world, who are not Crabbet enthusiasts, really began to take notice. The type and structure he represents have proved remarkably persistent, stamping themselves on the next generation with unerring regularity. If dominance is a necessary indication of high class Arabian breeding, then Ben Rabba has established his credentials with flying colours.
Surprisingly, although Ben Rabba’s sons such as Benita’s brother Auda Abu Tayyi have also performed well both on the race course and in endurance (he was short listed for Stockholm in 1990), the racing world has not so far made much attempt to use the breeding sons as racing sires. A few wise breeders, however, have noticed the consistency of the line and have returned to it again and again in their breeding programmes.
The son that Beatrice Paine retained for the Bowdell stud was Aurelian (from Estrella by Halma). He has inherited a distinct look of Aurab, Ben Rabba’s sire, combined with the extreme beauty of eye and expression that owes so much to his dam’s double cross to Irex. His own show record is impressive, being Reserve Champion Junior Stallion at the UK Nationals in 1986 and second senior stallion at the 1996 UK Nationals ten years later. After the success of Abbah, it was to this horse that Jean Kirch chose to send the beautiful Azeme Bint Gleam.
The result was another filly, the Junior British National Champion and Supreme Champion of the UK Nations in 1990, Aureme. Her dam then visited Istfahan, Aurelian’s glamorous grey son (from Istashra by Indriss), who placed fourth in the Euro Championships of 1987 and third at Towerlands International in 1995 with a gold medal, scoring an incredible five 19’s for movement. He was aslo a successful racehorse. This match produced another glorious filly, Alize Bint Azeme, chestnut and very like her grandsire Aurelian. The family seems to go from strength to strength with Aureme’s son, Star of the Seasons (by Ibn Aboud), already making a name for himself in the show ring.
In 1995 Aureme won the mare championship at the Arab Horse Society Scottish Regional Show while the two year old Aurelian daughter, Aureida, took the purebred championship and the Supreme Championship of the show. The winning gelding and the Reserve Champion Anglo were also sired by Aurelian. This was quite a coup for Aurelian as all but Aureme were sired by him during a short lease to Pat Ramsay in Scotland. The Anglo M’barak is particularly interesting as he bears a quite startling likeness to Ben Rabba, despite being out of a Thoroughbred mare, proving yet again the persistent dominance of the line.
The other Ben Rabba son to gain success from the start was the Jones’ Aurabba (from Nareena), Junior Champion Stallion at the UK Nationals in 1985. He too has been a successful sire producing the stylish filly Aureena (from Constanza, a half-sister to Aurelian’s dam Estrella) who placed second in her class as a yearling at the National Show in 1987. He is arguably best known, however, for siring the ill fated colt Aukubra (from Pearl Lady) who won virtually everything, being made World Champion in Paris as a yearling in 1990, before dying from an unknown cause shortly after winning yet again at the Royal Show. He was just two years old and left no progeny. The beautiful colt was a great loss both to the Jones and to the UK Arabian breeding scene.
The third Ben Rabba son who is making a serious contribution to his sire’s descendants in the UK is Al Maurab (from Azeme Bint Gleam’s half-sister, Al Malika). He started to make a significant impression on the showing and breeding scene a little later than Aurelian and Aurabba but nonetheless one of his earlier daughters, Crown of Bright Gold, was purebred ridden champion at this year’s UK Nationals. Al Maurab himself placed well in hand, being made stallion champion at the North West Region Arab Horse Society Show in 1989, but really came into his own under saddle. In 1989, he was International ridden champion at Towerlands, also winning his class at the Nationals and The Royal Show. He went one better in 1990 by achieving British National Purebred Ridden Champion and Supreme Ridden Champion of Show. Indeed, 1990 was an outstanding year for Ben Rabba with Al Maurab, Aureme, and Aukubra all winning top honours.
Al Maurab is now combining superbly with a broad range of bloodlines with two very successful show colts, Aurab Estopa and El Nasik, from the double El Shaklan mare Spirit of Spring. Ben Rabba’s qualities of front and movement seem to persist strongly through several generations, even when outcrossed.
These are the most prominent Ben Rabba sons but others are worthy of mention, Prince Carleton, who placed second at the 1983 International Show at Ascot, was exported to spend the rest of his life with the Saudi royal family. A personal favourite of mine was Ablak (from Rose Flame by Indian Flame) but, although he did get some show winners, he had very few purebred mares in comparison to other Ben Rabba sons, such as Aurabba. Ben Shirab, Shirabba and also Al Maurab’s son, Nuralain, all tend to be under rated simply because they are on the small side but have some quality progeny. Ben Rabba’s dam, Rollika, who carried such strong lines to the Davenport heritage, was not over 14.2 hh, although her son was over 15.1 hh, and the smaller stature often seems to appear in those Ben Rabba descendants that inherit his Davenport traits. The sons and daughters are now getting on in years but nonetheless there are still many out there contributing to countless breeding programmes around the country.
The world has changed since the years Ben Rabba stood at stud here in the UK. The big commercial studs are now almost entirely committed to blending if not concentrating on imported Egyptian, Polish and Russian bloodlines. There are certainly some quality horses out there who owe much to Ben Rabba but no large establishment is currently attempting to focus on his line in a Crabbet context. Aurelian is on lease to France, while most of the other sons and daughters are being bred with outcross bloodlines. The spectacular Aurelian son, Aur Flair, is being used as a riding horse and is not even available at stud. Bred by Beatrice Paine, he is one of the few horses with a double cross to Ben Rabba bred in England and was Champion at the Royal Welsh in 1992.
Nonetheless while Aurelian, Aurabba and Al Maurab are still available at stud one can rest assured that the characteristics that Ben Rabba made available to British breeders have not been lost. They represent a resource of early Crabbet lines bred by Lady Anne Blunt, descended as they are from pre 1920s American importations, and offer the genetic dominance of a true desert heritage. As long as there remain inspired breeders such as Ed Hubbert, Beatrice Paine, and all those that had the faith to use this great horse when he was available, I get the feeling that those persistent traits of front, athleticism and sheer quality are destined to resurface on a regular basis.
Last Updated: September 16th, 2019
** All of the articles included in the re-launched Crabbet.com site from the original website, Georgia Cheer, Silver Monarch publishing, and The Crabbet Influence magazine are shared here with permission of Georgia Cheer given May 16, 2012. **
**All of the articles included in the re-launched Crabbet.com site from the original website, Georgia Cheer, Silver Monarch Publishing and The Crabbet Influence magazine are shared here with permission of Georgia Cheer given May 16, 2012.**