By Lady Wentworth
**originally published in Western Horseman March/April 1946 issue
(An Answer to Carl Raswan’s: Davenport vs Blunt Arabians)
The horse stock of the world can be roughly divided geographically into (A) “cold” blood (Equs caballus frigidus), which belongs to the North or more exactly Northwestern cold countries, including the strong slow-moving convex headed thick-skinned breeds, and (B) the “hot” blood of the South and East founded on the concave-headed Equus Arabicus, which is the tap root of speed and quality.
From the admixture of these types all other “warm” or “cool” breeds are derived, varying in appearance according to the predominance of blood on either side, just as the primary colours blue and yellow produce varying shades of green. These may be classed as “Equus caballus frigicalidus” where the cold predominate, and “Equus caballus ardens” where the hot is in excess. The Thoroughbred race horse is an instance of E. C. Ardens. There is no documentary proof that he has of drop of anything but Oriental blood (Arab and Barb), but his varying count of ribs and the heavy convex heads which occasionally appear, are evidences of cold blood somewhere and these reversions can only come from the few foundation mares whose origin is unknown.
This absence of evidence has recently been claimed as positive evidence of a wonderful breed of native English racing mares. This patriotic invention is a mere mares nest. Though I have traced some of these Oriental sources, the remaining few are quite obviously flaws, for though some of the convex heads may be of Barb origin, these blanks are the only possible source of the coarse elements which undoubtedly exist, but which were all notoriously non-racing breeds. The classic winners seldom show these reversions.
All contemporary, both written and pictorial, proves conclusively (1) that the Arab was universally considered the only breed for getting racehorses and held the supreme reputation for speed. (2) That there was no indigenous breed of racing mares of English blood. (3) That all horses of all breeds then in England, even cart horses, were foreign, i.e., either Oriental or continental heavy battle horses and Spanish harness and parade horses. Historians have been misled by the word “courser” which at that time meant a ponderous charger for armoured knights, and not a racehorse, until a couple of centuries later when it was first used for hare coursing. It was the Arab that gave the speed, and the good feeding and 300 years of specialization did the rest.
So far from being a Mongolian derivative dating only from post-Christian times, as has lately been advanced by writers who have not studied type or documentary proofs, the Arabian horse is the world’s oldest hot-blooded racing foundation stock. This horse does not appear on the rock carvings of Europe of 50,000 B.C., as he was geographically far removed from this area, but he does appear on the rock carvings of central Arabia and Syria long B.C. and is magnificently shown in the Temples of Egypt c. 1,300 to 2,000 B.C., at a period when historical records show that Rameses and Seti took thousands of mares in their battles against the Arabian and Syrian tribes. Here we find the Arab horse, startling in his lifelike beauty, with arched neck and tail aloft, galloping in light chariots or ridden barebacked in battle; and the first ridden horse on record of about the same date is a statuette found in Egypt and now in the New York Museum.
Contrary to Ridgeway’s theory, Libya and the Barbary states had originally no horses, either fossil or alive, or depicted on rock. The oldest rock carvings of horses dated only after the migrations of the Beni Helal from Arabia into Libya, which approximately followed somewhat later than the appearance of Arabian horses in Egypt. The Arabian racehorses appears B.C. on some of the Greek vases (not the Parthenon horse which was a mixed pony type.) Further, the Phoenician Arab seafaring traders disseminated Arabian horses all aver the coasts of southern Europe, reaching even England.
Professor Ridgeway was right in thinking that there was “a wonderful racing breed which overran the whole world and influenced every breed.” but he got his facts and dates upside down. The Arab, not the Barb, is the foundation stock from which the Barb was only one of the derivations. El Kelbi’s records trace back to the wild horses Hoshaba and Baz, owned by Baz, great grandson of Shem, son of Noah, 3,000 B.C., and to Zad er Rakib, dating from the time of King Solomon 1,000 B.C. All writers have hitherto entirely missed the records of Sultan El Naseri. Arab horses were raced by the Prophet in Syria and there are records of the names of racehorses B.C.
In the 9th century and for 500 years Egypt was the world’s greatest racing center. Sultan El Naseri, 1290 A.D., gave fabulous prices for Arab race horses, 30,000 English pounds for a stallion, and the world’s record price for any horse when he paid 67,000 pounds for the El Karta filly. This remains a record, as the fantastic syndicate valuation of recent Thoroughbreds is false value for speculation and not paid by any one person. The Barbary states have always been a corridor for mixed invasions of all sorts of settlers with all sorts of horses. Northwest Africa was once joined to Europe and its fauna and flora are all of European type. The horses are a cosmopolitan mixture still showing the convex Northern head much like the Spanish breed. The subsequent invasions of Beni Helal and the later Saracen ones flooded them with Arabian horses, and in Morocco the Arab strains were long preserved pure. Barbs have varied in type from century to century just as their human counterparts have done. They got a reflected reputation owing to their Arab blood, but were never in the same class as sires and were not racehorses in their own country, though held next to the Arab as an improver.
The story of El Khamsa (Al Khamsa) or the five mares of the Prophet is, as its origin shows, entirely post-Islamic and forms no part of real history. Strain names, too, are comparatively recent. The Arab breed was generally termed Kehilan, meaning Thoroughbred, shortened from Kehilan Ajuz “the Ancient Thoroughbred.” All strains are Kehilan (i.e., purebred) even those where the word “Kehilan” has been dropped in common speech. Strain names do not denote any special characteristics. All purebred Arabs should conform as nearly as possible to the one perfect foundation type aimed at in Arabia, whatever the name of the strain. These names are valuable as identification, for in Arabia as elsewhere, certain breeders either by natural judgment or good luck tend to breed better individuals than others, just as some owners through ill-fortune of war may lose their best mares and be reduced to breeding from their pure but less individually good stock. So when a Nomad is told a horse is “Kehilan” he wants to know Kehilan of what or where or whose Kehilan, as we should do when told a mare is Thoroughbred and we want to know where and by whom she was bred.
It is obviously foolish to say that certain strains should never be bred to a Kehilan because all are Kehilan (Thoroughbred), and it is equivalent to saying that no Aga Khan mares should be mated to a Thoroughbred! The origin of strain names is generally from the name of a man or a district or the characteristic of some celebrated horses, but it does not mean that such a characteristic stamps the whole strain. Dahman, for instance, took its name from the colour of a black ass which fostered a filly foal. It was not even the colour of the mare herself or her filly. Sub-strains are constantly changing with ownership. There are early mentions of horses of “the Stock of Dahes” or of Wajib or Labik or Ajuz, corrupted by Abd-el Kader into the Algerian myth of “Ahway,” which is merely a scribe’s error in omitting a dot, thus converting the word “ancient” to “crooked” on which the myth of the crooked stallion was evolved.
On the subject of strains, Lady Anne Blunt wrote many years ago:
“I cannot discover any ground for the theory of certain strains having certain peculiar characteristics. There is no distinction drawn between them as Skene (the Consul at Aleppo) imagined, and no Bedouin would dream of keeping them separately. It must be pointed out that though Oasis dwellers, even in Nejd and tribes that have migrated north to the edge of Ottoman territory, accept the ordinary Moslem tradition, it is not so with the Nomad tribes to whom their is no Khamsa. What they say is ‘Ah, those are things which the Northern folk (Ahl es Shemal) believe — and anyone who talks like that is fit to be shut up as a lunatic’.”
Thus we see that the Bedouin tradition is thousands of years prior to strain names or to the Islamic version of them which forms no part of the true Bedouin desert lore. It is time to emphasize this, as with the spread of civilization and distortion of history by what lady Anne Blunt’s Muteyri informant used to call “those madmen who write books,” the old simple straightforward history is likely to became more and more overlaid and forgotten in the romantic semi-religious Algerian myths and superstitions against which she warned us 30 years ago. We can only, therefore, repeat that there is one universal classic type of perfect beauty which should be the type of all pure bred Kehilan Thoroughbred stock. No strain is characterized by heavy heads, harsh coats, speed, long necks or any other peculiarities whatsoever good or bad.
In all pedigree stock there are individuals which, as Mr. Blunt wrote, diverge somewhat from the true type. It happens less often with Arabs of pure blood than with almost any other breed, but where it does occur the horses, however authentic in pedigree, should not be bred from. These are the very ones which are cast off by the tribes for sale to Europeans, their defects being passed off as being typical of Managhi or Jilfan strains. Bedouins are grand “leg pullers,” and delight in playing on foreign credulity. A really classic Arab bears his pedigree in his faultless appearance.
Far be it from me to claim that I am the sole and only owner of the world’s best horses. I have in truth inherited a great tradition which I am carrying on to the best of my judgment, but I should be the last to claim perfection. Those who aim at perfection are seldom satisfied, and I am possibly the severest critic of my own stock. The perfect horse like the perfect man is a rather elusive quarry! There are many horses in America of very high quality which I should be the first to appreciate, no matter who owned them.
I published the Davenport-Borden controversy not to disparage the Davenport or any other stock but because the battle struck me as a highly entertaining human document. I have the whole correspondence and report of Davenport’s proceedings on Davenport’s own authority, but if I have hurt the feelings of anyone now owning descendants of this stock I should be very sorry. If some of them by lucky chance were authentic they will make good in the quality of their descendants. Blood will tell, and I should be delighted to see such evidence. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
As for myself, the stock here has certainly proved itself all over the world, due to the high quality of the tap root mares, and it is established on the best traditions, but there are always possibilities of improvement, even if it means painting the lily and re-gilding the gold standard! And if any American owner can offer me a more perfect lily than that grown in the Crabbet garden, I am ready to buy it at his price without haggling.
Last Updated: January 21st, 2019