CREATING AN EGYPTIAN ARABIAN
8 Steps to Perpetuating a Legacy
by Caryn Rogosky
The magnetism of horse breeding draws people for a vast variety of reasons, ranging from the naive notion of "easy money" to the fulfillment of complex human needs. Sigmond Freud loved this subject, believing that the "horse" was the subconscious symbol of many deep, human characteristics. Throughout recorded history and in every culture in the world, the horse has served as the archetype of strength, vitality, courage, beauty, resiliency and spiritual goodness. I remember once spotting a magnificent silk kimono hanging on display in the office of a collector of antiques. The back of the kimono was painted with the image of a beautiful white horse, Arabian in type, charging forward with nostrils wide open and fire in his eyes. I couldn't take my eyes off it and the owner, seeing my expression of awe, came over to tell me about his great treasure.
He explained that in ancient China, it was the practice of gentlemen to have the image of what they believed to be their "alter ego" imprinted on the backs of their kimonos. Amazingly, this was never seen by anyone but the wearer, as the image was worn to the inside, close to the body. The purpose of this was to remind the wearer always, of his true nature, his spiritual self, expressed in the form of an animal. The horse was one of he most revered of all, considered a creature of high spiritual evolution.
As an artist, I can imagine no purer form of expression than the re-creation of such a perfect beauty, one that has managed to transcend the ravages of time, in a world that has not always been kind or appreciative. An endeavor which combines such a high form of artistic expression with a lifelong love and respect for animals, has been for me, the perfect obsession. Regardless of what personal interests inspire us to become horse breeders, that decision will most surely impact not only our personal lives, but to some extent, the future of the Arabian breed. For this is not a simple "hobby" which can be be taken lightly, as we must never forget that when we take it upon ourselves to bring a mare to a stallion - when we orchestrate a mating, we are causing a life to be created... an awesome and sobering responsibility. To best insure that this new life will enter the world with the best possible advantages for survival, important choices are required. Not such an easy task - this means actively educating ourselves to the highest degree possible, as to all the criteria which makes a horse "most desirable", including physical conformation and type ideals, as well as pedigree research and analysis.
1. IDENTIFY YOUR IDEAL
If you are considering becoming an Arabian horse breeder, you should prepare yourself for a long, exciting, and sometimes tumultuous journey. The best place to start is in your own mind and heart - for this is, after all, about turning a fantasy into a reality. See the image in your own mind, examine it, understand it. There is more than one type of beauty, more than one style of Arabian horse which is both correct and highly regarded. What is it that triggers your passion? Is it the soft expression in the eyes, the high arch of the neck, the proud carriage of the tail? Do you find yourself most drawn to an exotically chiseled head, finely sculpted and tapering to the tiniest muzzle? Perhaps you prefer a shorter, broader head with big round eyes and classic beauty? Are you more attracted to a smaller, compact horse or do you prefer a taller, more stretchy type? Is your personal ideal bold and snorty, or is it tranquil and serene? Do you see yourself sitting upon its back, enjoying a peaceful ride through the woods, or do you see it exploding into a show ring, captivating all who watch? Perhaps you see both! What ever it is about that image that makes you hold your breath, that makes your heart pound harder, recognize it. Then begin to study it closely, to pinpoint the origins of that ideal.
2. FEEL THE PASSION
It is impossible to separate the essence of the Arabian horse from his history. To attempt to breed without some connection to where and how this horse originated and regenerated, would be to rob oneself of the very heart of the Bedouin nomad. Without his passion, we can't hope to recreate his dream. Without his sacrifice, we have no right to expect the rewards. The writings of Carl Raswan as well as those of Lady Anne Blunt provide an open window to the desert. Allow yourself to absorb the philosophy of the Bedouin, to see these horses through his eyes. Cultivate a sense of what he saw as the essence of his horse, of what it was that he valued most highly. Visit the libraries of breeders you respect. Visit the book stands at Arabian horses shows, read anything you can get your hands on - this is complex subject and the importance of study should not be underestimated. Anyone who believes that he can observe a few Arabian horses shows, pick some winners and then go home and become a "breeder" is in for a rude awakening, and probably a very empty pocketbook! I know of no successful, long-time breeders who made lasting contributions to the breed by taking short cuts. Pretty to pretty does not necessarily produce pretty... if it were that simple there would be many more top quality Arabians living today.
3. IDENTIFY THE SOURCE /GENOTYPE AND PHENOTYPE
Pour through books, not just popular magazines, but real books! One of the best books to start with is "Authentic Arabian Bloodstock" by Judith Forbis. Here you can acquire a visual concept of how pedigree translates into living creature. Study the strains, understand the differences. See how the characteristics of each strain can manifest themselves in progressive generations. This is Genotype. Look at the families, see how some seem to be extremely consistent in re-creating certain characteristics, good and bad. Read about the original importation's to the U.S. and get a feeling for how these groups, often closely related prior to their leaving Egypt, developed their own signature look according to the eye and the philosophies of each individual breeder. Also familiarize yourself with those bloodlines that are being perpetuated in Europe, Egypt and the Middle East. Look at the Babson group, the Brown group, the Pritzlaff group, the Ansata group, the Gleannloch group. Look at the original horses who formed the foundations of each herd, and observe the legacy they have left. This is best accomplished by visiting serious breeding farms and seeing and touching the produce of their breeding programs. Before finally assembling my own herd, l was fortunate to be able to visit many outstanding breeding farms, and to see with my own eyes, touch with my own hands, the creations of years of work and study. I was able to walk through the pastures of Rancho San Ignacio, and see the Pritzlaff horses while the herd was still intact. I visited Ansata where I could clearly see the purpose and vision which was being perpetuated. I came to know with the Babson horses at Masada, who were being preserved both as an individualized breeding group and combined with Ansata Ibn Halima and Sirecho. I was able to see and experience rare animals whose parentage comprise the keystones for true Arabian breeding. I visited many other farms, large and small, near and far, where Polish, Egyptian and domestic bred Arabians were being raised. All of these visits were fruitful, for each time I came away knowing more than I knew when I arrived. Each time, my own ideal became more crystallized, and I had a better understanding how to achieve it.
Once your eye becomes cultivated, you will be better able to distinguish certain prevailing characteristics and match them up to their contributing ancestors. Research the philosophies of each of the breeders you are studying, for this is the key to understanding their breeding choices. The physical character which is expressed in those individuals is the Phenotype. What look is most appealing to you? What philosophy rings truest, fitting most comfortably into your own ideals and values. Once you understand what it is you're looking to achieve, you can begin to formulate your own individual philosophy, the underpinnings of any sound structure.
4. LEARN CORRECT CONFORMATION
While Arabian horse breeding is subjective by definition, there is a universal ideal upon which to draw. It is critical to know and to recognize that ideal in order to preserve this ancient breed with any degree of integrity and authenticity. Some years ago "Inside International" (IAHA) magazine published within an issue, "A Judges Guide to Conformation". This is an excellent detailed visual guide to what an ideal Arabian should look like. In 1997, the Pyramid Society offered a seminar on judging after the Egyptian Event, and the workbook that was issued contained an excellent section on conformation. These are but two examples of resources which provide excellent information on the proper conformation of ARABIAN horses.
It is my opinion that fads have no rightful place in a serious breeding program. I consider the practice of succumbing to changing market fashions to be a serious desecration of the rare and unequalled, purebred Arabian horse. Those who believe that an Arabian would look better if they had a neck more like a Saddlebred, or height more like a Thoroughbred, would be well advised to breed a different horse. There is plenty of room for expression of personal preference regarding style, while staying within the parameters of the correct conformation ideals of the breed. To venture into the "altering" of those ideals to suit a fleeting fancy is to produce hybrids, not pure-breds.
5. CHOOSE YOUR SIGNATURE LOOK
This brings us back to the issue of individual preference. Presuming you have now acquired a good understanding of Genotype and Phenotype as well as a working knowledge of correct conformation, it's time to go back to your original vision and look at it more closely. What type Arab will you choose to breed? Your vision should be much more detailed now, you should be able to describe it clearly. What specific characteristics will you focus on? How will people define your horses as time goes by? Once you have answered those questions, the next phase is narrowing down the specific families from which to select your foundation horses. When you've determined the look you want, and the families which will produce it, it's time to start searching for the specific individuals that will not only best express those characteristics (Phenotype), but will also have the genetic power to reproduce them (Genotype).
6. SEARCHING FOR INDIVIDUALS
The Pyramid Society's Straight Egyptian Reference Handbooks are invaluable sources from which you can locate certain individuals, going back many years, and the Sheykh Obeyd Directories will provided photos and resources going back about 10 years. Usually a few well-placed phone calls can set you on the track of just the right stallion or mare. Breeders are usually only too happy to talk about their favorite bloodlines and their favorite individuals. A word here about integrity; it is important to emphasize the value of good council. There is, without question, as much variety in types of horse breeders, as there are types of horses. Contrary to what a romantic heart would have us believe, the title of "Arabian Horse Breeder" is not always synonymous with "integrity". It's very easy for a novice to become side-tracked by a seemingly knowledgeable, fast-talking "horse trader". Ask many questions and listen carefully to the answers. Reputations are important, my experience has been that where there is smoke, there is usually fire. Honesty is recognized within this community and so is dishonesty. Take your time, and narrow down your choices. Today, many horses are purchased based on pedigree and video information. The vast geographic distances between Egyptian breeders frequently makes first hand inspection prohibitive. Still, this is the best option if at all possible, especially if you aren't experienced with the differences between amateur and professional videos. Both are helpful, but it's important to know what to expect from each.
7. CREATING THE FOUNDATION HERD
The standard advice is to purchase a few good mares, and breed them to outside stallions. This is certainly sound reasoning, yet I must say that I can't fully agree. It just depends on what you find out there. If you find the rare and perfect stallion to fulfill your dreams, it may be wise to snatch him up while you can. Of course this will depend greatly on your experience in handling horses, and your facilities as well. If you can manage on both counts, consider this: rarely is a breeding program identified with the leading mare-it is always the stallion that sets the identity of the breeder. This has nothing to do with genetic contribution, I completely agree that the mare is responsible for at least 60% of that equation. However, your mare produces one foal a year, your stallion will breed most of your mares, thereby infusing your entire foal crop with his blood. Chances are, within a couple of generations, he will be the most distinguishing influence, as you linebreed for consistency. We started our program with our herd sire, a double *Tuhotmos son (as this was the bloodline I had chosen to focus on), and then acquired each of our foundation mares specifically to complement him, both in genotype and in phenotype. We have been very pleased with the results. Regardless of which approach you choose, remember this;
ALWAYS OPT FOR QUALITY ABOVE QUANTITY.
It is much better to have two truly outstanding mares than 10 mediocre mares. While average foals cost as much to feed and care for as top quality foals, the prices they will bring will vary dramatically. It doesn't require higher mathematics to realize that to spend two thousand dollars to produce one foal which will sell for $12,000 is far more profitable than to spend six thousand dollars on three foals which will sell for $4.000 each. Not only is the former scenario more profitable, it's much less stressful!
8. BREED JUDICIOUSLY AND OBJECTIVELY
At the moment we breed the mare to the stallion, we already can envision the resulting " perfect filly" running through our pastures just 11 months later. Hopefully, if we've done our homework and made smart choices, we'll be thrilled with what we get, filly or colt. There is nothing in this world more precious, more adorable than an Arabian Foal. We are completely enamored with them, and sometimes we can only see them through the eyes of love. It's a good idea, especially with the first couple of foal crops, to get the unbiased opinion of a trusted long-time breeder to confirm what your eyes and heart are telling you. Careful and honest scrutiny of one's own herd is probably the most important factor involved in the ultimate success in breeding. The market is a cruelly honest place and only top quality, regardless of bloodlines, can be expected to demand top prices. Remember that despite fluctuating market demands, the cream rises to the top, and there is always a market for the rarest and the finest.
Considering the great effort it takes just get to the point of seeing that first foal running through your pasture, it's not surprising that many breeders don't make it past the first 5 years. This is a business of extremes; we ride the see-saw between euphoric elation and crushing disappointment... we bring precious new life into the world and we bury treasured friends. It's up and down, joy and sorrow, profit and loss. Many breeders come, and many leave.. But for those who have "been called", there really is no choice, it's just what we do. So if you are willing to make the sacrifice, to answer the calling, then know that it's not easy... but then nothing truly worthwhile ever is, and the rewards can be measured only by the fulfillment of your heart, your spirit, and the contribution you can make to history.