Why Arabs, Why Crabbets?
(and BELOW, a brief history of Crabbet Park Stud)

Down the centuries, what have the Arabs prized most highly in their horses?
Beauty and spirit?
Speed and stamina?

Well, above all of these undeniable attributes, the Arabs have valued purity. For with a known pedigree, the Arabs have preserved a horse of great refinement and unique physique without any coarser outside influences. Their qualities are usually very safe within this gene pool, even though they do not show up in every generation.

Anatomically, the Arabian has several special features: a short head with large low-set eyes and wide nostrils, small, inward-turning pricked ears, and often a dished face, pronounced jibbah (forehead) and jowl and an elegant set of head on neck.

His skin is fine and his coat silky. His movement is elevated and powerful as if his feet barely touched the ground.

Many have one fewer vertebrae which shortens the back and raises the tail-set. This flowing tail is known in the desert as "the Flag of the Prophet". A back with a shorter arc is much stronger than a longer one, which is why Arabs can carry greater weights for longer than other breeds.

Arabians also have unique articulation in their legs - their joints absorb shocks much better than other horses, giving the rider a more comfortable, less jarring ride and the horse's joints much less wear and tear. This makes them ideal for riding great distances. They regularly win World Championships run over 100 miles (160kms).

The bones and hooves are much denser than other breeds, so they rarely have problems with legs or feet, and are often ridden unshod. They have short cannon bones and a well-set 45 degree angle shoulder to give maximum strength and free movement.

Their conversion of air intake to energy output is also much more efficient than other horses. Like Seb Coe, they turn oxygen to energy more quickly and are therefore more successful athletes.

They certainly seem more intelligent than other horses. When clinical examinations compared the space for the brain in the skull of a Thoroughbred with the skull of an Arabian (which is half the size), scientists found the brain capacity of the Arabian to be twice that of the Thoroughbred. On average, the Arabian's brain is at least as large as a human's whilst a Thoroughbred's is normally the size of a large turkey egg.

The Arabian is the origin of the English Thoroughbred; all racehorses registered today in the General Stud Book descend from just three Arabs imported in the 18th century - the Godolphin Arabian, the Byerley Turk and the Darley Arabian.

Perhaps because they have been domesticated and valued for longer than any other breed, Arabians have developed a close affinity with humans. Many, many stories attest to their devotion to their owners, their fierce loyalty, yet gentle temperament. The Bedouin allowed them to live beside them in their tents. The new-born foal would be passed around the tribe to accustom it to its "family".

But of course, it was only those Arabians that would adapt most easily to sharing the lives of the Bedouin which survived in the harsh desert conditions. Most true desert Arabians and those tracing back to them will not tolerate strangers. New humans must be formally introduced.
The qualities of the Arabian have long been valued by historians, artists, writers and poets. Who could not thrill to the passionate words of "THE ARAB'S FAREWELL TO HIS HORSE" by the 19th century poetess Caroline Norton:


My Beautiful! My Beautiful! That standest meekly by,
With thy proudly arch'd and glossy neck, and dark and fiery eye,
Fret not to roam the desert now, with all thy winged speed;
I may not mount on thee again - thou'rt sold, my Arab steed!
Fret not with that impatient hoof - snuff not the breezy wind.
The farther that thou fliest now, so far am I behind.
The stranger hath thy bridle-rein - thy master hath his gold,
Fleet-limb'd and beautiful, farewell; thou'rt sold, my steed, thou'rt sold.

Farewell! Those free, untired limbs full many a mile must roam
To reach the chill and wintry sky which clouds the stranger's home.
Some other hand, less fond, must now thy corn and bread prepare.
The silky mane I braided once must be another's care!
The morning sun shall dawn again, but never more with thee
Shall I gallop through the desert paths, where we were wont to be.
Evening shall darken on the earth and o'er the sandy plain
Some other steed, with slower step, shall bear me home again.

Yes, thou must go! The wild, free breeze, the brilliant sun and sky,
Thy master's home, from all of these my exiled one must fly.
Thy proud dark eye will grow less proud, thy step become less fleet,
And vainly shalt thou arch thy neck, thy master's hand to meet.
Only in sleep shall I behold that dark eye, glancing bright;
Only in sleep shall hear again that step so firm and light.
And when I raise my dreaming arm to check or cheer thy speed,
Then must I, starting, wake to feel - thou'rt sold, my Arab steed!

Ah! Rudely then, unseen by me, some cruel hand may chide,
Till foam-wreaths lie, like crested waves, along thy panting side:
And the rich blood that's in thee swells, in thy indignant pain,
Till careless eyes, which rest on thee, may count each started vein.
Will they ill-use thee? If I thought - but no, it cannot be.
Thou art so swift, yet easy curb'd, so gentle, yet so free.
And yet, if haply, when thou'rt gone, my lonely heart should yearn,
Can the hand which casts thee from it now command thee to return?

Return! Alas! My Arab steed! What shall thy master do
When thou, who wast his all of joy, hast vanish'd from his view?
When the dim distance cheats mine eye, and through the gathering tears
Thy bright form, for a moment, like a false mirage appears;
Slow and unmounted shall I roam, with weary step alone
Where, with fleet step and joyous bound, thou oft hast borne me on;
And sitting down by that green well, I'll pause and sadly think,
"It was here he bow'd his glossy neck when last I saw him drink!"

When last I saw thee drink! Away! The fever'd dream is o'er.
I could not live a day and know that we should meet no more!
They tempted me, my beautiful - for hunger's power is strong -
They tempted me, my beautiful! But I have loved too long.
Who said that I had given thee up? Who said that thou wast sold?
Tis false, 'tis false! My Arab steed! I fling them back their gold!
Thus, thus, I leap upon thy back and scour the distant plains;
Away! Who overtakes us now shall claim thee for his pains!

So, having chosen this exceptional breed, why did I concentrate on Crabbet Arabians?

As you can read in their brief history (click here), the wealthy land-owning couple Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt travelled to the Near East (mostly modern-day Syria) in the 1880s and 1890s and spent years with the Bedouin searching for the perfect Arabian horses to bring back to their vast estate at Crabbet Park in Sussex and establish a stud breeding Arabian to Arabian. Because they were very knowledgeable, they chose the best and thereby produced the crème de la crème in the optimum conditions at Crabbet Park.

Many breeders before them had acquired Arabian horses from the desert, but mostly stallions, as the Bedouin were loathe to part with their precious mares. They heeded the words of the Prophet Mohammed: "Devote great care to the broodmares: their backs are seats of honour, and their bellies are inexhaustible treasures." These stallions were crossed on to local horses. Only a handful of studs - mostly in Poland, Hungary and France - established breeding programmes with pure Arabians.

With diligence, diplomacy and a true understanding of the worth of an undisputed pedigree, the Blunts managed to buy some of the finest mares and stallions from tribes like the Rualla, the Tai, the Hamdani, the Shwaimani and the Managhi. Their progeny bred at Crabbet Park by the Blunts, at Sheikh Obeyd Stud in Egypt and later by their daughter Lady Wentworth and finally by Cecil Covey who eventually inherited the stud in 1957, have been exported all over the world. They have established dynasties of their own, notably in Russia, Australia, the USA, South Africa, and South America.

What was good enough for them is good enough for me. The Crabbet stock at Gadebrook Stud descends directly from those carefully selected horses. I could never have the time, the money, the knowledge of Arabic or the facilities to make the journeys that the Blunts did, nor gain the trust of the Bedouin that the Blunts had.

I appreciate that I benefit from the meticulous research and years of breeding they put in to creating a stud of such exceptional quality. Other Crabbet breeders have also inspired me, especially Iona Bowring of Chedglow Stud and her sister-in-law Caroline Murray of Foxbury Stud, Carol Carpenter of Nomad Arabians (it was her husband Richard who identified that Magic Domino would one day dominate the Arabian world), Jane Pointer of Cranham Stud, the Wrights of Moulton Stud, and of course, the writings and paintings of the Middle Eastern expert, Peter Upton.

Crabbet was and still is the most influential Arabian stud of all time. Neither war, pestilence, famine, national nor international calamity deterred the breeding program. The continuity and reliability of the stud is simply unparalleled. It is entirely thanks to the dedication of the Blunts, the incredible efforts of Lady Wentworth and the preservation by a few devoted breeders worldwide that the blood continues in as close a form as it was in its heyday.

An excellent book on "The Crabbet Arabian Stud" by Rosemary Archer, Colin Pearson and Cecil Covey with Betty Finke has been published by Alexander Heriot.

Copyright Anne Brown 2008
A Brief History of Crabbet Park Stud

The Crabbet Arabian Stud was established on 2 July 1878 when the first Arabian horses brought to England by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt arrived at Crabbet Park, their large estate in Sussex. Six months earlier, while staying in While travelling in the Near East, Wilfrid and Lady Anne had made a plan to import some of the best Arabian horses to England and breed them there. In Lady Anne's words, "it would be an interesting and useful thing to do and I should like much to try it."

The Blunts' journeys in Arabia are described in Lady Anne's books Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates and A Pilgrimage to Nejd, based on Lady Anne's journals, though heavily edited by Wilfrid. In the winter of 1877/1878 they left Aleppo for what is now Iraq and reached the camps of Faris (a prince of the Anazeh tribe), Ferhan and other Bedouin leaders. Wilfrid became the blood brother of Faris. On a subsequent trip in 1881, he and Lady Anne reached the heart of the Nejd in what is now Saudi Arabia.

Among the horses the Blunts acquired on these journeys were the bay filly Dajania, purchased on Christmas Day in 1877; a dark bay mare eventually named Queen of Sheba, purchased from the Sheykh of Gomussa and his cousin in the summer of 1878; and a chestnut mare named Rodania. All three have left many descendants. Through their connections among the tribes, the Blunts also heard of a celebrated grey stallion. They sent a trusted friend, Zeyd Saad el Muteyri, to buy him; the horse was named Azrek, and became an influential sire.

As important to Crabbet as the desert Arabians were, the collection of Egyptian leader Abbas Pasha proved an equally valuable source. This Governor of Egypt acquired horses from Arabia and Syria; his stock formed the foundation for the stud of Ali Pasha Sherif. The Blunts made their initial visit to Ali Pasha Sherif in 1880 and purchased the stallion Mesaoud, in 1889. Lady Anne wrote of the stallion: "He is four white legged and high up to the knee but surprisingly handsome." He became the most influential sire at Crabbet Park. To this day, many Crabbet Arabian horses contain 25% Measoud blood.

As he aged, Ali Pasha Sherif's health failed and he encountered financial and political problems, leading to the ruin of his stud. In 1896 and 1897, Lady Anne inspected what she called the "sad remnants" before they were sold at auction, and was able to procure several of the best horses that remained. Some of these horses remained in Egypt, at a stud farm owned by the Blunts called Sheykh Obeyd. Thus, according to breed expert Rosemary Archer, some of today's horses of Crabbet breeding carry a higher proportion of Abbas Pasha blood than many present-day Egyptian Arabians.

Thanks to these purchases, Crabbet eventually became the center of Arabian horse breeding. But there were many problems along the way. The Blunts spent much of their time travelling in Arabia and did not know what was going on in their absence. The pastures were ill-tended, the stables and paddocks not cleaned, stallions were shut up without exercise for weeks at a time.

The Sheykh Obeyd stud fared little better while the Blunts were in England. Horses in Egypt were cared for by inattentive grooms and alcoholic managers, left tethered in the hot sun without shade or water, and many died. Further, Wilfrid Blunt had no experience of horse breeding and believed that Arabians should live in "desert conditions" - that is, with little food or shelter. Lady Anne disagreed, but she was not able to demonstrate the superiority of her methods of horse management until the Blunts separated in 1906.

In that year, Wilfrid's mistress, Dorothy Carleton, moved in with Wilfrid, and the Blunts agreed to a formal separation. The Stud was divided. Lady Anne signed a Deed of Partition drawn up by Wilfrid. Under its terms, Lady Anne kept Crabbet Park and half the horses, while Blunt took Caxtons Farm, also known as Newbuildings, and the rest of the stock. Soon thereafter, Lady Anne retired to Sheykh Obeyd in Cairo, where she lived for most of the remainder of her life. Wilfrid frequently had to sell off horses to pay off debts.

Lady Wentworth wrote of Wilfrid, "His tyranny and spirit of discord eventually alienated him from his family, from most of his friends, and from several countries...He had a theatrical tendency to thunder and lightning stage effects which verged on melodrama...and his temper was not improved by hashish and morphia..."

Lady Anne died in 1917, passing on her titles to the Blunt's only child, their daughter, Judith, who became the16th Baroness Wentworth. The Crabbet estate went to Lady Anne's granddaughters, as did those horses she still owned in England. Lady Wentworth had already purchased back some animals that Wilfrid had sold to third parties and thus had a small herd of her own. Wilfrid then attempted to seize the horses and land, making a night time raid on Crabbet and initially taking all of the horses, including those already legally owned by Lady Wentworth.

The mare Bukra, too near foaling to travel, was shot on Wilfred's orders. Bitter and anxious to pay off his creditors, Wilfrid sold 37 horses, exporting several to W.R. Brown's Maynesboro stud in the United States. Between thefts and sales of horses at Newbuildings, many horses of the original Blunt breeding program were lost to Crabbet. In turn, Lady Wentworth and her children forcibly took her favorite mare, Riyala, from Wilfrid's stable, and purchased back many horses from their new owners.

A protracted lawsuit ensued between Wilfrid against both his granddaughters' trustee and his daughter. Eventually, the courts ruled against Wilfrid. At one point, after Wilfrid had shot seven more horses, the Trustee for the granddaughters obtained an injunction to prevent the sale or destruction of any more animals.

In 1921, the court declared that Wilfrid's seizure of horses was illegal, and that even the Deed of Partition was invalid, having been signed by Lady Anne "under duress". Lady Wentworth was able to buy out her daughters' share in the estate from the Trustee, who was anxious to liquidate the assets. Upon Wilfrid's death in 1922, Lady Wentworth also bought Caxtons Farm from his executors and finally reunited the entire Stud.

Lady Wentworth, had an unhappy marriage, divorcing in 1923. By the time she took over the Stud, Crabbet Park had been leased. The Stud itself retained only eight horse boxes, some cowsheds and a few weed-choked pastures. The horses had been sorely neglected, some had starved to death, and others took years to recover.

Lady Wentworth spent many years carefully rebuilding her stock and refining her breeding practices. To raise funds, she sold some bloodstock back to Egypt in 1920, including the stallions Kasmeyn, Sotamm, and Hamran, as well as the mares Bint Riyala and Bint Rissala. She also sold a number of horses to Spain's Duke of Veragua, including five Skowronek daughters. In 1926, she again received a significant infusion of much-needed cash when the famed Kellogg Arabian Ranch in California, owned by breakfast cereal magnate W. K. Kellogg, spent over $80,000 to purchase a number of Crabbet horses.

Lady Wentworth rejected Wilfrid's "desert conditions" theory as well as a prevailing conviction that Arabians were naturally the size of large ponies (that is, under 14.2 hh at the shoulder). She first proved that Arabians could produce taller horses from the projeny of Rijm, a grandson of Rodania, who reached 16.1 hands. Her great contribution to Arabian breeding, however, was her outcross of the Blunt bloodstock to Skowronek. Lady Wentworth knew that she needed additional horses to outcross on descendants of her parents' original bloodstock. Therefore, she added the chestnut stallion Dargee, and her most famous purchase, the grey stallion Skowronek.

The English painter, Walter Winans, bought Skowronek from Count Josef Potocki's Antoniny Stud in Poland, where he had been foaled in 1909. Winans rode the stallion and used him as a model for several bronzes. He then sold him to Webb Wares, who used him as a hack, and eventually sold him to H.V. Musgrave Clark, where he was shown and used at stud. For the first time, he came to the attention of Lady Wentworth.

Lady Wentworth bought Skowronek under circumstances that remain a bit confusing even today. Clark believed he was selling the horse to an American exporter, but at the last minute, the export was cancelled and Lady Wentworth suddenly was the owner of Skowronek. Clark was a rival Arabian breeder, and Lady Wentworth may have used the agent as a front; concerned that if Clark had known she was interested, he might have increased the price - or refused to sell the horse at all. Clark was not happy with the result, and the two breeders had a somewhat cool relationship after she purchased the stallion.

While Count Potocki apparently found Skowronek unimpressive as a colt, having sold him to Winans for £150, the grey became a spectacular stallion and was named "Horse of the Century". Lady Wentworth later turned down an offer of $250,000 from the Tersk stud, and bragged that she once received a cable "from the Antipodes" addressed to "Skowronek, England."

The outcross of the Crabbet stock with Skowronek was extremely successful, and the resulting animals not only sold throughout England but were exported to Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Russia and the USA.

Crabbet's peak year was 1929, when over 30 mares were bred. But as the Great Depression deepened, it affected Crabbet Park, with Lady Wentworth only breeding eight foals in 1932, and two foals in 1933. In 1936, to reduce the size of the herd, she sold 25 horses to the Tersk Stud of the Soviet Union, including the beautiful Skowronek son Naseem. The stud's financial picture also improved by selling three more horses to the Kellogg Ranch in the USA. In this period, Lady Wentworth also sold horses to Australia, Brazil, Holland and Portugal. Nonetheless, the Depression years resulted in the birth of many fine horses, including Sharima, Indian Gold, Indian Crown, and Sharfina.

During World War II, Lady Wentworth's aunt, Mary Lovelace, died, leaving a large fortune. This inheritance was much needed and marked the end of the financial problems which had dogged Lady Wentworth and the Crabbet Stud. In the War years, even though Lady Wentworth cut back her herd due to shortages and the necessity for the Stud to be completely self-supporting in horse feedstuffs, horses such as Grey Royal, Silver Gilt, Indian Magic, Silfina, and Serafina were produced.

While Crabbet was bombed during the war, with over 32 incendiaries dropped, all landed on farmland and no humans or horses were injured. A Canadian Army Supply Unit took over part of the stud, with soldiers billeted in the house and even in some of the horse boxes.

Nevertheless, Lady Wentworth purchased the stallions Raktha and Oran, and produced other significant breeding stock including Silver Fire, Indian Magic and Nisreen. By the time of her death in 1957 at the age of 84, she owned 75 horses, noted for their height, excellent movement and regal carriage.

Lady Wentworth left the Stud to her estate manager, Geoffrey Covey, but as he predeceased her by a few days it passed to his son Cecil who managed the stud. The Queen Anne house itself passed to Lady Wentworth's daughter Lady Winifred Tryon, who sold it; today, it is an office block and its Real Tennis court has been restored.

Fortunately, Cecil Covey had inherited some other land. Only by selling land and nearly half of the 75 horses was he able to pay the 80% death duties owed on Lady Wentworth's estate. But he was able to keep the Stud going. What followed was the largest single consignment of Arabians ever made from England, to Mrs Bazy Tankersley's Al Marah Stud in the USA. In 1961 Covey also sold the stallion Sindh to Dora Maclean of Fenwick Stud in Australia, where he became one of Australia's most important Arabian sires.

For twelve years the stud ran smoothly under Covey, with 20 to 30 horses plus visiting mares as, for the first time, the Crabbet sires were open to outside breeders. In early 1970, however, Covey learned that the government planned to build a motorway connecting South London with Gatwick Airport and Brighton. The motorway eventually bisected Crabbet Park, and, having lost most of the horse pastures to development, in 1972 Covey reluctantly sold off the last of the Stud. At least 90% of all Arabian horses alive today trace their pedigrees in one or more lines to Crabbet horses such as Mesaoud and Skowronek.

Many major Arabian sires worldwide show a strong Crabbet influence in their bloodlines. Polish and Russian bloodlines have a Crabbet influence through the Skowronek son and Mesaoud grandson Naseem, and his son Negatiw (or Negativ). Mesaoud himself was sold to Russia in 1903. Spanish bloodlines have a Crabbet influence through the stallion Nana Sahib and others. Even major historic "Egyptian-bred" sires such as Nazeer trace to Mesaoud through his Crabbet-bred grandson, Sotamm. The Crabbet-owned stallion Raktha, sire of Serafix, was exported to South Africa in 1951, along with several other Crabbet horses. The first Crabbet stallion imported to Australia was Rafyk, who was imported, along with two Crabbet mares, in 1891.

Today, Australia now has a significant number of "pure" Crabbet lines, undiluted by infusions from other sources, with possibly the highest percentage of straight-and high-percentage Crabbet blood in the world.

A small number of Arabian horse breeders continue to produce preservation or "straight" Crabbet bloodlines, with all animals produced descending in every line from horses bred or purchased by the Crabbet stud. An even smaller group of breeders maintain preservation bloodlines tracing strictly to the horses imported or bred by the Blunts.

For the average Arabian horse owner, horses with Crabbet ancestry are noted for athletic ability, attractive appearance, and good dispositions. They are popular in ridden classes and excel in in many equestrian disciplines, both those limited to Arabians and those open to all breeds.

The particular virtues of Crabbet horses - sound, athletic conformation, good movement, solid temperament and performance abiltity - show up especially well in performance competition, and particularly in the Arabian-dominated field of endurance riding, highlighted by 100-mile competitions such as the Tevis Cup in the USA and the Australian Quilty 100-Mile Endurance Ride. Crabbet breeding is also popular in the "Sport Horse" disciplines such as Dressage and show jumping.

The modern Arabian of Crabbet ancestry can be seen in the backyard of the single horse owner, on rugged wilderness terrain, or at the highest levels of national performance competition.

Copyright Anne Brown 2008