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
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
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,
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,
Farewell! Those free,
untired limbs full many a mile must roam
reach the chill and wintry sky which clouds the stranger's
Some other hand, less fond, must now thy corn and bread prepare.
silky mane I braided once must be another's care!
The morning sun shall dawn again, but never more with thee
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,
master's home, from all of these my exiled one must fly.
Thy proud dark eye will grow less proud, thy step become less
vainly shalt thou arch thy neck, thy master's hand to meet.
Only in sleep shall I behold that dark eye, glancing bright;
in sleep shall hear again that step so firm and light.
And when I raise my dreaming arm to check or cheer thy speed,
must I, starting, wake to feel - thou'rt sold, my Arab steed!
Ah! Rudely then, unseen
by me, some cruel hand may chide,
foam-wreaths lie, like crested waves, along thy panting side:
And the rich blood that's in thee swells, in thy indignant
careless eyes, which rest on thee, may count each started
Will they ill-use thee? If I thought - but no, it cannot be.
art so swift, yet easy curb'd, so gentle, yet so free.
And yet, if haply, when thou'rt gone, my lonely heart should
the hand which casts thee from it now command thee to return?
Return! Alas! My Arab
steed! What shall thy master do
thou, who wast his all of joy, hast vanish'd from his view?
When the dim distance cheats mine eye, and through the gathering
bright form, for a moment, like a false mirage appears;
Slow and unmounted shall I roam, with weary step alone
with fleet step and joyous bound, thou oft hast borne me on;
And sitting down by that green well, I'll pause and sadly
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.
could not live a day and know that we should meet no more!
They tempted me, my beautiful - for hunger's power is strong
tempted me, my beautiful! But I have loved too long.
Who said that I had given thee up? Who said that thou wast
false, 'tis false! My Arab steed! I fling them back their
Thus, thus, I leap upon thy back and scour the distant plains;
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.