THE IDEAL ARABIAN - FACT OR FICTION?
"Once unleased, the `Ideal Arabian´concept became an ideology that grew out of proportion. It is now virtually unchallenged and has become widely accepted by most breeders." Philippe Paraskevas
Many western authorities of the breed claim that there is and has always been an ideal or classic Arabian. Prominent present time advocates of this thesis are Judith Forbis or Dr. Hans Joachim Nagel, and in the past Carl Raswan, Lady Anne Blunt or Roger Upton. On the other hand many voices from the Orient speak vehemently against such an ideal horse, most prominent is Philippe Paraskevas in his book THE EGYTIAN ALTERNATIVE. Let us look closer on both standpoints and try to find answers. But first we will look at some photos of different Arabian horses.
This mare, Reem El Bediya, comes close to the author´s ideal of a classic Arabian mare. But comparing her to the so called desert bred horses of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or Syria, it becomes obvious that those original horses in the home countries of the Arabian Peninsula show a different phenotype, especially when comparing the structure of the heads.
This mare from the Royal Stables of Bahrain, Jellabieh Ghabra, is of the same age of 7 years, showing a straight profile. Much more pronounced is the difference if we compare stallions. Obeyan Shamet in Bahrain (left) and nearly all the other stallions that were shown during the WAHO presentation in 2017 had a more or less concave profile. At Nejd Stud in Saudi Arabia a pure Saudi stallion was shown to us with a straight profile: Nabeh, an Obeyan Saifi (middle). A third stallion, a modern Straight Egyptian, shall show how different a stallion´s head can be in modern lines: GWS Mashari. Those examples clearly show: there are at least three different kinds of heads in the Arabian breed: convex, straight and concave profiles.
Three historic stallions from El Zahraa: Nazeer (left), Sid Abouhom (middle) and Morafic (right). 70 years ago, Tibor von Pettkö-Szandtner used Nazeer and Sid Abouhom as main stallions - with such different head structure - and their combination gave Morafic, who electrified all who saw him.
The Ideal Arabian
Judith Forbis has coined a concept of the Arabian horse resulting in the evolution of the modern show horse: an "ideal Arabian" or "classic Arabian" of overwhelming beauty. She accomplished this both through her many publications and also by her breeding program. Forbis did not invent the ideal Arabian, as it has already been in existence before, both in the flesh, like incomparable Morafic, and in the imagery of many artists. One of the most fierce opponents of this concept, author and breeder Phillipe Paraskevas from Egypt, holds against it, "such creatures cannot equal the authentic desert horse simply because of the narrowness of selection criteria." That argument seems convincing, but by looking at the example of Morafic, this epitome of an ideal Arabian, we see that he was an exceptional performance horse at the same time. Under the capable hands of trainer Tom McNair he won both performance and halter championships, as did his sons and daughters in many countries.
Morafic 1956 (Nazeer/Mabrouka by Sid Abouhom), head sire at El Zahraa and Gleanloch Farm, NK Nadeer 2005 (NK Hafid Jamil/NK Nadirah), head sire of Dr. Nagel´s Katharinenhof and Rabdan Alawsaj 2001 (Jellaby Sultan/Rabda Salha) at Prince Mohammed Bin Salman al Khalifah in Bahrain (from left to right).
Arabian horses are much more than heads. (For a deeper insight into the head of the Arabian horse click here for an excerpt from the book BEDOUIN HERITAGE). The modern show type Arabian with its ultra refinded doll-like appearance and the dished face is worlds apart from the horses of the desert. Arabians have been riding horses, war horses. Functional aspects were predominant and beauty was cast behind. The ideal Arabian of the Bedouin existed, but it was defined by less morphologigal aspects than funcionality.
Wilfred Blunt has put it this way: "The single object for which the Kehilan is bred by the Bedouins is service in their wars. - The sole practical test is in the raid (ghazu). - What is of at least equal importance with speed, inasmuch as all fighting is done with the lance, is perfect shoulder action, facility in turning, a light mouth, intelligence and courage."
In other words the Arabian horse is a riding horse for all purpose without extreme specialization. Its perfect temperament and character is proverbial. But coming back on morphological aspects of the breed, one property catches the eye: tail carriage. This makes the difference to all other breeds worldwide.
Bahraini stallion Mussanan Awaad (left) and Egyptian stallion Asfour Al Waab (Barraq Al Alia/Sara Al Jazira)
Khuwey El Bediya (Montasar/Marqueesa) (left) and Adham Saqr (Imperial Madori/Ameera Saqr), both of the sire line of Morafic/Madkour, showing two different types within the Straight Egyptian breeding group.
As stated in the chapter on the Arabian´s head and the chapter on Bedouin tribes, Arabian horses could be found in a variety of types with the many different breeders of the Arabian peninsula and even within one breeding group. Therefore it is necessary to understand that the western concept of an ideal Arabian is wrong. The ideal Arabian of the Bedouin existed in a different form. Function predominated morphological aspects. But as function and morphology cannot be strictly separated, some morphologic features cristalized in Arabia, most prominent the overall balance and beauty of the horse. But we should never forget that function, i.e. performance ability and character prevailed. Beauty automatically followed, but a different beauty concept than that of the western world. The narrow selection done today towards beauty alone will do detrimental harm to the breed on the long run. Performance and beauty should not be played off against each other, as both can exist together in perfect harmony. Different likes and dislikes of the different breeders come as no surprise, and therefore also different breeding concepts. But the Arabian horse has been famous for both performance and beauty. It is only during the last four decades that they were separated by establishing a specialization of show- and performance lines. Let those of us breeding for beauty and a westernized standard of "the ideal Arabian" return to the breeding principles of the Bedouin and take performance into serious consideration in our breeding descisions. And let us preserve the manifold picture of the historic Arabian horse. It is worth all our efforts!
Mlolshaan Wesam and Obeyaan Shamet in Bahrain
Ma´anaghieh Ghada (Bahrain, left) and Wadad Zamani (Laheeb/Zeena Al Buraq), a war-like mare and a modern Straight Egyptian show horse.
Ghazal El Bediya (Montasar/Marqueesa)
At Petra in Jordan