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What is an Arabian Horse? A Definition

Hamdaany Ra´an in Bahrain

Here you will find educational articles on the Arabian horse like its history, its identity and many more themes related to the breed. The first text will deal with the definition of the Arabian horse:

Definition of the Arabian Horse (from the Arabian Horse Manifesto)

"The Arabian Horse traces through all its ancestors to the atiq horses of the Arab people. Arabians are asil by definition. For a horse to be assumed asil: its pedigree must be exclusively based on the breeding of the Arab Bedouin tribes in its homeland, the horse must be free of any cross breeding to non-Arabian horses represented by definite evidence of impurity (hujna), and carry a recognized strain name (rasan) and sub-strain (marbat) as per the Bedouin norms that can be reasonably assumed correct. A horse is only Arabian if both free of hujna, and of known acceptable origin."

In the following this definition will be explained in detail by the author from his personal viewpoint and also as one of the founders of the Arabian Horse Manifesto.

 

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Obeyaan Shamet (Bahrain)

Difference to Asil Club definition

The Asil Club defines the asil Arabian horse as an Arabian horse that goes back to the breed of the Bedouin of Arabia in every line without admixture of foreign blood. In opposition the Manifesto states: "The Arabian horse traces through all its ancestors to the atiq horses of the Arab people. Arabians are by definition asil." If we translate this into the definition of the Asil Club, our definition reads the following: "The Arabian horse goes back to the breed of the Bedouin of Arabia without admixture of foreign blood", therefore only one difference is to be noticed: the word asil is omitted. 

This is only a very small difference of four letters, but in it is hiddden the decisive difference. The Manifesto definition is the understanding of the Bedouin in contrast to the Asil Club definition, a definition of the western world only resembling the Bedouin definition, going back to Raswan and even the Blunts. I personally had some difficulty to accept the Manifesto definition as my own, but in the open discussions within the Manifesto founders, I came to understand the difference and how important it is in the practical application, especially in the Arab world.

First, by omitting the one word asil, the definition takes into account the reality of the Arab understanding and language. For an Arab, the terminus technicus "Asil Arabian" is redundant, meaning "Arabian Arabian". Therefore it does not make sense and has resulted in a lot of misunderstandings in the past. The sentence from our definition. "Arabians are asil by definition" is the reality of the Arab´s people understanding of an Arabian horse. 

Second, from this Arab understanding of the term Arabian horse, desastrous effects have arisen in the past, namely that non-asil blood was imported from the west in the wrong opinion that any purebred is an asil horse. Be it in Lebanon after the civil war, when only 22 asil mares and one gelding, all over 20 years old, had survived and new breeding stock was imported in good faith from England and France and ruined the former asil breeding of the country. Other examples can be seen in Tunisia, Syria, or more recently at the Royal Stables of Bahrain. In order to help prevent this in the future, the Manifesto was founded. It was not founded for the western world, but for the Arab world. Coming from there and targeting it. Returning to their very own heritage and making aware that the identitiy of the original Bedouin horse has been lost in the west with the exception of the asil horses, not only by accepting foreign blood, but also by creating new types of Arabian horses, like the modern show horse or the racing horses. 


 

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Kuhailaan Al Adiyat Dami (Bahrain)

Bedouin definition versus western definition

A very important question arises: Does the Manifesto deny that non-asil Arabian horses are Arabian horses at all? Yes, it does!
 
Our world is not as easy as black and white. I would like to further explain our standpoint. The Manifesto returns to the Bedouin definition of the Arabian breed. For good reason. It is a must. Although in its simplicity it means offending different opinions. It arouses contradiction. We have already made this experience. But its statement is not meant to offend people or start a bad dispute. Instead we would be glad if a good dispute is started on the topic. We respect the many different non-asil breeders and their horses and breeding programs. For example you can, and I do, admire the great Polish breeding program, especially if taking into account the great difficulties of the past with its two world wars that nearly destroyed the Polish breed. Poland is proud of its horses, and with right. But at the same time I, and all of the Manifesto, are guided by the respect for the cultural values of the Bedouin. The original counts if it comes to the identity of the breed and not the derivate, may it be excellent in its ways and  worth more than a million of € like the best of the Polish horses. And besides, within the community of Polish breeders, many voices remind the preservation of the old "pure Polish" lines in the face of the State studs use of the modern show horses and racing lines. This is an identity debate, not unlike to the debates started by Asil Club in the past, or by the Manifesto now.

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Mlolsaam Wesam (Bahrain)

Two Realities in one World: Original and WAHO Identity

The identity of the Arabian breed worldwide is manifold, if you look upon it from a standpoint of western thinking. But there are two realities that have to be faced. Reality number one is the reality of the Arab past and present. Reality number two is the reality of the western dominated thinking and appearance of the breed. They both exist next to each other and they are overlapping, but they are different. Therefore conflicts are preprogrammed. It is a matter of identity, let me explain it in detail.

The original identity of the Arabian horse is coined by a socio-cultural concept. It has grown over centuries in the Arabian peninsula. It is very closely linked to the identity of the Arab people. Or with other words, their very own identity is defined and connected to a very large degree with their horse. The past Bedouin society (although only part of the Arab past) has been one of the most important factors in shaping the Arab society  and it had been decisevely connected with the Bedouin horse. Just think of the role of Bedouin poetry. The poet and his horse´s identity cannot be separated in some of the most famous poems. Or think of the role of the horse in spreading Islam. After the Arab world has undergone those abrupt and revolutionizing changes that came along with the end of the Bedouin way of life after World War I and the exploitation of the oil and gas fields in their home countries, Arab societies have come into serious matters of finding their identity in the modern world. This has resulted in a recollection of their past, including the role of their horse.

Now we come back to the identity of the Arabian horse in the west. For us, the Arabian horse is only a very small part of our history, or to be precise only part of our equine history. It is connected with such important persons like Napoleon Bonaparte, or King Wilhelm of Württemberg. But it does not belong to our core identity like it is the case with the Arab people. Compare the forming of the Arabian breed with the forming of the other breed that is regarded as purebred, the English Thoroughbred. This breed is defined by a closed studbook, formed for a purpose (racing) by the stroke of a hand - if I may say so, the setting up of a written studbook. Coming back to the definition of the Arabian horse. WAHO´s definition of an Arabian horse is exactly the same kind of definition as the English Thoroughbred definition: Any horse that is accepted by a studbook approved by WAHO. It is a working definition for the registries worldwide established from a completely western concept. And it was made in order to stop debates on purebred issues that had been going on for decades. This is world´s apart from the identity of the Arabian horse of the Bedouin. In fact, it completeley forgets the roots of the breed. We respect the efforts of WAHO and WAHO is a wonderful platform for Arabian horse lovers from around the globe and we are thankful for it, but  again, WAHO means a completely western approach to the breed that has done serious harm to the original asil  breeding material of the Arab world. We also respect all those breeding or owning so called purebred Arabian horses. But our respect for the Bedouin horse has to be stronger, because it is the respect for the original,  and the respect for a whole culture and society. The very first step and prerequisite to show this respect is to come back to the original definition of the Arabian horse. This is an act of humility, even when it does simply mean to omit only one word.

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Ma´anaghieh Maysa (Bahrain)

Practical Consequences

Will and can the Manifesto turn back the time? Are Manifesto´s goals realisitc?

This are good and important questions.  As veterinarian I will deal with the "Arabian" horses as I did all my working life, nothing has to change. As a breeder, I felt obliged to the asil breeding principle from the beginning, and I will stay to it in the future. As a member of VZAP (the German registry) I will also give the deserved respect to all kinds of registered horses like I did before. I will  be interested in any kind of "Arabian" horse like I have been all the decades before. I will not address a breeder of non-asil horses that his horses are no purebreds in order to make him follow my belief. But if I am asked, I will tell and explain my standpoint like I did here. Also, if I am given a platform to share my knowledge and understanding of the Arabian horse, its history and future, I will gladly do this according to the statements given here. 

To the second question I would like to answer: The Manifesto is realistic, and as stated before, more realistic than others, because we take into account the reality of the Arab world, as most of us come from there. We cannot turn back the time, as the lost asil lines will be lost for ever. We will also not try in changing the worldwide use of the term Arabian horse, as this is utopia. But we will do what we can to promote our understanding of the Arabian horse and the rich heritage of the past Bedouin world. Our main target will be the Arab world and there our Arab members will find ways to express our understanding more openly than it is possible in the west. We hope to built upon the great achievements of Asil Club, Pyramid Society and Al Khamsa and add more success to the preserving of the remaining asil populations in the Arab countries and worldwide. 

 

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Tuwaisaan Talleb (Bahrain)