THE EGYPTIAN BREEDERS' INTERVIEW
Breeders of Egyptian Arabians are a special lot - artistic, curious, scholarly, and dedicated. Then as an overlay to those qualities, add just a touch of mystique. We invited some of these breeders to answer our questions and share their experience with us.
Breeders who have imbued us all with a sense of history, and who have thoughtfully and conscientiously pointed the way for those who have just discovered the Arabian breed. Enjoy their thoughts...
Q: Why are you breeding Arabian horses?
Photo: van Lent jr
Omar Sakr, "Cha Cha" Sakr and the mare SES Marah (Halim El Nefous x Masada Belisimma)
Omar Sakr, Sakr Stud, Egypt: Breeding horses for me remains to be a passionate hobby. I do it because I admire the beauty of the animal, I am intrigued and respectful of the history behind it. As an Egyptian I am also most definitely committed to contribute to the preservation and perpetuation of what is undisputedly Egypt's heritage. So in short, the reasons are emotional, artistic and historical.
Nayla Hayek, Hanaya Arabian Stud, Switzerland: I believe that everyone who gets involved with Arabian horses is seized with a "virus". I have experience with all types of horses and I can tell you that Arabians are something very special!
Carmel Rowley of Pearsons View Arabians with a colt by Simeon Stav
Carmel Rowley, Pearsons View Arabians, Australia: Being a horse lover from as far back as I can remember, I truly felt my lifes purpose was to be involved with horses. When I married in 1992 I asked my husband if we were to breed horses what breed would he like to choose? His answer was Arabians if we are going to breed horses they are the best looking ones! From then on Arabians it was and now I recognise in these beautiful horses not only their beauty but their history and a connection with mankind that is truly unique.
Dr. Ulrika Nilsson, Nafud Asil Arabians, Sweden: The beauty and intelligence of the Arabian horse caught my eyes as a child. When I later on as an adult bought my first horse it had to be an Arabian. To own an Arabian horse is so much more than just horse-riding and I started to get interested in the different bloodlines and in breeding. The Egyptian Arabian horse attracted me most and I got interested in preserving this blood for the future.
Q: Which are the three most important attributes of an Arabian horse?
Omar Sakr: Head, elegance and spirit.
Photo: van Lent jr.
One of Nayla Hayek's stallions - Hanaya Moheb (Monzer x Manaya)
Nayla Hayek: Character, charisma and correct conformation.
Carmel Rowley: Arabian type, correct Arabian conformation, even overall balance.
Ulrika Nilsson's colt Nafud Rayhan (Shahin x Saghira)
Dr. Ulrika Nilsson: To choose three attributes is very difficult, because it is difficult to leave something out. But if I have to choose three, it will have to be the head and neck, tail carriage and the overall appearance - a "dry" appearance compared to other breeds.
Q: For many breeders "type" is synonymous with "head". Do you agree?
Photo: van Lent sr.
Nayla Hayek and her foundation mare, Kodwa (Shadwan x Alifa)
Nayla Hayek: The head is only one aspect of type. But for me, type means more than just a pretty face. You have to consider the whole appearance of a horse. I know many Thouroughbreds and Quarter Horses with extremely pretty heads - nearly "Arabian"! But that doesn't mean they look like Arabians...
Pearsons View´s head stallion, Simeon Stav (Asfour x Simeon Safanad)
Carmel Rowley: Type for Pearsons View is the overall picture that makes up an Arabian horse. Balance and harmony of body/ breed quality of skin/ head of breedy structure encompassing bright expressive eyes, nostrils fine and of great expansion and small tipped ears and preferable dished profile. Dancing on tip toe... tail aloft attitude, with free elevated trot and cadenced canter.
Dr. Ulrika Nilsson: No, I don't agree at all. The type is the whole appearance of the horse - a good head, well set arched neck, short back, high tail carriage, "dry" look, attitude - simply everything together. The head is very important since a pretty head with expressive eyes makes it even easier to get attached to your horse - which really is the meaning of having a horse today. But for me, a typey Arabian has so much more than just a pretty head.
Omar Sakr's champion mare, AK Nouasha (Ansata Abbas Pasha x AK Nouara)
Omar Sakr: There is no question that the head is the first thing that attracts any breeder to the straight Egyptian Arabian. In my personal opinion: no head no type. The head is the main feature of an Arabian and one that singles it out... When you hear people describing an Arabian it is the broad forehead, the eyes, the jowl, the nostrils, the ears, the muzzle. Six attributes of one feature. Don't get me wrong, the whole picture has to fit together - the neck, the body etc. But let us not fool ourselves - other features do not make up for the head. The first thing any breeder examines when a new foal arrives is the head. It is therefore sad that one goes to shows where movements seems to take the lead! I am not undermining a horse's movements but this is a feature that relies to a great extent on the handler. Examine all other features the horse's stand and accordingly the handler have a major part in either enhancing good attributes or masking faults. The neck, the topline, tail carriage - everything. Except for the head. This is a long answer to a short question but what I consider a crucial one.
Q: Name the horse you have bred that comes closest to your ideal.
Nafud Jawahr (Shahin x Salaamah)
Dr. Ulrika Nilsson: The best horse I have bred is Nafud Jawahr (Shahin x Salaamah). He is closest to my ideals because he is very proportional, someting which is very important to me. He also has a pretty head with big black eyes and small ears, short back, well arched neck, lots of tail carriage and very good movements. This horse and his younger brother Nafud Jalaal (Shahin x Saghira), who is a copy of his brother, are the ones closest to my ideal.
SQR Ghazal (Shaheen x Alidaara)
Omar Sakr: A horse named SQR Ghazal (Shaheen x Alidarra). This is a two year old grey colt who is turning three this November and who comes as close to the ideal that I am striving to breed as I could have dreamed of. At the risk of appearing to boast, I think this colt has it all....extreme head , well placed long arched neck, a beautiful body, superb movements and an excellent tail carriage. People who have seen him will attest to that. He was Junior Champion twice, and "Most Classic Head Champion" - beating the undefeated winner of this class, his sire Shaheen. What still remains to be seen is his ablity to pass on those traits as a sire. He will breed his first mares on the farm next year.
Carmel Rowley: It is hard to name one particular horse that is closest. There are times and many of them over the years that make you gasp with pleasure and admiration, times that make you cry and times that make you laugh your head off. So to be honest there is a little of our ideal in every horse we have bred and to name just one would be unfair to all the others.
Nayla Hayek: At the moment three foals by my own stallion Thee Brigadier (The Minstril x Ansata Justina) are my favourites. They are elegant, typey and full of charisma.
Q: Which good characteristics are easiest to produce - or hardest to eliminate?
One of Nayla Hayek's most accomplished mares is Elf Layla Walayla
Nayla Hayek: Pretty heads are easy to produce, conformation faults very difficult to eliminate.
Dr. Ulrika Nilsson: It is hard to generalise because it depends on the individuals (genotypes) you have chosen. The easiest seems to be a pretty head and the most difficult a good shoulder and short back if you have one parent with a bad shoulder or a long back respectively.
Simeon Shaina (Asfour x Simeon Safand), one of Perasons View's foundation mares
Carmel Rowley: Over the years we have purchased particular bloodlines that we feel represent not only the ancestors in their pedigree but our particular ideal. So their characteristics are such that we just enhance the type the individuals represent. We don't believe in perfection either in man or animal as each individual has a different interpretatation of perfection which then can make it unattainable. We have no desire to strive for the unattainable so we aim instead for an Arabian that fills the eye with it's beauty irrespective of so called "faults"!
Omar Sakr: I believe with proper culling and patience any trait can be fixed over time. It is a matter of genetic combination. Generally, a super stallion will not be able to upgrade a poor quality mare unless he is bred to pass on those traits and even if he does, the next generation will not be a sure producer because it is backed up by a poor quality mare. I find the head easier to fix - within the head the eyes are difficult. A bad croup is also a nightmare and extremely difficult to get rid of and has to be culled from a herd or bred very selectively. Breeders around the world have always pointed out that Arabians' legs - and especially the Egyptian Arabians' legs - are dismal. I do not agree and think the issue is being overexaggerated. Because of the small genetic pool Arabians are more susceptible to produce faulty legs but I found it easier to improve on legs than to get rid of a bad croup or topline. Movement is another characteristic that is tricky - I find the mare very influential in this respect.
Q: In which performance disciplines the Arabian horse excells?
Ulrika Nilsson's mare Salaamah (Ramses x Savannah)
Dr. Ulrika Nilsson: The Arabian horse can be used in any performance discipline, but it can't compete against all breeds in all disciplines on a high level. The Arabian isn't really a horse bred for modern sports but for a nomadic life. If used in sports competition, it do very well in long-distance races.
Carmel Rowley: We have had our horses competing in a variety of ridden disciplines, very successfully but personally I would love to see the endurance or long-distance rides being pushed even more than they are. Without a doubt Arabian horses are super performance horses but they are just fantastic at distance events.
Nayla Hayek: The Arabian horse can compete in Western Riding, long-distance riding, dressage and even jumping. It's the most versatile horse I know. Sure, there are breeds that are "specialists" and they are unbeatable in their disciplines. But the Arabian horse is at least able to follow.
Omar Sakr's famous stallion Shaheen (El Haddiyah x Bint Bint Hamama)
Omar Sakr: The Arabian horse is extremely versatile and athletic and could perform in any discipline. As he is being bred mainly for halter and beauty - with little regard to athleticism the Arabian has acquired the reputation of being a pet horse that has no real competitive use. I disagree! The Arabian horse is strong, extremely powerful and well balanced and by definition would do well in racing (short distance and endurance), dressage and even jumping. We should not compare it to other breeds because it's size puts it at a competitive disadvantage. I think with a compatible rider - here I refer to size and ability - the horse is most suited for high school dressage.
Q: Inbreeding! Is it important to your breeding program?
Nayla Hayek: Not at all!
Omar Sakr: I have never used inbreeding on my farm. I assume that by inbreeding you are referring to siblings, father to daughters and mother to sons. This is not to say that I disagree with it. To choose inbreeding you need to be working with individuals who have proven to be consistent producers and where undesirable traits have not emerged in their families. I therefore prefer linebreeding and sometimes "close-breeding" (half siblings etc). By definition, 90% of straight Egyptian breeders do linebreeding because of the limited genetic pool. I find close-breeding to be of great help if you need to fix a certain trait. Trying to produce an individual who is homozygous in this trait. This is what breeding is all about. Continues attempts to produces an individual who is homozygous in all the needed traits and who pass on those traits to the next foal crop. This is when you eliminate guesswork out of your breeding program.
Stavs Kru Sayd (Simeon Stav x Simeon Shaina) - the result of mating full siblings
Carmel Rowley: Over the years we have always kept a common thread of a particular horse going through our breeding program irrespective of wether it was English/Spanish/Egyptian bloodlines. With our straight Egyptian breeding program inbreeding has become a vital part of our program. Inbreeding to us establishes a specific look in our stock. Cementing a type that gives the breeder a future breeding animal that produces its like consistantly.
Dr. Ulrika Nilsson: Yes and no. The inbreeding and linebreeding is very important to secure certain attributes - but outcrossing has to be done to keep the horses healthy in the long run. When you do the outcrossing it is important to get a good feeling on which outcrossing that doesn't ruin what you've gained from your inbreeding but makes additions to your breeding program.
Q: What advice would you give to other owners who aspire to breed a champion?
Carmel Rowley: Set and explore your goals. Learn pedigree's and the type of Arabian they represent. Observe and question the successful breeders. Always breed the type of horse you love. Exercise patience and dedication. Oh - a little luck also helps!
Nayla Hayek's champion mare Nahilaa (Shah Nishan x AK Entayah) and her champion filly Hanaya Nawal (by Hanaya Moheb)
Nayla Hayek: I don't think that a championship should be a breeder's aim. If your Arabian horse enters the show ring today, then you have to remember that there are many more things that count than the quality of your horse! Breeders should breed for a particular type of horse they favour. And they should try to see as many horses as possible to avoid "barnd blindness". If one of my stallions doesn't quite make it for a particular mare, I don't hesitate to use one of another breeder. That's the only way to come close to my ideal - andnd that means "progress". If I only would use my own stallions that would mean a step back for my breeding program!
Nafud Shahina (Shahin x Saghira)
Dr. Ulrika Nilsson: Be critical, especially about your own horses. Are you truly satiesfied with your horses or are you breeding them of sentimental reasons? Travel to other breeders and look at their breeding programs (not at shows but at their barns!) and see what they really produce. Get a good feeling on which horses would actually contribute to your breeding program. If you fail with your thoughts, be even more critical about your own horses.
Omar Sakr: I have nothing to tell breeders who aspire to breed a champion since the definition and characteristic of a champion ever-changing... I have seen many champions that I would not keep on my farm. However, away from politics and for the serious breeder who is aspiring to breed the true classic beauty I would advice them to stay away from fads ... understand the pedigrees ... be very concerned with the first and second generation in the pedigree... remember heredity jumps a generation... gather pictures and video clips of the horses in your pedigree and try to see them in person...You cannot be a breeder of everything for everyone... you should try and produce a type that would be distinguishing... never buy a horse sight unseen... you cannot improve all traits in a horse at one time... take them few at a time... be extremely self critical and ruthless about culling... remember, you are breeding Egyptian Arabian horses... do not try and change history... the ideal has been set ages ago... the horse was and will always be renowned for it's type, beauty and elegance... stick with this... accept that you are there to preserve history and not to change it... understand the family strains and their different characteristics... when choosing to breed a certain strain the individuals have to be true of the strain... Finally and at the risk of being redundant: breed for type... and be patient!