To the Arabian Horse
A few years ago I wrote a letter to Arabian breeders to tell them what I feel so deeply about you as the special and incredible creature that you are. I wrote that we must remember who you are and that we must do everything possible to honor and preserve you. A number of readers answered with beautiful thoughts and memories of their time with the Arabian horse. I have added that letter at the end of this note to remind us of what was said at that time.
Sadly, very little has changed since then and in many cases, things have gotten worse. I now feel that I must write directly to you, my greatest friends, the horse. I want to tell you that I am extremely sorry for what has happened to you.
You, the Arabian horse are a treasure that belongs to the entire world. You are part of the heritage that carried civilization and you do not belong to any one place or people. Without you there would not be most of the breeds that exist today. And yet, you are being turned into a commodity – something to be bought, sold, used and altered to suit the whims of a few selfish and uncaring people.
You have become an industry, a thing to be evaluated, prodded, reproduced at the design and will of the show ring and often dishonored all in the name of winning. Science, in the form of artificial methods of reproduction, is removing the soul and essence of the horse. There are times when it could be necessary in order to preserve a rare and endangered blood, but these are rare.
People must allow you to be who you are and were meant to be. A treasure of uncommon value, a spirit with dignity, pride, loyalty and a friend beyond riches and value.
With my love
Following first posted July 19, 2008
IT IS TIME TO THINK
The Desert Horse is a magnificent creature unlike anything else. He has been forged through the centuries by hardship, brutal conditions and a deep and abiding connection with the people who have nourished him although occasionally with a harsh and unforgiving reality. Originally, selection was made on the basis of character as much as athletic abilities. This could only be learned by spending time with the animal. It was the sharing of a lifetime with many different horses.
At the core of this Arab tradition was a respect for the horse: his spirit, abilities and beauty. The Desert Horse had an enormous role in the establishment of the world as we know it through transportation, commerce, war and even celebrations. One has to only think of Egypt in the time of the Arab conquest from the Mamelukes and the Turks into the Napoleonic invasion with all the battles and pageantry. Horses filled the lives of the owners.
Primarily when we think of the Arab horse, we must think of symmetry; harmony that was achieved through the balance of a short neck, short back and light reaching movement that allowed for lightning fast adjustments and maneuvers. These all combined with the intelligence and ability of the horse to know and judge his rider. His bravery and caring for the safety of the rider is well documented and unparalleled among animals.
Desert riding required these special characteristics. A singular stride follows from a balance which flows from the short neck and back. This conformation holds the head high to keep an elevated light stride and prevents the horse from pulling forward and falling towards the ground. The light canter allows the horse to flow on the surface of the sand rather than pushing down into it. An exaggerated and elongated neck added to a long back prevents this natural desert movement.
As for the head, large nostrils and an unimpeded nasal passage allow the oxygen to process efficiently in the blood adding to the endurance. Of course, there can be a gentle dish to give elegance to the head, but anything overly exotic prevents the function that is necessary.
Today, I see many horses who could not possibly survive in the role they originally excelled in for centuries. Yes, many of them are quite beautiful and catch your attention. However, they are not Desert Horses. People are completely free to breed as they wish. Every breeder should have his or her own vision of what he favors. But we must be careful not to call them Desert Horses. With their long necks and backs as well as the exaggerated dishes, they have none of the harmony and symmetry of the original. They are composites of today’s fashion without proper thought as to their function.
Sadly today’s horse world has been overridden by the excesses of money. True, we have always been in a business of breeding although for some it is a less important factor. The seduction of large financial rewards has led to the involvement of many people who only verbalize their “love” of the horse but do not take the time to study and learn the craft and art. They listen to people who do not have true knowledge or integrity. As a result, their judgment is often distorted by the lure of great financial reward.
Science has intruded into the world of breeding in a way that could never have been envisioned. The horse as a creature of God has given way to a machine that is used to put a product on the auction block. Artificial insemination and embryo transplants are no longer uncommon. These and other procedures can lead to abuses which are not seen even in the world of Thoroughbreds which is primarily a business. All of these changes destroy the identity of the horse. And while cosmetic surgery may change the appearance of a particular horse it most assuredly will not be genetically passed down. Of course, I cannot speak for them, but from many years of conversations, I believe that pioneers in our world like Doug Marshall and Jay Stream would never approve of many of these practices.
My life has been blessed with a decades long involvement with the horse both as a rider and a breeder. I cannot imagine it otherwise. I can honestly say that I love any horse but my special love will always be the Desert Horse. We must take time to think what we are doing to him. A few years ago, a judge at one of the shows asked me why we even need them today since we have 4-wheel drive vehicles.
All I can say to this judge and to others like him is that without the Desert Horse, we do not have our tradition, our culture, and our history. We must hold on to the dignity, spirit and great beauty that is the Desert Horse. And we must look inside to the great character of these magnificent creatures. To paraphrase something written by the poet Al Mutanabbi, “Special horses are like good friends – very rare. If you look at his or her beauty from outside only, you have no idea what beauty truly is”.
It is time for us to remember and treasure the Desert Horse for who he truly is. Breed as you wish but do not confuse today’s fashion with the tradition which formed us.
With great love and respect for the Desert Horse.
Shams El Asil Stud