As a subscriber of Arabian Horse World for nearly 50 years now, I have to say, as I have said before, the long walk down my drive to mailbox is punctuated by the beauty of nature but is rewarded with finding AHW magazine in my mailbox. Having perused this latest issue, I continue to be in awe of so many beautiful Arabian horses representing an international blend of bloodlines from all continents. Yet, with a five-decade experience in Arabian horse matters, I lament the diversity well represented by the individual types of Arabians representing their various origins.
So you can imagine how, once again, I was ‘blown away’ by Betty Finke’s article “Brave New World, Globalization, Technology, and Their Impact on the Arabian Breed.” She has once again distilled the heart of the challenges going forward as modernization and the breed progress. Everything she points out seems almost déjà vu’ for me. Betty Finke perfectly illustrates the impact of modern reproductive technology and there is no need for me to repeat that here. However, the loss of diverse choices is something my colleagues and I have lamented about for a long time.
To me I see this analogy: Sitting down at a fine restaurant and enjoying a spectacular meal leaves a beautiful and lasting impression afterward, much like experiencing the beauty of today’s Arabian horses. Yet how many of us appreciate that savored moment because of the specifics of the exotic ingredients used to create it? Who among us anymore values the saffron, cumin, and garlic? What if we ordered that same entree every day for the rest of our lives; would we tire of it? What if there was no more saffron, cumin, and garlic? What if we lost many of those special ingredients that created the savored moment? The moment would likely become mundane, perhaps ordinary.
Likewise, the various traditional breeding groups established in the past from Poland, England, Spain, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East, are the unique ingredients that created today’s Arabians but many of them are individually at risk of being lost for the future. Some are already. I recall when I could easily find pure old Polish pedigrees that did not even have any Crabbet in their lines. Bask was certainly one of those. And I lament the old straight Spanish imports to the U.S. that I saw many years ago. Clearly they had a unique identity. Crabbet horses from foundation stock up to mid ’50s Crabbet imports to the U.S. were still the predominant horses I saw in the early 1970s, yet are becoming a much smaller group. Does anyone know that there is still a small group of Arabians existing that are 100% pure early Blunt Crabbet, before Skowronek, such as was Gulastra? These are called the Doyle horses, founded in 1949, but now rare indeed. For over the first 30 years of Arabian horse breeding in America, those early Blunt horses were part of the cornerstone of American foundation breeding now present in so many international champions. Likewise, the straight Davenport imported desert bred Arabian horses are in many of today’s international champions. The Davenport horses are a part of the magnificent palette of uniquely American foundation bloodlines. While they have a small enthusiastic following, this group is getting smaller over time.
Granted the Egyptian lines, as Betty Finke points out, have endured as a specific part of the recipe and will likely remain a closed breeding group for the foreseeable future. But even they are a microcosm of the message in Betty Finke’s article with some rarer Egyptian lines fading unnecessarily. There are four sire lines and six tail female strains in Egyptian breeding, yet it is possible to lose one or two sire lines and at least one female strain within Egyptian lines within the next several decades unless the present available diversity is preserved.
I can easily share Betty Finke’s concerns outlined in her article. I remember, growing up, how my father was a fanatic about good cuisine and just the right amount of quality ingredients. His cabinet was full of spices (as was his personality). He even made many of his own sauces, and I learned to value each and everything added to the pot. The truth is that yes, there still is some diversity in the Arabian breed. You can find it as you look around. But looking ahead, will we still have a full cabinet of ingredients for future memorable moments? How triumphant will future progress be without knowing and valuing the past?
New South Wales, Australia
“Perhaps the saddest thing is that so many younger breeders, who have grown up in this new global and technologically advanced world, never having known anything else, don’t even realize that something has been lost, let alone what.” — Betty Finke
This is such a profound statement.
“There is a whole generation now that fell in love not with the original, traditional Desert Arabian, nor with any of the wonderful different types it brought forth, but with the modern showring Arabian. Nor can you blame them, because the sheer beauty of these horses is unlike anything ever seen before. When I look at these exquisitely refined creatures, I am tempted to misquote Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”: O brave new world, that has such horses in it! “ — Betty Finke
There is indeed a ‘Lost Generation’ of breeders, owners and professionals in the world today, and sadly now they are the majority.
This was my epiphany back in 2005 when I went to Saudi for the first time and saw the desert breds, which then led to my whole campaign on “Authentic Arabian Type” and the keynote speech at the AHA Convention.
Betty is spot-on. It is a brilliant article that needs to be turned into a global breeders forum/think tank.
The article is not anti-show even in the slightest. Rather, it is relevant commentary on the state of our breed, a status that affects us all.
The question is, how do we come together as the modern day stewards of this breed to maintain genetic diversity and uphold the desert standard?
Bravo Arabian Horse World and Betty Finke! Across the world, in so many pursuits, the call is being made to return to fundamental values, natural order, and to revere and cherish diversity in all species. I am so happy to see your publication chime in.
If the Arab horse “industry” is not as robust as it was twenty-five years ago, there are reasons. Finke’s article reveals them and can do more to regenerate the “industry” than all the hype, pitch, and gloss ever could.
This is sort of a “back to the future” moment, so it might be appropriate to reflect on some of Carl Raswan’s comments.
For example, over half a century ago, he cautioned Arab horse breeders: “The temptation to improve on almost everything in our creation is only too natural — and harmless as long as we keep untouched, aside from our laboratories and research centers, some of the original specimens, so that we can retain for all times a nucleus….but man’s insatiable curiosity often overwhelms him and he destroys forever the original.”
And in his essay entitled, “The Head of an Arabian,” he wrote: “When riding in their company or sitting in their black tents, the Bedouins would call my attention to legendary origins of the breed…there is so much in their oral transmission of ancient knowledge about Arabian horses that should interest us, too…They say that the most perfect of Arabians are the Muluq (the angel) horses. An expression in their eyes proves that they are ‘thinking’ (meditating), rational beings with a soul and not just subject creatures to serve us physically.”
Thank you Betty and Denise for this benchmark article.
President of Davenport Arabian Horse Conservancy,
Committee member of The CMK Heritage
Thanks to Betty Finke and Arabian Horse World for calling attention to the breed’s decline in genetic and phenotypic diversity, documenting the acceleration of the way things have been heading for much of the last 50 years. Not everyone can be surprised to read this; in some circles terms like preservation breeding and genetic conservation — and riding horse — have been watchwords for decades.
Over 30 years ago, cooperator breeder groups such as Al Khamsa Inc. and The CMK Heritage recognized they had common ground to publicize and counteract the increasing distance between what was seen to win in the shows and what was known to be the traditional Arabian horse. Some might find it ironic to read that the national-themed groups which seemed to be taking over at the period are now in decline.
More than 50 years ago, Dr. J. L. Doyle and Charles C. Craver III set out to preserve straight Blunt and straight Davenport breeding, which had contributed massively to the foundation of the Arabian in North America. They worked alongside breeders in the Kellogg, Selby and Babson traditions, and their programs continue through the efforts of the Doyle family and of the Davenport Arabian Horse Conservancy.
There is continuity, and there is genetic diversity that’s been maintained: living horses bred from historic Arabian bloodlines and representing historic Arabian types, still versatile, and not selected for 40 years to fit narrow show ring niches. It’s not too late, in a Charles Craver phrase, to ‘turn the thing around.’ Acknowledging the problem is just a first step, but it is an essential one.
A “must read” and plenty of food, not just for thought, but for planning for this Brave New World … the old ways no longer work. I would add that in this Brave New World, not even breeding to the most illustrious of stallions will be a guarantee of an adequate return to the breeder, it being much more important who represents the resultant foal than how well it reflects the Breed Standard.
Just finished Betty’s piece…it is brutal, but totally honest. It is a great piece for new people who are serious to get them caught up on the last 30 years. For serious breeders the last 30 years, it is nothing they didn’t know.
I totally understand why it is appropriate for a serious magazine to publish such a piece. I also understand why some, for whom the show scene is serious business, might not agree. Sadly, it is that sort of short term thinking that has disillusioned those of us who actually care about the breed in the long term.
Cindy Reich, judge
Every breeder and owner should read this. Painful truth.
I loved the article. It’s what I’ve been saying for nearly 20 years now. So disheartening. I wonder what the breed would be like without Nazeer as the supreme pretty ingredient. Kind of amazing to think about the overall nfluence that horse has had on what is popular now.
San Francisco, California
I missed Scottsdale this year but “no great loss“ ran through my head. I’d get caught up in the moment on some beautiful animals, but would not respect their true conformation enough to ever want to breed something useful from them.
I’d see the same individuals who year after year breed to what is popular for resale purposes. So there you have it. Nothing is ever really that inspiring these days.
Rick Richetta and I have been driving around the Valley looking at stallions of non-popular lines lately. Our friend Linda Walzer owns a big Russianesque stud of Russian/Domestic lines and a Ben Rabba grandson. Interesting horses — not really exactly what I like, but it is interesting to see the type of pretty performance animals being produced. There are still lots of these small breeders around, but they are fading fast.
One factor that has reduced the variety is the growing absence of viable agricultural operations with a horse component. So many breeders that we grew up with had farms with horses as a side business. California has 50% less farm land than it did in the ’70s. It is still vanishing to make way for the suburbs. More expense in keeping the horses because of it. Less hay. Less land. The breed becomes subject to the whims of the people with the most money — like the article points out.
Bravo to this article. Everything in halter is so the same now. An animal bred to stand up and show an exotic profile. Gone are the days of an *Erros, Gai Parada, Bandolero, Bey Shah, *El Moraduke sort of variety in the class. My friend Rick and I are constantly looking for something different to put back into what is currently popular. It is out there, but most of it is getting old, and all of the big money wants what is popular, because the ego wants what it wants for the big win.
Wow, what a breath of fresh air! I’ve said this for many a year and have been laughed at and snubbed. I didn’t know about the cloned stallion. The first Standard was Lady Wentworth’s, compiled in her book Swift Runner. The difference between the original and what we have today is that Lady Wentworth showed what the Arabian is not; while the current Standard (albeit suggestively broad) says what the Arabian should be. The one thing I have come to realize is that the Arabian should never be compared to another because people don’t understand the differences in the variances. And that is blatantly exhibited by taking the breed and turning it into an industry.
Thank you, Betty Finke. You have and always have had my admiration.
Abu Dhabi, UAE
I have to write to say thank you for that great article by Betty Finke; please pass on to her my appreciation. Keep up the good work.
Denise Shannon, DS Equine Management
True. Painfully so. But until people wake up and see where all this is headed, outcross stallions like mine and all the old bloodlines will continue not to be used at least to their fullest capacity.
Lorriee M. Golanty
Excellent article. The present show horse is, for me, an odd looking animal, pretty in a sort of Daliesque sort of way, but lacking the variety and uniqueness of the plethora of choice we had in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
There are still groups, small though they may be, who are remnants of the various old lines, which, to me, still have a lot to offer in substance, fertility, longevity, and, of course, the old standby of years ago, a family horse.
As an aside, as an old, old, old biologist, I’ve been seeing, from time to time, mouse studies which demonstrate that some extra-genetic influences may be demonstrated to have some degree of heritability that did not exist in the original parents, raising the older genetic theories of Lamarck from the dustbins of obscurity. If true, an ET foal may actually not be quite as its genetic map states it should be, having received “something,” from its surrogate dam, that thing that breeders of fifty or sixty years ago called the intra-uterine influence of the dam, which may turn out to have a basis in fact.
Scott Trees, photographer
Fort Worth, Texas
Well written and so true. As a visual chronicler of the Arabian breed for 50 years, I have seen first hand exactly what she is writing about. As Cindy Reich said, it is a painful truth.
Kudos to Betty Finke for some very direct comments and so many important points raised. As a breed overall, the Arabian horse has a lot of genetic diversity (the breed is lucky for that) and it is vital that diversity is maintained. What struck me most was one of the closing comments – “Perhaps the saddest thing is that so many younger breeders, who have grown up in this new global and technologically advanced world, never having known anything else, don’t even realize that something has been lost, let alone what.” The breeders of today and the future need to not only be educated about, but also care about, maintaining this diversity; the great question is, how to accomplish this? “Progress” and “improvement” aren’t interchangeable terms.
Nancy Eklund Hunsicker
Santa Ynez, California
A thought provoking essay re: the perils of technology, globalization, horse breeding and unintended consequences … Great read. Painfully accurate.
Legendary Arabians, Bakersfield, California
Many of what I call “real breeders” are deceased or quite old. Unfortunately, many people think of themselves as breeders because they have the money and breed their mares to whatever stallion just won a nationals halter class or who their trainer recommends without any true understanding of bloodlines and breeding concepts…but then this has been going on for quite some time and is why we’re in the situation we’re in.
Matthew S. Gurniak
Willow Creek Arabians, Marieta, New York
Great article. I would love to see a follow up article that explores real examples of how we bring the market back to even 25 years ago. What once sold for $25,000-50,000 is lucky to sell for $2,500-$5,000 now. To steal a term from the cattle market, that’s not even enough to recoup what it takes to “bring one to market.”
What an important lesson for those of us who are small breeders. It is a double-edged sword though….we have a passion horse, the Arabian horse, we love to see the product of our imagination (and research) grow and hopefully succeed. However, we cannot compete with the BIG breeders’ horses and those bigger programs. We would love to “make money,” but most times lose money because everyone (international buyers as well) wants a beautiful and athletic horse, but doesn’t want to or isn’t willing to spend money. Half the time we cannot even recoup the investment we have into the breed.
Camrose, Alberta, Canada
And people ask, “What titles does your horse have?” The first question is never how is your horse put up and what temperament does it pass on. Titles should be the last question, they pass through fads and styles. Good conformation and temperament should never be a “fad.”
The article is on point from my perspective! Thanks for sharing. I hope that the market will self-correct before the breeders of good “using” Arabians give up hope.
I would also add my concern that many of today’s horse lovers don’t have an eye or understanding of form-to-function conformation. If the number of people who understand conformation dwindle along with the well-conformed “using” horses, the issue is magnified. If you truly can’t tell the difference between the conformation of a small breeder’s “using” horse and the conformation of a halter horse “discard,” then you will purchase whichever you perceive to be a better value or whichever one you think is “prettier.” We have to keep educating people about conformation and also get our fabulous well-trained “using” Arabians out in the world for people to see and appreciate.
Fallen Leaf Arabians, Charleston, Illinois
Great article. Glad you posted the link. There have been so many great and historic articles in AHW.
Being tired of that same profile, long skinny necks, sometimes with little shape, etc., etc., and seeing stallions in show barn stalls cribbing and weaving made Scottsdale less appealing to me this year. Miss the people though! And occasionally when I saw something smaller, more full-bodied, deeper-girthed and balanced that actually won, I would get excited.
High Springs, Florida
Although I am sad that we now have bi-monthly issues of Arabian Horse World, I loved the January/February issue.
The Sport Horse Nationals was great to read about it, see some real athletes doing their stuff, and looking great while doing it. Tuxedo Thyme ABA (page 105) is a prime example of what our Arabians should be, in my opinion. Beautiful, willing, kind, athletic. I know that is what I fell in love with when I saw my first Arabian show in the late ‘70s, and why I have been an owner/trainer/rider of our Arabs for over 30 years.
The feature on David Conner (page 109) was like a breath of fresh air! A trainer who really believes in form to function, and is not only using lip service, but breeding it, showing it, and winning it! Bravo to him and his clients for taking the risk of not conforming to the sad sate of our main ring halter classes, and proving that if you have a beautiful, well-conformed, great moving horse, you not only can compete, but win, without the cruel treatment some halter horse are subjected to. I honestly cannot understand how any owner can send their precious horses to a person who lacks the horsemanship skills to properly train and handle a horse to its potential without the use of intimidation, whipping, and other gimmicks in order to show in halter.
And, I really loved Betty Finke’s “Brave New World” (page 80) for pointing out the obvious: we are making our breed into something fit only for a show ring stage, not the horse of the desert most of us fell in love with. I agree with her about the way globalism is destroying our breed’s genes. I used to love getting the issues of AHW that featured the international shows with the British Nationals and their lovely Crabbet-looking horses with great type, and movement; the Polish issues showcasing their undeniable athleticism and old world beauty; Spanish horses with their huge, black eyes and powerful looking bodies; the desertbreds, with their dry, raw beauty and soulful eyes, full of spirit and courage. I have been subscribing to AHW for over 30 years, on and off (off when I got so disgusted with all the make-up and grease, and treatment of our halter horses totally turned me off to even look at the photos during some of the 1990 issues), and I can go back and read letter after letter of Arabian horse breeders, owners, lovers bemoaning the problem with our halter horses not being fit to be breeding horses; overbreeding to the stallion of the month, which is now turned into the stallion of the decade, as everyone breeds to the same stallion; talking of the “industry” instead of the love of the horse.
But, as Betty Finke points out, there are still breeders out there who are staying true by doing what is right for our breed and breeding beautiful, well-conformed, athletic horses with great minds and temperaments that people can fall in love with, and treasure. I know of several in our country that have the very type of horse I want to own, ride, and love, who do not have the overpopulated, and oft times, genetic health and soundness issues that are common with some of the popular bloodlines of the present age. I will seek them out when I a ready for my next trusting trail partner. I have missed the “Foundation Breeder” features that use to be in AHW.
Thankfully Betty Finke continues to contribute her fun articles of yesteryear and Sire Line features, that still show some wonderful horses and how sound, beautiful, and fun they were when we bred form to function, instead of instant success in the artificial world of the show ring.
The Arabian horse has so much more to offer with its beauty, brains, and love for people. It doesn’t need to be transformed into something that, while possessing a pretty face, has lost its substance to even carry a rider, not to mention the mind and disposition and desire to proudly do so. I do hope people will heed her warning of breeding too much of the same type/genes and all the artificial ways we have been breeding, handling, and training our horses.
I applaud all the breeders who are still breeding the classic Arabian horse and training, riding, and treating it like the treasure it is. And thank you, Arabian Horse World, for being bold enough to print such articles as Betty Finke’s.
Arabian Horse World Subscriber since 1965
This “Staying in place” has had one worthy result. I am finally organizing the 50+ years of Arabian Horse World articles that had accumulated throughout my home! And, of course, it was necessary to assign categories and alphabetize everything. (It’s a librarian thing!) I ended up buying four plastic tubs and a box of file folders to hold everything.
One result was a review of all the articles and photos I had pulled. I found most of them were pre-2000 mares and stallions and many were of the “historic” genre. It was fun to re-read some of the articles.
And then I sat down and finally read Betty Finke’s “Brave New World” article in the January/February 2020 issue. I think this might be one of the most important articles World has published in the 50+ years that I have been a subscriber. For the past decade I have felt that something was missing in the Arabian horse. Yes, the “artiness” of the advertisements is certainly there, but the feeling I had was that they were disguising something. Betty’s article has put the finger on what was missing.
Diversity is important for the strength of the breed. Uniformity can result in a sameness that could easily result in inherent weaknesses. My Double R gelding was immediately recognized as a *Raffles-bred horse: in fact, he was almost a clone in size, color, physicality, down to the *Raffles bump. His barn mate (who was actually a cousin-by-breeding) took after the *Count Dorsaz branch of the family. Both were instantly pegged as Crabbet breeding. Whereas, my mare, a combination of new- and old- Polish breeding, was also easily recognized as Polish. Both were different in type. Both were instantly recognized as Arabian.
In going through my old articles and photos I see this diversity. The Crabbet, Polish, Egyptian, and Russian types that could set a wonderfully strong template that, in turn, could be used to develop an improved “model”. How else would we have bred a Khemosabi, or a Bay-Abi? Where will the leavening come for improvements if all Arabians are the same? We know the saying “you don’t ride the head” is becoming a truism as Arabians lose their straight legs and strong hooves.
“Beauty is as beauty does” has never been more important. Our Arabians have always been known for their beauty…please don’t forget they need to be useful and versatile as well..
So thank you Betty Finke for putting into words what I have been thinking…and thank you Arabian Horse World for your foresight in printing it.