We are grateful to Betty Finke for supporting Crabbet Heritage.
Betty is an author and collaborator on many books on the history of the Crabbet Arabian and a very well known professional photographer of Arabian Horses.
I was born in 1955 into a family in which almost no one had anything to do with horses. The single exception was my grandfather, who worked at a bank, but was a would-be farmer at heart. He kept a variety of livestock which, by the time I arrived on the scene, had dwindled to a sheep, some chickens and turkeys, and –a few years later – a fat and lazy pony gelding named Peter. As a child I spent many happy hours grooming him, which he suffered patiently, and occasionally rode him, which only worked if someone else led him, because left to his own devices, he unceremoniously dumped me. Fortunately, he was small, so I didn’t fall far.
My grandfather also possessed an impressive library of books on horses, all of which I read; so that at a very early age, I was already familiar with some of the famous ancestors of the Arabian and other breeds.
Just as importantly, my father, who was a hobby photographer, gave me my first camera and I would happily snap anything that looked interesting; especially animals, and most particularly horses. Even then, when I had taken photos at some local horse show, I would meticulously note down the names of my subjects as well as their breeding.
My actual introduction to Arabians came in the late 1960s with Erika Schiele’s seminal book “Arabians in Europe”. It opened a whole new world. In 1971, I met my first real Arabians at the Ismer Stud, one of the oldest private breeding farms in Germany, and a few months later somehow got hold of a copy of the British “Arab Horse Society News”. My mother being British by birth, we used to spend our holidays in England, and through the magazine I was able to locate stud farms in our area. My parents, though neither of them was interested in horses, for many years patiently drove me around to visit farms, well into the 1980s.
Around this time, the show scene developed rapidly and I went to all the shows I could get to. Between those many stud visits and shows, I saw and photographed numerous horses, and for many years would draw up extended pedigrees for all horses I had photographed by hand. Needless to say, this eventually stopped, because it just got too much! But until the arrival of the internet and readily accessible databanks, I still filed all the horses I had photographed with five-generation typewritten pedigrees. For many years, I used to know a lot of pedigrees by heart, simply because I had written them so often. This was (and still is, to some extent) especially true of Crabbet pedigrees, because I had visited far more farms in Britain than anywhere else. The study of pedigrees was and still is a passion, as I am fascinated by the way horses relate to each other and how certain traits are passed on and the families continue to develop with time.
Still I was not expecting to make a career of this sort of thing and having finished school, embarked on studying English literature instead. The idea was to do my PhD and teach at university, but it was during my time as a student that I started to write articles. This only happened because when in 1979 the first big international show was held at Aachen, the international press entirely failed to take notice. So the year after, I wrote a report on the 1980 show myself and sent it to my favorite magazine, Arabian Horse World, along with some photos. They not only printed it, but asked if I could do any more, and from that point, there was no turning back. Since then, I have written for virtually all Arabian magazines at one time or another, worked as an editor on all but one of the Arabian magazines published in Germany, contributed to and translated a few books, and photographed so many thousands of Arabians that these days, I often need to check which ones I have photographed and which ones I haven’t.
Having been active in this scene for some 50 years now, I have witnessed many changes, most of which, unfortunately, have not been for the better. Back in the 1970s, no one was into Arabians for profit. There was no money in it; people had Arabians because they loved the breed. If you came to visit, breeders were happy to show you their horses and talk pedigrees over a cup of coffee. Shows were for comparing and evaluating breeding stock and a wonderful opportunity to see many horses in one place that you might not get to see otherwise. The breeders were like one big family. The Arabian breed still had a wonderful variety of types, each country with its own. Today, the shows have become an end in themselves where horses are abused in the name of their owners’ prestige and, increasingly, profit. The breed has gone global, and thanks to modern reproductive techniques, everyone is using the same sires. As a result, all horses at the shows, no matter where you go, now appear to be cut from same mold and have the same pedigrees. Even Britain, where a few years ago you were still more likely to see a different type of horse, has joined the bandwagon. The Crabbet Arabian, which has been so very influential throughout the history of the breed, has become marginalized, an endangered species. Thanks to the modern focus on extreme type rather than solid and useful conformation, Crabbet horses (along with other bloodline groups) have gone out of fashion and, unlike the straight Egyptians, do not have a huge global following.
Today’s focus on one type and specific bloodlines – both in the show ring and in the breeding barns – make the work of preservation breeders all the more vital for the survival of the Arabian breed. If not for them, we will run the danger of eventually ending up with a population of intensely inbred horses with extremely dished heads and unrideable conformation on matchstick legs. Precious bloodlines are in danger of being lost and once they are gone, there is no getting them back. For me, preservation breeders – whether they focus on Crabbet, CMK, old Polish, or any other unfashionable gene pool, and to some extent straight Egyptian breeders as well – are the true breeders and guardians of the wonderful, diverse heritage of the Arabian horse. As a writer, I try to keep the perspective focused on the Arabian’s rich history and the characteristics that made it the horse which, once upon a time, was used to upgrade all other horse breeds. I feel that knowledge of the past is the foundation of the future. With this in mind, I try to keep alive and pass on those things which, with all the attention focused today on short-lived show ring success, are in danger of being forgotten.