Crabbet Arabians Past, Present & Future:
or, Why Are Crabbet Horses Still Relevant Today?
We are grateful to Betty Finke, author and collaborator on many books on the history of the Crabbet Arabian and a very well known professional photographer of Arabian Horses. This article is illustrated with photos selected by Betty
Over 140 years ago Lady Anne Blunt and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt established a stud for pure Arabian horses in England. Known to posterity as the Crabbet Arabian Stud, or simply Crabbet Park, it was to have far reaching consequences for Arabian breeding across the globe. Apart from a small number of remaining straight desert horses, you are unlikely to find any purebred Arabian anywhere in the world today that does not trace back to horses bred and owned by the Blunts.
And yet, if you mention the word “Crabbet” to present day Arabian breeders and owners, especially those who became involved with the breed in the 21stcentury, you are likely to get blank looks. At worst, they will have no idea what you are talking about. At best, they might have heard the name, but consider it something of the past, with no relevance for today.
SEFFER 1983 (Prince Saraph x Salilah)
100% Crabbet stallion exported to USA
As far as relevance for the modern show ring goes, they are right. A Crabbet Arabian is highly unlikely to win any ribbons at ECAHO shows. But, when it comes to relevance – is winning at the shows really all there is?
How and why can Crabbet Park, can Crabbet Arabians, still be relevant, 140 years on?
Let us go back in time for a moment, to the late 19th century, when it all began.
The first thing we should be clear about is this: the Blunts did not breed “Crabbet Arabians”. They bred purebred Arabian horses; authentic, asil desert Arabians. In order to be able to do this, they travelled to Arabia to secure the best and purest horses they were able to find. A few years later, they added horses from Egypt, from the stud of Ali Pasha Sherif, which were also descended from the best and purest strains of Bedouin breeding. It is perhaps not generally known that the Blunts initially imported Arabian horses in order to use them for Thoroughbred breeding. But they soon became convinced of the superior qualities of the pure Arabian and changed their plans.
In this respect, they were pioneers. There are older breeding programmes, certainly. The Weil Stud of King Wilhelm I of Württemberg in Germany and the Polish Slawuta Stud, whose horses formed the basis of the Polish state studs, date back to the early 19thcentury. But Crabbet Park was the first Arabian stud that was not established by kings or princes, and its influence is arguably greater.
Crabbet Park is the only foundation stud whose influence you will find literally everywhere in the world, and that includes Poland and Marbach, which still continues King Wilhelm’s breeding programme.
It also includes Egypt.
Lady Anne Blunt is the only non-Egyptian breeder whose horses were among the foundation stock of the Egyptian Agricultural Organization.
The average “straight Egyptian” Arabian carries between 20 and 30 % Crabbet blood.
Nazeer, the most influential Egyptian sire of them all, whose sire line has nearly supplanted all others today on a worldwide scale, was the grandson of a stallion bred at Crabbet Park. This, too, is something many people are either unaware of, or prefer to ignore. Even back in the 1980s – a bare decade after the closure of the Crabbet Arabian Stud – any mention of this was likely to make breeders and fans of the Straight Egyptian Arabian bristle. They did not want their horses associated with Crabbet in any way; never mind the fact that without Crabbet Park, their horses would not exist in the first place.
How could the name of a stud that used to be the chief source of Arabian horses in the Western world, a stud that influenced breeding programmes the world over, become a dirty word?
I think the answer is fairly simple. Where other breeding programmes changed with time, evolving into something different as requirements changed and fashions were born, Crabbet horses remained essentially the same. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, depends on your perspective. You can regard it as either a failure to adapt to the demands of the market, or you can see it as a refusal to follow the dictates of fashion. You can either condemn it as backwardness, or praise it as consistency.
Actually, both aspects are true to some extent, and I’ll get back to that a little later. Let’s go with consistency first, which I would certainly call a good thing – especially in this day and age. Because we have to take into account just what this consistency means.
The Blunts were concerned with preserving the original desert Arabian horse, and back in the 19th century, this did not just mean pretty faces. Yes, those horses did have beautiful heads, and Lady Anne had a lot to say about that; and she certainly wasn’t opposed to a dished profile. But that is just one aspect of the Arabian, and if you had asked a Bedouin, he would have told you that it was far from the most important. The Blunts were equally as concerned with conformation, limbs, movement, temperament – everything, in fact, that makes a good riding horse. Their Arabians, like those of the Bedouins, were meant to be ridden. They were nothing like today’s over-refined and delicate-limbed show horses. If you examine the measurements of the original Crabbet imports (all of which have been meticulously recorded), you will notice that while the horses were much smaller than most modern Arabians, they had a lot more bone. They also had knees and hocks you could actually see. They were by no means faultless – no horse is – and they were not as “pretty” as modern Arabians, but they could be ridden, which is more than you can say of many of today’s pretty faces. In the 19th century, nobody questioned the fact that Arabians were proper riding horses, and they were often used to improve other breeds. And yes, some of them won championships, too, because there were breed shows even then. Proper breed shows, where horses were stood up and trotted out properly and evaluated according to their merits, not according to the way they were conditioned and who was showing them. And apparently, everyone wanted those horses, because they were sold all over the world.
Surely, the Blunts must have been doing something right?
When Lady Wentworth took over Crabbet Park, there were a few changes, the most fundamental being the introduction of the Polish stallion Skowronek. We can safely assume that Lady Anne would not have bought this horse, because he certainly did not meet her strict requirements for authentic desert descent. He was, however, an exceptionally beautiful horse with, not only by the standards of his time, extreme type; in fact, Skowronek is one of the rare historic horses that might still be able to win championships today. He really should, because besides his exceptional type and refinement, he also had the conformation and legs to make a proper horse. This is why Skowronek, despite adding his own distinctive type to the Crabbet herd, did not change Crabbet Park in a fundamental way. There is little doubt that his descendants were prettier than the original desert horses, but they were still proper horses suitable for riding. The same i