Lady Anne Blunt - 'The Noble Lady of the Horses'
Lady Anne Blunt, who died a hundred years ago on 15th December 1917, was a truly remarkable lady both in her own lifetime and in the legacy to the Arabian horse world that she has left behind.
Wilfrid Blunt, poet and would-be politician, was intrigued by the quiet self possessed intelligence of Lady Anne and they married in 1869.
1837 - 1917
'The noble lady of the horses'
With their combined interest in Arabic culture they set out in 1877 on an historic journey to explore the Middle East, journeying from Beirut, across northern Syria, and south through Mesopotamia to Baghdad in Iraq. Lady Anne had a long family background in horses and having spent time with the British consul in Aleppo, James Skene, the Blunts soon adopted a plan originally conceived between Mr Skene and Major Roger Upton some four years earlier; to try to find the best Arabians they could and bring them back to England. In this way they could both preserve the already rare and endangered Arabian bloodlines and also infuse the English Thoroughbred with more of the Arabian blood from which that breed had originated. Lady Anne encompassed their thoughts with an often quoted phrase,
‘We have made a plan … of importing some of the best Anazeh blood to England and breeding it pure there…it would be an interesting thing to do
and I should like much to try it.’
What followed was the first of two epic journeys expertly described in Lady Anne’s books each of two volumes, ‘The Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates’ and ‘A Pilgrimage to Nejd’.
The books by Lady Anne documenting the Blunts epic journeys
At the start of their first journey, guided by James Skene, they travelled amongst fierce and often warring Bedouin tribes; the Blunts barely knew a handful of words of Arabic and even those were often of little use as the many dialects varied enough to be almost different languages. During their travels, however, Lady Anne, who was an adept scholar, became an authority on the Arabic language, learning to speak it fluently. She gained the trust and respect of the Bedouins even so far as to be asked to arbitrate on the meanings of ancient texts. The Bedouins prized their horses above all else and only rarely parted with them. Outside buyers were usually sold impure, low quality horses often with false pedigrees but thanks largely to Lady Anne’s intelligence and integrity the Blunts made friends amongst the Bedouins and were able to buy their first Arab horse in January 1878. This horse was the hugely influential Dajania and just six months later she became one of the founding stock as the Crabbet Stud was officially formed in July of that year.
Dajania with foal at Crabbet
The Blunts next purchase, their first stallion, was Kars whose story is perhaps even more remarkable than that of the Blunts expeditions themselves. He was a stallion whose story exemplifies the strength and endurance of the Arabian horse. In 1877 he was one of a very few surviving horses from a fierce battle having been shot twice. The first time he was hit on the cannon bone with such force that he was knocked over and on retreat from the battle despite being abandoned as too exhausted to continue he got up and followed his master back to Aleppo. It was just a few months later when the Blunts saw and were able to buy him. In the years that followed he proved himself to be a great performance horse and a good sire. It was Australia’s gain and England’s loss that he was exported there in 1885.
Kars in 1882 aged 8 years
Lady Anne was an adventurer in the true sense of the word – she and Wilfrid continued to undertake intrepid and lengthy expeditions of over thousands of miles of barren desert to learn more about the Bedouin way of life and the incomparable horses that lived there. To find the horses whose descendants we treasure today Lady Anne endured great hardship sleeping in mud huts, riding through freezing sandstorms and encountering disease and death. Indeed she saved Wilfrid’s life when on a trip that he had instigated against her better judgement he fell seriously ill. Lady Anne’s many resourceful talents meant that she was able to source and use herbal infusions to support his recovery.
Picture Courtessy of Rosemary Archer
Sadly despite Lady Anne’s years of loyalty to him, Wilfrid and Lady Anne drifted apart and divorce followed in 1906 after which Lady Anne retreated for months at a time to her beloved stud at Sheykh Obeyd in Egypt. She eventually moved there permanently in 1915. Sheikh Obeyd was described by a friend of the Blunts in 1895 as,
‘about forty acres ….full of oranges, olives, apricots in blossom and roses in bloom….under the palm groves the Arabian brood mares and their foals are tethered….tended by a small tribe of Bedouin lads in burnouses who live in tents under the palms….a bit like Genesis in real life…’
It is comforting to think that as she grew older Lady Anne was able to take pleasure in the surroundings that she found to be both beautiful and tranquil and in the companionship of her long time stud manager Mutlak who had been loyal to her over many years and whom she referred to affectionately as ‘Sheikh’ Mutlak. She was much saddened by his death the year before she died.
Part of a letter dated June 1916 from Sheykh Obeyd from Lady Anne expressing mentioning the death of 'Sheykh Mutlak'
(Crabbet Heritage Collection)
To this day a Crabbet enthusiast from Australia has made provision for Lady Anne’s tomb to be tended. A hundred years on this is a special kind of loyalty that reflects the unique and inspiring qualities that Lady Anne embodied. She remained true to her ideals at all times and very much lived her life leading by example and putting herself in the forefront of hardship and danger in order to achieve the goals she set herself –to understand Arabic culture and language and to acquire the best representations of the Arabian horse that she could.
If Lady Anne were alive today what advice would she hand over to the Crabbet breeders of the present time? I believe she would tell us to stick to our principles – not to compromise on soundness and athleticism, to ignore doubters and followers of fashion and to pursue our dreams with the same passion that she demonstrated throughout her lifetime.
Lady Anne Blunt – truly ‘The Noble Lady of the Horses’
Words by Natalie Tindall - November 2017