The GSB Arabians

The GSB Arabians

© 1996 by Robert J. Cadranell
Reprinted from the March-April 1996 issue of Arabian Visions

Look at the bottom of most pre-printed Arabian horse pedigree forms and you will likely find explanations of some standard abbreviations. For example, DB stands for Desert Bred, while PASB stands for Polish Arabian Stud Book, and GSB stands for the General Stud Book. What on earth is a General Stud Book?

Until about 30 years ago, the General Stud Book was a registration authority for Arabian horses in England. It was the stud book cited for the parents of virtually all horses imported from England’s Crabbet Arabian Stud, as well as many horses imported from other studs in England. But why was it called the General Stud Book rather than, for example, the British Stud Book?

The General Stud Book was the world’s first published stud book for any breed of livestock. Before the advent of the GSB, stud books were records kept by individual breeders and were specific to animals in a breeder’s own herd. The new compilation was known as a “general” stud book because it was general to the whole country. The preliminary edition of the GSB appeared in 1791. It was an example of the eighteenth century obsession with assembling enormous compendiums of knowledge, which included Dr. Johnson’s dictionary and the original encyclopædia. The GSB documents “Pedigrees of Race Horses” stretching “From the earliest Accounts” up to the closing date of each successive volume. Its compiler was James Weatherby, whose family continued to issue the GSB after him. Thus it is also known as “Weatherby’s stud book.”

The breed of horse that the GSB defined was the English Thoroughbred. The GSB demonstrates the Thoroughbred’s descent from Oriental sires and dams such as the Darley Arabian, the Leedes Arabian, and the Darcy Yellow Turk.

GSB Arabians in England: Volume XIII of the GSB appeared in 1877. This volume included a new Arabian section to register several horses recently imported to Britain from the desert near Aleppo. The first group, imported by Mr. Sandeman, had arrived in 1874. It included Yataghan and Haidee, sire and dam of *Naomi. The second importation, made by Mr. Chaplin, arrived in 1875. This group included the mare Kesia, carrying an in-utero foal named Kesia II. These early registrations were the beginning of current Arabian horse breeding in the English speaking world. The Arabian section was included in the GSB with the hope that the new imports would, in time, “give a valuable new line of blood from the original source of the English Thoroughbred.”[1]

Volume XIV of the GSB was published in 1881. The Arabian section was expanded several pages by the first importations of Mr. Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt, who founded their Crabbet Arabian Stud with desert bred Arabian horses they imported to England in 1878. The Crabbet Stud was to endure so long and to achieve such fame that today “Crabbet” is far better known than the stud book which registered its bloodstock. Crabbet has taken a place alongside Egyptian, Polish, and Spanish as one of the Arabian breed’s major bloodline categories.

The Crabbet horses overshadowed the other animals in the Arabian section of the GSB, even though Crabbet horses were not the first and were never the only ones registered there. There are several reasons for this. First, Crabbet was the single largest importer of GSB registered Arabians: approximately 51 animals from 1878 to 1910, two-thirds of which are still in Arabian pedigrees. Second, the Crabbet horses were imported especially to become breeding stock at the Crabbet Stud – not brought to England as retired officers’ mounts or as curiosities. Third, the Crabbet Stud owned and bred more than a thousand Arabians during a period of over 90 years – so long that it even outlasted the Arabian section of the GSB. Fourth, nearly all the non-Crabbet GSB imports with lines still breeding today come down to us only in combination with Crabbet blood.

The Arabian section of the GSB contained many imported Arabian and other Eastern horses (including a Barb mare named Safed) which either had no registered offspring or whose lines quickly disappeared from the stud book. Other than the Blunt horses, only about a dozen imported GSB foundation animals found their way into modern Arabian pedigrees.

Most of the non-Crabbet GSB foundation animals were owned by, or otherwise connected to, the stud of the Hon. Miss Etheldred Dillon. She began her program with the 1880 importation of El Emir, and later acquired some horses from Crabbet. Also among Miss Dillon’s foundation stock were the mares Ishtar, Kesia II, and *Shabaka (Mameluke x Kesia II), as well as the stallion Maidan. Miss Dillon had Rev. Vidal’s mare *Naomi on her farm – and Vidal’s use of *Kismet as a sire introduced that horse to modern pedigrees.

At the turn of the century Miss Dillon’s program was winding down; other breeders introduced the last four horses. Mootrub is in pedigrees through two foals: a colt out of a mare of Dillon+Crabbet breeding, and a filly out of Shakra. Dwarka stood at stud for the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor), who bred him to the Crabbet mares Amida and Rangha. And Skowronek, imported last, is perhaps the most famous of all the GSB founders. After Lady Anne Blunt died in 1917, her husband and her daughter, Judith Blunt-Lytton (Lady Wentworth), disputed the ownership of the Crabbet Stud. The dispute went to court, and in 1920 Lady Wentworth emerged as the stud’s sole owner. Also in early 1920 she purchased the white stallion Skowronek, imported several years earlier from Poland. Skowronek quickly became one of Crabbet’s chief sires.

Skowronek was hardly the last Arabian imported to England, but he was the latest import to gain access to the GSB. In 1913 the Jersey act had closed the GSB to imported Thoroughbreds unless their pedigrees traced in all lines to horses entered in previous volumes. A 1921 decision did the same thing for the Arabian section. Thus a “GSB Arabian” became an Arabian from a clearly defined, closed pedigree group. Britain’s Arab Horse Society (AHS) was founded in 1918, and published its first stud book in 1919. This was likely a factor in the decision of Weatherbys not to enter any more new Arabian imports – the GSB’s Arabian gene pool was sufficiently large to continue indefinitely. Why not let the new stud book of the Arab Horse Society register future imported Arabians?

Thus for the next 45 years, England had two stud book authorities registering Arabian horses. Weatherbys continued to register those Arabian bloodlines “eligible for GSB” – and there was strong incentive for British breeders to maintain GSB registration. For one, the export market was crucial to them. Often countries overseas might not have an Arabian stud book, but probably did have a stud book for Thoroughbreds. An Arabian with a GSB certificate could be entered in virtually any Thoroughbred stud book in the world.

From the first, the stud book of the Arab Horse Society allowed entry of new desert imports. As a registration authority for Arabian horses, it also entered imports from Poland, the United States, the U.S.S.R., and elsewhere. Most of the GSB Arabian foals carried “dual registration,” entered in both GSB and AHS. If a GSB foal did not appear in AHS, it was often because it had been exported young or died young.

The GSB continued to register Arabian foals until Weatherbys announced that as of January 1, 1965, the Arabian section would be discontinued. Rosemary Archer, owner and breeder of GSB Arabians since the late 1940s, described the response to this.

“…a strong representation was made by The Arab Horse Society asking [Weatherbys] to retain the Arabian section. . . . [Weatherbys] intimated that if the Arab horses registered in the G.S.B. had been used for crossing with Thoroughbreds to produce racehorses, they might have been interested in retaining the Arabian Section but there was no question of a reservoir of pure Arab blood being kept for possible future use…. ‘it is sad,’ Weatherby’s spokesman conceded, ‘after so many years, but there it is.’ “[2]

Thus the stud book of the Arab Horse Society was left as the Arabian breed’s official registration authority in Great Britain, and GSB Arabian foals born 1965 and later did not carry Weatherbys registration. Nonetheless several breeders in Britain continued to breed GSB Arabians, whether “straight Crabbet” or carrying crosses to the non-Crabbet GSB founders. Beginning in the mid 1970s, imports of Arabians from around the world flowed to Britain in increasing numbers. While breeders in England today have a much wider selection of bloodlines, this has also meant that the older English bloodlines, including the “straight Crabbet” and GSB horses, are in danger of being crossed out of existence. As a means of fostering the breeding of these horses, A Catalogue of Arabians in Great Britain Descending from G.S.B. Registered Horses appeared in the early 1990s.

GSB Arabians in America have been present almost from the first. The earliest imported mare with descent in registered Arabian pedigrees was *Naomi. In the years before World War II when American breeders were laying in their foundation stock, GSB imports outnumbered those from any other source, including Poland, Egypt, and the desert itself. Into the 1930s, foals theoretically “eligible for GSB” if sent back to England made up fully one third of all U.S. registrations. Of the remaining two-thirds, most carried substantial Crabbet or other GSB ancestry.

The list of the GSB imports brought to America prior to World War II is a familiar litany. It is impossible to imagine traditional American Arabian breeding without these horses. The Roger Selby imports included *Raffles, *Indaia, *Rose of France, *Kareyma, and *Rifala. The W.K. Kellogg imports included *Raseyn, *Ferda, *Nasik, *Rifla, *Rossana, *Ferdin, *Rissletta, and *Crabbet Sura. W.R. Brown’s group contained *Berk, *Rijma, *Ramim, *Rokhsa, and *Simawa, among others. F.L. Ames brought in *Astraled, *Narda II, and *Noam, while Homer Davenport imported *Abu Zeyd. Spencer Borden brought us *Rose of Sharon, *Ghazala, *Shabaka, and *Rodan. Counting in-utero foals, there were 111 pre-World War II GSB imports in all, of which some 77 are still in pedigrees.

Our stud book shows another 28 GSB horses brought in between 1947 and 1956. These include *Ranix, *Silver Crystal, *Rithan, *Shamadan, *Sun Royal, *Serafix, and *Electric Storm.

In 1957 Lady Wentworth died, and so did her rival breeder Miss Gladys Yule of the Hanstead Stud. The heirs of both women were forced to reduce the herds. This enabled Bazy Tankersley of Al-Marah Arabians to assemble the largest single importation of Arabians to America up to that time. Among the horses were *Salinas, *Silwara, *Thorayya, *Little Owl, *Royal Diamond, and *Silwa. The stallion *Count Dorsaz joined them a year later. From 1957 to 1959 about 61 GSB horses, including the Al-Marah shipment, were imported by various parties.

Importations of GSB horses continued through the next several years, then tapered off toward the end of the 1960s, for a total of some 53 imports for that decade. The early 1960s brought *Nizzam, *Silver Vanity, *Oran van Crabbet, and *Silver Drift. The Lewisfield imports of the same era included *Fire Opal, *Touch of Magic, and *Lewisfield Magic. In 1966 came Bazy Tankersley’s *Royal Dominion.

Only 13 GSB horses were imported in the 1970s, of which one was *RAS Indian Silver. However the 1980s saw a renewal of interest in GSB horses, with 43 more imports. These included *Silvern Magic, *Sa’ika, *Achim NSB, *Odessa NSB, *Seffer, *Rimmon, and *Seyad.

Importations of all Arabians have slowed in the 1990s. To this writer’s knowledge, thus far the only registered import of GSB pedigree is *Star Reflection, imported in 1995.

Counting *Star Reflection, the Arabian Horse Registry of America has registered 311 imported horses of GSB pedigree. But another approximately 2,000 registrations are of GSB horses bred in the United States. Sixty years ago “GSB eligible” Arabians were about a third of all registrations. Now, they constitute less than half of one percent. This does not mean they have vanished from the gene pool, because most Arabians in America have some GSB blood somewhere in their pedigrees – and many are 50% or more GSB-derived. But “straight GSB” Arabians have become rare.

For years GSB stallions and their sons dominated the lists of top sires of American show winners. These GSB stallions included *Serafix, Ferseyn, Abu Farwa, Indraff, *Raffles, *Silver Drift, Aarief, *Count Dorsaz, Sureyn, Al-Marah Radames, Rapture, Aaraf, Gulastra, *Silver Vanity, and Al-Marah El Hezzez. But prominent sire lines in a breed can change rapidly. In the last 25 years other sire lines have taken a substantial market share away from the lines of Mesaoud, Mahruss, and Skowronek.

In the 70s and 80s marketing emphasis was placed on horses of “pure” or “straight” national origin. One might think this would have boosted the numbers of GSB and straight Crabbet Arabians. Paradoxically, it worked to their disadvantage. Many GSB mares were outcrossed to stallions of Polish and Egyptian lines. The outcrosses no doubt produced lovely horses, as such crosses did in past decades, but registrations of GSB foals in America skidded to new lows in the mid-1970s.

In the 1990s, with more Arabian horses and semen flying around the world than ever before, the traditional 20th century distinctions between national breeding groups are breaking down. In the interest of the Arabian breed’s genetic diversity, it makes sense to identify and conserve those living horses from distinctive breeding traditions. Among these are the GSB Arabians and their various subsets. These subsets include, for example, horses tracing entirely to Blunt imports, and horses of Blunt+Skowronek pedigree.

Arabian Visions offers a catalog of the GSB Arabians registered in the United States. It includes a complete pedigree index tracing GSB Arabians imported to America back to the original foundation horses imported to England, and quotes the entries for these horses from the GSB.

1. Quoted from GSB Volume XIV.
2. Quoted from the introduction to A Catalogue of Arabians in Great Britain Descending
from G.S.B. Registered Horses.