From the Desert, From the Green: The Imported Arabians of Lewis Payne
Copyright by R.J.CADRANELL
from Arabian Visions March 1992
Used by permission of RJ Cadranell
Of the Americans who imported Arabians from Crabbet, the name of Payne may not be as familiar as Brown, Kellogg, Selby, or Tankersley. Yet Lewis Payne probably spent more time making his selections, and became better acquainted with the horses and breeders in England, than did practically any other American buyer. In February of 1992 when I visited Lewis Payne in Stillwater, Oklahoma, I found him still at the same address listed for him in the 1966 stud book of the British Arab Horse Society. Also visiting that weekend was his daughter Penny Albright.
Mr. Payne’s first trip to Crabbet was in 1959. At that time Cecil Covey owned the Crabbet Stud. Lady Wentworth had died in 1957, leaving her horses to her former stud manager and tennis coach, Geoffrey Covey. As he had died a short time before she did, the horses passed to his son Cecil.
Mr. Covey was suddenly faced with owning a herd of approximately 75 head, on which he had to pay enormous death duties. Further, the Crabbet property itself had to be vacated; Lady Wentworth had left it to her youngest daughter, Lady Winifrid Tryon. Mr. Covey placed the stallions at Caxtons and the mares at Frogshole Farm, two properties he had inherited along with the horses, but it was imperative he reduce the herd to a manageable size. By the time of Lewis Payne’s 1959 visit, the dust was beginning to settle: large numbers of horses had been sold, and with a pared down herd Mr. Covey was continuing to breed.
Crabbet owned an impressive group of stallions in 1959. Although still photographs were not allowed, Lewis Payne was able to capture on movie film Oran and his sons Grand Royal and *Silver Vanity, as well as Indian Magic, Bright Shadow, and Dargee. Mr. Payne remembers that Indian Magic was considered probably the best ever bred at Crabbet. *Silver Vanity was also thought to be one of the best.
“There are many people who think that Dargee was probably the finest horse that ever walked at Crabbet Stud… he was just a picture horse.” he says. Dargee was bred by George Ruxton from mostly Crabbet lines. Lady Wentworth purchased Dargee as a yearling.
Lewis Payne did not buy any Crabbet horses in 1959. At that time he was still working for Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company, and living on the east coast of Saudi Arabia at Dhahran. He had been living in Saudi Arabia since 1952. But it was several years after that when he and his daughter Penny began to participate in the equine activities at The Corral, originally known as The Hobby Farm, where a number of Aramco families kept horses and participated in the drill team or the gymkhana events, or simply enjoyed riding in the open desert. Lewis Payne bought his first horse in 1957, a bay stallion belonging to the Minister of Oil affairs. The mare he later imported from Saudi Arabia, “Johara,” was acquired in 1958 or 59. By approximately 1960, there were more than one hundred horses stabled at The Corral.
In 1961 some restructuring occurred within the company and Lewis Payne decided it was time to go back to America. Johara was shipped from Saudi Arabia in May of 1961. The trip took two months. In this country she was registered as *Hamra Johara, meaning “red jewel.” In America she produced nine foals, the last born in 1973.
Bringing horses back from Saudi Arabia was not difficult for Aramco employees. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Saudi Arabia imported goods, but had nothing to export on the cargo ships; oil left the country in tankers. Importing goods was expensive, because the ship’s return trip also had to be paid, in effect. Sending things back to America was therefore cheap. It cost about $350 to bring a horse home. Furthermore, the company covered the cost of building shipping crates and loading the horses on trucks and finally on ship, just as it did for furniture and other personal property an employee wanted to bring back to the States.
The year 1961 was also the year of Lewis Payne’s second trip to England. He had decided to breed Arabian horses, and after reading a magazine article had initiated a correspondence with Lady Anne Lytton, Lady Wentworth’s oldest daughter, about buying a young horse named El Meluk. Lady Anne replied that someone else had first refusal on El Meluk, but that she had a mare she would consider selling. Lady Anne invited him to spend a weekend with her at her home, Newbuildings, in Sussex.
Newbuildings lay about sixteen miles from Crabbet, and had been the final home of Lady Anne’s grandfather, Mr. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. Together with her grandmother, Lady Anne Blunt, he had founded the Crabbet Stud in 1878. Mr. Blunt had died in 1922, leaving Newbuildings to his adopted niece, Dorothy Carleton. When she died in the early 1950s, the house became Lady Anne’s.
Lewis Payne’s weekend stay at Newbuildings expanded to last three months. The mare Lady Anne offered him he bought and imported to the United States. She was *Mellawieh. Her dam Mifaria had been a gift from Lady Wentworth to her daughter on the occasion of one of their reconciliations. In 1951 Mifaria produced for Lady Anne *Mellawieh, by Lady Wentworth’s stallion Indian Magic.
Lewis Payne and Lady Anne Lytton would drive to studs in England so he could look at horses for sale. He visited Patricia Lindsay, where he was able to see some of the first Arabian horses to leave Poland since the end of World War II. He particularly admired the mare Karramba (Witraz x Karmen II) and the colt *Grojec (Comet x Gastronomia), a horse Lady Anne Lytton later bought and used for breeding. Another Polish mare Lewis Payne admired was H.V.M. Clark’s Celina (Witraz x Elza, by Rasim Pierwszy). He filmed Celina as she won her class at Kempton Park.
Mrs. Bomford showed him the old bay stallion Manasseh, sire of Dargee. She also had Dargee’s full brother, the bay My Man. At Mrs. Linney’s he saw the thirteen-year-old grey stallion Sahran (Rangoon x Sahmana, by Manak), the last grandson of Skowronek in England. She also had the Rissalix son Mikeno, who had inherited a full dose of the famous *Berk trotting action through *Berk’s daughter Rissla, dam of Rissalix. From Mrs. Linney he bought a two-year-old Mikeno daughter named *Micah Bint Mikeno, out of Myoletta, full sister to Dargee. Lewis Payne took movies at each of these studs.
Once he and Lady Anne went to a riding school to look at *Astran, a stallion belonging to a Miss Silberstein. Lewis Payne bought him and brought him to Newbuildings, where he was stabling his horses later exported to America.
In 1961 Lewis Payne also made a return visit to the Crabbet Stud at Frogshole Farm. At Crabbet, Lewis Payne bought one of the 1961 foals. He named her *Qasumah, after a pump station in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Covey congratulated Lewis Payne on being one of the few American buyers to spend time getting to know the English breeders and horses. In his experience, American buyers would look at the horses for sale, indicate which ones they wanted, write a check, and never be seen again.
*Mellawieh had produced one foal for Lady Anne Lytton, a 1957 filly by H.V.M. Clark’s stallion Champurrado. She was named Sahirah of the Storm, having been born during one. At the time of *Mellawieh’s importation to America, she was in foal to her half brother, Lady Anne’s stallion Manto. Manto was a chestnut born in 1956 by Blue Domino (Rissalix x Niseyra). The in-utero import was a 1962 chestnut filly, *Qatifah.
During the stay at Newbuildings, Lady Anne Lytton told Lewis Payne stories of growing up at Crabbet. She talked of the time she had spent living with her grandmother at Sheykh Obeyd Garden in Egypt, referring to it as one of the happiest periods of her life. She also told how Wilfrid Blunt used to drive a team of Arabs at a full gallop around a sharp turn and through a gate. When she was still quite young he tried to teach her to do this; she negotiated the turn at a full gallop, but crashed the carriage into one of the gate posts.
In America, Lewis Payne quietly went about his breeding program, utilizing the bloodlines he had obtained in England along with the Saudi mare *Hamra Johara. Today he has approximately nineteen horses. In addition to his own imported stock, the herd also carries the blood of *Ansata Ibn Halima. A few of the older mares are straight English or English/Saudi crosses, but all of the young stock and stallions carry lines to *Ansata Ibn Halima. Lewis Payne liked the horse and the way he moved. The blood of *Micah Bint Mikeno is not represented due to her death at the time she had her first foal, which was also lost.
An impressive horse is Qarlo, probably the only stallion in the world with Oran and *Ansata Ibn Halima as grandsires. Qarlo is out of *Qasumah and by Qartume, a son of *Ansata Ibn Halima and Qate (*Astran x *Mellawieh). Lewis Payne has built a unique herd combining some of the best horses ever to leave England with *Hamra Johara and *Ansata Ibn Halima.
In the following transcript, we are pleased to present an audience with Lewis Payne.
I first got acquainted with Arabians in Saudi Arabia. Somebody said. “We have some horses out here, would you like to take a ride?” I went and looked and thought, “Those scrawny, hungry looking things!” They didn’t mean much to me. So I got on [one] and I was absolutely astounded they did not have to be coaxed to go. The minute you got on them, they moved… So I finally bought a horse from the Minister of Oil Affairs. He was a poor hungry old horse, and I bought him out of sympathy as much as anything else, to fatten him up. He was a stallion, a bay…
In 1951, this may sound hard to believe, but the Arabs were pretty hard up… They had all these horses over at Khafs Dugra, which was near an irrigated place called Al-Kharj…. the king would send a head herdsman [saying], “Give one of my good horses to Prince Ali.” So he just marked down in a book, “One horse to Prince Ali.” Well Prince Ali wasn’t interested in horses, he was interested in Cadillacs… He would never come see the horse, didn’t even want it, so they continued to feed it, and one day Prince Feysul, who later became king, who was also Minister of Economics, he was pretty level-headed, he decided that people should feed their own horses. That was practically unheard of.
Some of the company representatives found out we could get horses. We made arrangements so we could go over and pick twenty horses out of the whole herd. There were seven or eight hundred there, I don’t know exactly. We all put up $200 and we had a committee go over. They picked out several horses, and [*Hamra Johara was] the one they gave me. She was seven years old and had never been broken. She had never grazed in her life… When I brought her over and we put grain in the feed box it was there a week before she found out it was good to eat. She wouldn’t eat out of your hand. An apple or a sugar lump meant nothing to her. She would eat this grass they would give her and some alfalfa. All that herd was being fed on grass, and occasionally alfalfa, just thrown over to them. Apparently she must have lived her first year of life with the Bedouins, because she was crazy about Arab women. She’d see Arab women walking in the distance — they looked like little black tents moving along — she’d always nicker, or want to go over to them. And little Arab children, she was crazy about them, she’d run over to see them… so we know she must have had her nose in a tent, at least the first year she was alive.
She was absolutely crazy about little kids, and people in general. She finally learned to eat apples, which were a rarity [in Saudi Arabia], we had to ship them in, and sugar. I could take a small cube of sugar and hold it between my two fingers. She’d reach over and very gently bite it in two, and never touch my fingers. She didn’t drink much water there… Even when I’d ride her out in the desert when it was terribly hot, I’d bring her in and give her a bath and put her in her stall, she never went to water. I’d catch her drinking water in the middle of the day sometimes, but she’d just barely sip it… When she came to this country she drank more water than she ever did over there, and she put on more weight. And she learned to graze. I would go down into this irrigated place and take her with me with a scythe and a basket. She’d stand there knee deep in this grass and watch me cut a basket full. Then I’d take it back and dump it in her box and she’d eat it.
How did the horses get to Al-Kharj? Ibn Saud just gradually collected horses, and they were put there because it was an irrigated area, and they could raise grass… None of them ever got to full build or promise, because they just didn’t have [the feed]… All the horses I had here were bigger than those there. A horse at Crabbet at a year old was bigger than a two year old desert horse, and it was feed, pure and simple…
The Arabs fed dates. One time we thought at the farm that dates were the thing to feed the horses, until it dawned on us the only reason they fed dates was because it was that or nothing.
…Horses at Khafs Dugra just accumulated. At that time all the ruling people lost interest in the horses because they got automobiles. The head herdsman had a book in which he’d write things down, I don’t know how accurate, I won’t make any promises on that. He pointed out the sire of my horse, a big red stallion, I don’t know his name, so we just called him “Big Red,” or Kabir Ahmar, big red horse. [Ed. note: this is not the same horse owned at the Corral and referred to there as “Big Red.”] What his breeding was, nobody knows. That man may have known, but it’s lost… My mare, I just list her as “D.B.” and consider her a foundation horse. She was accepted by the way for our registry, and I had her with these Crabbet horses, and when [Thompson] came [from the registry] to look [he] fell in love with her. She had a lot of good qualities, temperament more than anything else. Least head shy horse I ever saw; you could do anything with her.
RJC: Was any breeding done at Khafs Dugra, or was it just a place where they kept horses?
Lewis Payne: I don’t think they bred too much because they had all the horses they needed, and more.
Penny Albright: Feed was at a premium, too.
Lewis Payne: That’s not to say it wasn’t done, because it was. I know we got one quite young one, I think less than two years old, maybe two. Also we had a stallion from over there that had been chained to a stake and stood in one spot for five years. That’s why they didn’t breed any more. They didn’t know what to do with them. They had more than they could use, and nobody was interested in them.
BUYING HORSES IN ENGLAND
I was in Saudi Arabia from 1952. I spent nine years there…[then] there was a reduction in force… so I thought well, I’ll go home. But I stopped off in England to pick up horses. Of course Lady Anne Lytton was kind enough to invite me to stay at her place, and I spent some three months there gathering horses… She and I would go around and visit different studs… When we would leave she would say, “What did you think of this or that horse?” I didn’t really know too much, but I’d give my opinion and she’d tell me what was wrong with the horse. So the next time I’d look for a little more. When I heard [*Astran] was for sale… we went to look at him, and she told me, “He’s just a perfect horse.” I never heard her say that about anything. I asked the people there if I could bring a veterinary to come look at him. They said… “If you find something wrong with him, maybe we can buy him,” because they were merely boarding the horse. I brought the vet over… he would take care of the horses at the national stud, which really wasn’t far from Newbuildings Place. He went over and looked at him, and on the way back I said, “What did you think?” and he said, “That’s a nice horse, but the thing that puzzled me was I looked in his stall and he didn’t look very big, and I thought, ‘Why does this man want such a small horse?’ But he stepped out to the paddock and he grew four inches. I never saw such a thing.” He was only 14.2, but he said you would swear he was over 15 just by the way he stood. When Lady Anne and I were leaving after looking at him I asked her, “What’s wrong with him?” She said, “Absolutely nothing,” She said, “If he was here in the spring, I would use him on everything I have.” She said, “There’s a rumor around that he’s infertile, but nobody knows because he’s never been used.” When I had him checked for fertility after I got him to this country… we found he was highly fertile… He produced some pretty nice looking horses, to the third generation… [*Astran] was a direct descendant of Skowronek, but on that same level he had three crosses to Rasim, and that’s what made him….
[*Astran] was a very good riding horse, and I had the shock of my life when I put him in a show here, what they call English Pleasure… and he didn’t even place. I had him entered in a Park class. I said to the girl riding, “Go ahead and enter, but you’re not going to get anywhere,” and bingo, he won first. I went to the judge later and said, “What was wrong in the other?” He said, “I picked him in the first class to win the second class, because I thought he was too animated for a pleasure horse.” I don’t know why a pleasure horse should be a deadhead, but apparently that’s what they preferred….
*Micah bint Mikeno… strongly resembled the mare I brought out of Saudi Arabia. From across the pasture I’d have to look pretty close to tell the difference. Now that’s from two parts of the world, yet the type had so fixed…. I must admit the English mare moved better and she had a better shape of shoulder. There was also in Lady Anne Lytton’s box of photographs a picture of a mare that looked just like those two… *Micah was two years old. I bred her a year later, and unfortunately before she foaled about three or four days, I noticed her standing separate from the other horses…. I brought her in to another place to foal, and about four days before that she collapsed. She had a stroke. This place was right next door to the Oklahoma state veterinary school, so I had the vets over, and they couldn’t figure it out. It was definitely a stroke, and they had isolated it down to the third vertebra because she could move her head, but her body was inert. Her tail you could move over to one side and the next morning it would be exactly where you’d left it. After four days she tried to foal. The foal had no particular will to live. It had a beautiful head and four stockings, a lot like Mikeno, really. So I lost her. We finally had to put her down. …What caused it we don’t know.
The mare *Mellawieh was in foal to Manto; he was her half brother. She had been sent off but didn’t settle, so in sheer desperation Lady Anne Lytton bred her to her half brother Manto, by Blue Domino. She had a filly [*Qatifah]…
COLOR AND MARKINGS
At Crabbet, nobody worried about any white markings. I don’t see why people worry about it. I have seen horses in the Middle East, some with stockings clear over the knees, some with a big white splash on their bellies, and none of that that I could see ever affected a horse’s way of going, metabolism, threw them off their diet, or made them lame. If it did something of that nature, it would be a fault. But if it’s just a color or marking I just can’t see that it would make any difference….
[The Blunts] kept a stud [in Egypt], which was called Sheykh Obeyd, where they kept a good many horses that never came to England. One of them was a roan. I mentioned to Lady Anne that I’d never seen a roan Arab, and she said her grandmother had one and she showed me a photograph of [Kerima]. It’s a rarity, but don’t say it never happens. I’ve seen one horse in this country that was almost roan…. The people that owned it were so ashamed of it they kept it where nobody would see it. I snuck around and saw it and it was the best horse they had. Whatever the horse’s color is, or his markings, makes no difference…
It’s quite possible that colors do accompany other genes. I don’t know this for sure…. When Lady Wentworth died, Cecil Covey fell heir to about 75 pretty nice Arabian horses. There was hardly a single bay in the whole stud, if there was one at all. It had nothing to do with the color. It was merely that Lady Wentworth was looking for certain characteristics the bays didn’t come up with. Now this is not to decry a bay at all. It was merely what she was looking for. Lady Anne Lytton later bought a bay, a Polish horse, *Grojec, and was quite pleased to have him because of his color, because she said, “I remember we had some beautiful bays at Crabbet, and I’ll be awfully glad to get some back. I just think we need a little more variety.” And that is not to say one is better, or one is less than the other. It’s variety. Trying to get all Arabs to look precisely alike is a waste of time….
The Blunts, and of course Lady Wentworth, were quite insistent on a horse’s being able to move, because their introduction to the horse was in the desert where action and movement with efficiency is of paramount importance, which seems to have been lost now. If he’s flashy right now they think he’s good….
Probably the finest moving horse in 1961 or that era was Mikeno, who was by Rissalix and had the Rissalix action, which he got from Rissla, which she got from *Berk. Lady Anne Blunt told her granddaughter, Lady Anne Lytton, one time as they stood and watched *Berk moving, “Anne, that is the way an Arab is supposed to move.” It’s a reaching stride. It takes good slope of shoulder and it takes strong quarters…
When the Blunts founded Crabbet, horses were a means of conveyance, not just a hobby. They had to move from here to there in an efficient manner. I don’t know of anybody in the present day who would have the same background as the Blunts, because time is against you. The Blunts were artists, both of them, so they appreciated the beauty of a horse, the balance, the conformation… They rode their horses in the desert, and they knew that the horse had to make it there and back, so consequently they were quite critical of efficient action….
Here, you ride a horse around the ring for ten minutes or so and that’s it. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you can do anything with your horses you want to, but it is unfortunate that this flashy action, the high knee action — ladder climbing I call it — has come intto vogue so much that a reaching horse, like an Arab should be, is penalized. There’s nothing of course we can do about that, but if you want a horse to move across country, you better get one that reaches, and never mind how high they pick the feet up; it’s how far forward they go.
…I think perhaps the true characteristic of the Arab is moving from point A to point B. That’s not well presented in a show ring. It’s just impossible. So I think perhaps cross country racing is the best, and they have in England now a cross country race… I can see something to that. As for racing on the track, I see nothing wrong with that. And I understand there’s a new program out now: chariot racing, and that strikes me as quite interesting. And I would see nothing wrong with a sulky race trotting, because some of these Arabs can trot….
It is better when you have a horse with good conformation, but unfortunately in the desert, or that part of the world, there are very, very few good horses, but seldom do you find a horse with enough good points to say that it’s a first class horse. Occasionally it does happen, but it’s rare….
I personally prefer a horse with length of neck; some are shorter than others, but I prefer the length, because a horse’s head and neck is what helps his balance, and they can’t move gracefully with a short stubby neck.
I like strong quarters. I’ve seen Arabs that people rave about the high tail set, which doesn’t mean a thing in the world if there’s no quarters beneath it.
…Most Arabs have no heels to speak of on their hoofs. They’re rather short. I hadn’t paid much attention to this. One of the veterinarians working on our horses asked me, “Do all Arabs have low heels like this?” I got to thinking, “Why yes, they do.” Some of these Arabs that are kept to imitate the American Saddle horses, they let the feet grow out, and put shoes on them to get a longer heel. I don’t care for that action at all….
Geoffrey Covey had been a tennis coach, and Lady Wentworth had quite the thing with tennis. She purported to be world champion at royal tennis. They were quite friendly, so she appointed him to head the stud…. You must remember the nature of this woman. She was headstrong, strong-willed, opinionated. When she decided something was something, that was it. If she said it three times… it became a fact.
…When Lady Wentworth saw *Mellawieh, she ordered Anne to give her back to Crabbet. Anne said, “I’m not going to give you back that horse, I want her myself.” So her mother in a huff wasn’t even speaking to her. When I left England the last of October, she told me, “The last big argument I had with my mother was over that mare.” [At the end of Lady Wentworth’s life] she hadn’t seen her son in thirty years…. The only one speaking to Lady Wentworth was her daughter Winifrid. I had lunch with a family friend… who had been a school chum. She told me Lady Winifrid was to come over to her place for lunch, and she got a call from her: “I have to go… my mother is dying, and I’m the only one she’ll speak to.”
LADY ANNE LYTTON AND CECIL COVEY
[Lady Wentworth] left her horses to Geoffrey Covey, but he died… before she did. So Cecil Covey… fell heir to 75 beautiful horses…. He told me there was no way he could take care of that many horses. So they began selling horses. He told me… there were some very fine horses that sold for less than 100 pounds, which would be at that time around $300.
…I had talked to Lady Anne about breeding a mare to Dargee, and she had said, “Well, I’m not too sure about sending a horse over there.” There was a feeling between her and Cecil Covey, although they had grown up together at Crabbet, a feeling of estrangement… he told me… “I always felt that the family resented my getting the horses. I can understand that. But had any member of that family come to me and asked for a horse, any horse, they could have had it… because I feel that blood is thicker than water…” Lady Anne told me “well, we meet sometimes at horse meetings and are very cordial, but we just don’t have the comradeship.”
…I picked [*Qasumah] out of Mr. Covey’s herd because of the way she stood and looked…. She had a lot of white markings on her [and] he told me, “Americans don’t like white on horses.” I’d come out of Arabia and had seen white on horses and I didn’t see that it made any difference, so I said, “Well ‘Americans’ aren’t buying this horse, I am.” so I took her and I’ve never regretted it. I had talked to Lady Anne about what I’d picked out to buy there, so I asked Mr. Covey, “Would you mind if I had Lady Anne come over and look at this filly?” He said, “Why no.” A day or two later I spoke to her again…. I said, “Would you like to go over to Crabbet and look at this filly?” She was very eager… so we went over and in a few minutes they were just chatting…. He later told me, “I want to thank you for making it possible for Lady Anne to come over,” and this was when he told me he’d always felt that the family resented his having the horses.
I remember one time Lady Anne and Cecil were talking about something, and I thought, “I’ll just sit over here and listen and maybe learn something.” And they’d been talking thirty minutes or so about different horses when she turned to me and said, “Well what do you think? You haven’t said a word.” I was flattered those two people who had such a history with horses — she at that time was about sixty years old and he was approximately the same — they had all of those years of experience with the good horses, and I was amazed that they wanted to know my opinion on something. Yet I never once heard either one of those people say, “I’ve got the finest Arabs in the country.” Yet I’ve heard Americans say time and time again, “I have the finest Arabs in the country.”
At Crabbet, if a horse had something that they didn’t think was quite right… they would tell you…. They never tried to hide anything. They were looking more than anything else for the improvement of the horse.