The Ever Expanding Crabbet Universe

The Ever Expanding Crabbet Universe

Copyright 1991 by R.J.CADRANELL

from Arabian Visions March 1991

Used by permission of RJ Cadranell


Words are defined in one of two ways: the first is by long-standing and widely accepted dictionary definitions. The second is according to how a word is actually used in the living language. As a word’s new meaning gains wider and wider acceptance in first the spoken and finally the written language, dictionary writers must acknowledge at last what is happening in the real world, and amend their volumes. The meaning of many words has changed over time, reflecting changes in society at large.

For example, the word “access” has traditionally been a noun. We speak of the access to a highway or building, or of gaining access to information. The advent of computers has changed this word into a verb: “Will you hold please while I try to access that for you?” is something one hears over the phone these days, when calling to make inquiries. An “access” is no longer just something we can see or acquire; accessing is now a thing we can do.

There’s nothing new about words changing their meanings. The Old English word “dysig,” meant foolish or ignorant. Its modern descendant, “dizzy,” means unsteady or light-headed. To call a person “dizzy” and mean “scatterbrained” is a slang expression, ironically close to the word’s original meaning.

If there were a dictionary of words used in conjunction with Arabian horse breeding and showing, adding a new definition to the word “Crabbet” is something its writers would have to consider seriously. The way the word is used today in conversation, advertisements, and magazine articles tells us that its meaning has changed dramatically.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, Crabbet was the name of an English estate in Sussex. When Sarah Gale married Samuel Blunt in 1750, the Blunt family acquired from her several estates, including Crabbet Park. Samuel Blunt’s son, William, was the father of Francis Blunt, who was the father of two boys. The elder brother died in 1872, at which time the younger brother, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, became the owner of the Crabbet estate. Wilfrid Blunt was then age 31. Nearly three years before he had married Lady Anne Isabella Noel King-Noel. In November of 1877, Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt set out for Syria to buy a horse of the same blood from which the Darley Arabian had come. Before the year was out, they had hatched a plan to transplant specimens of the Arab breed to England and breed them there.

The first Arabians arrived at Crabbet Park in July of 1878. The spring of 1879 saw the first breeding season, and the first foal crop arrived in 1880. The official name of the horse breeding venture was “The Crabbet Arabian Stud.” In less formal parlance, the Blunts spoke of “the Crabbet Stud,” and among themselves of “the Stud.” Over the years they bred hundreds of Arabians at Crabbet, adding new bloodlines until approximately 1904.

Although for years catalogs had been issued with the name of the Crabbet Arabian Stud on the cover, it wasn’t until 1909 that the General Stud Book (GSB), the registration authority in England which handled the Blunt stock, published a stud book crediting foals to the “Crabbet Stud” as breeder. Prior to that time, they had been attributed either to “Mr. W.S. Blunt” or “Lady Anne Blunt.”

Lady Anne Blunt’s death in 1917 touched off a legal battle over the horses, fought between her husband and daughter, Lady Wentworth. In 1920, Lady Wentworth gained possession of the horses. She added new bloodlines, most notably the stallion Skowronek, and continued the operation of the stud until her death in 1957.

In 1924, Lady Wentworth issued a catalog under the name “Crabbet Arabian Stud.” Later she preferred to call her operation the “Crabbet Park Stud.” Breeder credits in the GSB reflect this change. Beginning with the 1949 edition, the credits read somewhat grandiosely, “The Wentworth, Crabbet Park and Burton Studs.” (Burton Park was the name of a Thoroughbred stud Lady Wentworth had bought during World War II.)

After Lady Wentworth’s death the horses passed to her stud manager, Cecil Covey. The horses he bred are credited in the GSB to the “Crabbet Arabian Stud.” He didn’t stable them at Crabbet itself, but rather at nearby Caxtons and Frogshole Farm. More than 1600 acres of the Crabbet estate, including Frogshole, was sold at auction in 1916. Lady Wentworth bought back Frogshole about 1929, and it was left to Mr. Covey, along with the horses. He also inherited Caxtons, a property “on the southern side of Crabbet Park, about half a mile from the house,” to quote Mrs. Archer in The Crabbet Arabian Stud, Its History and Influence. Mr. Covey’s breeding program was far smaller than that of the Blunts or Lady Wentworth. Highway construction forced the final dispersal of the stud in 1971.

Today, hardly a horse is now alive that was bred by the Crabbet Stud. If a “Crabbet Arabian” is one that was bred by the Crabbet Stud, there can be at best only a handful still living.

But Crabbet means much more than an Arabian horse bred by the Blunts, Lady Wentworth, or Cecil Covey. The name “Crabbet” has come to apply to an entire bloodline within the Arabian breed. Today some people specialize in breeding Arabians of ancestry tracing in every line back to the horses of the Crabbet Stud. A few people have horses bred only from the stock of the Blunts. Others choose to breed equally Crabbet horses making use of one or more of Lady Wentworth’s additions of foundation stock to the herd: Skowronek, Dafina, and/or *Mirage. Some expand their pool of Crabbet blood to include the descendants of Dargee, a horse with a pedigree showing only part of the Crabbet herd.

Horses from Crabbet were known as “Crabbet Arabians,” both to give credit to their breeder (and to acquire some of Crabbet’s luster), and to distinguish their bloodlines from those of other Arabians. The gene pool the Blunts assembled was unique. It is impossible to prove relationships between Blunt desert bred horses and anyone else’s desert bred horses. The Blunt stock is a distinct and self-contained part of the foundation of modern Arabian breeding. The horses the Blunts acquired in Egypt might have close pedigree ties to the horses of the various princes, but again exact relationships are for the most part impossible to prove. In this way, “Crabbet” is used as a handy term to identify a distinct group of bloodlines. (Skowronek’s pedigree does show that he was related to other Polish lines. Admirers of Crabbet and Poland will probably never resolve the question of to whom he really belongs.)

Miss Dillon and the Rev. F.F. Vidal were among the first Arabian breeders to make use of Arabians from Crabbet, for crossing with Arabians obtained from other sources. The horses from these crosses continued to be interbred with horses from Crabbet Park, sometimes for ten or more generations. This raises a sticky question: when, if ever, should a horse resulting from such crossing earn the title of “Crabbet Arabian”?

Many people have answered this question for themselves, by referring to any and every horse from the English Arabian breeding tradition as a “Crabbet horse.” British studs founded largely but not entirely on Crabbet blood (like Hanstead and Courthouse) produced an Arabian closely allied to those bred at Crabbet, but yet not exactly the same. For many, there is no reason not to blur the distinction.

North America has and always has had a particularly rich and diverse Arabian gene pool. Almost from the beginning, horses bred at Crabbet have been a part of it. *Raffles, *Raseyn, *Serafix, and *Rissletta are among the most famous of the many to have made significant contributions to American Arabian breeding. The Crabbet imports (and part-Crabbet imports) were combined with virtually everything else in our stud book. At one time the distinction between what had come from Crabbet and what had not was fairly easy to make. But time passed and these horses receded into the back lines of pedigrees, and finally dropped off entirely. What seems a subtle distinction is made less and less frequently. “Crabbet” has started to become a generic term to describe all of the older American breeding, much of which actually derives from the Crabbet Stud.

However, many of the older American lines of Arabian breeding have little or nothing to do with the Crabbet Stud. The Davenport and Hamidie imports, Huntington’s breeding, the lines to Mameluke, El Emir, Ishtar, and/or Kesia II behind some of the Borden imports and *Nuri Pasha, Maynesboro’s French mares, the Rihani horses, and individual animals like *Nejdran, *Lisa, and *Malouma are among the older American pedigree elements. When examined on a case by case basis, all of these are emphatically non-Crabbet. But when eight, ten or twelve generations back in a pedigree filled with significant Crabbet horses, it is temptingly convenient to blanket the whole thing with the label “Crabbet.” And in practice, many people do.

There is a further complication. Horses tracing back in all lines to Crabbet Park are today relatively scarce. In contrast, there is an abundance of predominantly Crabbet horses exhibiting many of the most admired traits traditionally associated with Crabbet stock. The World Symposium on Crabbet Breeding, held several years ago in Denver, issued a reference book containing pictures and pedigrees of some 180 horses owned by interested parties. Of these, fewer than 25 had pedigrees going back to Crabbet Park in all lines. Nevertheless, all 180 merit the label “Crabbet bred,” as the Symposium applied it to them.

“Crabbet,” as a term to describe the bloodlines from the Crabbet Stud, is not falling into disuse. Instead, the word is taking on an added meaning.