by Ben Hur (Western Horseman Jul/Aug ’46)
additional pictures added
The American Thoroughbred running horse today might have more bottom, more long distance staying power–and the blue-grass section of Kentucky might have been the cradle for the pureblood Arabian horse in the western hemisphere–had not the Civil War (1860-64) crippled, if not all but destroyed, the efforts of one of the leading horse breeders of his day.
A. Keene Richards, Georgetown, Ky., lifelong student of horse breeding and pedigrees and noted breeder of Thoroughbreds, was convinced that the American thoroughbred of pre-Civil War days had lost some of the stamina and staying power of the earlier English Thoroughbred obtained from the foundation sires, the Byerly Turk, imported into England in 1689, the Darley Arabian imported in 1706, and the Godolphin Arabian imported in 1730. His studies of horses and pedigrees convinced him that all of England’s greatest achievements in horse breeding were traceable to the Arabian and the Barb, and so he determined to go to the Arabian desert and personally select horses which he could bring back to the United States to intensify the original foundation blood and improve the American Thoroughbred.
Mr. Richards made two trips to the desert, his first in 1851-53 and the second in 1855-56. He was the first citizen of the United States to go to the desert, personally select and import Arabians direct to his native country. On his second trip he was backed by the New Orleans Jockey Club and accompanied by Mr. E. Troye, the animal painter, who was to assist him in making selections. The convictions which Mr. Richards had on the Thoroughbred of his day were summed up by him at that time:
“That the English horse of the present day is inferior to what he was in the days of Eclipse, no one will doubt who examines the performances of that day. The present race of horses are fleet, and many can carry their weights, but how few remain on the turf; one hard race of four miles would injure the best horse in England.”
“Some English writers contend,” wrote Mr. Richards, “that a degeneracy is taking place, and that the best Arab blood must be resorted to. In crossing the Arabs upon our stock, we must not expect the first cross to equal such pedigrees as ‘Lexington’ and ‘Bonnie Lassie,’ but this cross will not deteriorate, and fine bone with vigorous constitution, free from hereditary defects, will be the result. I have confidence in the result as to the improvement of our fine stock for the turf, for harness and saddle.”
His own account of his trips to the desert follows:
“I determined to import the best Arabs that could be found in the East and cross them with our best mares. I made myself acquainted with the modern importations by going to England, France, and Spain, and examining the best Arabs belonging to these governments, visiting Morocco, and going through the interior of Algeria. I went to Tunis, thence to Egypt, and from Egypt through Arabian Petra and the desert east of Damascus as far as Palmyra. During this tour I selected Mokhladi, Massaoud and a grey mare [Sadah], the first mentioned bred by the Tarabine tribe in Arabia Petra, and the two latter by the Anayza tribe.
“They arrived safely, and I immediately made arrangements to select some of our best mares to breed to them. The result was quite equal to my expectations, and I commenced preparing to make another trip to the East, determining to spare no trouble or expense in procuring the best blood, as well as the finest formed horses in the desert.
“For two years I made this subject my study, consulting the best authors as to where the purest blood was to be found, and comparing their views with my own experiences. I found that most authors who have written on the subject, differ materially as to facts; and that those who have seen the Arab on his native soil know more about the idle legends of the country than about the fine points of a horse.
“Layard surely has claims to be the best authority among the English writers. Although prejudiced in favor of the English horse, he says: ‘I doubt whether any Arab of the best blood has ever been brought to England. The difficulty of obtaining them is so great, that they are scarcely ever seen beyond the limits of the desert.’
“After two years spent in close investigation as to the best means of obtaining the purest blood in the desert, I matured my plans and started again for the East, accompanied by Mr. E. Troye, the artist, my cousin M. H. Keene, and a Syrian who had been with me since my first journey to the East. This man knew more about the horses of the desert than any one I had met in the East. Soon after our arrival in Syria, he died very suddenly, and Mr. Keene had to commence the study of the Arabic language, as we could find no one to trust in interpreting, to carry out our plans among the Bedouins. He was in Damascus seven months, studying the language and informing himself as to the best way of getting to that tribe of Bedouins in Arabia which had the type of horse we were seeking.
“The first horse selected was a stallion from Beni-Zahr. This was a horse of superior form and blood, purchased from one of the Sheikhs of the tribe. Determined to have the best, this horse was afterwards exchanged for the bay horse ‘Sacklowie’ (seglawi) by giving considerable boot. This last importation consisted of the bay ‘Sacklowie,’ a chestnut ‘Faysul,’ supposed to be the best young horse in the Anayza tribe, a grey colt two years old, a mare and two dromedaries.
“In making both of these importations I determined not to offer the services of any of the stallions to the public until they had shown some evidence of their merits. The colts of two of them having borne off the prizes last fall (1856) over the best Thoroughbred stock in Kentucky, I was induced by some friends not to wait longer, but to give the breeders of Kentucky an opportunity to try the cross with some of our fine mares.”
About the time Mr. Richards was nicely on the way to success with his importations of Arabian stallions and mares direct from the desert, the Civil War came, with all of its devastation over his native and other southern states. Mr. Richards’ noble horse breeding work was lost, as was much of the splendid Clays and Messenger combinations, along with the Bashaws, Andrew Jacksons, Morgans, Golddusts and countless other lines and strains of the Arabian and Barb bred horses which were at that time to be found on every hand. History shows that America possessed at that time trotting bred horses which could not have been equalled on the face of the earth in point of blood and individuality as well as general utility, the equal of which we possibly have never since possessed.
Keene Richards’ labors were in great measure lost, except such of the scattered fragments and some few specimens which remained that were half the blood of Mr. Richards’ Arabians, which are, in a great degree, responsible for the present excellent race of saddle horses which originally came from Kentucky, a shown by the Denmark saddle horse stud books, now the American Bred Saddle horse. The tail carriage, reliable dispositions, good necks and general excellence, as well as their power to transmit a fixed type, can be traced to no other source.
Spencer Borden, in his book, “The Arab Horse” (1906) gives a thrilling account of a Civil War experience which centered about A. Keene Richards.
“It is told,” wrote Borden, “that after the battle of Pittsburgh Landing (Shiloh) the Confederate General, Breckenridge, went to Georgetown, Ky., to Mr. Richards, begging conveyance to Virginia as quickly as possible, as the Federal troops were pursuing him. Richards had nothing to offer but a pair of three-year-old half-bred Arab fillies. These he hitched to a buckboard and started. The Federals pursued on Thoroughbred horses, but though they gained for awhile, their bolt was soon shot and they had to draw rein. The Arab fillies never stopped until they had Breckenridge safely within the Confederate lines.”
That the importation of Arabians to America prior to the time of Mr. Richards’ importations proved of great value in establishing some of the finest light harness and saddle horses of the early day and were successfully used to cross on the Thoroughbred is related by Mr. Richards:
“Some of the Arabs in this country have produced trotters of note. The grandsire of Pacolet, on the dam’s side, was the Lindsay Arabian. The granddam of Sidi Hamet, the sire of Bethune, was an Arab mare, got by an Arabian horse sent to President Jefferson, and out of the Arab mare that came with him. Rhoderic Dhu, a good race horse up to four miles, was out of a Bagdad mare, and many others could be cited. Recent investigations show that the renowned Flora Temple goes back with a few crosses to the Arab, while in Pennsylvania we have that superb race of trotters, the Bashaws, descended from an imported Arabian or Barb of that name imported in 1826.”
“When credit is given to Kentucky,” wrote the eminent horseman Randolph Huntington in 1885, “for superior blood in her brood mares over any other state, and that superiority is credited to her through Thoroughbred running horse blood, which in an earlier day was the only type of horses that she bred, we are inclined to look for a more direct cause. In so doing we find that for forty years their dams had been under the influence of Arabian blood, no less than five different Arabian stallions (Richards’) having been imported directly into Kentucky since 1850.”
Another importation of an Arabian of superb breeding and matchless beauty was that of the young stallion, Calif of Cairo, presented when a colt, to the United States Consul for Egypt by Abbas Pasha, a one of the best specimens of of the Arabian horse in his world famous stud. He was a beautiful silver-grey, with silky mane and tail, legs and feet of remarkable delicacy of outline. He was about 15 hands high, “kind as a dove and immensely fast.” Calif was shipped to New York, prior to 1860, shown at the Eclipse Fair, Centerville Course, Long Island, where the drawing shown with this article was made from life. Calif later was purchased by Judge Jones and moved to his stables in Philadelphia.
It will be of historical interest to Arabian breeders in the United States where the blood of Abbas Pasha Arabians is eagerly sought after and appreciated today to learn that this fine specimen of his breeding was imported at this early date. Unfortunately the blood of this and many other Arabians of priceless breeding and beauty among the early importations were scattered to the four winds and lost to present-day breeders who are zealously guarding and breeding Arabians in all their original purity in this country today.
Additional articles on A. Keene Richards:
Keene Richards’ Arabian Importations By Thornton Chard from The Horse Nov/Dec 1934
ARABIAN BLOOD FOR STAMINA Keene Richards’ Own Account of His Two Desert Expeditions and His Arabian Importations. Edited by Thornton Chard with illustrations and notes collected by him from The Horse Nov/Dec ’35