The Blunts and Crabbet Stud

An Abbreviated History And Description of the Breeding Program

by Robert J. Cadranell II
revised and copyrighted 1998 by RJ Cadranell II
used by permission of RJ Cadranell II

Countless times writers have referred to the Crabbet Arabian Stud as the most influential privately owned Arabian stud in the world, and rightly so. The story of the Crabbet Stud and its visionary though eccentric founders, Mr. Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt, is the subject of many articles and books written over the years. However, few have made any attempt to analyze the breeding program in the era of the Blunts, choosing to focus instead on the more dramatic stories of the acquisition of the foundation animals, the Partition of the stud in 1906, and the famous lawsuit fought after Lady Anne’s death between her husband and daughter. The present article is an attempt to describe the breeding program of the Blunts and the changes it underwent as time passed and their knowledge of the breed increased. Crabbet under their daughter, Judith Blunt-Lytton (Lady Wentworth), deserves an article unto itself.

The Blunts had travelled in Spain, then in 1873 through Turkey and Algeria. Next, they went in 1875 to Egypt and Damascus. They longed to go further east. In November of 1877 they set out for Syria to travel in the Syrian deserts and Mesopotamia, with one further end in mind. If possible, they wanted to purchase a horse of the same strain as the famous Thoroughbred foundation sire the Darley Arabian. On board a ship bound for Alexandretta, they met a gentleman who recommended they first go to Aleppo to confer with Mr. James Skene, the British Consul. This they did. Snowstorms detained them in Aleppo, but the extended stay with Skene gave birth to another idea. Lady Anne noted in her journal on the 14th of December, 1877 that

“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 and useful thing to do and I should like much to try it.” [1]

Mr. Blunt later wrote that they owed the idea to Skene.[2]

When the storms cleared the Blunts set out on the journey recorded in The Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates. They bought horses themselves, and Skene bought some as well. These first horses they imported to England from 1878-9, and they are listed in Table A.[3]

TABLE A: Desert-bred imports to Crabbet Stud, 1878-9
Name Strain
Those with Al Khamsa descent:
BASILISK Saqlawiyah
DAJANIA Kuhaylah
JERBOA Mu’niqiyah, on both sides of pedigree
KARS Saqlawi
QUEEN OF SHEBA Abayyah, sire a Mu’niqi
Those which did not breed on within Al Khamsa:
DAMASK ROSE Saqlawiyah
DARLEY Kuhaylan-Ras-al-Fidawi
HAGAR Kuhaylah
SHERIFA Hamdaniyah
WILD THYME same as Darley, above

Some of these first horses were similar to Thoroughbreds in type, and since one of Blunt’s early aims was to reintroduce Arabian blood into the English Thoroughbred, these were a logical selection. One Jockey Club member pronounced the early Crabbet stock “thoroughbreds in miniature,” much to the delight of Mr. Blunt.[4] Skene erroneously informed the Blunts that the Darley Arabian had been a Kuhaylan-Ras-al-Fidawi, so they had imported two animals of this strain. In actuality, he was a Mu’niki.[5]

The Blunts made further travels in Arabia. The next importation consisted of six mares, in 1881 (Table B). In 1884 four new stallions followed, enumerated in Table C. The first three listed of these stallions had been owned in India for racing following their export from Arabia. The animals in Tables A-C constitute the breeding stock of what amounts to the first phase of the Crabbet breeding program, 1879-1884.

This program the Blunts aimed at producing horses that might one day compete with Thoroughbreds on the English turf. As Wilfrid Blunt outlined it,

“the assumption on which the whole experiment has been based has been of course that stock foaled in this country would, by the action of the English climate, combined with good feeding, increase in size, and probably also in speed. …”[6]

To determine if such were the case, Wilfrid Blunt persuaded the Jockey Club to hold an Arab race at Newmarket in 1884. The results were inconclusive, but the Blunts came to abandon the idea of rejuvenating the Thoroughbred. Many years later Blunt summarized his conversion, writing

“I was on wrong lines in breeding Arabs for speed, and not for those more valuable qualities in which their true excellence lies. Had I continued with my original purpose, I should have lost time and money, and probably have also spoiled my breed, producing stock taller perhaps and speedier, but with the same defects found in the English thoroughbred.”[7]

In another place we find,

“The Crabbet Park Stud… is carried on on strict Arabian principles, and as there is no attempt at increasing the height of the stock, the Kehailan type has been well preserved.”[8]

Additional comments of Mr Blunt on the purpose of the Crabbet Stud run,

“It was the conviction that this wonderful breed of horse was threatened with extinction in its native home that led me… to make the attempt you now see carried out at Crabbet of rescuing at least a fraction of the race and preserving it in all its purity in England. This was my first and most important object—not to improve the breed—for it really needs no improvement—but to keep it pure; pure not only in blood, but in type also, to preserve it carefully from deterioration in shape, in temper, in hardihood, and from departure from those special characteristics of beauty which are peculiar to the ancient race.”[9]

It is unfortunate that the two major reference works that the Blunts authored, The Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates (1879) and A Pilgrimage to Nejd (1881), were written while they themselves had just begun to familiarize themselves with the Arabian horse. While both are valuable books filled with solid material, they could not possibly contain the experience and insights that the Blunts later gained through forty years of breeding and studying the Arabian. Lady Anne did, however, finish an authoritative work on the Arabian horse near the end of her life. This “Book of Fragments,” as she referred to it, she willed to her daughter Judith, who also inherited the barony of Wentworth at her mother’s death. Portions of this “Book of Fragments” supposedly appear in Lady Wentworth’s Authentic Arabian Horse, but it is difficult to distinguish Lady Anne’s voice from her daughter’s.

TABLE B: Desert bred imports to Crabbet Stud, 1881
Name Strain
Those with Al Khamsa descent:
RODANIA Kuhaylah
Those which did not breed on within Al Khamsa:
CANORA Kuhaylah
DAHMA Dahmah
JEDRANIA Saqlawiyah
MESHURA Saqlawiyah; sire a Mu’niqi
ZEFIFIA Kubayshah

TABLE C: Desert bred imports of 1884.

Those with Al Khamsa descent:

HADBAN PROXIMO   Hadban Kuhalan, sire a Mu’niqi   Those which did not breed on within Al Khamsa:   RATAPLAN ABEYAN Dahman Abayyan TABLE D: Last desert bred imports, 1888-91.

Those with Al Khamsa descent:

AZREK FERIDA Saqlawi Mu’niqiyah   Those which did not breed on within Al Khamsa:   ASHGAR JILFA Saqlawi Jilfah TABLE E: Horses bred in Egypt and imported to Crabbet:   1891 KHATILA MERZUK MESAOUD SAFRA SOBHA   1892 SHAHWAN   1897 BADIA BINT HELWA BINT NURA FULANA JOHARA MAHRUSS 1898 ABU KHASHEB JELLABIEH KASIDA MAKBULA   1904 FEYSUL IBN YASHMAK

The final desert bred horses to join the Crabbet program are listed in Table D. The foal crops of 1880-1891 were produced almost entirely from breeding imported desert bred mares, their daughters, and granddaughters to imported stallions. The only exceptions are about eight foals that the Crabbet bred stallions Roala (Kars/Rodania) and Jeroboam (Pharaoh/Jerboa) sired.

In the first decade of breeding at Crabbet, the Blunts culled many of the original mare lines they had imported. By 1891, no lines remained from Burning Bush, Damask Rose, Purple Stock, Francolin, Tamarisk, Canora, or Zefifia. The Wild Thyme, Dahma, Jedrania, Jilfa and Hagar families left Crabbet soon after. The Blunts tended to think in terms of mare lines, reflected in their system of naming a foal according to the first letter of its dam’s name. This is also a reflection of the Bedouin practice of handing down the strain names from the dam. Certain of the imported mares did not meet the Blunts’ standards. The Blunts were unable to verify the purity of some to their satisfaction, so these were sold along with any progeny. Other mares were barren. Others did not produce the quality that the Blunts desired. In 1904 Wilfrid Blunt stated,

“the produce of certain imported mares, however good individually these were, will become eliminated from the stud and it will be idle out of sentiment to retain them. It is better such strains should be lost when after three generations they have failed to produce a sire of the first class.”

In this way the Sherifa line eventually died out as well. Nineteen years after her importation, her descent had still “not yet produced a first class colt.”[10] Similarly, the 1917 Crabbet catalogue records that the Meshura family had dwindled to one mare. The Blunts never used a stallion of the Meshura family. Although the Ferida family was well represented numerically in the 1917 catalog, it too gave no sires to the stud in the time of the Blunts. The desert mares still represented at Crabbet at the end of Lady Anne’s life were Basilisk, Jerboa, Dajania, Queen of Sheba, Meshura, Rodania, and Ferida. However, the Jerboa line had died out in tail-female.

The Blunts also eliminated many of the original stallion lines. Although Darley, Abeyan, Rataplan, and Ashgar all sired foals at Crabbet, their lines did not breed into the 20th century at that stud. Neither did Proximo’s, apparently. Kars, Pharaoh, Hadban, and Azrek were still represented at the end of the Blunt period of breeding.

1891 was the last year in which the Blunts’ foals were exclusively descended from their own desert imports. The year 1892 marked a transition. his foal crop included the last foals that Azrek (the last desert bred stallion used at Crabbet) sired for them, and the first foals from stallions and mares they had brought from Ali Pasha Sherif in Egypt.

The Ali Pasha horses had certain intangible qualities that led to another reorganization of the breeding program at Crabbet. “I don’t know what it is, or rather I don’t know how to put into words that indescribable air of distinction which marks the horses and mares of Ali Pasha Sherif’s…”[11] Lady Anne commented. Table E summarizes the Ali Pasha horses imported to Crabbet from Egypt.

Merzuk and Mesaoud had shared the 1892 foal crop with Azrek, but 1893 to 1901 saw the imported Ali Pasha horses dominate the breeding program. The only stallion used in this period not bred by Ali Pasha was Ahmar (Azrek/Queen of Sheba), who got roughly 19 foals. This is in sharp contrast with the total sired by the Ali Pasha stallions Mesaoud, Shahwan, and Mahruss in those years, which was something in excess of 90.

This Ali Pasha blood quickly permeated the Crabbet stock. The 1901 Crabbet Stud catalogue lists 81 horses. The average level of Ali Pasha blood in the herd at that time was 53%, indicating that in just ten years the Blunts had placed the Ali Pasha horses on an equal footing with their own desert imports.

In 1897 the Blunts decided they would add no further new blood to Crabbet.[12] This decision manifested itself in their bringing two Mesaoud sons into the stallion battery in 1901, Seyal and Rejeb. In over 20 years of breeding at Crabbet, only three home bred stallions had preceded them. The foal crop of 1902, therefore, marks the beginning of the final phase of the Blunt breeding program at Crabbet.

In the 1902 foal crop, Mesaoud presented his usual high quality foals, but the Blunts exported Rejeb to Japan in 1901, before any of his foals were on the ground. Seyal remained at Crabbet for several more years. Lady Anne seems to have preferred him to Rejeb; she wrote of Seyal “we could not do better except for colour and must risk some greys I suppose.”

Seyal was the last grey stallion the Blunts used at Crabbet to any extent. The only others had been Azrek and Shahwan (the imported grey colt Faris, out of Francolin, was also used sparingly). Of Shahwan Lady Anne wrote, “we can’t get his like again and would not part at all with him were he not grey.”[13]

This aspect may have also been a factor in the sale of Azrek to South Africa. Wilfrid Blunt considered Azrek the best imported sire up to that time, and only Mesaoud later surpassed him.[14] Lady Anne deeply regretted the sale of Azrek, but the ownership of his get consoled her to an extent. The difficulty with greys was that they did not sell as easily as bays and chestnuts. The Blunts constantly guarded against becoming overstocked, relying heavily on the export market as well as sales in England.

Seyal had just four seasons at Crabbet, during which the Blunts bred him, with one exception, only to grey mares. He got around 17 foals. In 1903 one of these grey mares, Bukra, produced a bay Seyal colt. This was Berk, whom Lady Anne ecstatically described as a yearling: “the sight of all was Berk lunged, as his action is magnificent—he was a perfect picture in motion…”[15] With a bay son to replace him, the Blunts sold Seyal that same year to India.

The stallions the Blunts used in their final phase (foal crops of 1902-20) were again imported horses of Ali Pasha stock, and home bred horses combining their own desert breeding with that of Ali Pasha. The one exception was Nejran (Azrek/Nefisa). The Blunts had sold Nejran as a two-year-old in 1893, repurchasing him in 1901. He stood for three seasons, getting about twelve foals before his sale to Australia in 1904. Nejran was the last stallion used at Crabbet who traced exclusively to their own desert stock, following the export of Ahmar to Java in 1901.

The choice of stallions of the lines listed above raised the level of Ali Pasha blood in the herd. The 1917 Crabbet catalogue lists 81 horses. At this point the average level of Ali Pasha blood was 57%. The increase over the 1901 percentage is not as much as one might expect, yet the figure demonstrates that the Ali Pasha blood did come to edge out the “Blunt” blood slightly. However, one must guard against taking the extreme view that the Blunts no longer valued their own desert selections. The level of representation of this blood was still 43%.

Of the Ali Pasha mares, the 1917 catalog details that no descendants remained from the families of Khatila, Badia, Safra, Fulana, Johara, or Jellabieh. However, the blood of the families of Sobha, Bint Helwa, Bint Nura, Makbula and her daughter Kasida, ran strong in the herd, with all but the latter having provided sires to the stud.

Of the imported Ali Pasha stallions, all but Abu Khasheb had progeny in the 1917 catalogue. Shahwan’s line, however, descended only through his grandson Ibn Yashmak, a son of his Egyptian born daughter Yashmak. His English born daughters Shohba (/Shelfa) and Reshmeh (/Rose of Sharon) were in the Crabbet broodmare band for a time, but the lines did not continue.

The imported stallions the Blunts used from 1901 to 1919, their final breeding years, were Mesaoud, Feysul, and Ibn Yashmak, getting between them in this period roughly 54 foals. The Crabbet bred stallions were first Rejeb, Seyal, and Nejran, as described above, then:

Name Sire/Dam Stood No. Get
Daoud Mesaoud/Bint Nura 1902-16 30
Narkise Mesaoud/Nefisa 1904 4
Astraled Mesaoud/Queen of Sheba 1904-09 24
Harb Mesaoud/Bint Helwa 1905-06 8
Rijm Mahruss/ Rose of Sharon 1906-13 26
Berk Seyal/Bukra 1907-16 27
Rustem Astraled/Ridaa 1911-18 12
Razaz Astraled/Rose of Hind 1913-15 6
Nasik Rijm/Narghileh 1914-17 11
Sotamm Astraled/Selma 1914-18 12

Following Lady Anne’s death at the end of 1917, Blunt bred a few foals from two additional stallions, and Lady Wentworth, who had repurchased Nadir (Mesaoud/Nefisa) from George Ruxton, bred him to a couple of the mares she had at Crabbet.

These Nadir foals were born in 1920, the year that the courts settled the lawsuit in Lady Wentworth’s favor. Wilfrid retained a few geldings as well as his favorite stallion Rustem and his 21-year-old riding mare Abla (Mesaoud/Asfura).

Lady Wentworth took charge of the rest of the stud. By the end of the year the stock had altered considerably since her mother’s death. Debts had forced Wilfrid to sell a large number of animals, and Lady Wentworth sold another large draft to the Royal Agricultural Society in Egypt, which included the stallions Razaz and Sotamm, as well as Ibn Yashmak. Of the stallions in the above table, the only one still at Crabbet at the end of 1920 was Nasik.

One odd aspect of the management at Crabbet was that the Blunts sold many of their best foundation stallions just as they were making important contributions to the herd. They regretted the sales of Azrek, Pharaoh, Hadban, Merzuk, and Mahruss at the time of sale and especially later, as their stock matured.

The influence of the Crabbet horses on current Al Khamsa stock is significant. Twenty-three Crabbet horses imported to America have bred on in Al Khamsa lines. An additional six are represented through animals imported from Egypt, a result of Lady Wentworth’s sale in 1920.

Al Khamsa bloodlines also contain descent from another desert bred stallion that Lady Anne owned. He was not, however, a part of the Crabbet breeding program. This was Saadun, a horse she brought from Arabia to her stud in Egypt in 1911. This breeding concern, the Sheykh Obeyd Stud, was located on the property of the same name outside of Cairo in Egypt. The Blunts had bought this land in 1882, later adding to the original 50 acre holding through the purchase of adjoining tracts. Some years later it became their annual winter home, following numerous improvements. The number of Arabians they kept here never approached that at Crabbet, and it served as temporary stabling for a few desert horses and all of their purcheses in Egypt awaiting shipment to England.

However, a number of horses never went to England, remaining as foundation stock for the Sheykh Obeyd Stud. There are grounds to support the argument that Sheykh Obeyd was a Stud in its own right, sharing some bloodlines with Crabbet, but a separate entity. The foundation stock descended mainly rom Ali Pasha Sherif and Abbas Pasha bloodlines, but also included a Bahraini mare that had been a gift to the Khedive of Egypt, from whom Lady Anne had purchased her, and several animals she had imported herself directly from Arabia in 1911 and 1913.

After Lady Anne died, Blunt gave the Public Trustee permission to sell the Sheykh Obeyd horses. Lady Wentworth records that most of them went to Captain Trouncer, acting on behalf of the Egyptian Horsebreeding Commisssion, while the rest went to a Greek by the name of Casdugli. A number of Sheykh Obeyd horses found their way into pedigrees influencing current Al Khamsa stock.

The horses of the Blunts at Crabbet and Sheykh Obeyd, through importation directly to America from England or through Egypt, provided an important “building block” for Al Khamsa.

  1. [1]Lady Anne Blunt, quoted in Archer, Pearson, Covey, The Crabbet Arabian Stud, Its History and Influence, (Gloucestershire: Heriot, 1978), pps. 32-33.
  2. [2]Archer, p. 34.
  3. [3]Also consulted: Weatherby’s General Stud Book.
  4. [4]Wilfrid S. Blunt, “The Forthcoming Arab Race at Newmarket,” in the Nineteenth Century, 1884. Reprinted in George H. Conn, The Arabian Horse in Fact, Fantasy, and Fiction, 4th ed. (New York: Arco, 1973), p. 371.
  5. [5]Archer, p. 35.
  6. [6]W. S. Blunt, reprinted in Conn, p. 373.
  7. [7]W. S. Blunt, Gordon at Kharoum, (London, 1912), pps. 263-5, quoted in Carl Raswan, The Raswan Index, (Mexico, 1957), I, p. 53, entry No. 847.
  8. [8] W.S.Blunt, “The Arabian,” Encyclopaedia of Sport, (Lawrence & Buller, 1900), reprinted in Margaret Greely, Arabian Exodus, 2nd ed. (London: Allen, 1976), p. 218.
  9. [9]W. S. Blunt, speech made 5 July, 1902, quoted in R.S.Summerhays, The Arabian Horse, 1976 ed. (California), p. 55.
  10. [10]W. S. Blunt, quoted in Archer, pps. 226-7.
  11. [11]Lady Anne Blunt, 1891, quoted in Judith Forbis, The Classic Arabian Horse, (New York: Liveright, 1976), p. 187.
  12. [12]Archer. p. 94.
  13. [13]Lady Anne Blunt, quoted in Archer, pps. 70-1.
  14. [14]W. S. Blunt, quoted in Archer, p. 227.
  15. [15]Lady Anne Blunt, quoted in Archer, p. 126.