The Founding of the Crabbet Tradition (Part I)

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series The Founding of the Crabbet Tradition

Copyright 1990 by Michael Bowling, used by permission
Originally published in Arabian Visions March/April 1990

“The great tales… never end… But the people in them come, and go when when their part’s ended.” — J.R.R.Tolkien

We see the names of such Crabbet founder animals as Azrek, Mesaoud and Skowronek so often at the backs of extended pedigrees, it is difficult to appreciate the expanse of time stretching from the purchase of the filly Dajania on Christmas Day, 1877 to March, 1990. It may help to consider that Crabbet history breaks naturally into three major periods. Blunt breeding begins in 1878 and runs (with minor ambiguity over the break point) to 1919. Lady Wentworth’s firm hand is on the helm from 1920 to her death in 1957 when Cecil Covey inherits. The Crabbet Stud continues until 1971 but the reduction of stock necessitated by 80% death duties completes the transformation, begun in the earliest years and accentuated during the Wentworth phase, of Crabbet breeding into a world community. Long before 1971 “Crabbet” has larger implications than any individual breeding program can contain; nearly every modern breeding tradition has been enhanced by contributions from Crabbet and a robust Crabbet heritage maintains its own identity, as straight Crabbet or–like a varietal wine–blended yet retaining predominant Crabbet character.

The exuberant and expansionist Blunt period laid the foundation for all that was to follow at Crabbet and internationally. The Blunt imports were chosen over the course of nearly 20 years from hundreds of horses that might have been bought. The criteria for selection were authenticity of origin and individual quality; to remain in the Crabbet pool an influence had also to demonstrate compatibility with the breeding group. The scope of the pedigree base at Crabbet in the Wentworth years was continually reduced; many lines, lost at Crabbet and even in England, were to remain active in Australia and North America and so of major importance to the Crabbet tradition. An important development of the modern international era of Arabian breeding has been the genetic reunion of previously sundered Crabbet branches. Lady Wentworth’s introduction of the Skowronek outcross and its overwhelming success particularly in America can color one’s appreciation of what went before, but Her Ladyship made it plain that

“Skowronek was mated exclusively to mares of pure Crabbet blood so that the fame of his illustrious progeny is exactly halved by Crabbet mares, from which his blood cannot be divorced.”

The Partition Agreement

Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt were essentially disparate personalities; their grandson pictured the partnership “as though an eagle had wedded with a turtledove,” describing Blunt as a man of vision and enterprise and crediting his wife with immense attention to detail and mathematical precision. They held individual and frequently contradictory views on most aspects of life and not least on horse breeding and stud maintenance. The Blunts agreed in 1906 to live apart, and with the importance of the horses in their lives it is not surprising that they also chose to partition the Crabbet Stud. Not all details of the division are precisely recorded but we can follow in a broad sense. Thus in terms of their influence on Crabbet history, beginning with the foal crop of 1907 we can distinguish in most breeding decisions the planning of Blunt or of Lady Anne (toward the end of the Blunt period the distinctions become fuzzy). The record shows that both “Crabbet” and “Newbuildings” bred individuals of the very highest distinction; if today’s students of Crabbet breeding would like to have seen more use of Newbuildings sires with Crabbet mares and vice versa, still we would not choose to give up the results of either program.

Crabbet and Newbuildings were ancestral properties in Wilfrid Blunt’s family; Blunt lived at Newbuildings and Crabbet was the home of Judith Blunt Lytton (later Lady Wentworth) and her young family. Lady Anne chose to settle in Egypt at the garden of Sheykh Obeyd, near Cairo (historical note on the Victorian position of women: In order to have a home of her own it was necessary that Lady Anne buy from her husband land originally purchased and improved with her money). The Blunts had founded a stud at Sheykh Obeyd about 1890; it was reorganized in 1897 and provided a rallying point for the remmant of the famed breeding programs of Abbas Pasha and Ali Pasha Sherif. The original intent had been to exchange stock between the English and Egyptian studs, but when the stallions Rataplan and Jeroboam died at sea on the way to Egypt the enthusiasm for two-way transfers was greatly reduced; late in her life Lady Anne introduced two stallions and four mares at Sheykh Obeyd directly from Arabia. Her Egyptian stud came to have its own importance to Lady Anne Blunt and though it had no influence at Crabbet after 1904, it remained an aspect of Blunt breeding and horses bred there have been internationally significant through Babson and EAO Egyptian breeding.

The Crabbet Foundation

My objective here is to outline 40 years of the Blunt breeding program as recorded in England’s General Stud Book (GSB). There will be space to do little more than touch on general trends; the treatment will follow approximate chronological order.

Table 1: Mares imported by the Blunts
Year Name (Alternate names in parentheses) color year foaled key, see below
[Mares of the line to produce at Crabbet by 1920, counting the imported mare herself, in brackets]
“//” indicates no registered descent
“F” indicates a female line persists
1878 Babylonia (“Blot”) b 1875 [died 1878] //
Dajania (Jasmine, Lady Hester) b 1876 [8] F
Damask Rose ch 1873 [1] //
Hagar b 1872 [3] F
Jerboa b 1874 [5]
Purple Stock b 1874 [2] //
Sherifa gr 1862 [6]
Tamarisk ch 1867 [1] //
Wild Thyme (“Darley Filly”) b 1876 [2] F
Zenobia (Burning Bush) ch 1869 [1] //
1879 Basilisk gr 1875 [8] F
Francolin gr 1875 [1] //
Queen of Sheba br 1875 [5] F
1881 Canora ch 1874 [1] //
Dahma b 1876 [4] F
Jedrania b 1875 [2]
Meshura b 1872 [7]
Rodania ch 1869 [18] F
Zefifia gr 1873 [1] //
1888 Jilfa b 1884 [2] F
1891 Ferida b 1886 [5] F
Khatila ch 1887 [3] //
Safra gr 1885 [2] //
Sobha gr 1879 [10] F
1897 Badia ch 1884 //
Bint Helwa gr 1887 [3] F
Bint Nura GSB (Bint Nura es Shakra) ch 1885 [1]
Fulana br 1893 [4]
Johara (Bint Helwa es Shakra) ch 1885 [1]
1898 Jellabieh gr 1892 [2] //
Kasida ch 1893 [3]
Makbula GSB gr 1888 [5] F
1909 *Ghazala gr 1896 [Imported for Borden] F
1910 Azz gr 1895 //

Table 1 lists the imported Blunt mares and summarizes their breeding opportunity; only those whose influence persists are mentioned in the narrative. The GSB records 34 mares imported to England from 1878 to 1910 by the Blunts. Of these 21 were of desert origin; 13 came from Sheykh Obeyd and represented the historical programs of Abbas Pasha I and Ali Pasha Sherif. Thirty-one can be considered Crabbet founders (Babylonia died soon after her arrival; *Ghazala was in transit to Spencer Borden in Massachusetts; Azz had proved barren at Sheykh Obeyd and was sent to England in the vain hope of returning her to production with more sophisticated veterinary attention). Of the 31 mares, four left no live foals; among the remaining 28, 18 are desert imports and 10 are Egyptians. Eight of the desert mares and five of the Egyptians have left tail-female families in world Arabian breeding; six more desertbreds and one from Ali Pasha Sherif are still represented through indirect lines.

Table 2: Stallions imported by the Blunts
Year Name color year foaled key, see below
[Males of the line in use at Crabbet by 1920, counting the imported horse himself, in brackets]
// indicates no registered descent
M indicates a sire line persists
1878 Kars b 1874 [3]
Darley b 1876 [1] //
1879 Pharoah b 1876 [2]
1884 Hadban b 1878 [1]
Proximo b 1875 [1] //
Rataplan b 1874 [1]
1887 Ashgar ch 1883 [1]
1888 Azrek gr 1881 [3]
1891 Merzuk ch 1887 [1]
Mesaoud ch 1887 [12] M
1892 *Shahwan gr 1887 [1]
1897 Mahruss GSB ch 1893 [4] M
1898 Abu Khasheb gr 1894 //
Ibn Mesaoud ch 1892 //
1904 Feysul ch 1894 [3] M
Ibn Yashmak ch 1902 [1]
Ibn Yemama b 1902 //

Table 2 similarly treats the imported Blunt stallions of which GSB records 17, a ratio of one sire prospect for each two mares. Abu Khasheb, Ibn Mesaoud and Ibn Yemama were sold without being used; Proximo left no live foals and neither of those by Darley bred. Jedrania was bred once to the gift stallion Abeyan; Makbula and Jellabieh came from Sheykh Obeyd in foal in Ibn Nura and Antar; none of these matings had long-term influence. Only three direct male lines persist from Blunt breeding; these lines are outlined in Table 3.


Table 3: The Sire Lines Persisting from Blunt Breeding
Sueyd ->Sottam ->Ibn Nura ->Feysul ->Rasim ->Sainfoin ->Rheoboam
->Raseem ->Grey Owl
Zobeyni ->Wazir ->Mahruss ->Mahruss II ->*Ibn Mahruss ->El Jafil
->Rijm ->*Nasik
->*Nureddin II
->Harkan ->Aziz ->Mesaoud ->Nejef ->Firuseh
->*Abu Zeyd (Lali Abdar) ->Bazleyd
->*Astraled -> Sotamm
-> Gulastra
->Harb ->*Rodan
->Nadir ->Joseph
->Seyal ->*Berk

Crabbet: The First Years: 1879-1888

More than half the eventual imported sources (20 mares and eight stallions) were introduced at Crabbet in this first decade. The Blunts were in and out of England and horse care was not given sufficiently close attention (attested to by the fact that up to half the foals in some of this period’s small crops, and 23% overall, died before registration). This period saw 60 live foals registered, of which 12 mares and only one stallion are still in modern pedigrees. Kars and Pharaoh were the most used sires and were assisted by Darley, Rataplan, Hadban, Proximo, Abeyan and the home-bred colts Faris, Jeroboam and Roala. The average number of foals per sire was just over eight (counting dead foals); apart from Kars the other nine averaged only about five apiece.

An observer would have accounted Basilisk’s and Rodania’s the most successful of the mare lines in terms of numbers. Eighteen of the 20 mares imported in this period produced live foals at Crabbet; fully half of those (and the unlucky exported Tamarisk) were sold on and only 11 were to leave registered descent. Dajania and Basilisk were used for crossbreeding after they left Crabbet; Damask Rose, Canora and Dahma had no further report after producing the foal each was carrying at time of sale. Hagar and Jedrania were among the mares sold to the Hon. Miss Ethelred Dillon and left no straight Crabbet descent though they are represented in Crabbet/Old English lines. Sherifa’s daughter Shemse, and Wild Thyme with one daughter Raschida, are similarly placed in modern pedigrees.

The record shows that Kars and Rataplan were to breed on through a few mares (four daughters for Kars and two for Rataplan, both his out of Kars daughters), and Pharaoh through a son and three daughters. The Sherifa female line would fail by 1907 leaving her just one thin presence in Crabbet/Old English pedigrees. The Basilisk family, while a major one in the world context, would not survive at Crabbet in the long term. Dahma’s influence persisted only through two mares sold to Australia, though hers became a successful and extensively branched family down under. By far the most influential individuals bred at Crabbet in this decade have proven to be *Rose of Sharon (Hadban x Rodania), Nefisa (Hadban x Dajania) and Rosemary by Jeroboam (Pharaoh x Jerboa) out of Rodania.

Rodania, the only Blunt desert mare with female lines through three different daughters (and they by three different sires), has proven far the most influential foundation mare of the stud and is generally accepted as having the most extensively branched family in the breed. Her line is the most numerous in modern Egyptian breeding and is also strongly represented in Russia and Poland, apart from its obvious dominance in England, Australia and America. That does not even touch on the multiple ties to Rodania stallions.

Dajania, Lady Anne Blunt’s 1877 Christmas present to us all, left just one producing daughter at Crabbet but the incomparable Nefisa was dam of 21 foals and founded a mare family still widely sought after, and responsible for some of the greatest sires of Crabbet–or world–Arabian history. No breeder has ever made a more serendipitous first purchase; the repetition of Dajania’s name in modern Crabbet-derived pedigrees reaches astronomical proportions and the thought of what she might have achieved had she remained at Crabbet boggles the mind.

The Transition 1889-1898

The greatest record of all the Blunt desert stallions was achieved by Azrek, a horse imported in 1888 who stood at Crabbet just four seasons and got almost as many foals as had Kars in eight. How much of his success was luck–due possibly to more experienced management and certainly to the fact that the Blunts had fillies from the previous decade ready to go into production–and how much must be attributed to appreciation of Azrek’s own unquestioned excellence is difficult to judge. Azrek has more than twice as many sources in modern pedigrees as does his predecessor Kars, and he got the only major home-bred Crabbet sire of desert breeding in male line. This was the impressive bay Ahmar, who has no sons in pedigrees himself but is responsible for a notable lineup of daughters: Selma, Siwa, Bukra, Bereyda, Hilmyeh, Namusa.

Azrek’s brief tenure as head sire came to an end with his sale to Rhodesia in 1891, a year of major transitions; the last of the Blunt desertbred mares, Ferida, arrived at Crabbet in company with the first of the Egyptian transplants from Sheykh Obeyd: the young stallions Merzuk and Mesaoud and the mares Khatila, Sobha and her daughter Safra. Ferida had two Mesaoud daughters to produce at Crabbet but in the end only the branch from Feluka bred on. Khatila and Safra did not leave descent but Sobha, sold at an advanced age to Russia, left at Crabbet the line foundresses Selma (dam of Sotamm and Selima, and second dam of *Selmnab); Siwa who produced Sarama (dam of *Simawa) and Somra, dam of Safarjal, Seriya and Silver Fire; and the good colt Seyal, sire of *Berk, *Butheyna and *Selmnab’s dam Simrieh.

The record of Mesaoud already has been touched upon; he is one of the key founders of modern Arabian breeding, leave alone the Crabbet tradition. Merzuk was promptly exported to South Africa but he left *Rose of Sharon in foal with her greatest daughter, Ridaa, dam of the good sires Rustem (England and Egypt) and Rief (Australia) and of the tremendously successful mares Risala, Riyala and Rim, major architects of the Crabbet heritage. *Shahwan got 10 foals at Crabbet and departed without lasting influence there; his Sheykh Obeyd daughter Yashmak would later send a son to England. Ashgar, who had played second fiddle in the Azrek years, managed to leave a thin line through one of his five get. Even setting aside the prolific Mesaoud and Ahmar, whose tenures at stud overlapped into the next decade, the number of foals per sire rose to nearly 13.

The second decade of Crabbet breeding produced 122 foals; only 19 of them (just under 16%) were reported as dead in GSB. Of the surviving 103, 21 are in modern pedigrees. Ahmar and Rafyk were the most widely influential stallions. Nejran, Rejeb, Mareb and Seyal each left three or fewer breeding offspring, but Seyal achieved distinction as the first colt foaled at Crabbet whose tail-male influence persists to the present day. Fifteen mares from this period are still in pedigrees. Besides Ridaa and the Sobha daughters already noted, important dams include Rose Diamond (she produced *Abu Zeyd and Rose of Hind); the Bozra daughters *Bushra, Bukra (dam of *Berk and *Battla) and Bereyda (dam of *Butheyna, *Baraza, Miraze and Belka); Narghileh, possibly the greatest of all the Mesaoud daughters, whose sons included *Nasik, *Nureddin II, Naufal and the lesser known Rustnar (South America) and Najib, who got *Hilwe and the Tersk line foundress Ruanda. Narghileh numbered among her daughters the likes of the Australian dynasty builder Namusa; *Narda II, dam of two famed early endurance Arabians, the gelding *Crabbet and his sister *Noam who produced in turn the Maynesboro and Kellogg matron Nusara; and Nessima, dam of *Nafia and Nax and foundress of the mare family responsible for Naseel, General Grant and Masjid.

1898 marks the end of the transitional period; all the Blunt foundation mares had reached England, and all the stallions had been purchased though Feysul was still at Sheykh Obeyd.

Sources and Further Reading

History and Biography:

The Sheykh Obeyd Studbook in The Arabian Horse Families of Egypt, Colin Pearson with Kees Mol, Heriot, Cheltenham 1988

Lady Anne Blunt: Journals and Correspondence 1878-1917, Edited by Rosemary Archer and James Fleming, Heriot, Cheltenham 1986

A Pilgrimage of Passion: the Life of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Elizabeth Longford, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1979

The Crabbet Arabian Stud Its History & Influence, Rosemary Archer, Colin Pearson and Cecil Covey, Heriot, Cheltenham 1978

M. Bowling articles giving more detail on the influence of individual Blunt animals:

Rose Diamond, The CMK Record, VIII/2 Fall 1989

*Berk 343: A heritage of “magnificent action” (two parts), The Crabbet Influence, March/April and May/June 1989

*Nasik 604, The CMK Record, VII/3 Winter 1988

Rosemary, four-part series, The CMK Record, IV/I-IV/4 1984

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