by Joseph N. White, Arabian Horse World 1981.
When we talk about the “greatness” of something, we are usually referring to its impact over a number of years. In this sense of the word, “greatness” aptly defines the influence the old Ben Hur Farms of Portland, Indiana, has had on Arabian breeding in this country.
Ben Hur Farms was owned by Herbert and Blanche Tormohlen, both extremely knowledgeable breeders. Its program, which lasted for over 35 years, combined the breeding of two of the most successful programs existing at that time — that of the Davenport horses and Crabbet Stud in England.
The first registered foal from Ben Hur was the mare Valencia 587, foaled in 1926, by Hanad 489, and out of the prolific mare Dahura 90. Valencia and her full brother Ameer Ali 644 (foaled in 1927) were sold, along with Hanad, to the Kellogg Ranch in California. In 1930, Hanad and Valencia were named Champion Stallion and Mare at the Los Angeles County Fair and thus, according to an early Ben Hur brochure, they became the first champion Arabian stallion and mare in the United States.
The mare Dahura continued to produce steadily for Ben Hur. In 1929 and 1930, she produced Aabann 736 and Aabab 741, respectively, both by Hanad. Next she was bred to Hanad’s half-brother Tabab 441 (*Deyr 33 x Domow 267), and produced Aabazem 874 in 1931. Her last foal, Aabella 1014 by Mahomet 729 (Hanad x Domow) was foaled in 1933. Aabella, along with Aabann and Aabab, played an important part in the early Ben Hur program.
In 1935, at the first National Arabian Show, Aabann and Aabab won Champion and Reserve in three-gaited performance, now known as park, a feat which matched the record of their sister Valencia.
Besides Dahura, there were two other foundation mares at Ben Hur — Hayah 385 (Harara 122 x Dehahah), a Davenport mare, and Nadirat 619 (*Rizvan 381 x Nusara 371), a Crabbet mare.
Hayah possessed a rather erratic foaling record, with time lapses ranging from two to nine years. While at Ben Hur she produced three foals. The first, by Aabab, was Aahar 1734 in 1939, followed in 1943 by Aahmad 2747, sired by Aanad 1735 (Aabab x Nadirat), and finally, in 1944, Hayah produced her last, and according to some, her best foal, Aah Abu 3060, by Indraff 1575 (*Raffles 952 x *Indaia 813). Aah Abu, by the way, was her only grey foal. All the others were chestnuts.
Nadirat also played an important part throughout the entire Ben Hur program. She produced at least three foals there, beginning in 1938 with Aanad 1735, and Aalita 2746 in 1943, both by Aabab. She produced at least one other foal for the Tormohlens, the filly Aalastra 3716, foaled in 1946. Aalastra was one of two Gulastra 521 (*Astraled 238 x Gulnare 278) daughters at Ben Hur. The other was Aastra 3712, out of Aadraffa 2075 (Indraff x Aadah 1857). Both of these mares figured prominently in the Ben Hur program.
Herbert Tormohlen was a firm believer in Gulastra blood. He felt that although it wasn’t necessary to have a lot of this blood, it was important to have at least a little of it. A friend of Mr. Tormohlen, after seeing these mares, once asked why he was keeping them, as she felt they were only average. Tormohlen told the lady to take a closer look at their heads. When she did, she saw some of the most beautiful heads she had ever seen on a horse. Tormohlen then went on to explain that was the reason Gulastra blood was so important in a breeding program — incorporating even a small amount of this blood would add to the beauty and refinement of the heads on the horses produced.
Of the three early mares at the farm, only Dahura and Nadirat were to play a key role in its later program. Dahura is remembered most through her double granddaughter, Aadah 1857 (Aabab x Aabella), who later became one of Ben Hur’s two premier mares. She produced eleven foals in twelve years, ten of which were fillies. Nadirat became more influential through a daughter that was not bred at Ben Hur, the mare Aarah 1184.
Bred by C. P. Knight, Jr., of Providence, Rhode Island, and foaled in 1935, Aarah was by Ghadaf 694, a half-brother to Gulastra. Aarah was the only horse ever at Ben Hur to be given a formal burial and a commemorative monument on her grave. Her ten foals were directly responsible for some of the most illustrious champions and producers of her day.
An almost immediate reaction by older breeders to the “double A”-named horses is to think that they trace back to Aarah, and to a certain extent they are right. Aarah was acquired by Ben Hur in the early 1940’s, and she foaled her first for them in 1942, a colt named Aaronek 2249 by Indraff. That year she was bred back to *Raffles 952 (Skowronek x *Rifala 815), and the following year she produced the beautiful chestnut colt, Aaraf 2748.
Had Aarah produced only this foal, her place in Arabian history would have been assured, for Aaraf sired over 125 foals in his lifetime. That may be a small number by today’s standards, but considering the times then, and the fact that many of these foals became champions and went on to produce champions, the record is impressive.
Aaraf was not, however, Aarah’s last foal. In 1944 she produced the mare Aarafa 2872, followed by Aaraq 3371 in 1945, Aarief 3717 in 1946, and Aarafla 4344 in 1947, all by *Raffles. Aaraq was the only one of these five to be sold — as a colt he went to Tom Sheppard of Colorado. There are still many foals by him in the Midwest. The other four *Raffles/Aarah foals were retained by Ben Hur and used heavily in their program — in fact Aaraf, Aarafa, and Aarafla were three of Mr. Tormohlen’s favorite horses. He felt that they were three of the finest Arabs in the country at that time, and that was quite an honor, considering Tormohlen’s fine eye for horses.
*Raffles was not the only stallion to which Aarah was bred. She also produced several outstanding foals by Azkar 1109.
Azkar was by Rahas 651 (Gulastra x Raad 474) and out of the imported Egyptian mare *Aziza 888 (Jamil x Negma). At one time, *Aziza was considered to be the most beautiful mare to come from Egypt and was of what is now referred to as Old Egyptian breeding (bred very closely to the Babson Egyptians). This cross to *Aziza blended well with the *Raffles/Aarah horses. *Aziza herself was a half-sister to *Roda 886, who crossed extremely well with *Raffles (producing Tut Ankh Amen 3830 and Star Of Egypt 4167, among others).
The cross to Rahas brought in another line to Gulastra, of which Mr. Tormohlen was so fond, while the cross to Raad (Sidi 223 x *Rijma 346) brought in yet another vital line. While *Rijma, who was imported from the Crabbet Stud, possessed a pedigree which read like a “Who’s Who” of Arabian horses from the studs of Abbas Pasha I and Ali Pasha Sherif, as well as from the Crabbet desert imports, Sidi’s pedigree represented some of the finest individuals of the early domestic programs.
Azkar sired many foals for Ben Hur, including Aazrar 10429, Aazhar 6145, and Aazkara 4879, out of Aarah; Aalzar 7984, out of Aahlwe 3403 (Khaleb 1168 x *Hilwe 810); Karada, out of Aadelfa 7983 (Aaraf x Aadah); Aaziza and Aazalia, both out of Aarafa; Aazdura 6146, out of Aadura 2744 (Indraff x Aadah); and Aazfar 13627, out of Aarafla. Many of these horses can still be found in modern pedigrees.
Produce of the *Raffles/Aarah cross became the mainstay of the Ben Hur program. Aaraf was head stallion, siring foals from mares who were daughters and granddaughters of their original foundation mares. The first Aaraf foals were born in 1946. Aakafa 3713 (x Aakala) was Aaraf’s first foal, followed by Aalurah 3714 (x Aadah) and finally Aarita 3715 out of Aalita 2746 (Aabab x Nadirat). Aaraf also blended well with the Azkar daughters, in particular Aazkara. Aaraf sired four sons and six daughters from Aazkara, and four sons and one daughter from Aazdura. Aaraf sired three foals from his full sister Aarafa — Aarafaa 10426, foaled in 1955, Lewisfield Sun God 21194 in 1962, and Lewisfield Sun Gal 27582 in 1964. From his full sister, Aarafla, Aaraf sired one daughter — Aafala 15522 in 1959.
Aarafa was one of the loveliest mares to come from Ben Hur, and another of Tormohlen’s favorites. She was a strong show horse, and won numerous championships. She also produced many champions, including U.S. National Reserve Champion Stallion, Lewisfield Bold Hawk by Aalzar; Lewisfield Nizrif 41760 by *Nizzam; Aaziza and Aazalia, by Azkar; Lewisfield Lovely by Lewisfield Nizzamo; as well as the three Aaraf foals, and many others.
Aarafla was also a consistent show champion and added many awards to the Ben Hur collection, most in what we now refer to as Park. In Tormohlen’s opinion, she exemplified what the “ideal” Arabian should be, as she possessed “the natural, uninhibited gaits and action of the exquisite beauty of the ancient or classic type of Arabian.” Carl Raswan was quick to verify this, and photos of Aarafla were added to his already famous collection. Aarafla, unfortunately, produced only two foals. The first was Aazfar 13627, by Azkar, who followed in his mother’s footsteps and won many park championships. Not only was Aazfar Aarafla’s only son, but he was Azkar’s youngest son as well. The second of Aarafla’s foals was Aafala, by Aaraf. Aafala was Aarafla’s only daughter, and at 21 years of age is still producing.
While Aaraf, Aarafa, and Aarafla were winning at shows in the East, Aarief was making an equally impressive name for himself on the west coast, while he was on lease to Lasma Arabians. While there he sired many foals, including Aadrief 12380 and Aalrief 14233, a National Top Ten horse. Aarief also played an important part in the breeding program at McCoy Arabians. He sired The Real McCoy, out of Fersara (dam of Ferzon), who influenced the breeding program at Lewisfield Arabians during the Sixties. Photos of Aarief were also added to the Raswan collection.
Ben Hur Farms acquired quite an impressive collection of trophies over the years, including numerous halter and park awards. The most prestigious, however, was the Egyptian Challenge Trophy, donated by King Farouk of Egypt. In order to retire the trophy permanently, Ben Hur had to win it three times at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, in Harrisburg. The winners were selected for “perfection of breed type, and performance.” The first horse ever to win this trophy, and the first horse to win it for Ben Hur, was Aarafa in 1950. Later the trophy was awarded to Aalzar, and finally, in 1963, it was won by Raffarana 12401, by Handeyraff 3940 (*Raffles x Hanadin 2575), out of Yatana 1232 (Farana 708 x Ghazayat 584).
Ben Hur Farms produced a number of other excellent horses during its existence, many of whom were not only champions themselves, but also the sires and dams of champions, including Aadeara 10823 (Aaraf x Aadura), Aalurah 3714 (Aaraf x Aadah), Aabona 12277 (Aaraf x Aaba) and Aahfour 10820 (Aaraf x Aastra 3712).
Around 1960 the bulk of Ben Hur stock, some 40 horses, was sold to James F. Lewis, Jr., to become part of the foundation for his Lewisfield Arabians. Lewis had also imported a large number of horses from Lady Wentworth’s Crabbet Stud in England, and had purchased several horses of the *Raseyn/*Raffles cross. Lewisfield’s main stallion was *Nizzam 16070, and Ben Hur mares, when bred to him, consistently produced exquisite foals — perhaps his finest. Numbered among the champions from this cross are Lewisfield Nizziza, Lewisfield Nizzarafa, Lewisfield Nizzaza, Lewisfield Nizzara, Lewisfield Nizzoro, Lewisfield Nizzamo, Lewisfield Nizrif, and Lewisfield Legacy.
Lewisfield also bred a few “straight Ben Hur” horses, most of whom were sired by Aaraf. Most noted among these are Lewisfield Serenade 13633 (also called Aadaia) and Rafhanna formerly Lewisfield Dixie), out of Aadah; Lewisfield Royal Flush 21195, Lewisfield Caress 23656, and Lewisfield Bahama 27580, out of Aazkara; and Lewisfield Sun God 21194 and Lewisfield Sun Gal out of Aarafa. Aarafa’s son Lewisfield Bold Hawk (by Aalzar) was also “straight Ben Hur.”
When Lewisfield was dispersed in 1973, these Ben Hur horses were sold to various farms throughout the country, where they were incorporated into already existing programs. Gradually the percentage of Ben Hur blood decreased and appeared farther back in the pedigrees. However, no matter in what type of program these horses were used, they always helped to improve it, thus proving their versatility as breeding stock by mixing well with various bloodlines and becoming ideal outcrosses.
Today there are a number of dedicated breeders throughout the country, mostly in the central part, who maintain small herds of Ben Hur-bred horses, including Mary Manor Farm in Troy, Ohio; Phara Farm in Hartford, Wisconsin; and Marcy Arabians in Dyersville, Iowa. The quality of the horses at these farms and many others is comparable to that of the horses produced ten years ago at Lewisfield, and twenty or thirty years ago at Ben Hur Farms. The stallion B.H. Bold Decision 71851 (Lewisfield Bold Hawk x Burr-Hill Gindara), owned by Judy Williams of Nobelsville, Indiana, bears a strong likeness to his great-grandfather, Aaraf, and especially to his father’s half-brother, Lewisfield Sun God, as well as a striking resemblance to his distant cousins Sun God Reflection and The Midnight Sun, both owned by Annette Patti of Phara Farm.
The quality of these horses has remained constant, yet the prices have stayed relatively low. Still, it’s nice to know that in these days when so many people are determined to latch onto the latest imported fad, there are still a few breeders following a proven domestic program, like that of Ben Hur Farms, which has rightfully earned the title, “American-Bred.”