An Introduction to the Author, Dr. Amin Zaher

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Amin Zaher

From “This Issue and Next” (Western Horseman Mar/Apr’48)

Dr. Amin Zaher, D.V.M., M.S., has recently come to the United States from Egypt to obtain a PhD. in genetics and animal breeding. His thesis title is “The Genetic History of the Arab in America.” Prior to his arrival in the states he occupied the position of Arabian horse breeder in the stud of the Royal Agricultural Society of Egypt for twelve years. The Egyptian ministry of agriculture has requested that he visit the various Arabian Stud farms while he is in America. Already he has visited many of the most prominent, such as Kellog, (sic) Dickinson, Babson, Van Vleet, Raswan, Tormohlen, Draper, Bazy Miller and many others. Just so that he would have plenty to occupy his time he has been judging Arabian horse shows and has kindly consented to write three articles for The Western Horseman. The first, which appears in this issue, is on the background. This will be followed by articles on the Arab in Egypt and America today.

The Arab Horse in Legend and History

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Amin Zaher

by Dr. Amin Zaher
Photos from the Zaher collection (Western Horseman Mar/Apr’48)

Nigma at 5 yrs. with her first colt in Egypt. Picture taken in front of Prince Mohammed Ali’s palace.

Amir Abdelkader Algazairy, a nineteenth century Morroccan nobleman, tells us that some Arabs of the Azed tribe went to Jerusalem to congratulate Solomon on his marriage to the Queen of Sheba. Having completed their mission, they asked him to give them food to take on their long journey. He gave them a stallion descended from the Ismail stock and said to them:

When you are hungry, place your best rider on this horse and arm him with a stout lance; by the time you have collected your wood and kindled a flame you will see him returning with the fruit of a successful chase.”

The Azed did this and never failed to obtain a gazelle or an ostrich. Therefore they called this horse “Zad Elrakeb,” meaning “provision for the rider.” Unfortunately Amir Abdelkader did not give any description of the stallion. Later when bred he produced some mighty sons and daughters.

The first Egyptian records of the horse are very ancient. A wall painting shows an Egyptian hunter, and it was drawn about 1400 B.C. The horse has a good many of the original, desirable characteristics of the Arabian such as the dished face, the large eye, the sensitive muzzle, the long swan neck, the well rounded rump, and the cocked tail, all of which are still highly esteemed in the Arabian horse. Whether this kind of horse existed in Egypt at that time, or whether the horse originated in the mind of the artist, nobody can tell, but the latter seems improbable.

Before the rise of Mohammedanism the famous Arabian poets, Imro-olkais, Amr Ibn Abi Rabeah, and Antara wrote their masterpieces of Arabic verse. In these they described many of the characteristics, colors, and habits of the Arabian horse. From their description one can tell that they were talking of the horse of the desert.

Shahloul by Ibn Rabdan, Royal Agriculture Society stallion, Egypt.

The Bedouins of Arabia had the Arabian horse, loved it, and in their life it played an extremely important role. The sayings of the prophet Mohammed reveal the significance of the Arabian to them. The following are good examples:

1. Bounty and happiness are ever on horseback; horses are gold that one may hold.

2. Every Moslem must have as many horses as he can afford.

3. The best of all is the bay, chestnut, or black with star and three stockings.

4. Abu Horairah recalled the prophet saying: “when a man races his mare with another horse unknown to him and the winner is a matter of chance, it is not gambling; but if he knows his mare will win, that is gambling.”

Gambling was forbidden. The prophet took gambling to be a form of cheating, such as betting on a sure thing.

5. The prophet said that nothing made a man happier than the following: (a) playing with his wife, (b) training his mare, (c) hunting with his bow and arrow.

6. When Arabian horses gather and run together, the chestnut will be the leader.

7. The best is the attentive, black, five-year-old; the next best is the five-year-old with three stockings and no white on the off forefoot. If it is not black, dark brown will do.

8. Every man who loves a horse is as good a man as he who is generous to the poor.

Nigma at 32 yrs. Much of the produce of this mare came to America.

The Arabian horse has been a source of pleasure to men not only during the time of the prophet but at all other times. Al Asmai, the great Arabian poet who lived about 750 A.D., tells how Haroun al Rasheed rode out to see a race. He says,

I was among those who came with the Califf Al Rasheed. The horses all belonged to Haroun Al Rasheed, his sons, and Soliman Ibn Gafar El Mansoor. A black mare named Zibd, which had been bred by Haroun Al Rasheed, won the race. The Califf was so delighted that he sent for me. He told me to write a poem about this mare Zibd, describing her from head to foot.”

The Bedouins certainly must have been masters in the science of breeding. In the development of their famous Arabian they used many modern breeding techniques. When they breed they never forgot the importance of color, endurance, thirst and hunger.

One trick they used was to measure their horses with a string, passing it just behind the animal’s ears and joining the two ends at the upper lip. The measurement thus gained served as a guide for the proper distance from hoof to withers. H. H. Mohammed Ali says “Find a well bred Arabian horse and it will surprise you to see what a true test this is.”

Color preference was, and still is, good material for argument among Arabian horse breeders, as it is with most other horsemen. Even the Arabs had a diversity of opinion with regard to color. In general they preferred the black first, then the dark bay with a star on the forehead, and then the dark chestnut. Dark colors were always favorites. The light chestnut and grey were last on the list.

Very light colors, such as palominos, were not popular. In fact, they used to call such a light colored animal “Ghagari,” which means “gypsy.” There was no reason for their disliking light colored horses; I believe it was just a matter of individual taste. Among the thousands of real Arabians that I have known and seen I have yet to find a single one that resembled the American Palomino. It is recorded, however, that such a color did exist among the Arabs, although it was very rare.

The Arabs were very superstitious about markings. White well up on the legs was considered unlucky. Two white socks on diagonal or lateral feet were also disliked. If the two fore or two hind feet were white, however, the horse was acceptable.

Modern scientific breeders question the belief that strains and families exist among the Arabian horses. An interesting story, however, is offered by Amir Abdelkader about the early foundation of the Arab.

At the beginning of the Christian era, about two thousand years ago, the Arem flood covered the Arabian lands, as is mentioned in the Koran, the holy book of Islam. All horses were turned loose for some little time and it became difficult to recapture them. After the flood subsided, five Bedouins were hunting in the desert. Here they saw five mares by a well. After several days they succeeded in capturing them. On their way back home they were unable to find anything to eat so they at last decided to kill one of the captured mares. Which one became a matter of heated discussion. It was finally decided to race them, the loser to be killed. This indicates that they had in mind the principle of selection. While the race was in progress, they killed a deer so that it was not necessary to kill one of the mares. These five mares were destined to become the ancestors of a new line of horses. They named one Saqlawieh, because she had glossy hair; another Om Arkoob, because she had a defective hock. Arkoob is the Arabian word for hock. Another they called Showaima, because she had many cow-licks; another Ibayyah, because the dress of her rider slipped down and she carried it all the way back on her tail; and lastly Kahilah, because she had dark eyes.

According to another story, which is believed by many authorities, the mares were originally named after their owners. When a man tied a mare in his stable, this was a sign that he owned it and the horse took his name. If the mare foaled, her offspring might be sold to another breeder, and then its name would be composed of two names, its dam’s name and the name of her dam’s owner, and so on.

The name, “Seglawi Jedran Ibn Sudan,” is found on some Arabian pedigrees. According to the above theory the female ancestors on the dam’s side were owned by three different men, Seglawi, Jedran, and Ibn Sudan. In a similar way, as time goes on, you may have separate families in this country. It has happened in every kind of livestock. Dickinson, Draper, Selby, Babson, Ben Hur, all may develop strains if they continue to breed Arabians, especially if they do not make many outcrosses. Then their names may have a meaning similar to Seglawi, Koheilan, Dahman, and so on.

The ability some claim to separate Arabians into certain types according to conformation, to relate those types to certain strains, and to know their family from their conformation is incredible to me. There is only one type that should be in the mind of Arabian horse breeders, “the typical Arabian,” even though individuals may vary.

My Visit with the American Arabs (Horses)

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Amin Zaher

by Dr. Amin Zaher Photos from the Zaher collection (Western Horseman Jul/Aug ’48)

The Van Vleet Arabs on their high altitude ranch, not far from Denver, Colorado.

While I was in Egypt, I read much about the American-bred Arabs. When I had the opportunity to come to this country to study, it was my honor to be asked by the Egyptian government to make a tour and to inspect these Arabians in America.

After making some preliminary inquiries, I learned that a great many of these Arabs were in California, so I planned to begin with the Western breeders. I wrote to them before leaving Lansing by train and reached San Francisco after about three days.

On a foggy day, I started out to see my first lot of American Arabs on the Jedel ranch of J. E. Draper. No, I was not dreaming; Arabs were before my eyes in the pasture. More than ten thousand miles from Egypt, and I was awakened by the smell of Arabs, after having missed them for months.

While in San Francisco I met another Arab breeder, a young man, “not rich enough to have Arabs,” as he said; yet right in the heart of San Francisco he had a few. He is not a rancher, but he likes Arabs. In the hotel we talked about them, and I was surprised at the excellent information he was able to give me about the Arabs of America. His wife was also very interested in them.

The next morning I saw his horses. I said, “Mr. Smith, which are your first purchases and which the last?” When he showed me it indicated what happens to almost all Arabian lovers in this country. Their first purchases are not the best type, and the last bought more closely resemble the ideal type. This is a good sign.

The day next took the train down the Pacific coast to Santa Barbara, to the home of “The Dean.” I call General J. M. Dickinson the dean of Arab breeders in this country because I knew even while I was still in Egypt, that he had spent most of his life taking care of Arabs. He has imported horses from almost every country to his large stud. The General is a man who has written about them in a fair and authoritative manner. I spent an enjoyable day at his ranch.

I then proceeded to Los Angeles to attend the meeting of the Arabian Breeders Association of California to which I had been invited. There I was suddenly asked to speak. Although it was the first time I had given a public address in a foreign language before a large group of people, I enjoyed a very pleasant evening. In Los Angeles I also saw the Kellogg Institute, and, under the guidance of Mrs. Phillips, the secretary of the society, I had the opportunity to inspect many fine Arabs and to talk to breeders about their horses.

Sartez and Dr. Zaher at the Raswan Ranch at Cedar Crest, New Mexico.

Cedar Crest, N.M., was my next stop, to see the enthusiastic Carl Raswan and his Maniquiat. He is happy on his 8000-foot mountain among his few, well-selected Arabs, and his many books. It was most pleasant to sit on Arabian carpets and “talk horse” until three o’clock in the morning!

Although I had been looking at horses for thirty days, when I returned to Lansing I was soon “horse sick” and started out to see more.

In Peru, Ill., a young lady, Mrs. Bazy Miller, has established her Arab stud. Mrs. Miller was busy with her horses when I saw her. That night we talked horses, and, although her husband pretended to know nothing about them, he joined the talk, and expressed ideas that many horsemen would do well to learn and follow.

My most thrilling visit was to Van Vleet in Colorado where Arabs are kept at a very high altitudes. Mr. Wayne was kind enough to tell me how the Arabs are trained here and how they react to the climate. I shall never forget the horror of going up the winding road through the mountains, where one can see the great city of Denver, so small, moving with every turn. This was my first acquaintance with high mountains.

Azkar. Ben Hur Farm, Portland, Indiana.

A drive to Portland, Ind., gave me the pleasure of meeting Mr. and Mrs. Tormohlen of the Ben Hur farm and seeing their horses. On their farm they live with their Arabs, feeding them, talking to them, and writing about their ancestors. I was impressed by their broad knowledge of the Arab.

My last trip before writing this was to see Arabs of my country, not in Egypt, but on the farm of Babson in Grand Detour, Illinois. They were the first Arabs I wanted to see when I came to America, but the last I got to visit. I saw them on a rainy, snowy day. What a difference between Egypt and America in almost everything — on weather, in pasture. But the horses have become quite adapted, as is the case with Arabs.

In September, 1947, I had the honor of being invited by the Arabian Breeders Association of California to judge their third annual show in Devonshire, Los Angeles. I drove to California with two of my Arab Lebanon friends who are very interested in Arabs. They were glad to see Arabs again after having missed them for so long. Through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Long of Tazana, I spent my happiest days in this country. The inspection of 250 pure-bred Arabs at the show, all in their best condition, was both thrilling and pleasant.

Shortly after my return to Lansing, I was invited to visit Mr. Kellogg in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was anxious to have me visit him, but so many people had told me that the old man could not stand long conferences that I expected to speak with him no more than five minutes. The greatest Arabian horse fancier in America, however, did almost all the talking about Arabs, and, to my surprise, for fifty-five minutes. The breakfast food king still maintains a great interest in the Arab horse.

In this my last article in this series, I want to try to answer some of the many questions I have been asked about American Arabs. Questions such as: What do you think of our Arabians, where do the best importations come from, and many other similar questions.

I know from experience that ideas about Arabs differ, and that looks, especially among horses, have a wide range. The importations to this country have also varied widely. There were several importations which were decidedly off-type. But what can the American breeder do when the importer says he is sending the best type of Arab? He has to take it for granted.

Importations were made from almost every country in the world that had Arabians — from Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Spain, France, Germany, England, South America, and other countries, average ones, and off-type animals. Every importer claimed his were best, no doubt.

The Arabian Horse Club of America had no classification requirement for registration, and it may have been logical not to make any requirements so that importations would not be discouraged.

In many instances I have been asked to judge horses, and for my opinion of horses that were off-type. They may have been pure Arabs, but certainly Arabs that good Arabian breeders do not like. The owner, (not being thoroughly acquainted with the type) believed that he had the best, and spread the blood that he had to others who knew no more than himself. On the other hand there are cases where some breeders have typical horses, but neglect them. Occasionally some breeder who knows Arabs will get ahold of them and use them as the principal stallion in their stud. Some of those so secured have been twenty years old, and never used for breeding purposes before.

I was not well acquainted with the pedigree of the Arab of this country when I judged the Los Angeles show and heard the announcer say that Ramah and Skolma, (whom I had judged to be the champions of the show) were related. This indicates that importations do have something to do with the type of animals we see.

I then examined the pedigrees of most of the registered Arab horses in this country, paying greater attention to those I liked best and comparing them with the pedigrees of the animals I saw on my trip. It interested me very much to find out that the majority were closely related to Raseyn or Skowronek; some were related to such outstanding sires as Mirage, and a few other studs, who, I found out afterwards, are great favorites with the American breeders. Almost all stallions or mares that had the blood of the famous Ali Pasha Sherif of Egypt were also outstanding animals.

Some California breeders are making a mistake, I believe, in trying to increase the height and weight of the Arab. All of us know that the Arab is not a big horse. If you see a horse that is sixteen hands high, you should hesitate to classify him as an Arab. There may be Arabs which are comparatively tall, but they still maintain the majority of the typical Arab characteristics. If you have a sixteen- hand Arab which has a big head, drooping hind quarters, and long legs, would you like him? This kind of animal is surely an off-type and should not be used for breeding.

What do you want a big Arab for? Some people say for a Stock Horse. I know stock men. They have found from experience that tall, big horses tire easily, and smaller horses get the job done better. A Stock Horse does not need to be over 15 hands.

The Arab is still a foreigner in this country. Because he is a warm-blooded horse, I have heard that cowboys do not like him. Either he has been misrepresented to them, or their experience has been with a few exceptional horses. They have not tried him enough to know what abilities he has. The Arab has worked with stock since the dawn of history.

Which is the best Arab horse in America? This is always a very hard question to answer. It is a well-known fact that no animal on earth is perfect. At the same time, there are some better than others. To my mind, the best stallion for you is the one that adds desirable points to your mares.

Your stallion may have only one defect, but if the mares may have it too, you are going to fix this defect in all your animals for ages. I have seen this in some studs in America.

The United States is a big country and breeders do not usually have the opportunity to choose stallions that fit their individual mares. They cannot afford either to keep many stallions in one stud, or to send their mares a long way for a stallion in another state. This problem can be solved in one of two ways: either through exchange of stallions, or through averaging the defects of the mares and securing a stallion that can correct most of them. The smart choice of Gharris for Draper’s mares and Azkar for Ben Hur mares are examples. It is a sound principle to pay great attention to the pedigree (italics) and the progeny (end) of the stallion to be used.

Mares on the Kellogg Army Remount Station of Pomona, California.

When I tell the breeders these things, they still are not satisfied. They still want to know my opinion of the stallions I have seen. They want names. To answer this I can say: Gharris at Jedel, Ferseyn at Reese, Ramah at Scheele, Roayas at Phillips, one or two imported Polish Arabs at Pomona (Kellogg’s), Zarif [*Zarife] at Van Vleet, Sartez at Raswan, Azkar at Ben Hur, Fa-Eldin [Fay-el-Dine] at Babson, and Indraff at Bazy Miller. These are good stallions. Although each lacks a little that another may have, they are all good specimens of Arabs. Again I repeat, although they are good stallions, watch your step. Choose the stallion that can correct your mare’s defects.

I can see now that American breeders are the people who can and will gain new knowledge about the Arab. Very little scientific work has been done with the Arab. The American breeders, by keeping photographs, and filing full descriptions of their animals, can provide the colleges with rich material that can form the basis of future work on the Arab.

The horse of the desert is now running loose on your rich pastures in almost all your states. He will give you greater service than you expect, but do not go too far in trying for big animals. If you do you will not have Arabs, or service.