Crabbet Arabian Stud

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Mesaoud, one of the foundation sires of the Crabbet Arabian Stud, bred in Egypt by Ali Pasha Sherif, imported to England by the Blunts in 1891

The Crabbet Arabian Stud, also known as the Crabbet Park Stud, was a horse breeding farm established on 2 July 1878 when the first Arabian horses brought to England by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt arrived at Crabbet Park, their estate in Sussex. Six months earlier, while staying in Aleppo, Wilfrid and Lady Anne had made a plan to import some of the best Arabian horses to England and breed them there. In Lady Anne's words, "it would be an interesting and useful thing to do and I should like much to try it."

Travels in Arabia[edit]

The Blunts' Arabian journeys are described in Lady Anne's books Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates and A Pilgrimage to Nejd, based on Lady Anne's journals, though heavily edited by Wilfrid. In the winter of 1877/1878 they left Aleppo for what is now Iraq and reached the camps of Faris, a prince of the Anazeh tribe; Ferhan and other Bedouin leaders. Wilfrid became the blood brother of Faris. On a subsequent trip in 1881 he and Lady Anne reached the heart of the Najd in what is now Saudi Arabia.

Among the horses the Blunts acquired on these journeys were the bay filly Dajania, purchased on Christmas Day in 1877; a dark bay mare eventually named Queen of Sheba, purchased from the Sheykh of Gomussa and his cousin in the summer of 1878; and a chestnut mare named Rodania. All three have left many descendants. Through their connections among the tribes, the Blunts also heard of a celebrated grey stallion. They sent a trusted friend, Zeyd Saad el Muteyri, to buy him; the horse was named Azrek, and became an influential sire.

Egypt[edit]

As important to Crabbet as the desert Arabians were, the collection of Egyptian leader Abbas Pasha proved an equally valuable source. This Governor of Egypt acquired horses from Arabia and Syria; his stock formed the foundation for the stud of Ali Pasha Sherif. The Blunts made their initial visit to Ali Pasha Sherif in 1880 and purchased the stallion Mesaoud, in 1889. Lady Anne wrote of the stallion: "He is four white legged and high up to the knee but surprisingly handsome."

As he aged, Ali Pasha Sherif's health failed and he encountered financial and political problems, leading to the ruin of his stud. In 1896 and 1897 Lady Anne inspected what she called the "sad remnants" before they were sold at auction, and was able to procure several of the best horses that remained. Some of these horses remained in Egypt, at a stud farm owned by the Blunts called Sheykh Obeyd. Thus, according to breed expert Rosemary Archer, some of today's horses of Crabbet breeding carry a higher proportion of Abbas Pasha blood than many present-day Egyptian Arabians.

Difficulties under the Blunts[edit]

Thanks to these purchases, Crabbet eventually became the center of Arabian horse breeding. But, there were many problems along the way. The Blunts spent much of their time travelling in Arabia and did not know what was going on in their absence. The pastures were ill-tended, the stables and paddocks not cleaned, stallions were shut up without exercise for weeks at a time. The Sheykh Obeyd stud fared little better while the Blunts were in England. Horses in Egypt were cared for by inattentive grooms and alcoholic managers, left tethered in the hot sun without shade or water, and many died. Further, Wilfrid Blunt had no experience of horse breeding and believed that Arabians should live in "desert conditions" - that is, with little food or shelter provided. Lady Anne disagreed, but she was not able to demonstrate the superiority of her methods of horse management until the Blunts separated in 1906.

In that year, Wilfrid's mistress, Dorothy Carleton, moved in with Wilfrid, and the Blunts agreed to a formal separation. The Stud was divided. Lady Anne signed a Deed of Partition drawn up by Wilfrid. Under its terms, Lady Anne kept Crabbet Park and half the horses, while Blunt took Caxtons Farm, also known as Newbuildings, and the rest of the stock. Soon thereafter, Lady Anne retired to Sheykh Obeyd in Cairo, where she lived for most of the remainder of her life.[1] Wilfrid frequently had to sell off horses to pay off debts. Lady Wentworth wrote of Wilfred, "His tyranny and spirit of discord eventually alienated him from his family, from most of his friends, and from several countries...He had a theatrical tendency to thunder and lightning stage effects which verged on melodrama...and his temper was not improved by hashish and morphia..."[2]

Lady Anne died in 1917, passing on her titles to the Blunt's only child, their daughter, Judith, who became known as "Lady Wentworth." The Crabbet estate went to Lady Anne's granddaughters, as did what horses she still owned in England. Lady Wentworth had already purchased back some animals that Wilfred had sold to third parties and thus had a small herd of her own. Wilfrid then attempted to seize the horses and land, making a nighttime raid on Crabbet and initially taking all of the horses, including those already legally owned by Lady Wentworth. The mare Bukra, too near foaling to travel, was shot on Wilfred's orders.[2] Bitter and anxious to pay off his creditors, Wilfrid sold 37 horses, exporting several to W.R. Brown's Maynesboro stud in the United States. Between thefts and sales of horses at Newbuildings, many horses of the original Blunt breeding program were lost to Crabbet. In turn, Lady Wentworth and her children forcibly took her favorite mare, Riyala, from Wilfrid's stable, and purchased back many horses from their new owners.

A protracted lawsuit ensued between Wilfred against both his granddaughter's trustee and his daughter. Eventually the courts ruled against Wilfred. At one point, after Wilfred had shot seven more horses, the Trustee for the granddaughters obtained an injunction to prevent the sale or destruction of any more animals.[2] In 1921, the court declared that Wilfrid's seizure of horses was illegal, and that even the Deed of Partition was invalid, having been signed by Lady Anne "under duress". Lady Wentworth was able to buy out her granddaughter's share in the estate from the Trustee, who was anxious to liquidate the assets. Upon Wilfrid's death in 1922, Lady Wentworth also bought Caxtons Farm from his executors and finally reunited the entire Stud.[3]

Crabbet under Lady Wentworth[edit]

Lady Wentworth had an unhappy marriage, divorcing in 1923. Upon the death of Lady Anne Blunt in 1917, she obtained her mother's title, and became the 16th Baroness Wentworth. The Wentworth title, one of the oldest in England, is one of the few that can be passed through the female line. By the time she took over the Stud, Crabbet Park had been leased. The Stud itself retained only eight horse boxes, some cowsheds and a few weed-choked pastures. The horses had been sorely neglected, some had starved to death, and others took years to recover.[2]

Lady Wentworth spent many years carefully rebuilding her stock and refining her breeding practices. To raise funds, she sold some bloodstock back to Egypt in 1920, including the stallions Kasmeyn, Sotamm, and Hamran, as well as the mares Bint Riyala and Bint Rissala. She also sold a number of horses to Spain's Duke of Veragua, including five Skowronek daughters. In 1926, she again received a significant infusion of much-needed cash when the famed Kellogg Arabian Ranch in California, owned by breakfast cereal magnate W. K. Kellogg, spent over $80,000 to purchase a number of Crabbet horses.

Lady Wentworth rejected Wilfred's "desert conditions" theory as well as a prevailing conviction that Arabians were naturally the size of large ponies (that is, under 14.2 hands, or 58 inches high at the shoulder). She first proved that Arabians could produce taller horses from the projeny of Rijm, a grandson of Rodania, who reached 16.1 hands. Her great contribution to Arabian breeding, however, was her outcross of the Blunt bloodstock to Skowronek.

Skowronek[edit]

Skowronek as a young horse

Lady Wentworth knew that she needed additional horses to outcross on descendants of her parents' original bloodstock. Therefore, she added the chestnut stallion Dargee, and her most famous purchase, the gray stallion Skowronek.

The English painter Walter Winans bought Skowronek from Count Josef Potocki's Antoniny Stud in Poland, where he had been foaled in 1909. Winans rode the stallion and used him as a model for several bronzes, then sold him to Webb Wares, who used him as a hack, and eventually sold him to H.V. Musgrave Clark, where he was shown and used at stud for the first time, coming to the attention of Lady Wentworth.

Lady Wentworth bought Skowronek under circumstances that remain a bit confusing even today. Clark believed he was selling the horse to an American exporter, but at the last minute, the export was cancelled and Lady Wentworth suddenly was the owner of Skowronek. Clark was a rival Arabian breeder, and Lady Wentworth may have used the agent as a front; concerned that if Clark had known she was interested, he might have increased the price - or refused to sell the horse at all. Clark was not happy with the result, and the two breeders had a somewhat cool relationship after she purchased the stallion.[4]

While Count Potocki apparently found Skowronek unimpressive as a colt, having sold him to Winans for 150 pounds, the gray became a spectacular stallion and was named "Horse of the Century". Lady Wentworth later turned down an offer of $250,000 from the Tersk Stud, and bragged that she once received a cable "from the Antipodes" addressed to "Skowronek, England." The outcross of the Crabbet stock with Skowronek was extremely successful, and the resulting animals not only sold throughout England but were exported to Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Russia and the USA.

The Skowronek Controversy[edit]

Lady Wentworth herself was satisfied that Skowronek was a purebred (or asil) Arabian, tracing his pedigree and strain to several reliable desert sources.[2] In the General Stud Book, however, Skowronek's pedigree ends with three grandparents. This has led some Arabian enthusiasts to question if Skowronek was in fact a purebred. His sire, Ibrahim, was desert-bred and imported to Poland. His dam Jaskoulka (variously known as Yascolka or Yaskolka) was a Polish-bred Arabian. However, while the Poles had bred Arabians for centuries and kept careful pedigree records, they also crossed Arabian stallions on Thoroughbred and other non-Arabian mares. In addition, some breeders used different terminology to distinguish horses bred in the desert and imported to Poland from the descendants of those horses bred in Poland, with translation issues leading some English language researchers to argue that second and third generation Polish-bred purebred Arabians were not actually purebred.[5] For these reasons, some people argued that his dam was not asil. However, research of Jaskoulka's pedigree shows that her sire Rymnik and her dam Epopeja (also spelled Epopeia or Epopya) both traced to Abbas Pasha horses. Nonetheless, due to this controversy, some private breeders' organizations, such as Al Khamsa, exclude descendants of Skowronek.

The Depression, World War II, and the Postwar Years[edit]

Crabbet's peak year was 1929, when over 30 mares were bred. But as the Great Depression deepened, it affected Crabbet Park, with Lady Wentworth only breeding 8 foals in 1932, and 2 foals in 1933. To reduce the size of the herd, she made major sales in 1936 to the Tersk Stud of the Soviet Union, selling 25 horses, including the beautiful Skowronek son Naseem. The stud's financial picture also improved by selling 3 more horses to the Kellogg Ranch. In this period, Lady Wentworth also sold horses to Australia, Brazil, Holland and Portugal.[3] Nonetheless, the Depression years resulted in the birth of many fine horses, including Sharima, Indian Gold, Indian Crown, and Sharfina.

During World War II, Lady Wentworth's aunt, Mary Lovelace, died, leaving a large fortune. This inheritance was much needed and marked the end of the financial problems which had been a problem for Lady Wentworth and the Crabbet Stud. In the war years, even though Lady Wentworth cut back her herd due to shortages and the necessity for the Stud to be completely self-supporting in horse feedstuffs, horses such as Grey Royal, Silver Gilt, Indian Magic, Silfina, and *Serafina were produced. While Crabbet was bombed during the war, with over 32 incendiaries dropped, all landed on farmland and no humans or horses were injured. A Canadian Army Supply Unit took over part of the stud, with soldiers billeted in the house and even in some of the horse boxes.[2]

After the war, she purchased the stallions Raktha and Oran, and produced other significant breeding stock including Sharima, Silver Fire, Indian Gold, and Nisreen. By the time of her death in 1957 at the age of 84, she owned 75 horses, noted for their height, excellent movement and regal carriage.

Crabbet under Cecil Covey[edit]

Lady Wentworth died on 8 August 1957. She left the Stud to its manager, Geoffrey Covey, but as he predeceased her by a few days it passed to his son Cecil. (The Queen Anne house itself passed to Lady Wentworth's daughter Lady Winifred Tryon, who sold it; today, it is an office block and its royal tennis court has been restored.)

Fortunately, Cecil Covey had inherited some other land. Only by selling land and nearly half of the 75 horses was he able to pay the 80% death duties owed on Lady Wentworth's estate and keep the Stud going. What followed was the largest single consignment of Arabians ever made from England, to Bazy Tankersley's Al Marah Stud in the USA. In 1961 Covey also sold the stallion Sindh to Dora Maclean of Fenwick Stud in Australia, where he became one of Australia's most important Arabian sires.

For twelve years the stud ran smoothly under Covey, with twenty to thirty horses plus visiting mares; for the first time, the Crabbet sires were open to outside breeders. In early 1970, however, Covey learned that the government planned to build a motorway connecting South London with Gatwick Airport and Brighton. The motorway eventually bisected Crabbet Park, and, having lost most of the horse pastures to development, in 1972 Covey reluctantly sold off the last of the Stud.

The legacy of Crabbet[edit]

Serafix, bred by Lady Wentworth, foaled 1949, imported to the United States in 1954, was one of the best-known of the "modern Crabbet" stallions, the result of over 60 years of Crabbet breeding. In this photo, he was 22 years old.

At least 90% of all Arabian horses alive today trace their pedigrees in one or more lines to Crabbet horses[1] such as Mesaoud and Skowronek.

Many major Arabian sires worldwide show a strong Crabbet influence in their bloodlines. Polish and Russian bloodlines have a Crabbet influence through the Skowronek son and Mesaoud grandson Naseem, and his son Negatiw (or Negativ). Mesaoud himself was sold to Russia in 1903. Spanish bloodlines have a Crabbet influence through the stallion Nana Sahib and others. Even major historic "Egyptian-bred" sires such as Nazeer trace to Mesaoud through his Crabbet-bred grandson, Sotamm. The Crabbet-owned stallion Raktha, sire of Serafix, was exported to South Africa in 1951, along with several other Crabbet horses. The first Crabbet stallion imported to Australia was Rafyk, who was imported, along with two Crabbet mares, in 1891.[6] Today, Australia now has a significant number of "pure" Crabbet lines, undiluted by infusions from other sources,[7] with possibly the highest percentage of straight-and high-percentage Crabbet blood in the world.[8]

A small number of Arabian horse breeders continue to produce preservation or "straight" Crabbet bloodlines, with all animals produced descending in every line from horses bred or purchased by the Crabbet stud. An even smaller group of breeders maintain preservation bloodlines tracing strictly to the horses imported or bred by the Blunts.

For the average Arabian horse owner, horses with Crabbet ancestry are noted for athletic ability, attractive appearance, and good dispositions. They are popular in under saddle classes and seen in many equestrian disciplines, both those limited to Arabians and those open to all breeds.

The particular virtues of Crabbet horses - sound, athletic conformation, good movement, solid temperament and performance ability - show up especially well in under saddle competition, and particularly in the Arabian-dominated field of endurance riding, highlighted by 100-mile competitions such as the Tevis Cup in the USA and the Australian Quilty 100-Mile Endurance Ride. Crabbet breeding is also popular in the "Sport Horse" disciplines such as Dressage and show jumping, for which the Arabian Horse Association now sponsors a National Championship.

Thus, the modern Arabian of Crabbet ancestry can be seen in the backyard of the single horse owner, on rugged wilderness terrain, or at the highest levels of national performance competition.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Alice Spawls. "In the saddle". LRB blog. London Review of Books. Retrieved 21 September 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Wentworth, Judith Anne Dorothea Blunt-Lytton. The Authentic Arabian Horse, 3rd ed. George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1979.
  3. ^ a b Cadranell, R.J. "The Mistress of Crabbet," Arabian Visions, March 1990.
  4. ^ "Skowronek"
  5. ^ "Is Purity the Issue?" Section: 'General Introduction,' WAHO Publication Number 21, January 1998
  6. ^ Gordon, Coralie. "In Search of the Crabbet Arabian in His Own Land" Somerset Publications. Web site accessed May 3, 2008
    Arabian Horse Society of Australia, "A Brief History of the Arabian Horse in Australia". Web page accessed May 3, 2008
  7. ^ http://www.crabbetarabian.com/crabbet.html Gordon, Coralie. "What is Crabbet?" Somerset Publications.] Web site accessed May 3, 2008
    Gordon, Coralie. "In Search of the Crabbet Arabian in His Own Land" Somerset Publications. Web site accessed May 3, 2008
  8. ^ Horsewyse, March 2008, p. 7

Bibliography and external links[edit]

  • Archer, Rosemary, Colin Pearson and Cecil Covey. The Crabbet Arabian Stud: Its History and Influence. Crabbet Organisation, 1978. ISBN 0-906382-13-0
  • Blunt, Lady Anne. Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates. ASIN: B00088K2HA
  • Blunt, Lady Anne. A Pilgrimage to Nejd. Reprint. David & Charles, 1985. ISBN 0-7126-0989-X
  • Wentworth, Judith Anne Dorothea Blunt-Lytton. The Authentic Arabian Horse, 3rd ed. George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1979.
  • Winstone, H.V.F. Lady Anne Blunt: A Biography, Barzan Pub., 2003. ISBN 1-900988-57-7
  • The Crabbet Influence Magazine
  • Mulder, Carol W."Skowronek" originally published in The Crabbet Influence, May/June 1989