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The Herd


by John W. Fippen

Under the title "Heirloom Watch 1995," this article by John W. Fippen appeared originally in Khamsat, 12: 4 (November 1995): 47. The current essay has been edited and expanded by Debra Kay Schrishuhn.

The primary purpose of The Heirloom Arabian Stud is the preservation of the earliest Egyptian Arabian horses as a viable breeding group. To achieve this goal we need accountability, which we have with the Index, and we need a method to assess the overall strength and weakness of strains and families on a regular basis, accomplished with this small chart.

From 1840 to the present we have lost many strains, clearly shown in the Heirloom Index, and now importance must be given to preservation of the strains that we still have in our possession. If our efforts are strong enough, these remaining strains will breed on for future generations in the Heirloom herd, providing diversity of type and genetic heritage.

A brief analysis of the Heirloom Watch chart shows a dismal picture for direct descendants of Basilisk (BLT) in the tail female line. During the years 1984-87 they had a yearly production average of 6-7 foals, whereas in the following six years 1988-93 their annual production average dropped to 4.0. Record numbers of foals produced in 1994-95 have temporarily boosted this average to 5-6 births annually with approximately equal numbers of males and females born in the twelve-year span. Horses of the Saqlawi-Jidran (Ibn Sudan) strain tracing directly to Ghazieh (AP) show a steady decline in the birthrate from a high of 7 foals in 1984 to the birth of a single filly in 1993. The successful foaling seasons of 1994-95 added only 8 foals to this endangered strain.

The horses coming through El Dahma (APS) are split into two major families through her daughters Nadra El Kebira (KDV) and Obeya (KDV). These families are not equal in strength: note that in the four years 1984-87 there were 27 Nadra-line foals born (average 6.8/year) whereas in the following six years only 39 foals were born (average 6.5). For these periods, the Obeya-line horses look much better with averages of 8.8 and 11.0 respectively.

Clearly, if these and other adverse trends continue, in a few short years we will not have the horses of the pashas and the Blunts without additive blood, and the noble cause of Heirloom will be sheradu (lost forever).

-John W. Fippen, 1995

The years 1995-97 mark the apex of Heirloom preservation breeding, with a total of 222 foals born. In part the increased birthrate is a result of the personal influence of John Fippen, who spent hundreds of hours communicating with breeders and owners, educating them about the concept of Heirloom and exhorting them to focus their breeding programs and to replace their Heirloom stock before outcrossing them with later or different bloodlines.

Sadly, by the spring of 1998, the Arabian horse community had lost a number of major breeders: Richard Pritzlaff died in February 1997, John Fippen in December 1997, and Gerald Klinginsmith in February 1998. Cabreah International and Montebello, Inc., conglomerate breeders of Egyptian Arabians with some Heirloom stock, dissolved in 1997; Shar-Char Farms sold off its last ten horses in 1997; the Babson Arabian Horse Farm closed its doors in 1999, 67 years after Henry Babson's initial Egyptian importation; Locust Hills Farms, where breeding had ceased in 1994, dispersed the last of its primarily Heirloom herd in 1999. Heirloom birthrates dropped from an all-time high of 79 in 1997 to 58 in 1998, then precipitously to 41 in 1999 and into the upper 30s by 2000.

The reader will note major changes from its predecessor in the composition of the 1996-2000 chart. The Kuhaylan strains have disappeared. Horses formerly assigned Jellabiet Feysul (AP) as their tail female are now listed among the Saqlawi-Jidran under Bint Yamama (KDV). The Ghazieh (AP) tail female line is divided among her extant granddaughters with active dam lines, Helwa (APS) and Bint Yamama (KDV). Descendants of Roga El Beda (APS) are divided between the families of the full sisters Wanisa (RAS) and El Bataa (RAS). The Basilisk (BLT) tail female line is also shown with its two major families, those of the Rabanna daughters Kualoha and Naszra.

The "strain drain" within the Heirloom gene pool is evident not only by the incorporation of the Kuhaylan-Jallabi strain into the Saqlawi-Jidran (Ibn Sudan) through Ghazieh (AP) population, as necessitated by recent DNA research, but by dwindling birthrates among the Saqlawi substrains and the critically endangered Hadban-Inzihi strain. The last two living Heirloom horses of the Kuhaylan-Ajuz (Rodan) strain, the stallions Kais I (EAO) and *Serag, both died in 1995.

Since 1994, the Heirloom Research Group has endeavored to track deaths and geldings as well as births of Heirloom horses, to gain a clearer understanding of the overall reproductive health of the population. It is a well-known fact that many deaths and geldings go unreported to official registries, and sometimes owners or other eyewitness informants cannot recall the exact date (within the calendar year) of a particular horse's demise. Generally, the annual mortality rate held steady in the years 1995-98, with approximately 30-40 deaths per year. Slightly fewer horses are known to have died in the years 1999-2001. Approximately 120 horses born since 1975, over 20 percent of the male Heirloom population (significantly higher than the historical average of 12.5 percent, or one in eight colts), are known to have been gelded, and only 5 per cent of those geldings bred on within Heirloom prior to castration. A mere statistical comparison such as this study does not take into account the quality of these horses or economic factors involved in their removal from the breeding reserves.

As a whole, the Heirloom population can remain at its current level with 40-50 successful breedings per year. Sustaining genetic diversity requires that those breedings be distributed among the various families and sire lines within the overall group. Armed with the information provided by the Heirloom Index and accompanying charts, breeders can make new matches within Heirloom to freshen bloodlines and set the classic antique type of their horses. More than ever, breeders require the timely and accurate data provided by the Heirloom Index to make informed and responsible decisions for the future of these precious horses.



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