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By the way yesterday I sent the draft of my Will with some new suggestions ... to put into shape my plan of leaving these [horses] absolutely to Judith urging she should maintain as a permanent stud them or their produce to be called The Heirloom Arabian Stud. I wish to have a try at making it a permanent institution although people always declare that to be impossible.

—Lady Anne Blunt, entry for March 9, 1915, Journals and Correspondence, Cheltenham, England, 1986


by Joan L. Schleicher, ©2003

Some years ago, Col. John Fippen and I began a correspondence on the subject of "old Egyptian blood." We found, as many others have noticed, that there are substantial inconsistencies in the connotation of this term as it is used by people and organizations concerned with the Egyptian Arabian horse. In fact, there is no standard meaning for "old" or even for "Egyptian." As we tried to clarify our own understanding of this subject, we encountered an unexpected discovery and an exciting challenge. In this article, I will present some of the information and ideas that led us to introduce the Heirloom Arabian Stud in 1993.

At first, our interest was drawn to this issue because of the difficulty we had each experienced in answering questions posed by newcomers to the breed concerning why certain horses are Pyramid but not Sheykh Obeyd or not Al Khamsa, and why certain Al Khamsa horses are listed as part of the ancestral element Inshass rather than Egypt or Blunt. Some inquirers were satisfied by assurances that a particular horse would qualify for endorsement by one of the prominent marketing programs. But other people wanted to get to the bottom of the matter. They were looking for some meaningful, consistent categorical distinctions in the provenance of the stock that justified the familiar groupings, and the resulting "closed herd" breeding practices.

In search of answers to these questions, we studied the background of all the horses involved. Soon, we saw that traditional breeding groups had been shaped by a wide range of considerations, including owners’ opinions and habits, friendships and enmities, political and financial goals, and to a certain extent, the bare historical facts of origin of the bloodstock. In other words, these breeding groups represent human concerns as much as equine factors. This situation portrays one of the reasons why it is not easy to find simple explanations for the various definitions of old Egyptian Arabian horse bloodstock.

We decided to try to transcend the traditional categorizations. Was there a way to let history alone reveal the identity of the old Egyptian blood? We discovered that there were indeed clear historical parameters that divide modern Arab horse breeding in Egypt into two eras, with the earlier one ending in 1914. Furthermore, there were horses alive today carrying only the pre-1914 bloodstock; yet, this old Egyptian herd was hidden from sight. No formal preservation effort supported the group and it could easily be outcrossed to extinction. After determining that the existing herd was a viable breeding population, we decided to identify and conserve it. We began by naming it the Heirloom Arabian Stud.


As the name might suggest, Heirloom is based upon our legacy from the past, including the published documents of the Royal Agricultural Society (hereafter, RAS) of Egypt, and the eyewitness reports and commentaries by breeders in Egypt. In particular, Lady Anne Blunt left a wealth of primary source material for the early era of Egyptian breeding. The Heirloom name itself is an inheritance from Lady Anne. Her journal entry for March 9, 1915, declares that "The Heirloom Arabian Stud" should be the title of the permanent institution or Trust she was hoping to establish. As World War I began, she and other breeders in Egypt feared that the traditional Bedouin horse they revered might not survive the changing circumstances in the Middle East. A number of similar preservation attempts began.

Dr. Ahmed Mabrouk, Chief of the Animal Breeding Section of the RAS, depicts the scene in an article written for the journal The Arab Horse:

It is interesting to recall that in 1912 an International Society for the Preservation of the Arab Horse was formed in Egypt ... for the preservation of the pure Arab horse which is absolutely necessary for the amelioration of every other kind of horse in the world, the Society noting the change in the mode of living of the Bedouin and the deterioration of the Arab horse which must follow this change.

Since that time vast changes have taken place in the position and future of the Arab horse. The state of affairs foreseen by the International Society has not only come to pass but has been aggravated by other incidents, such as the Great War, disease, starvation, mechanization of transport and an even more rapid change in the Bedouin habits than was anticipated.

The Great War unfortunately interrupted the activities of the International Society, but if we are to save the Arab horse from complete extinction some action must be taken without delay. 
In a 1913 journal entry, Lady Anne Blunt describes her own contact with some of the Society’s founders who had invited her to "join the 3 Princes in a very much restricted registration of only pure Ali Pasha Sherif (i.e. Abbas) stock and perhaps a separate class for other authentic stock. This I will do with pleasure. Despite all these preservation plans, the last recorded horse born of "Abbas stock" was the 1917 stallion Rasheed (KED) (Jamil [APS] x Zareefa [BLT]), bred by Lady Anne.

Rasheed (KED) 1917 stallion, bred by Lady Anne at Sheykh Obeyd, was acquired after her death by Prince Kemal El Dine, as a foal at the side of Zareefa (BLT). (Jack Humphrey photograph, courtesy of the Carol Lyons collection)

Today, it is not possible to breed pure Abbas Arabians because of the gradual infusion of other blood. However, the Abbas Pasha stock is still accessible in combination with only the old desert lines introduced by other nineteenth-century breeders in Egypt. These desertbred horses acquired by the pashas and the Blunts were representative of the same Bedouin sociocultural patterns that produced the horses exported from the desert by Abbas Pasha. Being of the same provenance, together they constitute a historically significant breeding group. This stock was the focus of Lady Anne Blunt’s envisioned Heirloom Arabian Stud. Her goal has been adopted by the sponsors of Heirloom today.


In order to compile the list of taproot horses for Heirloom, we relied upon the first authorized studbook published by the Egyptian government in a volume entitled History of the Royal Agricultural Society’s Stud of Authentic Arabian Horses. This book contains essays by stud officials, endorsed by descendants of the nineteenth-century pashas, describing the concerns, goals, and carefully selected foundation stock of the RAS, as well as a brief history of Arab horse breeding in Egypt.

The History explains that until 1914, purebreds in Egypt were owned by private studs, most notably those of the pashas and the Blunts. Despite their efforts, various circumstances were diminishing the Arabian horse population in Egypt. This fact, together with the devastating impact of the wars on Middle Eastern cultures, prompted the government to establish a purebred stud:
But it proved very difficult to obtain genuine Arab horses from their prewar home in the East owing to the probable admixture of their blood with that of foreign horses from the various invading armies. It was consequently decided in 1914 to collect as many Arab thoroughbreds as could be found in Egypt.... At that time, purebred horses were to be found only in the possession of the late Khedive Abbas Pasha Hilmi II at Kubba, H.R.H. Prince Mohammed Ali at Manial, and Lady Anne Blunt at Ein Shams.... In 1919 the Society bought from the stables of Lady Wentworth, Lady Blunt’s daughter, 18 genuine Arab thoroughbreds for service in the Provinces, as well as two yearling fillies for breeding purposes.
From page 33 through 44 of this publication, there are two sections entitled "Root Mares" and "Root Stallions." Sixteen mares and forty-one stallions are presented here, nearly all of which were acquired from these private sources. This list is clearly distinguished from the chapters that follow, in which the horses later produced by the RAS purebred program are described. By extending the pedigrees of the RAS Root horses to their earliest recorded ancestors, we found that the History provided a reliable, valid basis for building the Heirloom taproot system.

Razaz (BLT), RAS Root Stallion #13. His blood was reintroduced into RAS stock when his grandson, Registan (by Skowronek), sired 13 foals out of RAS mares such as Bint Samiha (RAS), Farida (MNL), Samira (RAS), and Hind (RAS). (Rouch photograph, courtesy of the Joe Ferriss collection)
Only six of the RAS Root horses are not qualified to be Al Khamsa Arabians. Fifty descend exclusively from Al Khamsa Foundation Horses and their predecessors that were exported from Arabia Deserta before 1914 and are included in the ancestral elements Egypt I and Blunt. In fact, every Foundation Horse in the Egypt I ancestral element category is represented in the pedigrees of the Root horses of the RAS. All but one in the Blunt category, Ferida, are also included in these pedigrees. The only member of the Egypt II element to be included in the stock of the RAS Roots is the mare Badaouia (RAS). Her date of exportation from the desert is unknown. Should research reveal that the date precedes 1914, Badaouia (RAS) will be added to the Heirloom taproot list. Thus, the stock designated by the Royal Agricultural Society’s Stud as its own "roots" proved to be a consistent reference point for assembling a comprehensive list of extant bloodlines from the earliest era of Egyptian breeding, and for defining the Heirloom Stud.

The Heirloom taproot horses are the Al Khamsa Foundation Horses and their predecessors exported from Arabia Deserta before 1914 from which the Root Mares and Root Stallions of the RAS descend.

Questions about Heirloom

  • If Heirloom horses are the old Egyptian bloodstock, why aren’t all of them identified as "straight" Egyptian by the Pyramid Society?

    The Pyramid Society has become a highly visible organization since its foundation in 1969. The requisites established by that organization for qualification as a Pyramid Egyptian horse have been gradually developed and now trace a line through the breeding records of Egypt that is not particularly straight.

    One curve in the line circumvents some of the oldest documented blood, that of Kars (BLT) and Jerboa (BLT), exported from the desert in 1878 by Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt. Both are found in the pedigrees of horses purchased by the RAS for their purebred breeding program and listed as Root horses in the RAS History. Both are Foundation Horses of Al Khamsa. On the basis of these facts, Kars (BLT) and Jerboa (BLT) are Heirloom taproots. However, the Pyramid Society apparently does not recognize these two taproot horses as components in Pyramid bloodstock. This decision is evidenced by the Society’s exclusion of horses in Dr. J. L. Doyle’s Ghadaf/Gulida/Nusi program, and of Richard Pritzlaff’s foundation mare, Rabanna, even though every taproot horse in their pedigrees except Kars (BLT) and Jerboa (BLT) is included in Pyramid lines.

    For nearly 30 years, there has been debate over the question of why these horses are not included by the Pyramid Society. Preservation breeders and scholars of the history of the Arab have long been aware that the Doyle and Rabanna blood is unquestionably as Egyptian as any Pyramid line. One of the best writers on preservation is the late Diana Marston, who examined the rationale for Dr. Doyle’s breeding program in a 1978 article:

    You may ask yourself why Dr. Doyle is going about this Egyptian business the hard way, concentrating on an older source of Abbas Pasha/Ali Pasha Sherif blood, when he could have simply purchased from the neighboring Babson Farm. After all, the Babson Farm is turning out some straight Egyptians of more recent importation even though they are also experimenting with other bloodlines. Doyle came to realize, as few ‘Egyptian’ breeders realize even today, that the descendants from the older importations, such as that of W. R. Brown, carry a much higher degree of the most desirable Abbas Pasha/Ali Pasha Sherif Egyptian individuals.... In the decades following the Ali Pasha Sherif dispersal of 1897, the Egyptians themselves rebuilt their Arabian horse programs by adding first the blood of the Blunt desert horses and later by adding other desert Arabians like El Dere, Aied I (Eid I), Nabras, Nafa (Nafaa El-Saghira), etc.

    Charles Craver was one of the farsighted breeders who brought a mare of similar provenance to the Doyle foundation sire Ghadaf. The mare was *Ringlet 6995 (Astralis [GSB] x Rudeyna [BLT]). In 1975, he also commented on the Doyle program:

    Looking back at the horses of ‘Doc’s Best’ and looking at them now, one is necessarily confronted with decisions as to how they should be classified. Dr. and Mrs. Doyle apparently thought of them as being primarily horses of Ali Pasha Sherif descent, to which other bloodlines had been added by the Blunts. In this, the horses are similar to a large proportion of ‘Egyptian’ horses, with which they would seem—according to Volume One of the Studbook of the R.A.S., issued in 1935—to share every single line of descent.* (*The same would also apply to the mare Rabanna....)

    Heirloom is not the first preservation group to reclaim Kars (BLT) and Jerboa (BLT), or the first to recognize the immense value to the Egyptian gene pool of the bloodlines carried by the Doyle and Rabanna stock. That credit belongs to the Sheykh Obeyd Foundation. In 1987, the founders of the organization took the innovative step of basing their effort upon Al Khamsa research. They adopted the ancestral elements Egypt and Blunt as their foundation horses. In doing so, they included all the taproots of Heirloom, and in addition, six other horses exported from Arabia Deserta after 1914 by six different agents and owners, yet grouped together as the sub-element "from the RAS." In the 1993 Al Khamsa directory, these later horses are categorized as Egypt II. The Heirloom horse can be broadly defined as both Egypt I-Blunt and pre-RAS Sheykh Obeyd.

  • It is a well-known fact that the Ghadaf/Gulida/Nusi group deserves to be called the oldest extant Egyptian blood. All the taproots of this group were exported from Arabia Deserta before 1888. Why does Heirloom include later horses in its definition of old Egyptian?

    There is no special significance to the year 1888. There was no disjuncture in circumstances that would affect the Bedouin horse as formidably as did the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In 1888, there was no flurry of preservationist efforts in Egypt as there was in the years just before the Great War. It is true that earlier in the nineteenth century, during the Wahabbi uprisings, the population of the Arab horse in its homeland was decimated by battle injury and from disease introduced by foreign warhorses. But after the wars, the herds were built up again amidst the traditional values, needs, and environment of the Bedouin. The situation was entirely different after World War I and such restoration did not occur.

    An interesting portrait of the changing milieu was provided in 1935 by the well-known breeder Prince Mohamed Aly:

    For thirty years it has become increasingly difficult to get pure bred Arab horses. Civilization has made the horse a luxury. The Turks began to cross the Arab strains with European strains; they wanted bigger horses and so, in the time of the Sultan Abdel-Hamid, Arab mares were served by English, German and Hungarian stallions. Later on the racing people of Egypt wanted to have faster horses, and they too began to breed with English stallions, until they secretly produced Anglo-Arabs which they called pure Arabs.

    Even the great breeders are losing courage: the type is dying. Ten years before the War when I went to Syria to see some nice Arab horses, I asked, before leaving, for the names and addresses of the best known breeders of the country. More than forty five names were given to me by friends and when I went again I only found six who were still breeding horses, and those I saw were not breeding animals of the old standard...

    Preservation Efforts

    Heirloom is dedicated to the rediscovery and perpetuation of the Arab horse from a unique time and place, a bloodstock that was the focus of the preservation attempts made by breeders in Egypt just before World War I began and forever changed traditional Bedouin life.

    The Heirloom Arabian Stud is located within this rare gene pool transmitted in undiluted form by about 850 living horses in the world today. The sponsors of Heirloom are the breeders of Heirloom foals, and also the many people working cooperatively to contribute time, effort, information, and expenses to help fulfill preservation goals.

    While there is sufficient variety and strength in the stock for the herd to be perpetuated, the current population is small enough to become endangered if steps are not taken to preserve it soon. In the year 2000, not a single foal was born to carry on the rare Hadban strain. Of some 430 breeding-age mares, only 195 have reproduced within Heirloom lines as of June 1, 2002.

    In order to unite the herd and bring it into clear view, we have entered the name of every known member since 1840 into a database. Within it is a comprehensive catalog of living Heirloom horses; the present herd can be seen as a whole and not one animal can be overlooked. Every individual has the potential to enrich and diversify the group. There are pedigree details and complete strain and sire line charts to help breeders see undeveloped potentials in the stock, and create innovative ways to implement their own unique breeding goals. Time is of the essence in all preservation efforts, and these charts will provide rapid access to the herd for present and future owners. Perhaps, in this way, Lady Anne Blunt’s Heirloom vision has finally become a reality.

    Portrait of Lady Anne Blunt in Arab costume (by Molony)," 1881 (Engraved frontispiece from A Pilgrimage to Nejd by Lady Anne Blunt)



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