Pilgrimage to Crabbet Park - Report on the Crabbet Convention 2002

by Tiffani McCarthy

Crabbet past - the passion of a noble literary family

Like a modern-day Canterbury Tales, the devoted pilgrims flowed to Crabbet Park in Sussex for the opening of the Crabbet Convention. The only problem was that Crabbet Park is now less Canterbury Cathedral and more Bodiam Castle, just a shell of its former glory and purpose. This did not deter the delegates, however. This was the ancestral home of their beloved horses. For a few moments all of the memories from countless books and film clips and for a lucky few actual time spent at the stud came together through the magic grout of the imagination. We walked where the horses had walked. We saw what Crabbet Stud founders the Blunts and their daughter Lady Wentworth saw.

Crabbet Convention delegates 2002 at the Coronation Stables at Crabbet Park (Tiffani McCarthy)

Sadly, this may be the last chance to stand beneath the crumbling Coronation Stables gate, as developers have targeted the site for demolition and erection of a casino to complement the hotel and leisure club already occupying part of the once-pastoral estate.

A bit of background for the uninitiated: the Crabbet Stud is the starting point for breeding pure Arabians in the West (for their own sake rather than to improve other breeds through outcrossing) and has had the greatest influence on the Arabian breed world-wide of any single stud. It is even possible that the Blunts saved the purebred Arabian horse from extinction threatened by the tribal wars ravaging the Arab world around 120 years ago.

In the late 1800's, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and his wife Lady Anne Blunt made regular journeys to the Middle East, no small feat in those days as they rode through the wildest parts of the Mesopotamian and Arabian deserts combating extreme danger from desert raids and storms. The first European woman to travel extensively in the desert, Lady Anne was an accomplished Arabic linguist and gained high respect amongst the Arabs. Over a 20-year period she and Wilfrid negotiated the purchase of nearly 50 purebred Arabian horses to export to England.

Rosemary Archer, celebrated Arabian breeder and scholar, wrote of the Blunt's purchases during their visits to the main horse-breeding tribes. "The Blunts were aware that high quality asil (pure) Arabs were already becoming scarce in Arabia and they chose their foundation stock extremely carefully, both as to antecedents and for quality, conformation and general soundness."

Wilfrid was also a friend of William Morris and Winston Churchill. Lady Anne's mother Ada Byron (after whom the universal computer language ADA is named due to her mathematical discoveries) was the daughter of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke, who was herself related to Lord Godolphin and to the Darcy's, both importers of Arabian horses as early Thoroughbred breeders.

The Tennis Court at Crabbet Park (Tiffani McCarthy)

From 1877 to Lady Anne's death in 1917, Crabbet Stud had become a world-famous supplier of high-quality Arabians. The Blunt's daughter Judith, Lady Wentworth, further improved the breeding programme, and for another 37 years until her death, Crabbet flourished. As her children were not particularly interested in running the stud, it was continued on a smaller scale by Cecil Covey, who finally disbanded the stud in 1972 when the M23 motorway was built right through the heart of Crabbet Park.

We could have no better guide to Crabbet Park than Convention committee member Caroline Sussex. Her mother Rosemary Archer and her father raised her and her sister Elizabeth in Crabbet Park just a stone's throw from the Blunt's house. Through her eyes we glimpsed its past glory. Fortunately, the main house and tennis court have been purchased by a software company which may preserve them.

The house at Crabbet Park, designed by the Blunts (Ralph Stewart)

Crabbet present - the living legacy of horses parade

Not since 1985 have so many Crabbet-descended horses been together. The parade featured nearly 120 horses of at least 75% Crabbet blood, defined as 'descended from pure Arabian horses purchased, owned or bred by Wilfrid Blunt, Lady Anne Blunt, Lady Wentworth or Crabbet Stud'. Independent judges viewed and selected horses nominated by their owners throughout 2002.

Nearly 600 parade tickets were sold to delegates from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Argentina, Israel, South Africa, Canada, Sweden, The Netherlands, and Switzerland. Horses were shown in family groups interspersed with ridden displays of the athletic disciplines in which these horses are the undisputed top of class. Many show ring, endurance and racing stars and well-known sires and dams represented the strength of their family bloodlines, and of equal interest were many horses who rarely appear publicly.

Celebrated sire, champion and working sheep-horse Imad with rider Jane Harries proudly carried the Union Jack to open the parade, leading in the display of ridden show stallions which included Al Mesdam, Bright Cavalier, PHA Silvern Risalm, Ikoni, Silver Satyr, Ariosto, Indian Banner, Samhire, Silent Storm and Vivek.

Parade of ridden stallions - l to r, Imad, Ikoni, PHA Silvern Risalm, Bright Cavalier, Al Mesdam (Tiffani McCarthy)

The first seven in-hand family groups represented Rissla (1917), one of the greatest Crabbet mares having world-wide influence through such sons as Rissalix and Irex and daughters such as Risslina and Rissalma. Her first representatives were the Indian Flame II group, her double great-great grandson, represented by his descendants Star of the Seasons, Zou Zou Bint Zaphelia, Bhavna, Dreamfields Mahkasite, Fairwinds Jedi, Risali (the last four all by Kasadi) and El Sharluke. Rissla's next family group descended from her great granddaughter Gleaming Gold and included Nations Cup champion stallion Shogun, Prince Iman, Razina Gold, Nafisah, Mareesah and Autumn Sunlight. Rissla's great grandson Ludo (Supreme Riding Horse Royal International) was represented by Nashaal, Indian Idyll, Sa'ira, Rosaliah Gold, Shiffalia, Selene and Bey Sheba. Great granddaughter Farette's group followed with UK national supreme ridden champion Chalyska, Spey Crystal, Kamilla Crysta, Nilah and Silver Fari. Rissla's beautiful son Irex's group was next, including UK National Champion ridden stallion and reserve in-hand Hadeir, Silouette, Imadia and British Arabian Champion Raafiq. The Rissla group of Irex + Nuhra included Khairho (fresh from representing the UK in under-21 endurance at the World Equestrian Championships in Spain), Mohica, Damia, Dancing Darjeela and Moonlight Siraya. Irex + Sainfoin descendants followed, represented by Spearmint, Imperial Zar, Iyad (the last two being Spearmint sons), Naraan and Blonda.

Next, the ridden show geldings Chivalry, Dhahi Dancer, Kharuss Ibn Sadik, UK International ridden champion Vikta, Raafiq, Bright Sceptre and Sambuka gave skilful individual displays.

The eighth family group represented the famous chestnut stallion Ben Rabba (1964), Kellogg-bred in the US from Crabbet horses and lent back to England to restore a lost Crabbet line. His descendants inherited his strong loin, powerful action and high neck set. At the parade they included AHS premium stallion Aurelian, Marlak Magic Aura, Marcus Aurelius, Sunlea Gai Hanna, Silvern Aria and Bright Sceptre.

An entertaining and educational endurance display featured top endurance horses Khairho, AHS premium stallion Silva Dollar, Manichee, Shaded Silver, Tigre and Shiffalia.

The influential Crabbet mare Razina (1922) sported three family groups of descendants. The first group represented Indian Magic, the tall, exquisite, free-moving son of Razina's beautiful son Raktha. His sons included Indriss and Indian Silver, and descendants included Bright Crown, Ahmoun, Haroun and Silvern Dream. At the convention he was represented by UK international champion Bright Cavalier, Indian Fanfare, British National ridden champion Silver Satyr, Marillion Platinum Wings, Mousika, and Dhahi Dancer. Razina's famous grandson Oran left a phenomenal legacy. He produced elegant smoothness and a long, refined neck and throatline. He gave Oran Van Crabbet to the US (an original 'Park horse') and Grand Royal to Australia. His representatives at the convention were Pharook, Oran grandson Indian Banner, St Narreth Gay Dancer, and the racehorse Sellwyn. Razina's third family group was through her grandson Bright Shadow, a hugely influential sire with progeny including Masjid, Silver Sheen and Bright Wings (sire of Odessa who is the dam of Padron). His family group at the convention included Mareschal, Golden Idyll, Zinjadi, King of Hearts, Crystal Glitter, Imperial Silver Sunset and Crystal Treasure.

Next came an invigorating race horse display, featuring Indian Idyll, Razif, Rawen, The Silver Gambler and Sellwyn.

Foundation mare Nasra (1908) also founded a dynasty represented at the convention. Her cross with Skowronek resulted in Naseem who influenced the breed world-wide. Other descendants included Irex, Serafix, Sindh and Indian Magic. Nasra's great grandson Indian King sired 126 foals including Tarantella and Dancing King. He was represented by Samhire, Crystal Raj, Crystal Lazuli, Rebekka Bey (with stylish filly foal), Shabana Mareschaya, and Crystal Magic. Nasra's next family group was Indian King + Dargee, led by Dancing Queen, reigning UK National winner of best family group, followed by her daughter Queen's Topaz, Silver Blue Sunlight, Grand Magic, Echoing Magic, Daas, and Sorrento (the last two being Imad sons). Nasra's third and final family group was descended from her great grandson Naseel, who spent his life at stud in Ireland and sired the phenomenal show pony Pretty Polly. His representatives included Klinta Bashir, Ismala, Imperial Sirella, Nayifah, and British National Team endurance horse Tigre.

Lovely individual shows by ridden mares were next, including Chalyska, Aurellia, Sa'ira, Rosaliah Gold, Santha, and Imadia.

The final five family groups of the day descended from Silver Fire (1926), a typey mare by Naseem and out of Somra. Her famous daughters included Silver Gilt and Somara. Her first family group was through great granddaughter Silver Ripple, dam of UK National Champion stallion Silver Flame and the tall, exquisite mare Silvern Dream. Leading this group was the UK National sire produce winner Silvern Idyll, followed by his grandson reigning UK International supreme ridden champion PHA Silvern Risalm, Silvern Princess, reigning Horse of the Year Show champion Silvern Enchanter, Mil Gracias, Samino, and Bijbij. The next family group was through Silver Fire's granddaughter Silver Grey, who with her own daughter Silver Sheen the two mares won Supreme National UK Champion six times. Silver Grey's descendants include Bright Crown, Silvern Sceptre and Ivory Wings. Silver Grey was represented by Rose of Bediya, Summertime Blues, Fiyah Rhossilli, Diamond Treasure, Moonlight Farella, Seahara Gem, Spirit of Silver, and endurance and eventer trials stallion Shaded Silver. Silver Fire's third family group was headed by Imad, one of two living stallions to head a group at the convention. In addition to his illustrious show career including Horse of the Year Show champion, Imad is an AHS performance-tested premium stallion, contributing height and scope as well as elegant action and beautiful temperament to his offspring. Representing Imad were his sons and daughters Ariosto, Silent Storm, Sarafiah, Sumadi, and Canzonetta. The next family group was that of Prince Sadik, the other living stallion to head a group at the convention, and also an AHS premium stallion, passing on his powerful elegance and exuberant action. Representing him were sons and daughters Ikoni, Naresh, Prince Santros, Sha'heil Ibn Sadik, UK national champion ridden gelding Kharuss Ibn Sadik, and Silvern Pearl. Silver Fire's final family group was through Hanif, one of the last stallions to be bred at Crabbet and sire of Haroun, Shatir, Zarafah, and Sherifah. He was represented by grandson and reigning UK national champion ridden stallion Al Mesdam (son of Silvern Idyll), Imperial Silver Star, PHA Silver Heart, Silvern Starlight, and Silver Zingara.

The finale took us back to where it all began with a native Arab costume display to rousing Lebanese and Egyptian music, featuring a dynamic dressage display by PHA Silvern Risalm with Darren Crowe up, then swirling performances by Chalyska with Ann Hooley, Raafiq with Stuart Fleming, Rosaliah Gold with Stephanie Turner, and racehorse Razif with Joy Maclean, beautifully done by all riders.

Crabbet future - desirable qualities for now and tomorrow

On conference day, distinguished speakers included Coralie Gordon on Australia's Crabbet horses, Michael Bowling on the issues in preservation breeding, Alexia Ross on the state of endurance in the UK, Betty Finke and Gari Dill Marlow on famous mares and their Crabbet ancestry, and Peter Upton who gave an intimate and revealing portrait of Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt. What all of these discussions had in common was an immense enthusiasm for the future of the Crabbet Arab's contribution to securing quality and correctness as well as breeding superior performance horses.

Crabbet Arabians are certainly well-known as performance and athletic champions. What is not as well known is their influence in the blood of contemporary halter champions. The strength of the bloodlines is staggering. Research done by Betty Finke and Gari Dill Marlow that they shared during their talk shows conclusively that despite far fewer lines than other national breeding programmes such as Poland, Russia, Egypt and Spain, Crabbet is disproportionately the top-ranking contributor blood to UK, US, European and World Champion mares and stallions from the 1950's to today than any other breeding programme.

This finding is a testament to the Blunts and Lady Wentworth's rigorous insistence on exceptional qualities in the horses from which they chose to breed. After importing horses that were celebrated for their prowess, stamina and heart as war and raid mounts or for producing exceptional offspring, the Blunt's strict policy was to cull vigorously any horse which did not come up to their high standards of quality, soundness and good temperament. They also followed the Bedouin tradition that regardless of how good an individual mare is, her strain will be eliminated from the stud if she has not produced a first-class sire within three generations. Hence a small number of very strong, high-quality strains emerged from Crabbet over many generations.

Other national studs imported Crabbet horses from the UK to improve the quality of their breeding programmes. Bloodlines expert and writer Betty Finke explained in a recent article, "None of today’s major breeding groups would be what they are now without Crabbet. Not Egypt, not Russia, not Spain, not Poland, certainly not the United States. Without Crabbet Park, there’d have been no Khemosabi, no Bey Shah, no Padrons Psyche. Of all the great horses of the last century, there are only a few Polish-bred horses that had no Crabbet blood at all. Nazeer, the most influential Egyptian sire of the twentieth century, was 25 percent Crabbet." All 'straight Egyptians' are at least 20% - 30% Crabbet blood, and most Russian Arabians average a little over 25% Crabbet blood.

It may not be surprising that 100% of British National Champion stallions and mares from 1953 to 2002 traced to Crabbet Park. What may be more surprising is the disproportionate influence of Crabbet blood elsewhere. Among US National Champion stallions from 1958 – 2001, only four did not trace to Crabbet, and 98% of US National Champion mares also traced to Crabbet Park. Among World Champion halter horses from 1980 – 2001, the average Crabbet percentage for stallions is 26%, and for mares 29%. Examples include Carmargue with 55% Crabbet blood, Monitor with 33%, Simeon Shai with 31%, Kubinec with 24%, Abdullah with 25% and Ibn Estopa with at least 12%. These horses show many strong and valued Crabbet characteristics. Among World Champion Mares, Aliha has 61% Crabbet blood, SHF Pearlie May 53 %, Atlantica at least 36%, Canila at least 32% and Pilarka 32%.

Between 1980 and 2001, Nations Cup Champion Stallions averaged 34% Crabbet blood, including Haroun with 100%, Shogun with 94%, Ravlon Elijah with 75%, Hassan with 66%, and Plakat with 32%. During the same period, Nations Cup Champion Mares averaged 24% Crabbet blood, with Shodina at 80%, Mangani with 37%, Zazula with 36%, and Bint Shaklina HMP with 21%. European Champion Stallions between 1980 and 2001 averaged 23% Crabbet blood, including Drug with 41%, Plakat with 32%, Balaton with 27%, Emigrant with 14%, Penitent with 14%, and El Shaklan with at least 12%. European Champion Mares averaged 22% Crabbet blood, including Crown Muscosa with 45% and Emigrantka with 13%.

Returning to the Blunt family literary tradition, like Dickens' Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, we were transformed by three spirits over the three days of the Crabbet Convention. On the first day we felt the spirit of the past of Crabbet Park, where we shamefully saw how quickly a great breeding programme and a great estate can be allowed to disintegrate when divorce, financial wrangles and population pressures encroach. It is a reminder to us all that what we do now will create the future, and to thoughtfully preserve what we believe in or it may be forever lost to future generations. On the second day, we were filled by the spirit of the present – the indomitable spirit, beauty, strength and athleticism inherent in today's Crabbet-descended horses. This reminded us of the importance of our present-day role as caretakers of the exquisite equine souls who have chosen us as their 'people'. On the third day, we were swept up by the spirit of the future – the contagious enthusiasm and celebration for Crabbet's continued contribution to infusing today's Arab with balance, action, substance, bone, stamina and temperament. This reminded us that there is always time now to make good breeding decisions that propagate the most essential qualities valued by Bedouin and Western breeder alike that are the essence of the pure Arabian horse regardless of strain – beauty with strength, grace with stamina, fire with gentle companionship.

Copyright 2009