Article – Horses – Impressions

The friendly invitation by our member H.R.H. Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became our door opener…

A Journey to the Origin

With the Asil Club to the Horses of Nejd

It takes only a flight of less than seven hours from Germany to the plateau of Nejd, the cradle of the Arabian horse, a region that had been the unreached Mecca for generations of breeders and also adventurers and discoverers of past times. Just to think of Lady Anne Blunt, the first European woman to set foot into this closed world in 1875. Not without reason she named her travel account “A Pilgrimage to Nejd”. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the main obstacle is not exhausting or dangerous routes but the reserve of Saudi Arabia to Non-Muslims. Nevertheless the love for the Arabian horse does not know frontiers. The friendly invitation by our member H.R.H. Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became our door opener. Prince Sultan is president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities. He had been patron to the Asil Cup International 1986 and first Arabian astronaut. By the end of January 2011, together with the much experienced Saudi traveler Dr. Olms, five members of the board and ten breeders and friends of the Asil Club broke new ground. Hansi Heck-Melnyck and Terrence and Rosie Doyle even arrived from America. For Hans-Jürgen Gottet however, it was a trip into the past. He and his wife had been living and working in Riyadh for some years. Thus the Swiss could enrich our group out of his treasure of memoirs and insight knowledge. His way back home years ago, together with his wife, is worth a whole book: eleven adventurous months on back of two Asil Arabian horses, from the desert to the Alps!

Royal Saudi Arabia

Our group dived into a strange and fascinating world for eight days that surprised all of us positively. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a land of contrasts, also in the horse breeding business. The strict, traditional form of Islam is omnipresent and yet faces a globalised modern world more and more. A Bavarian ex-president adapted: Saudi Arabia is Abaya, Laptop and veil. The capital ar-Riyadh resembled a large scale building site. The rush hours – not two but four times a day – were dictated by the prayer times as was the conduct of the 4th Al Khalediah Arabian Horse Show that we attended.

We were overwhelmed by the rich hospitality and attention that was always given to us from the deepest heart. No better rafiq (Arabic: companion) could have been chosen for us but Fawaz al-Beshr, a descendant of the Saudi scholar Utman al-Beshr. His book on Arabian horses from King Abdulaziz´s personal library we were allowed to see. Not to forget Ibrahim, our “chief driver”. His grandfather had been a life guard of Ibn Saud, born in the north of Nigeria. Believe us, we felt save like in the “fold of Abraham” with Ibrahim, even before he told us of his grandfather. Both of them, and also all the others that have helped in the success of our trip in many ways, we want to say Thank You very much!

We were allowed to eat one´s fill from the Oriental cuisine, and much more important, to get saturated with the sight of very many wonderful and first class horses. The stables were highly modern, most of them luxurious and gigantic, expression of the wealth and of the esteem of the housed animals. But the love for Arabian horses also flourished in smaller scale. We will never forget how the horses in the stables of the young Sheikh Saud al Babdeyn were handled: all horses running loose for showing turned towards their handler the moment he whistled!

What a contrast to the 4th Al Khalediah Horse Festival held on the immense farm of HRH Prince Khaled bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud that we had visited before. The son of the Crown Prince gave both chairmen of the Asil Club, Dr. W. G. Olms and Dipl. Ing. Georg Thierer a private audience. The three days lasting show was held according to western model and many worldwide stars of the show ring competed. A great enthusiasm of the public could be noticed, especially for the so called Desert Bred horses. Traditionalism of Saudi breeders reaches far, so that strains are given also for horses imported from the West, be they asil-Egyptians or mixed lines of show Arabians. It seemed to us that the Saudis prefer those lines bred by their ancestors: Hamdani Simri, Obeyan (Obeyan al-Saifi in the Desert Breds, Obeyan Om Grees with Egyptian lines), Kuhailan Krush and Dahman Shahwan. Regretfully the latter has died out in pure Saudi lines. Therefore farms concentrating on Desert Breds had to import horses of Egyptian lines. Prince Turki bin Fahad bin Jiluwi, whose grandfather was governor of the al Hasa province, showed us a Dahmah mare from America, AAS Sawannah, whose ancestors all go back to Saudi lines, mostly bred in the stables of his fathers in Hufhuf. What joy to see that the preservation attempts in the West by Asil Club and Al Khamsa has brought forth such fruit! Rare Saudi lines that have not or only seldom come to the West are Suwayti al Firm and Kuhaylan Abu Urqub, the latter cultivated in the state owned farm at Dirab.

The State Farm at Dirab

A very special experience was the King Abdulaziz Arabian Horse Centre at Dirab, under profound guidance of our member Sami al Nohait. His achievements are admirable. From small beginnings in the 1970s a modern and distinguished farm has developed. Special emphasis and care is taken for the homebred Saudi lines that are separated from some Polish, Spanish and Egyptian horses. The improvement of quality is obvious. The initiative of Sami al Nohait, meanwhile decorated as general director, to organize special classes for the Desert Breds has shown success. In a very friendly atmosphere we were treated as guests by a sumptuous dinner and a fascinating horse presentation.

The Nejd Stud

Maybe the highlight of our trip was the visit of Nejd Stud of HRH Prince Turki bin Fahd Bin Abdallah Al Saud in the desert near al-Kharj. 300 Desert Breds and some Egyptian horses of the Dahman Shahwan strain are kept there. On first glance one could distinguish between Desert Breds and Egyptians. The strength and quality of the foundation of the Saudi horses as well as first class movements full of elasticity and drive from behind, calling for riding, were amazing. The necks were mostly set on high and well formed, some also quite thick, resembling the so called Baroque races. Besides many horses with deep chests also narrow and high legged individuals could be seen. The head distinguishes them most from modern Arabians. Their profile is straight or slightly curved to the outside, even with some mares. Nevertheless the animals showed nobility and dryness. Most impressing was the number of breeding stallions that were shown to us. In the light of the sinking sun they danced across the desert sands before us, full of strength and grace, pictures of our dreams coming to life. They could have sprung out of historic photographs. A sort of Arabian that had been world famous as war horse and that should never be forgotten! What a privilege to witness! What a heritage to preserve!