Tales from "Sport in Egypt": The Arabian Horse

Tales from "Sport in Egypt"
The Arabian Horse

With an introduction by Jimmy Dun

H.M. King Farouk

The book, Sport in Egypt, was published in 1938, a period when Egypt was considerably different than the country we find today. Significantly, this book was written for the "sports" tourist and was thus considered important enough to have a forward by the King of Egypt at that time, H.M King Farouk, who tells us that:

"I wish Mr. Wentworth Day's new book, Sport in Egypt success, not only because he writes in it of sports in which I am personally interested, but because he and his collaborators paint for the outside world pictures of those sports with which Egypt is particularly blessed.

If our Egyptian shooting our racing, our horses, our fishing and other attractions, succeed in bringing more visiting sportsmen to this country, Egypt will welcome them.

Sport is an ambassador which knows no politics, no frontiers."

This book, obviously written by Mr. Wentworth Day, and published in Great Briton, provides chapters on a number of sports, opening with one written by another member of the royal family, H.R.H. Prince Mohamed Aly on the Arabian Horse.

Horses at al-Zahraa Farm today

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Horse racing may have had its roots in Egypt in about 1500 BC, and some events continue in Egypt today. The breeding of Arabian horses also remains a popular endeavor.

Al-Zahraa Farm is one of the Middle East most important and oldest farms for true-born Arab horses. It dates back to the reign of Mohammed Aly family when it was outstandingly cared for as being the ruling family farm.

The farm is 60 Feddan (4200,833 metre square). It has 245 mares and 130 male horses descendant from the most noble races of horses. The farm is located 20 km away from Cairo downtown in Kafr Gamos. But when King Farouk visited the farm, the Kafr (hamlet) came to be known as Farouk's Kafr & consequently the farm itself. On 23 July, 1952, when the Revolution broke out, the farm derived its name from the area known as Al-Zahraa. Today, this establishment receives many tourists and offers some horses for sale.


The Royal and State Studs of Egypt - Points of Type,
Colour, Markings, Breeding - Foaling and Training - with some Proverbs

by H.R.H. Prince Mohamed Aly

H.R.H. Prince Mohamed Aly

All my life I have lived among horses, and loved them. When I was only six years old I had a pony to ride which was as powerful as a stallion. My guardian was an old Georgian Pacha, who was sent more than twenty times to Arabia to buy the finest horses for my ancestor -- Abbas Pacha the First. Abbas had a stable of horses finer and more beautiful than any since the days of King Solomon. As a young man I visited all the best cavalry schools in France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Italy, and had some magnificent hacks; tent-pegging was my exercise and all the equestrian tricks of the East were my amusement, and I am proud to say that at Queen Victoria's Jubilee I made a sensational appearance on y little white Arab horse in the Royal procession.

Stillwell was my head groom, a stableman second to none. That man's family were all born on horseback and reared with horses; the father was the brakeman of Miller, the horse dealers of Berkeley Square; the eldest son was brakeman of Smith's, and my man, after ten years, left me for the rich American, Mr. Winans, well known at British horse shows. I have been to horse shows all over the world and have seen the Circassians and many other Oriental Siberian Nomads in Siberia; the Indian horsemen; the Gauchos of the Argentine; the Cowboys in U.S.A.; the Australians, and everywhere I always took the keenest interest in the horses and horsemen. And with this experience I have been breeding Arabs for thirty-five years.

The pure-bed Arab horse in Egypt today is a descendant of some of the best horses in the world, imported by Abbas Pacha I. Abbas Pacha I. was in Arabia for a considerable time when his father, Toussoun Pacha, was fighting against the Wahabites, and as a result of their conquest he gained tremendous prestige, and thus had the greatest facilities in selecting and procuring the finest pure-blooded Arab horses.

In addition to this, my ancestors and many of the Pachas, brought the flower of the Arab horses with them when they returned to Egypt. In this way, directly or indirectly, they obtained the best stud of Arab horses that ever existed in the world. Abbas Pacha I. then went on step by step continuing his searches after the very best bloodstock from Arabia.

The Baroness Wentworth's champion

At that time the son of Ibn El Seoud, father of the present King of Arabia, with all his family, would in all probability have been thrown into an Egyptian prison had it not been for the benevolent influence of Abbas Pacha I., who gave them their liberty. It can easily be understood that after such a kindly act, even a powerful sovereign like Ibn El Seoud could hardly refuse any desire expressed by Abbas Pacha, and consequently the very best Arabs were obtained by him. It is said that Abbas Pacha purchased nearly all the Saglawi Jedran mares from the Anaza tribe, paying as much as L3000 for a single old mare.

According to ancient manuscripts which we have in the family library, it appears that Abbas Pacha had seven palaces in 1268 H. (1852, according to the Christian calendar) which have lately been converted into barracks for the use of the British Army at Abbassia. His stables were built close by, and the records state that they had in them horses whose names will be found in the annotations at the end of this book. Many of these pure-bred horses and mares can still be traced in our books, and it is also to be noticed that high prices were paid for stallions and mares of these strains. Most of these horses were so far-famed that Arab poems were written in praise of them. Eventually a stable was built in the desert at Dar El Bayda, about twelve miles from Cairo on the Suez road, the ruins of which can still be seen. It was on of Abbas Pach's greatest pleasures to visit his wonderful stud. To visit the stables he used to ride his dromedaries, for, besides being a great lover of Arab hoses he was also a great 'amateur' of dromedaries. (In those days all Arab chiefs possessed high-class dromedaries which, in addition to being comfortable to ride and well suited to endure the fatiguing journeys in the desert, could travel as swiftly as horses. The Arab chiefs used their horses principally for parades, hunting and war, but the dromedaries were considered more useful during the exhausting retreats or long pursuits after the enemy; they possessed enormous stamina and resistance against the hardships of the desert campaigns.)

Mrs. J. Wentworth Day on a cock-tailed Arab at the Great Pyramid of Giza

Abbas Pacha I. took great interest in breeding from the pure-bred Arab horses which he had in his stables, and eventually came to own three large stables of 600 horses.

In 1860, Elhamy Pacha, son of Abbas PachaI., held a sale in his stable in Cairo of 90 stallions, 210 mares, and 180 colts and fillies. The sale attracted a great number of rich people from all over the world, some to take an active interest in the sales and others merely to see these pedigree Arabs. Although this sale took place at a time when money was very scarce, it realized 700 for a horse, l00 for a yearling, 250 for a two-year-old, and even as high as 250 for an old brood mare who was twenty years of age. The greatest number of purchases was made by Ali Bey.

Ali Bey, who afterwards became Ali Pacha Cherif, also had a stable in his palace in Cairo. He started his stud after the death of Abbas Pacha ( 1848-1864). He died during the reign of the Khedive Abbas II. It is obvious, therefore, that the pure Arab horses which came to Egypt were selected by exceptional connoisseurs. Ali Pacha Cherif kept alive the wonderful work which Abbas Pacha had commenced, or otherwise this unique breed would have become extinct.

Ali Pacha Cherif went on to form one of the biggest stables in Egypt. He had about eighty mares and thirty stallions, while he had also presented horses to King Victor Emmanuel as well as to the King of Wurtemberg. Egypt was indeed fortunate to have this great lover of Arab horses--one of the richest of all the Pachas-to continue the pure breed.

State-owned Arab horses outside the Cotton Museum in Cairo

The poets teach us to love animals. Above all, mares should never be beaten; it is a bad habit easily acquired but difficult to get rid of, and misfortune soon happens when a mare is in foal. The Arabs say God first created the mare, and afterwards the stallion. And to create the mare God spoke to the South Wind:

'I will create from you a being which will be a happiness to the good and a misfortune to the bad. Happiness shall be on its forehead, bounty on its back and joy in the possessor .'

It is written in the Koran that every man shall love his horse. Sayied iben-el Rabil quotes the Prophet: 'The expression in a horse's eye is like a blessing on a good man's house.'

The Arabs had a peculiar respect for their horses; they were not beasts of burden like camels or mules or donkeys. An Arab would never offend the dignity of his horse by the contemptuous gesture of pulling its forelock.

The Prophet himself compared the Arab horse to an arrow, and ordered every Moslem to possess a horse, 'For', said he, 'the horse brings fortune in defeat.' The Caliph Omar recalls another saying of the Prophet: 'He who loves his mare and treats her kindly shall have God's bounty, and he who ill-treats his mare shall be cursed by God.'

The Prophet showed his love for horses in saying that after woman came the horse for the enjoyment and happiness of man.

Even as far back as the days of the Prophet racing was encouraged, and he himself kept racehorses; moreover, as we learn from Kadis Eben Omar, he betted on his own mares.

Racecourse silhouette - a study in profiles and headgear at heliopolis

The first races were in the year 4 of the Hegira, which proves that from 1325 racing has been known to the Arabs; but they had the selection and breeding of horses in view more than the actual sport of racing.

Five years was the age for racehorses, and very seldom was a horse as young as three raced, because the distances were long and the Arabs did not like to break down young stock. No race was valid un- less at least ten horses entered, and to control the races a committee was appointed to examine the age and condition of the entrants.

The son of Omar once rode in a race and his horse, after passing the winning-post, proved to be so lively that it could not be controlled, and galloped on to the Mosque. The Prophet himself . awarded the prizes to the winners.

The Arabs do not consider that height has any relative value; it is proportions that make the value, and we shall see that they preferred the smaller horses.

As far as I know the proportions can be judged by the usual standards of the European veterinary schools. There are only a few idiosyncracies on which they will insist; for example, the length of the ears: the essential points are that they should be well set, carried well and pointed at the end. Again, the eyes should be big, expressing gentleness in mares and courage and vivacity in stallions; forehead should be large; the nostrils dilated, and, as far as possible a fine skin which appears almost translucent. The tail must be set high the counterpart of the neck should conceal a boy of ten; but let make this quite clear: when a horse is galloping fast the lad should be hidden from the front by the neck, and the tail should hide him when viewed from the rear .

Racing in Alexandria

The Arab measures horses with a string, passing it behind animal's ears on to the nape and joining the two ends on the upper lip. The measurement thus fixed serves as a measurement from hoof to withers. (Find a good picture of a well-bred Arab horse and it I surprise and amuse you to see what a true test this is.)

A racer must have big, wide nostrils, long ears, large forehead, large ribs, long neck and round croup, and muscular hind quarters; and when in full gallop a stride of twelve feet.

It is considered a very good point if the distance from the stir of the tail to the middle of the withers be shorter than the space from the forehead to upper lips-such an animal will possess great qualities.

I have heard many discussions about the advantages and disadvantages in the colours of horses, and the following are some the opinions of the Arabs on the subject:

A bay horse has the best resistance in the extreme of temperature. They consider that he is better able to endure thirst, hunger, and, in fact, privations of any sort, than horses of other colours. A white horse is much esteemed, but to be a perfect specimen the muzzle, eyes and membranes must be black. The dark chestnut should gradually darken down the chest to the points so that all four legs are black; very often there is a deeper line in the dark chestnut with a medium line from the withers to the tail. Horses of this colour are highly prized. The black must have no light blemish; the muzzle must be absolutely black, as must be the colour round the eyes, nor should the coat of such an animal show a brown or reddish colour. The Arabs hold that black horses with red-rimmed eyes invariably get mad and vicious, and have a tendency to stampede, and in any case they are bad-tempered. Briefly, the Arabs prefer:
The black horse.
The brown bay-with a star on the forehead and black mane.
The dark chestnut ( dark colours mean more blood ).
The white horse.

The black horse, being very rare and more full-blooded, was reserved for chiefs. A brown bay with a black mane is reputed to have a hard skin and good hooves, and greater endurance in extremes of temperature than the others. Great swiftness was attributed to chestnuts, as they always bore the first news of victories. The white horse is useful in hot countries, where the desert glare makes its detection by the enemy more difficult.

Markings that should be rejected are two trammels (white-foot) either diagonal or lateral, but two fore trammels or two hind trammels are acceptable; the latter are preferable to the former.

The white-legged horse is considered unlucky.

Castration of horses was forbidden by the Arabs, with the exception of thoroughly vicious animals.

A horse with bad teeth is of no value to the Arab, as he is considered as incapable of feeding himself properly.

A horse's tongue must have no black lines, and the gums and palate must have no black spots on them.

Fidgety and noisy horses are considered useless, because they arouse the enemy.

The Arabs avoid thin horses because they say it is an indication of either disease or bad temper.

One must not have horses accustomed to drinking too often; such animals would be incapable of traveling long distances.

These are the Prophet's words about the breeding of horses:

'Every man who has a horse is like a godly man generous in almsgiving.'

The Prophet recommended the greatest care in the breeding of horses; to get the best chargers he advised the most careful selection of the stallions.

In order to encourage horse breeding and the improvement of the race, the Moslem was forbidden, by his religion, to demand money for the mating of a mare with a stallion. Nor was he allowed to castrate a horse, or clip its mane or tail; these latter were its protection against insects.

Before covering a mare with a stallion her food must be reduced and on the previous eve she should be left fasting. Thus, it is said, she will conceive quicker and in better conditions. The Arabs often say that after a mare has been covered, if she turn and look at her sides, then she had conceived.

The stallion is brought to the mare early in spring so that the foal ma y come after the severe cold of the winter, and at the weaning time be fit to resist the hardships of the coming winter .

A mare is usually in foal for eleven months and some' few days. During the period of gestation all strong odours and perfumes must be kept away from her, except the smell of tar .

When the foal is born, after having the umbilical cord cut, it is the usual custom to massage it gently with the hands, which have previously been smeared with fat or butter. The tail should be gradually bent upwards and forward. Then the foal's nostrils are rubbed with onion and fresh butter and later it is taken to its mother and taught to suckle. The foal's spine must be massaged for nine days and the raising of the tail continued. The mother's abdomen is well bandaged for a few days to keep it in position.

Among the Bedouin, if the foal comes in winter, it is taken at nights in the tent with the family, and when it is two weeks old it will run after its mother. The foal has a precarious existence after that. Journeys to the market, changes of camps, raids and counterattacks, etc., all test its endurance to keep up with its mother.

The Arab often gives his colts, and even his horses, camel and dromedary milk to drink. His foals too are often fed on camel milk. Can this be one of the reasons why the Arabian horse has powers of endurance superior to horses of other breeds? Milk, as each one of us knows, is from the blood, and blood is of the most vital importance to the constitution. Therefore the Arabs say, ' If the mare is poor in milk give your foal camel milk, or even goat milk, but neither cow milk, for the cow is slow, nor buffalo milk, for the buffalo loves to lie in swamps.' To my idea the strength and endurance of the Arabian horse comes from this particular reason. Also their owners change countries according to the season of the year, avoiding the great heat of summer or the severe cold of winter. Their horses, unaccustomed to stables, have the constant benefit of open air and change of climate.

I have great belief in what I have learned about the breeding and training of horses. The most important period is from the day of birth until they are six months old. It is during this period that the milk diet is of the greatest importance. I have tried milk instead of water, with foals until they were yearlings, and found they developed splendidly in every way.

The first serious training of the colts begins when they are two years old. When the Arabs have a colt which is nervous and refuses to let the rider mount, they lift one of the forelegs until the rider is in the saddle, and if this is not sufficient they twist one of its ears. In most cases, however, they are broken in to a certain extent at a very early age. Once I saw some colts of the age of eight to ten months ridden by young boys of ten to twelve years of age. An Arab tribe escorted my carriage from Hotns to Tell Kalach-three hours' trotting. There were about thirty young boys on colts and fifty mares with young foals, from two to six months old; in all, two thousand horsemen of the tribe of Denadcha. It was a splendid sight but how I pitied those young foals.

Many people think that cavalry officers are the most competent persons for breaking young horses, but I believe that the horse dealers are better. A cavalry officer who is given a young horse to break will take at least four to six months to do it properly, while the dealer will buy a young horse in any market and have it ready for sale in a week or so. This proves, therefore, that although the officers may have the more scientific methods for breaking horses, thepractical methods of the dealer bring quicker results.

By giving milk to foals every day I have been able to teach them their names. I would have from four to five foals in a big paddock and call the foal I wanted by name; he would detach himself from the others and come to me, but I had to use different inflections in my voice.

In breeding horses I do not believe that a big strong mare is better than a lightly built one. The important point is that the mare must be in good condition. A mare in good condition will throw her foal more easily and will have the good, nourishing milk which is essential for the growth of the foal.

I have found as a result of my many experiments that horses of the strain of the Saklawi Jedran were the most courageous. A Saklawi will fight for his master, and in charging nothing will frighten him; he will charge a gun, a lion and even a locomotive if put to it. I had an Airedale dog and often let him run loose in the paddocks amongst the foals to make them gallop. Some would run, but the Saklawi foals would always charge the dog, try to bite him, stamp and kick at him, and invariably chase him out of the paddock.

Again, I found that some stallions and mares, who have a strikingly characteristic point inherited from their ancestors, will transmit it to their descendants until they are crossed with another who is stronger in breed. I mention this on the authority of many books. Many people say the mare is the dominant factor in breeding, while others contend that it is the stallion. Arab logic argues that as the mare carries the foal for eleven months and gives it milk for five, she is the more important in breeding. I maintain, from personal observation, that it depends upon the animal which is the stronger representative of its own strain. Some stallions always sire foals of their own colour and sex; let us take a dark chestnut like Ibn Radban, one of the Royal Agricultural Society's stallions, for an example. He always produces dark chestnuts, no matter what the colour of the mare. This will go on until he covers a mare who produces the form and type of her own strain; if she is the better bred she will dominate in the formation and colouring of the foal.

An Arab horse is considered fully grown at the age of five. It must not be forgotten that Arabs are serviceable until they are twenty-eight. I myself had a stallion who was still serving when he was thirty. Such stallions only cover a mare, who must be from two and a half to three years old, once a year.


From the Book, "Sport in Egypt" by J. Wentworth Day and others

Last Updated: June 21st, 2011