of the reasons many Arabian breeders are fascinated by strain breeding
theory is that it provides a logical approach to the understanding of Arabian
horse pedigrees. It reduces them to simple terms from which evaluations
and predictions can be made. For some people the evaluations and predictions
are useful. For others they are not. In either case, they are arrived at
by a process of reason.
breeding didn't start out as a logical exercise. Until the 1920's, almost
everyone who wrote about the Arabian horse in Arabia observed that the
Bedouin horse breeding tribes had different families of horses which they
called strains. Such observations, which extend at least until 1970, occur
in the works of Burkhardt, Guarmani, Upton, the Blunts,
Skene, Tweedy, Davenport, Raswan,
Brown, Zientarski, H.R.P. Dickson, Forbis, and others.
people all had first-hand experience observing the Arabian horse in its
native invironment. They described the overall breed as divided into strains,
and they obviously seemed to think that the strain names described different
types of horses. Few such observers thought of the subject of Arabian strains
as a subject of logical analysis. To them, it was simply a fact that the
Arabian breed was divided into different breeding groups which were identified
by strain names.
as Arabian horse breeding has become established outside of Arabia, mostly
in Egypt, England, the Americas, and Europe, there has been a tendency
for breeders to lose sight of basic Bedouin concepts of breeding. One of
the first such concepts to be lost was that of strain breeding. It was
not well understood outside of Arabia at best. A worse reason for ignoring
it was that a number of breeders who set the tone for writing on the subject
of Arabian horse breeding came to the conclusion that, after generations
of ignoring strain considerations and other standards of Bedouin breeding,
Arabian strain concepts no longer fit Arabian horses.
position has too often been both right and wrong. Wrong because some of
these people did not understand Arabian strains well enough to know when
they were active in a pedigree and when they were not. They didn't even
understand what they were rejecting. Right because it is indeed true that
Arabian breeding has arrived at a point where there are many registered
Arabian horses which are so far removed in type and pedigree from the Arabian
horse of Arabia that Bedouin standards no longer apply to them, including
strain standards. For such horses, it is not reasonable to think in terms
of strain breeding.
the 1920's, most writers on the subject of Arabian breeding were thinking
mainly about "breeding the best to the best" and trying
to produce good cavalry horses. About that time a young German immigrant
to this country, Carl Raswan (born Carl Schmidt), began a lifelong career
as a horseman and writer in which he presented a theory as to how Arabian
strains could be used to produce certain types of Arabian horses.
repeatedly made the point that he had not invented his version of strain
breeding. As evidence, he referenced written testimony of Bedouin breeders
of historic record -- italics-- Western Horseman: "Pure Strains
of Arabians," (pages 42-44) as well as his own contacts with Bedouin
breeders in Arabia, where he had traveled extensively, and his study of
Arabian breeding outside of Arabia. Thus, his contribution to strain breeding
theory was presented as a matter of restatement, systematization, and interpretation.
had no monopoly on strain-breeding theory. Other people have had their
own ideas on the subject and conducted excellent breeding programs based
upon them. Polish breeding, for instance, is said to place importance on
strain-breeding principles, and Raswan maintained that, by his criteria,
Lady Wentworth was, in effect, a closet strain breeder, a proposition which
she articulately denied.
breeders have used strain breeding of one form or another from the time
of our very first American breeder, Randolph
Huntington. Other Americans who strain bred were Homer
Davenport, Peter Bradley, Alice
Payne, John Doyle, Jane and Carl Asmis, numerous breeders associated with
horses, and a multitude of people who deliberately or not, followed concepts
of type and pedigree which amount to strain breeding. The concepts of strain
breeding have been widely observed in the United States. They are not unusual,
esoteric, or extreme. But sometimes they are not recognized.
version of strain breeding was unusual in that it was comprehensive for
Arabian breeding. It was not universally accepted in the Arabian horse
community. It offended some people, perhaps because it did not treat their
horses well. Others did not follow its logic, and some simple didn't agree
himself was a persuasive personality and a convincing writer, but his work
lost some public crediblility because his lifestye was unconventional,
and because from time to time he made statements about Arabian horse breeding
which he perhaps understood but appeared to be contradictory to some people.
Also, he had the disadvantage of publishing over a period of forty some
years. During that time there were changes of position, sometimes based
on normal thought developement, and sometimes on new information such as
constantly turns up concerning Arabian horses. It is very difficult matter
for an author to be completely consistent over such a long period of time.
the years, a number of critics have rejected Raswan strain theory because
they disagreed with his stand in favor of purist breeding. The two were
not the same at all and, in fact, the strain theory provides a means of
correcting what Raswan felt to be mistakes in purist breeding so that they
no longer have practical effect.
spite of criticism, Raswan's concept of strain breeding received wide distribution
among Arabian breeders, with some finding it convincing and others beig
less attracted to it. In recent times, a resurgence of interest seems to
be in process. Perhaps this results from the increasing tendency at our
Arabian horse shows and in pictures in our national magazines, for the
Arabian horse as registered to look less and less like what people recognize
as a real Arabian horse. Strain-breeding theory is perceived as offering
a program for returning to a recognizable type of Arabian horse.
are several basic propositions upon which Raswan's theories of strain breeding
are based. These have been described numerous places and will be listed
here with only brief explanations. Readers who desire more detail are referred
first of all to Raswan's own written work, of which perhaps the most convenient
instance is The Raswan Index. A survey of the subject was included in "Kissing
the Frog Prince," by the present writer in Arabian Visions, May
and June issues of 1989.
1: The horses bred by the Bedouins of Arabia could be classified
as belonging to three major strain groups:
breeding group has other distinctive details as well, concerning which,
the reader is referred to Raswan's work. There was at least one possible
exception to the classification of Arabian strains into three breeding
groups, and that concerned the Hadban strain. In personal conversation,
Raswan said this strain was neither Saqlawi, Kuhaylan, or My'niqi, but
that horses of this strain crossed best with those of Kuhaylan bloodlines.
However, in his Western Horseman article "The Head of the Arabian,"
and in the table of strains published by the same magazine in the article
"Undistinguished Types of Arabian Horses," he gives the
Hadban and Kuhaylan starins as related, as he does in The Arab and His
Horse, page 28, and elsewhere.
ought to be kept in mind that by classifying the multitude of Arabian strains
into three major breeding groups, Raswan was not indicating that individual
strains within each breeding didn't have their own characteristics. On
the contary, he obviously felt that the separate strains within the larger
breeding groups had distinctive features. These are described in detail
in the section titled "Arabian Strains" in The Raswan
2: Bred within their own divisions of the three breeding groups,
Arabian horses tend to produce according to their groups. Thus Seqlawi
bred to a Saqlawi, tends to produce a Saqlawi. A Kuhaylan bred to a Kuhaylan,
tends to produce a Kuhaylan. A Mu'niqi bred to a Mu'niqi tends to produce
3: The Kuhaylan and Saqlawi strains are related, and when individuals
of these strains are bred to each other, harmonious, attractive individuals
result which may lack the extreme features of either parent strain, but
are recognizable of "Classic" Arabian type.
4: The Mu'niqi strain is fundamentally unrelated to the Kuhaylan
and Saqlawi strains. When individuals of it or other unrelated bloodlines
are crossed with Kuhaylan and Saqlawi bloodlines, "classic" Arabian
type deteriorates. It was Raswan's theory that the lack of type in many
Arabian horses of his time as a writer (roughly 1925 to 1966), was the
result of unsuccessful crosses between the Mu'niqi and the Kuhaylan and
Saqlawi breeding groups.
propositions given here as the basics of Raswan strain theory provide an
interesting tool for analyzing the Arabian horse as a breed. By themselves,
however, they are not very useful in guiding actual Arabian breeders in
production of Arabian horses according to predictable patterns. They are
simply too general to have much specific application: it is fine to know
that there are different major families of Arabian horses, but that does
not tell how to plan flesh-and-blood matings between horses.
of Strain Breeding, Part II, will follow in the April 1991 Classic
Raswan, C.R., The Arab and His Horse, Library
of Congress Catalog Card Number 55-11083.
Raswan, C.R., The Raswan Index. Published in
several editions. References here are given by topic rather than page number
as a convenience to readers.
Raswan, C.R., A Collection of Articles by Carl
Raswan, a private republication by Alice L. Payne and her son Robert of
articles by Carl Raswan originally appearing in Western Horseman magazine.
Raswan, C.R., "Key" to Arabian Pedigrees.
Originally copyrighted in 1956, this document was later incorporated into
The Raswan Index.
- 1) the Kuhaylan group: "Strength-type: masculine, muscular,
wide across back, croup, chest, neck, forehead, and broad across forearm
and gaskins. Even the mares are muscular-masculine;
- 2) the Saqlawi group, tending to have high neck and tail carriage:
"Beauty-type: feminine, elegant, fine boned, extremely handsome. The
Parade and Show Type. Even the stallions are extremely beautiful-feminine,"
- 3) the Mu'niqi group, "the Angular-Race-type: with long
lines (long back, long neck, long legs, and long, narrow head), also taller
than the 'Classic'-type-Arabian and also coarser (often ugly in appearance
and in temperament)." (Strain descriptions from The Arab and
His Horse, page 28.)
On to Part II
Articles of History