The Trouble With Going Straight

by Charles Craver
Charles & Jeanne Craver
Rt 2 Box 262
Winchester IL 62694
(217) 742-3415

All rights reserved
from: An Anthology of Articles from the KHAMSAT 1981-1990

The term “straight” as applied to Arabian horse breeding may have begun with Mrs. Kathleen Ott, who has contributed much useful terminology to the subject. At some point, perhaps in the 1960’s, she was referring to horses which were entirely of Egyptian pedigree as “straight” Egyptians. Others probably picked the term up from her.

Usage has expanded to include bloodlines in addition to Egyptian. In Al Khamsa, we hear of “straight” Babson, “straight” desert-bred, “straight” New Egyptian, “straight” Babson-Turfa, “straight” Davenport, and “straight” almost anything else that can be separated from other breeding groups. Outside of the Al Khamsa context, it is not unusual to hear the term “straight” Polish or “straight” Spanish. Somebody is probably also talking about “straight” Russian, “straight” Crabbet, “straight” Kellogg and “straight” Selby.

Some recognized breeding groups are so heterogenous in their backgrounds that it hardly seems appropriate to call them “straight” anything. Usually, however, when something is described as “straight,” most people know generally what is meant: It really does mean something when a horse is described as “straight” Egyptian, “straight” Polish, or “straight” Davenport or any of the other established breeding groups.

Sometimes the concept of being “straight” something-or-other gives a financial advantage. Very few “straight” Egyptian mares, for instance, are bred to stallions of other lines of horses partly because it is generally felt that to do so would produce a foal of lesser cash value, regardless of individual merit. This can easily be a trap in Arabian breeding if it causes breeders to ignore worthwhile bloodlines in planning breedings. The comment has been made in circles centered on class A show ring competition that “straight” horses of any kind are not as good as the others.


But is there some truth to it? Except for the horses presented by a few very efficient, die-hard “straight” specialists, many of the top show contenders are blends of bloodlines. After all, no one bloodline has all the good points of the Arabian horse, and people who are producing blends have a terrific palette of ingredients from which to choose excellence. If you play eeni-meeni-mini-mo among the successful horses at a big show, chances are you will not catch a straight one. Partly that may be an indication of how the best horses are bred, although it should be granted that our typically American way of breeding horses, people and everything else is to put all ingredients into our national melting pot and to declare the end product a triumphant success.

One of the charming things about Al Khamsa is that we have so many different kinds of “straight” breeding groups of horses concentrated in a relatively small catalogue. By one standard or another, perhaps 75% of our horses are “straight” something. This at least tends to keep the annual Al Khamsa Conventions on a non-commercial plane: It is not a good place to sell a horse. Many of the people present have their own “straight” breeding programs. Usually each “straight” group is represented by a few people who know each other well enough so that they care more about visiting than selling horses amongst themselves. As for selling horses to people of different “straight” groups, forget it. That almost can’t be done. The effort saved from attempting it can instead be spent exchanging thoughts about the more general aspects of Arabian breeding and having a nice time.

There is no question that the easy emphasis is on “straight” breeding groups in Al Khamsa. It has encouraged a worthwhile diversity in the horses we attempt to preserve. That is especially appropriate because the Bedouin horses from which our horses originally derive were themselves a diverse group of various types and strains. In preserving the basic differences in the horses we are following a fundamental tradition in Bedouin breeding.

Equally important, the interest in “straight” breeding has brought into Al Khamsa people having differing individual tastes in horses. There can be quite a range in taste between the kind of people who want New Egyptians and those who prefer Blue Stars or Babsons or Davenports, etc. It is one of the strengths of Al Khamsa that we have an appropriate horse for each taste.

However, there is a major problem with the emphasis which has been placed on “straight” breeding in Al Khamsa. It is that many of our horses are not really “straight” anything except Al Khamsa. These are horses that have not been tagged with a specific identifying name. Without a marker, they sometimes do not attract that recognition on the part of breeders which benefits “straight” breeding groups. These horses — especially the females — are by no means discarded. They end up loved and used. Nearly every Al Khamsa herd has one or more of them along with its “straights”.

The difficulty in describing these horses is that no single name universally applies to them. The terms “mixed-source” and “combined source” are frequently heard. They are appropriate because they describe the characteristic aspect of pedigree which identifies the horses: they combine pedigree elements that are often perceived to be of differing kinds.

This description is true for practical purposes, but anyone who has read the Foundation Horses section of Al Khamsa Arabians and followed the animals in it forward into current pedigrees is aware that actually all Al Khamsa horses — “straight” and otherwise — are of combined sources. Living Al Khamsa horses derive from foundation stock which was obtained in various ways by various people from various Bedouin sources. Virtually all of them — “straight” and otherwise — at some point are of “mixed source” origin. Even with the straightest of our “straights,” usually the element of mixture is not very far back. Most of our oldest identified pedigree elements only date from the Abbas Pasha collection in the 1850’s — a mere yesterday in genetic terms. More frequent dates of source were in the 1870’s, 1906, the 1930’s and immediately post-World War II.

Where “straight” breeding groups have been established from such Foundation horses there is frequently a combination of systematic breeding for part of a pedigree and substantial outcross for another part. The result is that in Al Khamsa, our “straights” are actually “combined sources” too. Apart from quibbling about whether some Al Khamsa horses are “straight” or all of them are “combined,” does it always matter? We have to be careful about confusing a semantic issue with a genetic identification.

If we make the mistake of placing an artificial premium on the breeding of “straight” categories of Al Khamsa horses we are in danger of limiting the breeding stock available for the production of the best possible Al Khamsa horse. Whether we like it or not, there is a great competition among the breeders of Arabian horses — within and without Al Khamsa — for the production of quality individual horses. Al Khamsa as a breeding movement cannot afford to produce animals which are inferior to those produced elsewhere. At the present time, our horses are as good as or better than any others, but we have to maintain that position or we are not going to continue on any long-term basis as an important element in Arabian horse breeding.

Other breeders are plenty smart. They have excellent genetic resources, including the best which we have preserved for them. In addition, they have a precious advantage in some of the choice Al Khamsa eligible lines of history which are lost to us through admixture with non-Al Khamsa breeding. To survive in this type of competition, we have to produce the very best kind of horses we can. It is not enough for us to be an antiquarian society for the preservation of “straight” pedigrees.

In Al Khamsa, just as with other bloodlines, no one “straight” category has all the good features. The effort should certainly be made to put the good points of our various “straight” categories together into a better Arabian of desert type. That is what our foundation breeders did with the breeding stock available to them. Abbas Pasha, Ali Pasha Sherif, Prince Muhammed Ali, Huntington, the Blunts, Davenport, Brown, Harris and others all used horses of differing sources to produce their end products. Can we afford to ignore the example they set?

This is not to say that “straights” should not be preserved for their own merits as “straights.” They are usually something special in their own right which we take pride in preserving. But in the larger picture of Arabian breeding, “straights” are building blocks for the construction of pedigrees of future horses. It is not enough for building blocks to just exist. They should be used to make something more than they are themselves.

Our “straights” should certainly be preserved and cherished, but in Al Khamsa and elsewhere they should also be used to make new pedigrees oriented towards producing a superior horse combining their good points. Perhaps there is not even much point in preserving a “straight” category that is not also useful for this purpose. To produce a truly superior horse is an ultimate project in livestock breeding, requiring all the genetic resources available in the Al Khamsa context. When such a horse is produced — the one that most fully realizes the potential of our current Al Khamsa bloodlines — the source designation following its name in the pedigree index of some future issue of Al Khamsa Arabians will probably include a goodly number of source designations of Al Khamsa horses. Perhaps it will read something like: “EPITOME OF AL KHAMSA (Egypt-Blunt-Inshass – Sa’ud – Davenport – Upton – Leopard – Dwarka – Mameluke – Nejdran – Huntington – Hamidie, etc.)” No doubt each one of these separate source elements will in some way contribute to the final perfect end-product.

Partly the matter of over-emphasis on “straight” breeding is corrected when animals of differing “straight” categories are bred to each other. A number of such crosses have been very successful, as when various Egyptians lines are crossed (new and old, for instance), Egyptian with Davenport, Blue Star with Egyptian or Davenport, and others. Many variations are possible on these themes. People who do them have a freedom of choice and opportunity unknown to “straight” breeders. This type of breeding between current “straight” groups can be done at any time, of course, and is worthwhile when it produces a better horse for a specific purpose. It demonstrates both the value of “straight” breeding and the practicality of outcrossing. In the long run, it may lead to wonderful new opportunities in Al Khamsa breeding.

Such crosses, however, do not address an urgent problem in present Al Khamsa breeding, which is that our emphasis on “straight” breeding programs sometimes works against some of our unique and extremely valuable bloodlines which do not fit within current definitions of “straight.” We find their sources in the “Foundation Horses” section of Al Khamsa Arabians. They are horses which do not fit into present categories of “Egyptian,” “Blue Star,” “Babson-Turfa,” “Blunt,” “Davenport,” etc. Often they represent sources of Al Khamsa blood not available in any other country. Many of them have historically produced and are currently producing extremely successful animals. Without attempting to list them all, among such foundation horses are: *Nejdme, *Obeyran, *King John, *Leopard, *Kismet, *Mirage, *Nejdran, Dwarka, *El Bulad, *La Tisa, *Mohalhil, *Nufoud, *Pride, and *Sunshine.

Such horses are a significant portion of that tiny selection of Foundation animals from which Al Khamsa derives. If they were in the pedigrees of foreign horses instead of our own, we would probably seek their descendants out for importation as precious.

What do we do with such horses?

Well, it almost seems we ignore them as much as possible. We certainly do not brag about them nearly enough, and the mares are usually bred to a “straight” stallion of some sort, frequently Egyptian. The same process occurs over generations with the result that the original, unique pedigree element is constantly diluted. Finally it can become insignificant. Death by dilution.

The situation is made worse because the stallions — however nice — are infrequently bred to Al Khamsa mares and hardly ever to mares having their same special pedigree elements.

Because we tend to outcross our unique, non-straight bloodlines with every generation, Al Khamsa loses some of its genetic wealth. How much we are actually losing we really do not know because hardly anyone has systematically put these bloodlines together to find out what they can do. Some of their combined produce would probably be less than optimum. That is to be expected. It is part of bloodline development. The things that don’t work should just be dropped or bred around. There is no obligation to perpetuate something just because it is rare. There is such a thing in Arabian breeding as the deservedly obscure bloodline.

But many of these are vital bloodlines still retaining their own special characteristics which we should treasure. We need these characteristics. They should be sought out, concentrated, and their future insured in Al Khamsa and elsewhere.

It ought to be noted that Al Khamsa breeders in the past did not have our present problem of bloodlines slipping away by dilution. Systematic breeding which eventually led to Al Khamsa began with the publication of the Blue Arabian Horse Catalog in 1961. One of the valuable features of this book was that all horses in this country meeting the requirements of the authors were catalogued. This included a number of individuals which had not been popular enough to stay in the mainstream of American breeding. They were sought out and prized by people who were interested in the message of the Blue Arabian Horse Catalog. Almost all major breeders of that time took part in the salvage effort, and as a result, the base of current Al Khamsa breeding was greatly broadened.

It is now our choice as to how we should make use of this entire base.

Preserving this little group of unique bloodlines is a project that not all of us can or should do. There are other worthwhile things in Al Khamsa which also must continue. Among these is certainly the continued breading of “straight” Al Khamsa bloodlines. But something each of us can do is to articulate and act upon an increased appreciation of the importance of the various aspects of bloodlines which are not “straight.” Public recognition of the value of theses horses is very important as a matter of plain, simple fairness to the owners of such horses. Often such recognition leads the way to success in breeding.

Maybe as much as anything else we need a name. Something better than “mixed source” or “combined source.” Those terms simply do not strike the spark of enthusiasm.

Finally, those of us who have these horses should recognize that we have an opportunity through them to make a needed contribution to Al Khamsa breeding. We need to give more thought to how they should be bred in order to best develop their unique characteristics. We should avoid wasting theses bloodlines in an effort to mirror what we are already doing with “straights.” As we produce horses that have something good our other horses do not have, we make real progress.

We ought to be using those stud colts right back on the parent bloodlines.

Where does “going straight” lead? Not to the same destination for everyone. Not always to the best horse. Not always to the best future for Al Khamsa. We need to do some straight thinking about that.


[On the bottom half of the final page of the above article in the Anthology we find:]

Arabs will produce Arabs with no throwbacks. Arabs bred to anything else will be at least one-half Arab, probably more, on account of the strength of the Arabian blood.

This theory confirms or corroborates Randolph Huntington’s statement made in 1885 after fifty years of study and breeding experiments. In referring to the foreign countries which went to Arabia for this horse, from which to create new types, he says, “From no other horse could these families (breeds) be produced, nor can either of them produce other new, desirable, self-sustaining types. ” The same applies to the three breeds developed in this country — the Morgan, the American Saddle Horse, and the Standard Bred Trotter — namely, their blood as a base is not strong enough to produce other desirable and self-sustaining types. As has been said of gold, the more gold back of a country’s currency, the more valuable it is. So the more Arab blood back of any registered horse of any breed, the better.

I am not here trying to prove anything, just admitting the truth of what has been claimed by the breeders of these horses. The necessity for this blood in the past on account of its prepotency and its desirable qualities, which could be stamped upon its progeny, proves the desirability of maintaining the species in its purity.

From: “THE BLOOD OF THE ARAB,” Albert W. Harris, Chicago, 1941.