1991 By Charles C. Craver
Arabian Visions April 1991
(used by by permission of CCCraver)
The practical usefulness of Raswan’s strain theory is dependent on the application to horse breeding practice of a body of secondary principles of strain breeding which derive from, or are implied by his major concepts on the subject. In terms of logic, these could be termed “corollaries.” Raswan expressed them in various places: sometimes in articles, often in letters, often in personal conversation. There is no telling how many such principles he developed, the total number must be great. Some of them are included here:
Corollary 1: The female side of a pedigree is more important than the male side. In marking pedigrees of specific horses, Raswan typically called special attention to the occurrence of patterns on the female side of a pedigree. Thus, for the present writer, the presence of Kuhaylan elements on the female side of the pedigrees of Dharebah and Dharanah were especially noted. In a letter dated February 12, 1952, to Dr. J.L. Doyle, he wrote, “the important line is of the Dam“. In his “‘Key’ to Arabian Pedigrees” he makes references to the special importance of the influence of the dam’s side of the pedigree as applied to all three strain-breeding groups. This, of course, is consistent with the Bedouin breeding practice of tracing strain inheritance through the dam.
Corollary 2: Arabian type is influenced by strains according to their proportional importance in a pedigree. In evaluating a specific pedigree, Raswan typically calculated the percentages of the major strains present. Individuality of the horse was considered in large part to be represented by the majority strain influence present. He made the point that this might be different from the actual tail-female strain of the pedigree, which technically determains an animal’s strain of registration. In this way, Farana, a registered Mu’niqi, is shown to be predominantly Kuhaylan. Ronek was described as “A registered Seqlawi, but by pedigree he proves to be 7/8 Kuhaylan and only 1/8 Saqlawi.” (Western Horseman: “Undistinguished Types of Arabian Horses“). As Arabian strains have developed in complex modern pedigrees, the actual tail-female strain of an Arabian horse seldom indicates the predominant strain in its pedigree.
Corollary 3: After enough removal, the strain of a given ancesor no longer contributes to individuality. In his Western Horseman article “Breeding to Arabian Type,” Raswan writes, “When we come to five generations (or more) removed from unrelated strains, we enter the domain of the perfect Arabain horses. They are practically (and for many reasons) as good as those who never carried a drop of unrelated blood.” As applied to modern breeding, this corollary effectively removes concern which most breeders might have for Mu’niqi elements in their horses’ pedigree. The fact is that Mu’niqi influence in most modern bloodlines traces to very remote pedigree elements which have seldom concentrated in their descendents. They are usually too far back to count for much, if anything. Some of the best domestic American bloodlines are Mu’niqi in tail-female and are therefore of that strain, as far as registration is concerned. This is seldom the predominant strain in their pedigrees and has little if any relationship to how they appear or how they breed.
The same lack of concern is not necessarily warranted for other “unrelated” pedigree elements.
Corollary 4: When animals of mixed strains background but of the same strain are bred to each other, classic type intensifies. This was the basis of “pure-in-strain” breeding, which consisted of breeding animals of the same strain to each other. Raswan maintained that “Orthodox Bedouins always bred Arabians pure in the strain!” (Western Horseman “Pure Strains of Arabians.”) He felt that “plus points” accumulated in working towards the reappearance of classic Arabian type for each generation of breeding in a pedigree in which animals of the same strains were bred to each other through the sixth generation of breeding. (“‘Key’ to Arabian Pedigrees”) “‘Fanatics’ aim at purity of strain…by faithful adherence to the same strain. When that one particular strain has been used throughout five generations, an Arabian horse of the original type of the desert has been recreated.” (From Western Horseman, “Breeding to Arabian Type.”)
Corollary 5: The Kuhaylan and Saqlawi strains are related and their type characteristics are complementary. Somewhat in contradiction to corollary 4 above, in personal conversation as in some of his written work, Raswan maintained that the Kuhaylan and Saqlawi strains were very much alike with only minor differences and that they could be bred to each other to produce an ideal Arabian.” … The mixing of the two classic-antique types, (1) the Kuhaylan (including its substrains) and (2) the Saqlawi (including its substrains), does no harm, as far as Arabian characteristics, harmonious proportions, symmetrical lines and the balance of the whole horse are concerned.” (Western Horseman “Related Strains of Arabians“)
In personal conversation and in letters, Raswan sometimes recommended this type of crossing as he did to the present writer, to Dr. J.L. Doyle, and to Alice Payne. It is the writer’s impression that the cross between *Mirage and *Raffles bloodlines initiated at the Selby farm in the 1930s and subsequently followed at Never Die Farm and elsewhere, was in part at least the result of Raswan’s thought and/or recommendation. He sometimes used *Mirage as an example of Saqlawi type and *Raffles as an example of Kuhaylan type.
Corollary 6: Classic Arabian type emerges as the percentage of Mu’niqi of unrelated ancestry diminishes. “The most amazing imporvements occur when Arabians are at least four generations removed from any unrelated blood.” Western Horseman: “Breeding to Arabian Type“). In chart form, Raswan’s “‘Key’ to Arabian Pedigrees” establishes a graduated system of points of evalutation in which points of merit are subtracted according to how many Mu’niqi ancestors appear in the first six generations and added according to the number of generations the subject of a pedigree is removed from Mu’niqi ancestry.
Corollary 7: Physical type of an individual can be evidence of its strain background. This is illustrated by a passage from manuscript in the Pritzlaff collection:
“Each strain with its families is individually different… a Bedouin could without difficulty place a blooded Arabian stallion or mare in his or her different strain, because the distinctions of outward conformity are striking to the accustiomed eye. Likewise, the Arabian horse which comes of a mixed strain can be judged outwardly according to its descent, and a practiced eye can establish the various strains of the sires and grandsires…“
In 1925, Raswan wrote a letter to W.R. Brown, which is also included in the Pritzlaff Collection:
“If a Bedouin would come to your tent in the desert and ask for a fast enduring horse to save his life from a well mounted pursuer and you would offer him 3 mares to pick from: a Saklawi, a Kuhailan, a Miniqi–he would pick the Kuhailan Mare as sure as she would have to have 4 legs and he would not need to ask you which one was the Kuhailan mare, as he would know her from her looks and conformation!!“
Corollary 8: Strain breeding is not restricted to the production of “classic” Arabian type. Raswan’s theory also was applicable to the production of “non-classic” types, if the definition of “classic” is taken to be the picture-book kind of pretty Arabian. From the Richard Pritzlaff collection, in personal notation on the margin of pages torn out of Lady Wentworth’s The Authentic Arabian, he indicates that the Mu’niqi mares *Ferda and *Farasin were included in his famous 1926 importation from Crabbet to the Kellogg farm, because he “planned to cross these Mu’niqiyah mares to a Mu’niqi stallion in America (and could not get a pure Mu’niqiyah mare from Lady W. or anybody else in England and had to take what would match the Mu’niqi stallions in America.” (Underlining Raswan’s). Unfortunately, such matings were not done, but at a later date he was successful in carrying out or arranging breedings which concentrated the Mu’niqi strain. The writer has seen an example of the produce of this breeding, and it was, sure enough, recognizably what Raswan had described as Mu’niqi.
Raswan’s theory as to the influence of Mu’niqi pedigree elements is also useful in accounting for achieving certain desired results in modern Arabian breeding which are apart from goals of strictly “classic” breeding. Some of the features of Mu’niqi influence are very attractive to modern breeders, especially in the show context. Increased size, longer legs, longer necks, exaggeration of tail carriage, racing rear leg structure, and extra elements of “flash” are all components of individuality which can be enhanced by a level of influence of Mu’niqi or certain other blood that is unrelated to the Kuhaylan and Saqlawi strains.
Strain theory shows how such pedigree elements can be used to furnish these features and at the same time preserve some of the “classic” features of Arabian type, such as a pretty head and general “Arab” character. The trick is to have the sources of these elements close enough in a pedigree to have the desired effect, but far enough back so that the animal produced is attractive and balanced. A number of major current breeding programs are successful in achieving this balance.
What has been presented in this article is a version of elements of Raswan strain theory. Another writer on the same subject might well come up with a somewhat different account, but any person seriously attempting to represent Raswan’s work of record would at least have to give consideration to the main points stated here.
Would Raswan have agreed with the present article? Perhaps not. He was a man of extremely complicated thought processes. Although he had the gift of appearing to write very clearly, his work was by no means simple or easy to understand. Probably no one completely understood Raswan but Raswan.
It would be convenient if Raswan’s strain theory could be “proven.” That is unlikely to ever happen in any logical sense because of the difficulty of stating his thoughts in empirically verifiable format. Furthermore, the objects from which his theory was primarily derived, namely the Arabian horses of tribal life in Arabia, no longer exist as Raswan wrote about them. Current verification of the basic observation upon which his theory is based is therefore unlikely.
Whether Raswan’s strain theory can be “proven” is really not of importance for most Arabian horse breeders. The important thing is that it presents a way of breeding and understanding Arabian horses which is effective in producing good results for breeders. Many people over the years have used it either knowingly or otherwise and been well rewarded. It would be difficult for the theory to fail in application, because it involves so many elements which are simply common sense, practical applications of genetic principles, such as are used by good breeders of many kinds of livestock.
An example of this is the emphasis on the female side of a pedigree. Almost every cow-man know that his best calves come from a certain few cows in his herd. That is not considered strain theory: just a fact of life. Another example of common sense in Raswan strain theory is the importance given to the actual observable results of strain breeding. People expect such results, and use them as a check on strain procedures. It is also a matter of common sense as well as accepted genetic expectation, that animals of fixed-type reproduce themselves when bred to each other. Just about every breeder of purebred livestock must be aware of this. Another almost universally accepted basis of livestock breeding is that, as pedigree elements become distant, they become less important.
In general, much of Raswan’s application of strain theory was based on simple, logical principles of breeding. They were useful, and, if they were not technically provable, they were not different in this from most other of the “principles” of everyday living upon which we depend for all kinds of guidance. Most of us don’t know what makes the car go, apples fall, medicine work, and the banks stay open. Our lack of perfect knowledge does not keep us from making useful decisions about such events, not does it prevent us from using strain-breeding concepts as tools in the production of better Arabian horses.
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.