Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Eighth Generation

The Eighth Generation
Originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
Every country has its living treasures and yesterday I was fortunate to celebrate two of ours. Egypt is the home of the Egyptian Arabian horse, a breed of horses that can trace its lineage back to the deserts of the Arabian peninsula. The modern horse traces its heritage back to the desert horse, the Arab, the forest horse that was the ancestor of the heavier European horses, and the steppe horse exemplified by the Przewalski's horse that is being reintroduced to Mongolia now. During the 1800's hundreds of the finest Arabian horses were brought to Egypt during the conquest of the Arabian peninsula by the armies of Mohamed Ali, and these horses formed the basis of much of the breeding of Arabian horses in the world today.

During the monarchy in Egypt most of the Arab horses belonged to members of the royal family with Abbas Pasha being a major breeder. When he died his stud was broken up among other breeders, most notably the Wentworths of England who lived for a while in Egypt and later moved their horses back home to the UK. The Royal Egypian stud became the rather oddly named Egyptian Agricultural Organisation, otherwise known as the EAO, under the revolutionary government of Nasser and during the 50's and 60's some private breeders began establishing breeding facilities. Madame Widgan Barbare was one of them.

Dany Barbare is definitely another one of Egypt's living treasures. In her younger years she was an accomplished show jumper and her stories of shows in Europe years ago are fascinating. I've spent hours over tea with Dany listening to her tales of riding, breeding and horses in general. She set up Shams el Asil stud on the Mansoureya Road in a grove of mango and palm trees, a private heaven for horse lovers. Her main man, a now aging but utterly beautiful stallion called Beltagi, was the start of a line of some of the most stunning Arabian horses on earth. Yesterday was the celebration of eight generations of bewitching equines.

My horses are not purebred Egyptian Arabs. They are the countrybred baladi Arabs that are the workhorses of Egypt. This is not to say that I wouldn't have one of Dany's wonderful horses if I could afford one. National treasures must be treasured.

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