Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Window Shopping

The EAO, Egyptian Agricultural Organisation, is the inheritor of the Royal Egyptian Stud and a repository of bloodlines for the Egyptian Arabian horse. Roughly four hundred horses share big shady paddocks under the eucalyptus trees in Ain Shams, just outside of Heliopolis, an area that once was farmland but now, like much of Cairo, is crowded with apartment buildings. The horses there can trace pedigrees back a couple of hundred years to the deserts of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. Much of the original blood stock was collected during military campaigns during the 1800's, during buying expeditions of the same time, or as gifts to the Egyptian monarchy.

After the revolution, the new military rulers of Egypt were not convinced that a national stud was a necessity and the private studs were considered decadent. Some of the horses in private studs were dispersed to to carters and carriage drivers, only to be discretely bought back by friends of the original owners so as not to lose the valuable bloodlines. Eventually, the new rulers of Egypt were persuaded that the horses were part of the national heritage, but the budget for the EAO has never been generous. During the 60's and 70's many of the best horses at the EAO were bought by foreigners who were establishing stud farms in North America and Europe. At some point I'm not sure when, it was decided that horses at the EAO would only be sold at auction to ensure that local breeders would have an equal chance (depending on their budgets of course) to purchase as the foreign breeders would have. Sometimes the auctions are only stallions, sometimes mares, and sometimes both are represented. This January the sale was for both mares and stallions.

I wasn't in the market for horses, not having anything like the budget for these bluebloods, but some friends wanted to go and watch the auction for a while, so we all packed into the jeep to window shop. The auction attracts horse lovers of every type. Men, women, locals, foreigners, wealthy breeders and much less wealthy stable owners...everyone gathered around a large paddock to watch mares, stallions, fillies, and colts showing off for the crowd while bids flew. Some of the horses were destined for the race track, some for breeding farms, and others for family farms where they would be trained for riding.

The prices ranged from about 15 thousand Egyptian pounds (about USD 3 thousand) to over 200 thousand Egyptian pounds that I saw bid for a lovely chestnut mare in foal to one of the EAO stallions. She was one that I would have loved to have added to my herd, but it was not to be. The event was covered by Egyptian television with a jeans-clad interviewer wandering the grounds talking to buyers, breeders and EAO officials for the camera.

We didn't stay for the entire sale. There were horses at home to take care of and the Cairo traffic wasn't going to be never is. As we left the stud we walked past the empty paddocks with the huge round feeding stands in the center and wondered about the futures of the horses we had been watching all afternoon.

copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

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