the magic, the mystery and a third dimension into a pedigree

Putting a "STRAIN" on an Old Subject

by Joe Ferriss
Explanations of strains as well as being illustrated.

Strains can mean various things to many people.  This I believe comes about because we can't readily see the tangible aspect of a strain through the separation of strain from pedigree.  My thoughts are to look at strains original oral pedigrees of Eastern origin before the Western concept of written pedigrees. Therefore an intrinsic part of a pedigree as suggested in many readings / texts including The Abbas Pasha Manuscript (Sherif/Forbis). Some examples from texts can be found below.   Traditional oral pedigrees can be compared to surnames of humans.  With humans, the focus is on surnames extending to families and therefore you have family resemblances or not depending on the strength of the genetics of the individual.  With the Arabian Horse, the emphasis is not on the male line, as in surnames for humans, but the female line ie the damline or tail-female.

In the same frame, Judith Forbis approaches the theory of strains through her books Authentic Arabian Bloodstock and somewhat in The Classic Arabian Horse.  However, without a confirmation on the original mares ie tail females, attributes can only be guessed from the evidence presented many years later around the late 1800s onwards through the progeny of these mares and their families.   Collecting data from the Bedouin also helped clarify issues as well. As has been noted by various authors who collectively attribute similar/same nuances to strains through their individual research and/or collectively shared data.

If in fact all data on-hand at the moment is true and accurate, then assessments can be made with a fair amount of accuracy.  However, given the revelation of human error and researched data coming forward including medical research some of these assessments maybe subject to review. This, I believe, is where the international forums via the WWWeb have come into their own.  Many people - breeders, enthusiasts, authors and researchers (with or without medical training) have been coming forth and sharing their thoughts and findings.

S trains could be seen as basically the principal of human surnames in reverse ~ with the equines concentrating on the female side of the family, with the name stemming from the tail-female.  Strains, for me, recognise the original owner and/or attribute of the tail (original) female.  It has long been established written records were generally, not kept by the desert nomadic Bedouin. The Bedouin may have been illiterate but by all tense and purposes, they were quite intelligent!  It has also been established this is probably one area of meticulous observation# made by the Bedouin - to maintain the purity of their Arabians without a scripted means.  It is reputed, verbal / oral pedigrees were known to the enth degree and its suggested the only need to put the pedigree to paper was from the time when a local identity of status, started to collect individuals and groups of Arabians from the Bedouin.  Obviously under these circumstances, it would indeed be essential to notate who was who in such a diverse collection of Arabian Horses.

# Thus, the well-known traveller, Niebuhr, writes as follows: "Although the Bodouins keep no written horse-pedigrees, the pure blood of the Kehilan (ianasmuch as it refers to the whole Arabian breed) is beyond question, since no blood-mare is bred to a sire otherwise than in the presence of witnesses.  The Bedouins, as a rule, are far from truthful.  But in case of their horses' pedigrees, they can be taken at their word as they are convinced that to commit perjury in such an important matter will bring ruin to them and their family"
Sherbatov & Stroganov, 1901/1998

It is also suggested "The Bedouin are the people associated indelibly with the 'desert horse,' and their traditions, passed by word of mouth, are therefore important. Their belief corresponds with that of the Wentworth school and is recorded, if sometimes more allegorically than factually, by the Arab historian El Kelbi who, in about the year AD 786, towards the end of the Islamic conquests which threatened to engulf Europe, recorded the history and pedigrees of the Arabian horse strains.
Edwards 1987

However, considering when the scripts were written and whenever Western travellers travelled into the desert in search of Arabians in hope of obtaining a few good individuals to take away with them, one had to not only translate but also transliterate.   These transliterations/translations proved and are still proving to be almost a stumbling block.  A stumbling block in as much as the spelling into English (and other languages) usually came about from phonetic (sound) translations.  Phonetic translations was at the mercy of the ears and interpretations of the listener and their subsequent scripting (spelling) capabilities.  Spelling variations come about through these translations.  Along with the Arabic language, as like French, has gender specific wording.  There is gender specific wording to focus on when dealing with strains, slight changes of spelling of the feminine to the masculine form of the strain.  Generic and plural forms of strains I have only seen in Forbis' books - ie Al Saqlawiyat, the generic name (Saklawi, Seglawi, Seglaoui, etc); Saqlawiyah - feminine form; Saqlawi - masculine form; Saqlawiyat - plural form.

Now that the historical / grammatical area of strains is out of the way, what do they all mean?  Basically, the common denominator is the tail female.  Each strain is taken to suggest the tail female - a single mare. If you take the research/suggestions that Bedouin started with a few horses who were Koheilan which literally means "the dark skinned one"+ and is used to denote of pure decent this could suggest a herd of horses, especially considering the environmental changes over the eons*.   As Bedouin split (environment changes / subsequent marital and inheritance rules) their horses were divided amongst or shared between specific tribes and therefore could also have gained a name to reflect the division.  In some cases its just two or more sons having a share of their parent's "wealth".  So, you get the reflection through the name changes...

+"...the Kehilan are a branch of the main Ahouaj line and were so named because of the coal-black skin around their eyes and nostrils.  Others maintain that the term "Kehilan" refers to the entire Arabian breed of horses, being merely a more recent version of the original Ahouaj"

* Its suggested through research (Egypt, Davies & Friedman 1998) 10,000 years ago an area which is now totally arid in Northern Africa, encompassing the Sahara and Egypt, was once green and lush with seasonal lakes (playas) filled by summer rains. This could be the explanation for the equine establishment in this area.  With subsequent eons drying up the abundance of feed, selections were necessary to those equines who provided the needs and wants of their masters and were essentially survivors - feed and water being precious.  Whether or not establishment of the equine in this area came about via a single specific breed   (Arabian antecedents)^ or an early crossing of the Akhal Teke and the Caspian Pony remains elusive.

^ Wentworth, Raswan, Seydel and Upton all subscribed to the theory of a race of wild horses in central and southern Arabia which was in times past 'a land of trees and rivers', conducive to supporting a horse population. Edwards 1987

Sherbatov & Stroganov suggest

"...lines of Arabian pure-bloods carries, besides its name of origin, a secondary name which either describes a new sub-line or is the family-name of its owner.  Only those sires or mares are acknowledged to be stud animals ("khadud"), about which it not only can be said that they are of pure Arabian stock, but whose blood-line and sub-lines are also known.   If this is not the case, it means that the animal is not a blood horse and it is then debarred from stud.  At the same time, the Bedouins do not distinguish between 'classes' of animals: once a horse is achnowledged as being a blood animal, it is accepted for stud as any other.  Neverthless, some blood-lines are rated more highly than others on account of certain specific qualities of the progeniotrs; thus, a Kehilan Ajuz or a Seglawi Jedran is valued far more than a Rishan Sherabi or a Samhan al Gomeaa.   It should be borne in mind that the origin of a horse is determined according to the dam; nothing is ever said about the sire." Sherbatov & Stroganov

Essentially, breeders today are well aware of the limitations of a closed gene pool - which the Arabian Horse is.  If the above table is close to reflecting the truth, then the gene pool is much tighter than possibly considered by many and can usually be verified through an extended pedigree check.  The one point which is relevant to me, personally, is each of the subsequent progeny of these groups whilst in their original environments were survivors - they could do their tasks adequately within such a harsh environment.  These survivors are the best examples of the Bedouin needs/wants relating to the Arabian Horse.  Therefore it could well be said, strains should be paramount in selecting a breeding along with present day acceptance of the written pedigree.  But as all breeders should know, pedigree (genotype) can suggest what an individual should look like (phenotype).  However, phenotype doesn't allows follow/reflect genotype. And as per the human example in the first part of this note, phenotype/genotype can differ even within a single generation depending on nature's allocation of the genes.  Starting their own families, having their own characteristics/attributes (as suggested and evidenced in J Forbis' book Authentic Arabian Horse with a most notable collection of photographs exampling strains).  Nonetheless, in-breeding and line-breeding to the same "Al Khamsa / Asil" group of Arabian Horses (whether they be individuals or groups) through the limitation of the gene pool.

Regards the Pyramid Society (Straight Egyptian); Asil and Al Khamsa (amongst others) they selected horses which were readily traceable to be bred within a delineated area with the exclusion of noted invidual horses, explanations are usually given.  Which basically at the inception of the founding rules generally excluded horses which were taken from the delineated areas and bred on in other countries, even though they were usually of desert bred stock.  From a personal reflection, I have found this in turn makes it easier to trace these inviduals ancestry (strains/pedigree) as compared to the Arabians bred away from the area and less suspect of western breeders' perceptions aside of the Bedouin.

And as suggested through the text, although the strain name recognizes only the tail female, there can be a complex strain ancestry to any one individual!  Which ever way its reviewed, strains can make for interesting reading.   Along with the realisation just how precious the Arabian Horse is.

* Includes the Sagkheii clan, famous for its Abeian Sherrak horses 
* Includes the Gkhenedish clan, famous for the same reason

The Bedouin horse breeders selected their foundation horses, and based their breeding decisions upon the individual preferences and needs of their tribes. As in any culture, different groups placed higher regard on certain traits over others, and therefore their focus reflected that emphasis.  As a result, individual tribes developed their own 'identifying look' within their group of horses, which mirrored their respective regard and priority for traits.  Some tribes stressed the importance of speed, others strength, courage, endurance or tractability of temperament.  Still others focused on utter and absolute beauty.  While all of these elements were of dire importance to each individual tribe, their particular concentration on any combination of these elements created what is known as strains.  The particular characteristics of each strain are what defines them, and are authentic traits of the true desert bred Arabian horse.

The Sheykh Obeyd Foundation's Catalogue of Bloodlines 1996. p10 - The Eye of the Beholder


There are many references to strain breeding and examples of strain bred Arabians within various books, magazines and websites.  

Here a few directions...

Arabian Resource Centre: History & Heritage of the Arabian Horse  Horse of the Desert Bedouin pp2-4

Bowling, M. Strained Relations

Craver, J & Craver C, Strains and Strain Types

Craver, C.C. 1991 Corallaries of Strain Breeding, Arabian Visions, March  Parts I & II

Davenport, H., 1909 My Quest of the Arabian Horse, New York, Darcy's Place: Roomfuls of Davenport Arabians.

Ferriss, J., Strains and Strain-Types, Sheykh Obeyd World, pp12-16

Ferriss, J., Putting a "Strain" on an Old Subject, Sheykh Obeyd World pp23-25

Forbis, J 1990 Arabian Strains and Families, Authentic Arabian Bloodstock, Ansata Publications, Mena, Arkansas pp141-252

Forbis, J Strains

Nagel, H.J., 1998 Hanan The Story of an Arabian Mare and of the Arabian Breed, Alexander Heriot & Co Ltd., Cheltenham, England.

Pritzlaff, R., A Perspective on Carl Raswan From His Writings, Sheykh Obeyd World pp21-24

Wentworth, J.A.D.B-L, (Baroness) 1945 The authentic Arabian horse and his descendants, George Allen & Unwin, London, England

Whitman, D.S., The Strain of it All, American Arabian Online  pp1-3

Wilkinson, C., Articles Page - Mu'niqi Strain Preservation, The Pasha Institute.