Arabian horses have travelled full circle in a globalised world: From the Arabian desert to royal courts in Europe and to horse lovers in the Americas, going around the world and coming back to their origins.
The story of equine global import-export business culminates in AL SHAQAB, where it turned into a well planned breeding success spreading back into the world again. World Champions Gazal, Marwan, Al Adeed, Cahir – all with AL SHAQAB as their “family name” - are household names and a trade mark in the world of the Arabian horse lovers. “Since twenty years AL SHAQAB is an ongoing success story in showing, endurance and racing”, says Dr. Nils Ismer. The German veterinarian manages Europe’s largest privately owned Arabian Stud in Ströhen, in northern Germany, and is a newly elected president of EAHSC, European Arabian Horse Show Commission.
“There is no business like show business”, it says in “Annie get your Gun”. What is true for the famous musical is certainly correct to say for Arabian horses in show business where it translates to being judged by their looks. The European Conference for Arab Horse Organizations (ECAHO) that includes Arab countries as well as North Africa, ran 154 shows in 2014, up from 18 in 1985. A big herd of 490 horses competed for 5 million euro prize money in Abu Dhabi very recently. Competition in looking good and being beautiful is not as easy as it sounds. It takes up to two years of training and developing the muscles’ most amiable setting to fit the picture of a truly world class standard makes-your-jaw-dropping gorgeous horse. Expert coaches worldwide deal with this topic day in, day out as well as massaging, pampering, toning and relaxing valuable horses.
Racing and endurance are the opposite side of the coin, brilliantly exposing the Arabian’s speed and stamina. An industry very different to the world of showing has been formed around performance and breeding for performance, governed by a number of different regional organisations.. AL SHAQAB is thriving in both fields as do other studs in Qatar, often owned by members of the Royal family and supported by Qatar Foundation which considers the Arabian horse a large part of the country’s cultural heritage.
The world of Arabian horses has gone global, indeed. Two hundred years ago French Emperor Napoleon was one of the first to bring Arabian horses to Europe. Other royals followed. Arabian horses became a symbol of status at royal courts. From there they influenced equestrian breeding everywhere. As the military campaigns changed so did the horses for the cavalry: The heavy draught horses became lighter and more agile because the soldiers shed their clumsy and heavy iron protection. Even later, horses in agriculture and used to a plough transformed into today’s sport horses, jumping high fences and dancing elegantly in dressage. In 1817 the Arabian stallion Bairactar was imported to a duchy that is now part of Germany and he became the founding father of the sport horse world of today. Looking through pedigrees of today’s horses competing at CHI AL SHAQAB - if you go back far enough - the name Bairactar will be popping up regularly. Until today sport horses and ponies for children to ride have been influenced by Arabian blood. The English thoroughbred for racing and sport has it’s base in Arabia, too. One of the legends in their books is the “Darley Arabian” whom DNA studies found to be – via racing hero Eclipse - the ancestor of 95 per cent of all thoroughbreds living today. The “Alcock Arabian” brought the grey colour into English Thoroughbreds.
Following the royal start-up Europe became a focus for Arabian breeding in various state studs. Janow Podlasky in Poland, Babolna in Hungary or even Bairactar’s former home Marbach in Germany, going back 500 years, are centres of excellence nowadays. At a Janow Podlasky auction customers paid 1,3 million euro for a mare already 13 years old. Kwestura was brought to auction by Poland’s second renowned stud Michalow, founded after the first World War, and she turned 20 now in February. Therefore it is very likely that she still was a good investment for the new owners. Until the 1980’s the United States were a big focal point for breeding and buying Arabian horses. Following economic changes the angle has shifted back again towards Arabia. Since thirty years it is this region again where the industry’s engines are roaring when it comes to professionalism, exchange of knowledge and sharing excellence. The World Registry for Arabian Horses published its most recent data in August 2014. According to WAHO there is now a total of more than one million Arabian horses in 62 countries. More than half of them (663,833) are registered in the USA, followed by Canada (48.010). The count for comparatively small Qatar is 2,774 registered horses, ranking it among the top 25 countries. Almost half of the world’s Arabian horse population (402,249) is grey, the colour that most royals found especially attractive.
In 1992 His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani founded AL SHAQAB. Soon after lots of expertise and a stroke of good luck – you can’t do without it in breeding good horses - had the name of a new stud written in the sky. The reason was Gazal AL SHAQAB, born 1995 in Doha and turning into the top sire of the Arabian show world. Many offspring, including the stud’s current hero and five-time back-to-back world champion Marwan AL SHAQAB, put Qatar on the map. Later Gazal was transferred to Poland where he produced two world champions for Janow Podlasky and Michalow and he resides in the United States now. “Looking at all the international shipments of stallions’ semen you find a bottleneck formed by mainly two paternal lines, Gazal AL SHAQAB and one other stallion in the USA, Padrons Psyche. Gazal really is something else”, explains Dr. Nils Ismer.
The Ismer family runs Europe’s largest privately owned Arabian stud. On 200 hectares of pasture, lush green in summer, 240 horses live a life quite different from Qatar’s environment. Rain or shine, even in snow, the hardy creatures are outside, turning in to the old, typically half-timbered stable buildings only for the night. The whole Ismer family is heavily involved in the Arabian horse world. Veterinarian Nils manages the stud and stables founded by his grandfather almost 60 years ago, his father and brother are international judges. In early February in Prague, Czech Republic at the recent ECAHO general assembly Dr. Ismer took over the chair of the Show Commission from Alia Al Hussein of Jordan. In 2013 this ECAHO or European Conference for Arabian Horse Associations had gathered in Doha. Ismer Stud is connected to Qatar – like almost every other notable stud in the world. In Ströhen the reason being a bay stallion called Gazwan Al Nasser, a son of AL SHAQAB’s Gazal. In 2010 the stallion was leased to Germany for 18 months. Just a few days ago Gazwan was the talk of the Ismer stud again. One of Gazwan’s most beautiful daughters, Etara, that he had sired while in Germany brought a beautiful first foal, and to complete the family circle the filly’s paternal grand sire is Marwan AL SHAQAB.
What goes around comes around. At the CHI AL SHAQAB from 2 to 7 March try to spot any grey horses out. They might be extended relatives coming “home” for a visit from all over the sport horse world. “Arabian horses have had a much bigger influence on sport horse and pony breeding than most breeders realise. The grey colour, frequently seen especially in jumping horses of the Holsteiner breed, is an Arabian legacy,” says Nr. Nils Ismer.