For many in “the west”, the very mention of Iraq can conjure up mostly negative connotations of war and strife.
But for horse lovers – arabian horse lovers, particularly – the country and the immediate region should be celebrated and appreciated far more that it currently is as the origin of the world’s oldest and most influential breed.
This new book by Iraqi arabian breeder and racing enthusiast Dr Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Nujaifi sheds much light on Iraq and its neighbors and their horse-loving traditions.
The author needs no introduction in arabian racing circles in Iraq and in Europe, being the top owner for all races in all countries in 2012 according to the statistics of the International Federation of Arabian Horse Racing Authorities (IFAHR) – the third consecutive season he has held the title.
Dr Al-Nujaifi breeds both purebred and anglo-arabian racehorses at his Al-Nujaifi stud farm north of Mosul, where his family has raised Arabians since 1638.
In the book, Dr Al-Nujaifi outlines some of the issues that have surrounded Iraqi racing in recent decades – the worst of which would be war and governance, but also including registration and recognition difficulties.
It is amazing that through all this racing in the region has not only survived, but thrived.
Many of the horses’ names will be unfamiliar to those outside the region – at least those from recent decades – but readers may be surprised to learn of the influence of the Iraqi arabian in world breeding programs from the 1800s. In the early day, many official studbooks would give an imported horse’s origin as simply “desert bred”, ignoring their actual state or country of birth.
But many early imports to Britain, including those by the Blunts of Crabbet Park, originated in Iraq. The earliest of these was Padischah in 1826, with imports continuing into the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps the most famous of the early horses was Mirage (Ferhan), who was born in 1919. He eventually found his way to the US and the farm of Roger Selby, where he was national champion and sired many foals.
Over many decades eastern countries such as Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, India, Jordan and Egypt have drawn on the speed-focused Iraqi breeding program for new blood.
In this book, the most desirable Iraqi arabian strains are outlined, and early famous arabians in history are noted.
There are dozens of photographs, both modern-day and historic, throughout the text. These are clearly performance horses, not the fattened show-horse type that graces magazine covers and the show-ring. And despite there being only one modern breed or judging standard, Dr Al-Nujaifi acknowledges that in the present day there are several different “types” of arabian, resulting from fashion or a breeders’ preferences for specific traits: “There are basic characteristics required of an Arabian horse, but they are not necessarily the modern characteristics defined for show horses.
“Many of the characteristics are artificial and have been created by genetic engineering to suit specific and largely Western tastes. A number of modern characteristics are totally different from what the ancient Arabs preferred and regarded as a sign of purity and nobility of the horse,” he says.
“Examples of what the Arabs preferred include short back, long and straight ears for mares and short ears for colts and stallions. They usually preferred strong and tall horses endowed with qualities of speed, stamina, good bones and long legs.”
And: “Over the course of time, the Iraqi breeding programme focused mainly on speed. Attention was focused on fast, big, and powerful horses, bred to race and win. The Iraqi breeding programme ensured that horses were not ugly … but breeders would pay no attention to tail carriage, colour, or so-called European standards.”
Dr Al-Nujaifi includes an extensive chapter on the famous stallion Tabeeb – also known as Al-Suri and Dhaman Amer – who had a major influence on Iraqi arabian breeding. His is a political story, and given his incredible success as a sire, his pedigree was challenged. Dr Al-Nujaifi has researched the horse’s history and provenance in great depth, putting to rest any suggestion that the stallion, who died in 1945, was not a purebred arabian.
The exploits of famous Iraqi racehorses of the past and present are included in another chapter, and the story of the author’s family and their stud farms is also told. There are more than 370 horses on the farms, including 250 broodmares and 25 stallions, giving some idea of the scope of the family’s breeding operations. Pictures and brief information on the most prominent stallions from the Al-Nujaifi stud farms are shown, all horses with proven winning bloodlines and racing records who are siring the champion Iraqi racehorses of tomorrow.
The Purebred Arabian Horses of Iraq – Myths and Realities deserves a place on the bookshelf of the arabian enthusiast or historian alongside other valuable reference volumes such as Lady Wentworth’s The Authentic Arabian Horse, The Crabbet Arabian Horse, The Arabian Horse in Europe, The Arabian Horse Families of Poland, and Peter Upton’s The Arab Horse.
Dr Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Nujaif, the Chief Advisor to the Speaker of the Iraqi House of Representatives, has a Doctorate in Agriculture from Oxford University and divides his time between Iraq and Europe.
He races horses in Iraq as well as at major race courses, particularly in the UK, Sweden, France, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States.
He is Vice President of the Iraqi Arabian Horse Organisation, Chairman and international representative of the Registration, Stud Book and Rules Committee.