05 December, 2010

He Saw Something: Babson's Perspective

When I think of the desert mare *Turfa, I think about Henry Babson and I think of the first meeting between man and horse. How did Babson feel about *Turfa? Was she representative of the type of Arabian that he was searching for?

The old man stood against the fence watching the little grey mare intently. The mare's skin was extremely fine and he could see every detail of her anatomy in motion. Her movement was electrifying and the man was enchanted, as he had not seen a horse trot, quite like this before.  She had unbelievable presence and he was captivated by her charisma. It was colder than he had imagined and he was grateful for the excitement that this mare was personally causing him. His whole body, even way down through his toes, tingled with joy over finding this lovely desert creature. His gloved hands reached out for the top rail, searching for something solid and heavy to hold onto. He felt a little light-headed, resulting from the excitement of seeing something as unbelievably beautiful as this mare. He needed to feel something real, something he could get a grip on, to prove to himself that he was not dreaming. He had not seen a horse of this class since he toured the stables in Egypt, with Dr. Branch. This mare was as good or better. He thought of his little *Maaroufa, whom he dearly loved. Turfa was extraordinary and he was not expecting for her to be as wonderful as the horses he dearly loved. He wanted her.
"Things are pretty, graceful, rich, elegant, handsome, but until they speak to the imagination, not yet beautiful.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry Babson had already purchased six Egyptian horses in 1932 and was successfully breeding them. He had also imported the Polish horses in 1938 and was also breeding them. In the same year, 1938, he had also purchased the stallion *Aldebar (Dwarka x Amida), bred by the Prince of Wales. These are significant facts to consider, as the cost of purchasing and importing these horses, in a wartime economy, when most other Americans were struggling with rations, was considerable. It makes me wonder why Babson continued looking for more horses. What was he looking for additionally, that he did not find in the horses he imported in 1932? Henry Babson was on a journey of some sorts, to find the type of horse which physically represented to him, what the Arabian Horse was all about and possibly, helping him to make the horse which galloped in his head, more real. That's the type of horse he wanted to breed. Henry Babson purchased *Turfa in Canada, in 1941, as an eight-year old mare. His daughter, Elizabeth Babson-Tieken, once shared,
"he had liked her very much and made arrangements to buy her."
*Turfa was one of four Arabians chosen by King Ibn Sa'ud to be part of a coronation gift for George VI. The gift was important to the King, as he wanted to show his appreciation to the British people, for the hospitality and kindness extended to his son. It was a crazy time in England, as George's brother, Edward VIII had abdicated the throne in order to marry an American woman, Wallis Simpson and George became the successor to the throne. George VI had originally intended for the people-friendly and charming *Turfa, to become his daughter's personal riding horse, however *Turfa was a spirited mare under saddle and possibly, "too much horse" for young princess Elizabeth. Joe Ferriss had the opportunity to visit with Homer Watson in 1976 and recalls Homer saying of *Turfa,
"...she also had a great deal of spirit and fire, especially under saddle. She was an excellent mover and was very sensitive to the aids when ridden."
 *Turfa was a four-year old mare at the time. She was then acquired for training by the secretary of the Arab Horse Society, Brigadier General William H. Anderson. A year before *Turfa arrived in England, the Germans had waged an air campaign against the British. It was one of the largest bombing missions made by Germany, up to that point in time. What the Germans wanted to achieve was to destroy the air defences and the supporting infrastructure of Britain. So, the decision was made by General Anderson to move *Turfa to Canada. He wanted to keep her safe. This action by General Anderson is a revealing one, for not only his feelings towards the mare *Turfa but also, it conveys *Turfa's value, as General Anderson felt it necessary to insure her safety. She was a valuable horse. By the time that Henry Babson saw her, she had traveled from Saudi Arabia to England and then, to Canada. She was in foal to a stallion by the name of Hilal (Uns-el-ujood x Shejret). So, when Henry Babson saw her for the first time, what did he feel? In all that we know, almost 70 years later, we understand that he liked her so much, that he immediately wanted her. He immediately started making arrangements for her purchase. He saw something in *Turfa that he immediately recognized and he wasted no time in making his desire known: he wanted her. Babson feared losing the opportunity to own an authentic Arabian horse. Babson knew that she was bred by King Ibn Saud, of the Nejd, presented as a gift by her breeder and not purchased,  as the Nejd horses were rarely ever sold to non-Arab people. Babson was also familiar with the written notes and diaries of the people who had traveled to Arabia like Upton, Palgrave, Brudermann, Tweedie, GuarminiShammar mountains. Through her first hand experiences, Lady Anne specifically detailed the fine qualities of the Arabian horses of the Nejd,
"the Nejd horses have short necks, short bodies, good shoulders and a very good tail carriage. Their heads are better than the Anazeh's in every respect the Arabs admire: the heads are not too large, but neither too small, a great width between ears and eyes and between the eyes, but not between the ears; the profile concave below the eyes. The tails of the Nejd horses are thrown out in movement, like their heads, in a perfect arch."-Lady Anne Blunt
Dr. Hans Nagel, in his book, Hanan: The Story of an Arabian Mare and of the Arabian Breed, establishes a theory regarding the Nejdi horse, which he calls, 'the horse of the south". Up until the 19th century, the Bedouin tribes in Central Arabia lived in isolation, from the rest of the Middle East. The long-term effects on the breeding population of horses was significant, as the qualities that enabled a horse to survive in this challenging environment, as well as the traits selected by man, over thousands of years, became the unique characteristics that this horse would become known for. When Mohamed Ali the Great invaded the Nejd, the horse became a prize of war and taken to the stables of the viceroy, in Egypt, spreading the influence of the Nejdi horse farther and wider in the world. Bred with other Nejdis and with the "the horse of the north", the blood became diluted and helped to create the diversity of type we find in our breed. Dr. Nagel speaks of the Nejdi type as,
"their characteristics are fine skin, hard sinews, compact and light bones of great structural density, dry muscles, tough and long, no excess weight of any kind. A physical size located at the lower end of the scale of the species, and typical characteristics that allow survival in a dry, hot climate: strong pigmentation as protection from the sun, few or no white markings, a short coat for better transpiration and a deposit of fat in the back or tail area for times of hunger. No fat within or among the muscles, but rather directly beneath the skin. Hard hooves that could stand up to the most rocky ground, and a calm temperament to preserve energy."
Were these the same qualities that Henry Babson recognized as the authentic characteristics of a desert creature, insuring her survival in the harsh climate of the desert?

At the Babson Farm, *Turfa eventually foaled the colt that she was carrying by Hilal. This colt was named Ibn Hilal and was sold. *Turfa was then bred exclusively to the Prince Mohamed Aly-bred stallion, *Fadl, producing the first of 6 horses which would become known as "Babson-Turfas. These horses, in birth order were: the mare Turfada, the mare Bint Turfa, the stallion Ibn Fadl, the mare Turfara, the stallion Fa-Turf and the stallion Tarff. Homer Watson recalls *Turfa as,
"an excellent producer and every one of her produce by *Fadl were very good."
Of her progeny, the most prolific horse was the stallion Ibn Fadl, siring 66 registered foals. He was a magnificent horse and worthy of the title, "Ibn". Homer Watson, the long time manager of the Babson Farm was extremely fond of the horse and believed that he was an excellent sire. He was retained by the Babson Farm for 12 years, after which, he was sold to George Searle. I personally believe that Ibn Fadl was a noted broodmare sire, as many of his daughters became outstanding producers. Most, if not all of the Babson-Turfa horses at the Babson Farm were heavily influenced by the Ibn Fadl daughters. It is amazing to consider how *Turfa has exerted her influence, for all of her desireable traits, primarily through Ibn Fadl. One only has to think of mares like Habbana, Raada, Abah and Blue Star, to understand his significance as a sire. Eventually, the *Turfa horses were dispersed, as the Babson Farm did not have enough facilities to address a larger population of horses, that is the straight Babson Egyptian breeding program and the Babson-Turfa program. One group had to go and at the time, the greater demand was for the straight Babson Egyptian, so the decision was made to concentrate solely on the straight babson Egyptian horse. In later years, Homer Watson would share his regret over the dispersal of the *Turfa horses. He liked the *Turfa horses very much and felt they were exceptional. While he felt that the *Turfa breeding program should have continued, he had hoped that similarly minded breeders would continue breeding the *Turfa horses.

In the last 15 - 20 years, we have seen a renaissance in the Middle East for primarily, the Arabian horse of Egyptian bloodlines. I am puzzled over a mare like *Turfa. While *Turfa is not a straight Egyptian mare, she is 100% Asil. Why not the same interest for her blood? Especially in these times, when it is important for Arab breeders to reconnect with their rich and vibrant heritage. *Turfa is a vital part of this history, as King Ibn Sa'ud had relationships with the Anazeh, Ruala and the Shammar tribes. Because of the Sa'ud family, we enjoy many key horses within the Bedouin framework we know as Al Khamsa. As lovers of the authentic Arabian horse, we owe much gratitude for all that royal family has done, on behalf of the Bedouin horse. In an article which appeared in the October 1983 issue of Arabians, Mr. Joe Ferriss stated,
"The Sa'ud mare *Turfa nicked well with the Egyptian stallion *Fadl and similar success was experienced with other mares of *Turfa's bloodline at the Inshass Stud of King Farouk. King Saud gave several choice mares to King Farouk which nicked well with the Egyptian stallions of the Inshass Stud. A significant number of post-war Egyptian imports carry the blood of King Saud's breeding program, usually through the mares El Kabila, Nafaa, Hind (Inshass) and Mabrouka (Inshass)."
To illustrate the above quotation with a contemporary example, think of a mare like the Imperial Al Kamar daughter, Imperial Kaliya. She was out of AK Jaliya, a Zaghloul daughter out of Habeeba, sired by El Araby and out of Bint Hanaa. Habeeba traces to the Inshass mare Hind, through her maternal grandmother, Hanaa (El Belbesi x Hind). Hind was a gift made by King Ibn Saud in 1945, to King Farouk. Hind was by an 'Ubayyan al-Suyafi stallion and out of a Saqlawiyah mare. Imperial Kaliya has become an extraordinary broodmare for Al Nasser Stud, producing the mare Konouz (by Imperial Mahzeer) who when bred to Ashhal Al Rayyan, produced the lovely 2001 stallion, Suhal Al Nasser. This is only one example, which helps to illustrate the results that are possible when incorporating desert blood, especially Nejd desert blood. It brings full circle to me, the importance of the mare *Turfa and what a 50-something year old man, looking for his dream horse,  may have been thinking on one cold winter's day, as he stood against a fence, watching her move about  in the paddock.

EnJoy your horses,

PS I must give credit to Mr. Joe Ferriss for his article, The Tale of Turfa, which appeared in Volume #9, issue #6 of ARABIANS magazine and the Jean Jennings article, Salute to *Turfa, which was published in the July 1976 issue of Arabian Horse World. Also, Rudalaro Ranch: Sharing a Special Bond, written by Sandy Rolland and published in the June 1982 issue of Arabian Visions. And of course, Dr. Hans Joachim Nagel for his most wonderful book, Hanan: The Story of an Arabian Mare and of the Arabian Breed. The photo of *Turfa is from the Carol Schulz collection and was used in the 1983 edition of Al Khamsa Arabians. Many thanks to my friend Diana Johnson, for all of her help and support. Without any of these people, I wouldn't know anything.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful article Ralph, thank you!

JoeF said...

Thanks Ralph for this wonderful tribute to a great mare. She was the perfect addition to Mr. Babson's 6 original horses he imported from Egypt. All 6 are still in a number of straight Babson Egyptians today but the percentage of Babson-Turfa's is dwindling sadly, for inexplicable reasons knowing what I have seen over the many years of this combination. I like your using the "Nejdy" type as an analogy. You might be interested to know that one of Turfa's most intensely bred stallions, the BLUE STAR stallion Famaje (Ibn Fadl x Al Asmaje)was an extremely refined mahogany bay who fits Lady Anne Blunt's description perfectly. I have some wonderful movies of him. His full sister Ibn Fadls Finale, a flea-bitten grey was equally refined. It is interesting to note that Babson did not intensify Turfa's blood anywhere near in the amounts that George Searle did with Ibn Fadl and his sister Turfara but in doing so some of the most elegant horses were produced. When I remember how very refined the imported Egyptian mare Bint Hanaa was (El Sareei x Hanaa), a granddaughter of the Saudi mare Hind, Bint Hanaa could have passed for a daughter of Famaje.

JoeF said...

I thought I should add a few more comments of interest here about Turfa. Mrs. Elizabeth Tieken, daughter of Mr. Babson, told me how Turfa's skin was so fine and so sensitive that on some very hot summer days they would keep her in a special stall in the main barn made for her. It was like any other stall but it was screened in so that she would not suffer the insect bites from mosquitos and flies. This was not done often but only on such days as the insects were intolerable for her. I also noticed years later that a number of the Searle bred Blue Star horses (such as Famaje mentioned above) had very fine skin, showing all the veins and tendons underneath the surface. While the Babson- Turfa horses were more well known, none of them had as high of influence of Turfa as did the last generations of George Searle's breeding which is why I sought out so many of them to better understand Turfa.