The Pyramid Society’s 2015 International Breeders’ Conference, “The Art of Breeding Egyptian Arabian Horses” By Lisa Abraham

Lisa Abraham is an International Journalist and Photographer from the United States. Although she does free-lance for various media, her primary dedication is to Arabhorse.comas a Premier Contributor and Representative. She is also a member of The Pyramid Society and a breeder of Straight Egyptian Arabians.

 

The Pyramid Society’s 2015 International Breeders’ Conference, “The Art of Breeding Egyptian Arabian Horses,” from August 19th-20th, in Princeton, New Jersey, was another educational triumph. The International Breeders Conference series, of which this was the seventh, has not only been received well, it has been a model for others to follow. As was the case with all the previous conferences, attendance was not only high, but also represented many global destinations as well.

Anna Bishop (pictured right with Kerri Wright), the Executive Director of The Pyramid Society (TPS) shared, “As a worldwide community of breeders, owners and devotees united in the pursuit of excellence, TPS takes very seriously its role of providing outstanding educational opportunities for the Egyptian Arabian community at large.  Whether it’s through reference materials, two-hour seminars and clinics at the annual Egyptian Event, day-long regional activities at members’ farms, or in-depth International Breeders’ Conferences around the country, the Education Committee’s pursuit remains one of excellence.   

“The Pyramid Society thanks its attendees who joined us for this year’s conference and also extends its sincere and heart-felt gratitude to Bait Al Arab State Stud of Kuwait, the Premier Sponsor for the 2015 Breeders’ Conference, for making it possible.”                                                                 

The conference began at Thornewood Farm (picutred above) , owned by Straight Egyptian (SE) Arabian breeders Lisa Cifrese and Richard Geha, in Stockton, New Jersey. This was the perfect locale for opening the conference as the intimacy of a home environment facilitated a warm meet and greet. Before the conference began, we enjoyed coffee, tasty baked goods and the company of one another.

As the conference began, we all took our seats in a comfortable room filled with the morning sun. Keri Wright, the Educational Chair of TPS began, “As we convene a conference such as this, it is important to know, these things don’t just happen. It is through the combined efforts of so many who have made it possible for all of us to meet here today under such beautiful circumstances. First of all, to our Premier Sponsor Bait Al Arab--they have been very generous to us in our efforts to educate the mind, the spirit and the heart of our membership. In their own country of Kuwait, they have also been very dedicated and we are grateful to be able to partner with them.” Keri also acknowledged and thanked Richard Geha and Lisa Cifrese for opening their home and their barn for the Friday morning sessions. He also thanked Anna Bishop, the executive Director of TPS and TPS staff.

Keri opened the official curriculum by referencing the painting, “The Arab Tale-teller,” by Horace Vernet (pictured right), which depicts a “Gathering of the tribes,” which been used repeatedly in TPS Conference marketing. He also referenced Jane Waldron Grutz’s account of Homer Davenport’s first visit to the Anazeh in which, upon completing a long desert journey on the mare, Wadduda, who had been gifted to him, Mr. Davenport was welcomed as a member of the Anazeh tribe. Keri shared, “Those of us assembled here today may not represent a gathering of  ‘the entire tribe,’ yet in that same spirit we gather to celebrate our passion and love for the Arabian horse, and particularly the classic beauty we find in this breed within a breed, the Egyptian Arabian horse.”

The conference was divided into two parts: presentation-style learning and group exercises. Friday’s presentations were primarily classroom style, while Saturday was devoted to focus groups working together to create a breeding program.  Those who were teachers on Friday became the Panelists and Advisors on Saturday.


“Applying The Standard of Excellence—A Primer on Conformation,” presented by Becky Rogers with a contribution by Cynthia Culbertson

At TPS’s 2012 National Egyptian Breeders’ Conference in Tomball, Texas, The Standard of Excellence: A Guide to The Pyramid Society Straight Egyptian Arabian Horse (hereafter referred to as The Standard) was introduced. In its introduction it states, “(The Standard) is designed to define and illustrate the classic characteristics of conformation and type that identify a Straight Egyptian Arabian horse.”

When The Standard was released, TPS Vice President, Becky Rogers (pictured left), who was deeply involved in its composition and development, shared, “We hope to unify current breeders across the world. As a leader in the greater Arabian horse community, TPS has traditionally set a standard for Egyptian Arabian horses, owners and breeders. At this point we would like to unify a definition and an ideal of a standard to go forward. In keeping with TPS’s tradition to educate, we want to build upon the experiences of previous generations and unify a standard to complement TPS’s definition of the Straight Egyptian Arabian horse. We want to lead.”

As this current conference was focused on breeding Egyptian Arabian Horses, it was natural to begin with a refresher on The Standard. Becky began by reviewing the definition of a breed standard, the need for a standard and basic conformation. She stated, “Without clear standards, all breeding and judging of exhibition livestock would come down to opinion—which could be a problem.” She continued, “Breed standards help define the ideal of a breed and they provide goals for breeders.”

Becky followed with a very effective comparison of The Standard to a blueprint, and breeding choices (within The Standard) to architectural/design choices. She asked the group if they could build a house, which design they would choose. Of course the answers were varied as we all have different tastes. Becky then summarized, “In order to build a house, you must have a blueprint to determine the functional structure of the house. But when you go to decorate and accessorize, you are then choosing the style of the home—this is your vision.  The Standard is the blueprint while the vision of the breeder determines the style.”  She also stressed how critical a breeder’s style is to the continued diversity of the breed.

Cynthia Culbertson, of El Miladi Arabian Stud and a TPS Board member, is one of the industry’s most dynamic speakers. She touched on how historical artifacts and art, most particularly poetry, have taught us about what were valued qualities of the horse in ancient history. These, of course, were based on their utility, origin and specific environment, which could be very harsh. She made the connection between the historical values of the horse and how they have contributed to the development of The Standard.

Furthermore, with the aid of a timeline, Cynthia illustrated the growth and spread of the Arabian breed throughout the world. She pointed out that, by comparison, SE breeding has been more recent. However, she stated, “What we can say about the SE Arabian, very reliably, is that they are so close to that desert source...the only way one could get closer is with a desert bred that stayed in the homeland.”

Becky continued by discussing the five hallmarks of type in relation to the style of the horse. They are: (1) head, (2) arched neck, (3) tail carriage, (4) short back and, (5) comparatively horizontal croup. Becky stated, “It takes all five hallmarks of type for a horse to distinctively be an Arabian.” She used illustrations to show different styles of Arabians, but also showed how they all exhibited the five hallmarks of type and therefore could not be confused as anything other than Arabians, despite differences in style.

The presentation was concluded with an explanation of a category of Type that was included in The Standard: harmony of form and the balance of the horse. With illustrations Becky explained the importance of symmetry and then quoted from The Standard, “’There is nothing extreme about Arabian but its beauty.’” She continued, “At TPS, we emphasize the original silhouette of the desert horse and its balance. The Egyptian Arabian horse gives the impression of graceful curves, it should not be an angular horse. The Standard reads, ‘Except in its degree of beauty, the Arabian horse does not reflect a collection of extremes. Each part contributes to the balance of another. All parts provide a look of elegance and symmetry.’”


“Hands-on Application of The Standard of Excellence—Evaluating the Straight Egyptian Arabian,” presented by Jim Panek

After reviewing conformational basics in relation to TPS’s Standard, we moved to the barn for a lesson in judging, presented by Jim Panek. Jim’s career with Arabians began in the mid 1950’s. Not only has he experienced success as a breeder, but also as a judge. His resume as a judge begins in the 1970’s and includes some of our industry’s most prestigious shows both in the US and abroad. He has judged The Egyptian Event, US and Canadian Nationals, Scottsdale, The All Nations Cup (Aachen) and five times at The Salon du Cheval (Paris). He has also made important literary contributions in some of our most used reference resources.

Jim’s presentation consisted of two parts. The first involved judging a horse, out loud, using “The Egyptian Event Standard of Excellence Scorecard.”  Having a judge of Jim’s background share his frame of reference from a show ring perspective was a valuable education. Under Jim’s leadership, we then moved outside to the arena as his presentation extended to judging exercises as a group. As horses were presented in a show ring fashion, attendees’ filled out their own scored cards. The exercise concluded with volunteers sharing their scores with explanations.

Later Jim shared, “It is my hope that the participants realized that the categorical scoring of the Egyptian Arabian at our Egyptian Event utilizes the principles set forth in the TPS’s Standard of Excellence.  This outstanding publication, unique to TPS, leaves little doubt about what the Egyptian Arabian should be, while yet allowing breeders latitude for individual preferences.  In addition to the utilization of the “The Scorecard” to evaluate entries at competitive events, it is also an invaluable tool for breeders when evaluating their own horses.

“The feedback I received throughout the conference was very positive. I felt that attendees appreciated the opportunity to learn how “The Scorecard” was utilized in the evaluation of horses.  Providing those with the hands-on experience of actually evaluating horses implementing the scorecard on their own was an excellent reinforcement tool and everyone enjoyed that communal experience.”


The Presentation of the Thornewood Farm horses

The National Breeding Conferences offer so much more than just a classroom education. As they are strategically planned in various locations around the county, they give attendees’ opportunities to experience the programs of fellow breeders—which can be an education in itself.

Thornewood Farm, which sits on forty acres of gorgeous New Jersey horse country, was obviously designed not only for the comfort and security of the animals who call it home, but for guests as well. As SE breeders, we all share a role in the future of this ancient breed of horse, who are more akin to family members than “livestock.” To have the ability and the facility to share our horses with one another is gratifying beyond words. The thoughtful design of Thornewood Farm ensures the happy flow of visitors enjoying the pleasurable companionship of their beloved SE’s.

Ralph Suarez, the Marketing Coordinator at Thornewood Farm shared, “The strength of Thornewood Farm is found in five mare lines-Farida, Bint el Bahreyn, Mahfouza, Zaafarana and Rodania; all carefully chosen for the qualities of beauty, athleticism and stable character. And at the very core of the program is the mare, Skyy. Without Skyy, there would be no Thornewood Farm. Skyy is one of the last remaining sources of Ansata Justina blood in the United States. She has produced well, with two granddaughters and six daughters currently on the farm.

“Thornewood Farm is also about people, new people, discovering horses for possibly, the first time. It’s discovering that fresh feeling of wonder you may have experienced as a child, when you first saw a horse in real life.  That’s what I enjoy most about working with Lisa Cifrese and Richard Geha--helping to make dreams come true. It can be surreal at times, as I have never forgotten how it feels to yearn for something like a horse and to finally realize this dream. There is so much satisfaction in not only bringing smiles to people's faces but helping them find a connection with a living, breathing creature who will exert a very significant impact upon their life. For me, there is nothing else that can replace this feeling of great personal fulfillment that comes from connecting people and horses.”

The horses were presented beautifully and were accompanied by warm stories. One of the most touching moments of the weekend was when the last horse was presented. She was a beautiful flea bitten grey, named Juno RCA. Not too long ago she survived a near death injury with a poor prognosis. After an emotional recounting of her experiences, Lisa released her into the arena for a show at liberty—I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.  Juno, who is a powerful mover, put on a heartwarming show. Afterwards we gathered around Juno, Lisa and Richard for a group shot—something none of us who were fortunate enough to be present will forget.


“A Review of Breeding Philosophies—Ancient and Modern,” presented by Keri Wright

Following an intimate morning of learning at Thornewood Farm, the Conference proceedings continued at The Marriot, in Princeton. After a few opening statements, Keri Wright led with a presentation which reviewed breeding philosophies throughout recorded time, expounding upon Cynthia’s earlier statements regarding historical contributions . He stated, “If we are to be true to the origins of the horse, we need to understand what was in the minds of those early breeders and those who have sought to preserve them over the years.”

With multiple examples, Keri elaborated on the influence of art and poetry, directly connecting The Standard to the values of the past. He began his presentation with the question, “When did it all start?” He shared, “Whether we rely on sacred or secular histories, a detailed account of the origins of this horse is simply not yet available. Although we have continued to receive additional information, we do not have the specifics of the birthplace or the actual origin of the horse.”

Keri shared that, although we don’t have written records, we do have the artistry and poetry of those early times. Through art and stone carvings, we can see that they valued the very things that are outlined in The Standard. The artwork and stone carvings that have been discovered portray horses in which there is no doubt they are Arabian, furthermore there is tremendous evidence attesting as to what traits were valued in the Arabian horse. He advised, “These qualities have come down since ancient times and as guardians we must preserve them.”

The influence of poetry was just as significant. Keri quoted from The Classic Arabian, by Judith Forbis, “’Poetry was the Public Register of the people; genealogies were recoded and glorious deeds handed down to posterity. In ancient Arabia, the poet was held to be endowed with supernatural knowledge—he was the oracle of the tribe, their guide in peace and their champion in war.’” His point was further illustrated as he read several poems which gave evidence to very specific values of breeders from the ancient past. Keri stated, “I don’t think we can say too much about the role of the poet in preserving the things about the horse both physically and intrinsically that were valued by the Bedouin.”

It is important to note, that Keri reiterated the point that the artistic and poetic methods of expression were still based on utility of the animal—valued traits were rooted in ability and environmental circumstances. He also addressed breeding trends, such as breeding for “dish” and height. He shared, “height was not necessarily desired—balance was the key.”

He read the following quote by HH Prince Mohammed Aly Tewfik, from Breeding Purebred Arab Horses:

“The Arabs do not consider that height has any relative value; it is proportions that make the value, and we shall see that they preferred smaller horses....the eyes should be big, expressing gentleness in mares and courage and vivacity in stallions; the forehead should be large; the nostrils dilated, and, as far as possible a fine skin which appears almost translucent.

The tail must be set high, the counter part of the neck should conceal a boy of ten, but let me make this quite clear; when a horse is galloping fast the lad should be hidden from the front by the neck and the tail should hide him when viewed from the rear.

The Arabs measure horses with a string, passing it behind the animal's ears on to the nape and joining the two ends on the upper lip.  The measurement thus fixed serves as a measurement from hoof to withers.”

With the aid of images and examples, Keri concluded his presentation with explanations of the following: strain breeding, inbreeding/linebreeding, the strength of mare lines and breeding philosophies such as “Let the sire’s sire be the grand sire of the dam.” However he did advise that “You cannot breed for strain--it’s an element. You must look at the entire horse—the entire pedigree.”


“Our Conference Gene Pool—Meet the Stallions and Mares,”—Panelists: Cynthia Culbertson, Becky Rogers, Jim Panek and Joe Ferriss (pictured below in order)

The Friday presentations were organized to prepare attendees for Saturday’s breeding exercises. As the morning presentations dealt with The Standard, the afternoon focused on Breeding Philosophies and introducing the Mares and Stallions who composed the genepool in which participants used for the mock breeding exercises.

Before Keri introduced the panelists—he posed the question, “Why come to a conference about horses that lived 30-40 years ago?” As one who had been involved with Arabians his entire life, Keri told a personal story in which he often sees glimpses of the past in his own herd, thus stressing the importance of knowing ancestral relatives.

Considering the depth of knowledge and experience of each member of the panel, this presentation wasa once-in-a-lifetime experience. To begin the presentation, each panelist was introduced and each shared information about their histories with the Arabian breed. Although each panelist was a scholar of the breed—each had concentrated their efforts in different ways, thus, a as a group, they offered variety and depth.

The genepool consisted of four mares, all bred by the Egyptian Agricultural Organization (EAO), and seven stallions. Keri, who was involved in choosing the genepool, shared the reasoning behind which horses were chosen to be used in these exercises, “A lot of thought went into the mares and stallions selected for inclusion in our conference gene pool.  The mares were selected from three different mare families: Adalat (El Dahma family--the Farida branch); Tee (Roga El Beda family—Moniet El Nefous branch); and Wogoud and Showkah (Rodania family-- Risala branch, through Enayat).  These mares were selected because they were relatively unknown to breeders in the U.S., and while their bloodlines were certainly familiar, they themselves were not.  Additionally, even though they were all of the Nazeer sire line, their pedigrees also contained other sire lines up close, thus providing a greater variety of modern bloodlines than we have here in the U.S.  

“When it came to the stallions, they could not be living, nor could they have been standing at stud in this country within the past 15 years.  They had to be fairly well known--either as individuals or through their progeny.  While there were many who met this criteria, we also wanted to select from stallions of various sire and mare lines. The stallions we chose included:  Morafic, Ansata Ibn Halima, El Hilal, Lancer's Sahm, El Mareekh, Ruminaja Ali and Imperial Madheen.

“Another key element was the availability of historic video and/or photos of these horses.  Other horses could have been selected, and perhaps that is something we can consider for future conferences, but I feel that this got us off to a good start. We had enough variety in sire lines and mare families, and still served as an important reminder that we still have options.”

The mares and stallions who were to be used for the gene pool were discussed individually. First pedigrees, photos and videos were reviewed. Then the panelists shared what they knew of each individual. Although they were often in agreement regarding a horse, there were many instances in which opinions were unique. Also, as the pedigrees were discussed, the panelists had varied experiences with horses who were further in lineage, offering depth and variation to the discussion—which was priceless.

Joe Ferris is one of the most respected historians of the Arabian breed. His work as researcher, as a speaker and as a writer is known all over the world.  In discussing the mare Adalat, Joe shared an interesting piece of trivia. While working with Judith Forbis of Ansata Arabian Stud on one of her books, he asked her if there were any other horses at the EAO that she could have imported and didn’t. She replied, ‘Adaweya’ without pausing.” Adaweya was the dam of Adalat.


Building a Breeding Program

Saturday was group day. Keri began with a short refresher regarding Friday’s discussions and then asked for all to break into groups, in which he encouraged everyone venture outside of their comfort zones. He also acknowledged all present board members as not only group members, but also as resources if needed and made available an impressive assortment of reference books. (Pictured left, from left to right; )Augusta Hammock, Gail Mailloux, Theresa Weaver, and Missy Head, are working through an excercise together to build a breeding program!

Each group was to build a two generation breeding program with the four mares and seven stallions in the genepool. The first half of the exercise included the first generation. The groups had complete access to all information, photos and video covered thus far. Additionally, the four panelists roved from table to table answering questions and offering advice. When all groups completed their first generation, each presented their choices for breeding and why.

The following group session involved breeding the next generation from the choices made in the first generation. This was a critical step in education as it taught breeders that as they breed a current generation, to also consider the possibilities of the next step—as this could influence options. (Pcitured right, from left to right) Jim Panek, Christie Metz, Tzviah Idan, Joel Jimenez, Raplh Suarez, Ann Dorsett, Debra Geiser, Sarah Kelly Burns, and Patrick Sullivan are thinking of the future of their breeding program developed in the excercise. Once again, each group presented their choices. The group session was concluded with the four panelists sharing their thoughts regarding the presentations and choices.

Although these exercises were pedigree motivated and choices were defended in terms that were generated from the materials and information provided, Becky Rogers (pictured right)  offered a valuable piece of advice, “Don’t be afraid to listen to your gut instinct. Although science and pedigrees are great, several of you had inspirational or gut reasons for why you wanted to breed a horse and that can also be really important.” Becky, whose internationally respected program at Kehilan Arabians shared a personal example of this, “When I first got into breeding and we were starting to line breed the Sultan and Sameh horses, I was told that I would be an abysmal failure and that if we chose to go that route, we would have the ugliest herd of SE horses ever seen and that it would never work—they were wrong. My point is that you can actually create something that you feel in your heart.”


The following are observations from group participants:

“The group breeding exercises were a brilliant way to open our eyes to the fact that there are legitimate, logical reasons to breed any SE mare in many different directions. It was so instructive to hear the reasons that each group gave for their choices. We all wound up nodding our heads in understanding to each group's reasoning, even if our own choices were in a totally different direction. This really brings home the point about how important it is that each of us follow our own inner voice and vision regarding our breeding programs; this opens the door to perhaps making an unusual decision that at some point in the future, and many horse generations down the line, will be seen as absolutely brilliant by future SE breeders. If we all always go the ‘popular route’ and do not follow that inner voice, our Egyptian gene pool will be all the poorer.”

~Tzviah Idan

Idan Atiq Arabian Stud (Israel)

 

“I can’t even begin to recount all of the priceless information that came to light at this event! Where else does a breeder have access to such experienced mentors and scholars--all at once, in the same place?  My eyes were opened to a new wave of sage principles about breeding SE Arabian horses with my biggest takeaway being this: breeders are very much like artists. With some rare exceptions, a masterpiece is not created in one sitting, or one generation. The artist, or breeder, will continue to layer details over time until the vision ultimately takes form--a great reminder that all worthwhile things don’t happen overnight!

“For me personally, this conference was invaluable. SE's have been a part of my life for some time now, but I’m very new to the art of breeding. Presently, my treasured foundation mare is carrying her first foal—a new experience for us both! Thanks to the insight I gained from the group exercises, I have a clearer understanding of how to wisely choose the best stallion for any given mare. I’m ready to play matchmaker again!”

~Augusta Hammock

The Hadassah Reserve (USA)

 

“Our group was fantastic! I came away from our session more inspired than I have been in years. One thing I really loved was that we were ALL eager to learn, grow and expand our knowledge of the SE horse. As a group, we discussed the options of each breeding, the pros and cons and everything in between. One thing that made this experience interesting was that, because there were new breeders in our group, we had some very refreshing perspectives. We were able to look at the ‘bigger picture’ in terms of multi-generational breeding and make group decisions in which we were all in agreement. Not only was this fun, it was also a great exercise and learning experience.  I will treasure the memory for a very long time and the new friends I have made.”

~Jaleen Hacklander

Hadaya Arabians (USA)

 

“I really enjoyed working in a small group as part of an exercise at the Conference. We were asked before dividing up how many years of experience we had breeding Straight Egyptians.  Some in the crowd had been breeding for over 35 years, and it ranged all the way down to some who had yet to begin.  Tables were then seated with both experienced and new breeders. It was a fun way to get to know each other, but it was also a great way to share insight. You know, it is so important to not only advise but ENCOURAGE those new to share their opinions.  I have found on a number of occasions that I might not see something that one with a fresh perspective does.  And the fresh perspective very well might be the right one.

“Our table used the provided pedigrees and panel information, but we also looked at the horses by physical attributes.  It was great to have an artist's eye help us in our breeding decisions.  Augusta Hammock had the idea of tracing the body outline of the photographs.  We found that just the silhouette of a horse is a great tool to evaluate one. We were well-behaved classmates for the first generation breeding presentation, but took a departure from the rest of the class in our choice for the second.  We morphed our little foundation chestnut mare into a world-beater with a fun Power Point presentation.  Ever seen Imperial Madheen in a chestnut coat?  Laughs aside, the takeaway message was this:  BELIEVE.”

~Gail Mailloux

Two Silos Farm (USA)

 

I really enjoyed the group breeding exercises! It was not only enlightening to have new breeders asking questions to reinforce what I am doing, but it was also thought provoking to hear experienced breeders elaborate on their philosophies. As a breeder who values pedigree, I validate the importance of preserving families that you love. One family I am particularly fond of is the Magidaa tail female line. I love the elegance and refinement that this family brings and feel it is important to keep this family available to future breeders.

I also enjoyed working with Allison Mehta (Talaria Farm)--a very successful breeder whom I admire. Allison’s perspectives on phenotype and strain breeding were especially interesting. More than anything, these exercises were eye opening as they accentuated how differently we all approach breeding.

~Josh Lavorgna

Kisra Arabian Stud (USA)

 


The 2015 National Breeders’ Conference, “The Art of Breeding Egyptian Arabian Horses,” ended on a high note. Not only was the conference deeply content heavy, the focus groups on building a breeding program also served to renew our sense of community as SE enthusiasts and breeders. For those who were able, visits to regionally local farms were also planned and enjoyed.

Christie Metz, of Silver Maple Farm, has been a member of the Arabian horse community since 1989. She is a  Pyramid Society Trustee, has published many articles and is respected as both a breeder and a writer all over the world. She shared, “This is the third conference it has been my privilege to attend and every time I learn something new about breeding. The information presented to us is always applicable to the “here and now” of breeding SE Arabians. Best of all is the gathering of ‘OUR’ tribes, we enjoy each other’s company tremendously and sharing our experiences with these Arabian horses is a joy and inspiration that far outlasts the show venues. We truly are a family, a ‘TRIBE’…. with many clans from all over the world and in this intimate setting we gain so much and leave enriched, inspired to pass our legacy forward.”