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Dynasties of Arabia

Photo from the Library of Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, Riad

The Sherifs of Mecca


Sharif Hussein bin Ali, reigned 1916-1924


Mecca is the most holy city for all Muslim people worldwide. The long time rulers of Mecca from the Hashemite dynasty are direct descendants of the prophet. Many centuries the Hejaz and Mecca belonged to the Ottoman empire. The Sherifs of Mecca were famous for their horses. Many famous and all important strains ( mare families) originated with them, for example Kuhaylan Ajuz.

Already in 1831 Ammon writes that in the Hejaz the Koreish had an excellent reputation for fine horses. Also Abbas Pasha I of Egypt received Arabian horses from the Sherif of Mecca. In its prime time the Sherif´s stables have numbered about 300 horses. The black stallion Soueidan 1912, presented to King George V in 1919 and the mare Lalla Rookh 1913, a Saadeh Togan, bred by Ibn Rashid in Hail, and presented to the King of Mecca, were both exported to England from Mecca. In 1922 Emir Ali presented a Saqlawiah Sheifiah mare, originally known as Noura but later named Badaouia, to Major Thompson. She was exported to Egypt and produced the stallion Kheir at the stable of Lewa Ibrahim Khairi Pasha. In 1928 this stallion was purchased by the Royal Agricultural Society for their breeding program and is one of the few out-cross sources within the Egyptian breeding through his son Gassir.  

Under the leadership of Hussein Bin Ali, the Sherif of Mecca, on 9 June 1916, the Turkish garrison in the town and surrounding towns was captured. This was the starting point for the Arab Revolt of 1916, which, with the help of the British and "Lawrence of Arabia", led to the independence of the Arab nation from Turkish occupation. Hussein´s sons, Emir Faisal, became King of Iraq and his older brother, Abdullah, Emir and later King of Transjordan. Sherif Hussein abdicated in 1924 in favor of his eldest son, Ali. But this did not prevent Ibn Saud to conquer the Hejaz and King Hussein had to leave for exile in Cyprus, together with four of his favorite Arab horses. The rest of his stud was a war price for Ibn Saud. But Abdullah had taken horses north in his campaign, about 70 mares and stallions accompanied his troops, all of them asil. Some of them were to become the foundation horses for the Royal Jordanian Stud. The mares Freiha, a Koheilah Ajuzah, and a Krushieh mare bred on, also the following stallions: Hamdani Simri, Kehilan, Kubeyshan. But regretfully they were mated with two beautiful Spanish stallions, presented to the King by Franco, descending from Crabbet blood with Skowronek as non asil element. The strain of Soweiti al Firm, exisiting in Saudi Arabia until today, originates with the Sherifs of Mecca. A gift to al-Firm, Sheikh of the Harb tribe, is the starting point for the Soweiti al Firm rasan.

Black stallion Soueidan 1912, presented to King George V (left) and mare Lalla Rookh 1913, a Saadeh Togan, bred by Ibn Rashid in Hail and presented to the Amir of Mecca, who exported both horses to England. Right: stallion Kheir 1924 (Ibn Samhan/Badaouia), a Saqlawi Sheifi in Egypt. His mother came from Mecca. 

The House of Saud






The house of Saud originated with the Anaza (according to Oppenheim this is not true,as they are Rabi´a, from Duhl ibn Schaiban of Bekr ibn Wa´il) and was established by Muhammad Ibn Saud in 1744 at Deriya in the Wadi Hanifa in central Nejd. Muhammad sided the Wahhabi movement in the beginning 18th century. In addition to being a political leadership the Saudi leadership had an important religious dimension, that was provided by the Saudi Imams of the nineteenth century. At the beginning under Saud I raids counted only 20 men on she-camels and seven on mares (1746/1160). But the Saudi forces increased in size, until in his attack on Riyadh in 1774 it finally numbered 3,000 horsemen and infantry (Muhammad al-Bassam cited by Jabbur).

"The Wahaby chief", according to Burckhardt, "possessed, indisputably, the finest stud of horses in the whole East." Abdallah was said to have owned two thousand of the finest Arabian horses (Burckhardt). Some 300 of these horses were at Derija, the remainder in the area of El Hasa. But the united armies of the Wahabi chiefs who attacked the Egyptians in 1815 had with them only 500 horsemen, mostly from Nejd, with a total of 25 thousand men. In 1818 after the defeat of Abdullah Ibn Saud by Ibrahim Pasha and his army the rising power of al Saud came to an sudden end. The capital Deriyah was destroyed and the Ottoman empire had their hands on Nejd and its horses (see Wahhabite war). In 1824, the Saudis succeeded in establishing a new Saudi-Wahhabi power base in Riyadh south of their old capital. Imam Turki Ibn Abdullah, a grandson of the first ruler in the Saudi-Wahhabi realm, can be considered the founder of the second dynasty and reigned from 1824-34. He could reconquer the Hasa region in 1830 and sought Saudi hegemony along the coast of the Persian Gulf. He is often mentioned in the Abbas Pasha Manuscript in the context of the lines of Arabian horses what were exported to Egypt. After the assassination of Imam Turki, his son Faisal succeeded for a short time, until he was imprisoned at Cairo in 1838. He could flee and from 1843-65 again became Imam at Riyadh. His stud was famous in the whole of Arabia and Palgrave gave an enthusiastic account on his visit in 1863 that will be cited in length in the chapter on the Bedouin horse. As Faisal´s four sons struggled for the power, Saudi influence in central Arabia dwindled and in 1890 Riyadh was conquered by Mohammad Ibn Rasheed. From 1838 already the Emirs of the Jebel Shammar of the house of Ibn Rasheed from Hail had succeeded in bringing a large part of the Nejd to their side. In 1879 the Blunts visited the large stud of Mohammad Ibn Rasheed and saw horses of which some came from Ibn Saud and from the Anaza.


The Wahhabite house of Ibn Saud returned to prominence only in the late 19th century. At first, however, it could not compete with the Ibn Rasheeds. Abdul Rahman Al Saud, the last Imam, managed to bring the Anaza of Nejd, the Utayba and the Mutair to his side. In the battle of Mleda/Muleida in 1891 some 30,000 men on foot, horseback and on camels faced each other along a front of 30 km between Buraida and Anaiza. Under the command of Mohammad the Great Ibn Rasheed the Harb fought along with the Northern and Southern Shammar and vanquished the Ibn Sauds. Among the spoils of battle were 300 horses, which Mohammad Ibn Rasheed kept for himself. It took eleven years until Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud (1880 - 1953), the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, son of Abdul Rahman Al Saud, was able to win back the future capital of Ar Riyadh in 1902 from the Ibn Rasheeds. From exile in Kuwait he rode back to his native town, Riyadh, on camel with only a small number of men. Because the governor was already warned they had to withdraw into the desert of the Empty Quarter in the Murrah region and wait 50 days to use the momentum of surprise at the end of Ramadan for their attempt. In an heroic strike Ibn Saud and his few men could conquer the Masmak, the garrison of the town, and kill the governor. This remarkable success drew the tribes to him like a magnet and he was able to widen his power step by step. In 1921, exactly 30 years after the defeat of Mleda, he dealt a final blow to the power of Ibn Rasheed by taking their capital at Hail. Also the Hedjas with the two holy cities, Mecca and Medina, became part of Ibn Saud´s empire in 1926.














Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud had a large stud-farm at al-Karj near Riyadh there he gathered a large collection of asil horses he obtained from breeders and owners in various parts of Arabia. After his death some of his horses were given to the Saudi state stud at Dirab and also to private breeders, mainly to Nejd Stud. Therefore to this day the noble princes of the Arabian peninsula breed asil Arabian horses. Thus in the 20th century some horses found their way to Egypt, Britain and the U.S.A. (see below) and not to forget Switzerland: Hans Jürgen Gottet and his wife Claudia, after working in Saudi Arabia for some years, exported a stallion and a mare by an unusual way: they rode back home on horseback via Jordan, Syria, Turkey and the Balkans during a most remarkable trip of eleven months!

















Egypt: From the royal stud of Ibn Saud came as gift to the Inshass stud of King Fouad or his son Farouk:

● El Kahila, a dark bay mare born 1921, strain Kuhailan (Krush)

● Mabrouka, a bay mare born 1930, a Saqlawia

● Hind, a grey mare born 1942, sire a Obeyan Al Saifi, strain: Saqlawi

● Nafaa 1941, a grey mare, sired by Obeyan el Saifi, strain: Koheila 

Some other mares and stallions have also been given, but they left no lasting progency: Durra 1943, Rezkia 1943, El Galabi (a Kuhailan Jellabi), Mabrouk 1943, Saadaa 1939 and El Zarkaa 1935.




Sherifa c.1862, a grey mare of the Hamdani Simri strain, foundation mare for Crabbet Park, presented by Saud al Saud to the governor of Mecca and brought to Aleppo where the Blunts could buy her. Turfa 1933, a grey mare bred by Ibn Saud at al-Khurmah, given to King George V in 1937 and later exported to America there she came into the possession of Walter Babson. Manak 1928, a chestnut stallion was presented to George VI, a Hamdani. Dafina 1921, grey Kuhailah Krushiah, gift to Lady Wentworth.


U.S.A.: Some horses have been given to Americans who had been in Saudi Arabia because of oil business: Kuhailan Ajuz strain: Nufoud 1925, Munifan 1940, Munifeh 1941; Hamdani Semri strain: Samirah 1925, Amiraa 1959, Rudann 1951, Sinddah 1954; Abayyah/Obayan strain: Al Obayyah 1957, Taamri 1948, Jaleem Al Ubayan 1949

















Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and historic Riad.

Faizah in the Saudi desert, photo H.J. Gottet 

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Al-Karj, the historic studfarm of Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud and masmak, the historic fort of Riad

The mares Sherifa, Dafina and Turfa were all bred by the Ibn Sauds and found their way to England.

The House of Rasheed at Hail

“... The beginning of the trouble was possibly the friendship with the Sultan into which Ibn er Rashid saw fit to enter, a friendship blazoned to the world by the appearance of Shammari mares in Constantinoble and Circassian girls in Hail; but as for the end, there is no end of war in the desert, and grievance will serve the turn of an impetuous young sheikh.”                                                                                                                                                                                         Gertrude Bell 1907


After the Wahhabite wars and central Arabia in turmoil for about half a century, the dynasty of Ibn Rasheed of the Shammar tribe established itself at Hail/Hayjl in northern Nejd in 1836 and lasted until 1921. The beit Rasheed was one of the prominent households of the Jafaar lineage, a branch of the ashira of Abde, one of the four Shammar ashair. From 1838 the Emirs of the Jebel Shammar of the house of Ibn Rasheed from Hail were able to bring a large part of the Nejd to their side. Al Rasheed rivaled with the house of Sa´ud for predominance in Nejd and reached its heydays in the late nineteenth century and was seen by travelers as an embodiment of the ideal of a desert kingdom. As some European travelers (Wallin, Doughty, the Blunts, Guarmani, Bell, Nolde) visited Hail we have a detailed account of the Rasheed dynasty. A Ph.D. Thesis was done at the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University in 1988 by Madawi Al Rasheed, a member of the house of Rasheed, based on this information as well as on oral tradition of her family and other Arabic sources. This allows us to gain an insight into this fascinating chapter of Bedouin history without parallel.


“The majority of the Shammar were nomadic camel-herders with some sedentarized tribal lineages, the two notions, tribe and dynasty - which mainly describe cultural and political processes - became entangled with the economy of the group. The economy within which the Shammar tribe and dynasty operated consisted of a combination of pastoralism, trade and to a lesser extent agriculture (Rasheed). One of the factors responsible for political centralization among nomads was their contact with the outside world, in particular their relations with sedentary societies and interactions with more centralized states and empires. In the case of the Shammar, tribe and dynasty coexisted and were initially a single polity” (Rasheed), an observation, that also applies to most tribal groups and their realms in the history of the Bedouins. Only in recent time, after World War I, new states came into being with frontiers cutting through long established tribal areas. “The leadership of Abdullah Ibn Rasheed (1836-48) was initially an extension of his role as a tribal sheikh who had managed to establish his reputation and legitimacy among the Shammar. During the first decade of his leadership, he was still known as the sheikh, a term which was used to refer to the leader or head of the ashira. In Hail, the transformation of the role of the sheikh was gradual. It was only during the rule of Talal Ibn Rasheed (1848-68) and Mohammad Ibn Rasheed (1869-97) that this transformation was completed. This meant more political centralization, consolidation of power, increase in military hegemony, and the establishment of dynastic rule. This change was accompanied by the appearance of a new title: amir, an adoption that reflected the beginning of a process whereby a tribal “leader” became an oasis `ruler´ ” (Rasheed). The Barzan, as the palace at Hail was called, was situated near the market and the mosque and was surrounded by a wall with large towers. It consisted of two courtyards, a guest reception room, the amir´s private reception room, stables, kitchen, prison and a private quarter.


During the second half of the nineteenth century, the stables of the Rasheedi amirs and the reputation of their horses attracted the  attention of the imperial powers such as the Ottoman, the Egyptian and the British governments. European travelers showed an interest as they visited and described these stables where the finest breed of the Arabian horse were kept. Some of these horses were sent as gifts to other notables, tribal sheikhs, and Ottoman governors and even the Sultan (annotation by the author) to cement political alliances. A small number of these horses found their way to the market at Kuwait where they were purchased by the representatives of the British government and sent to Bombay. This was a small-scale commercial activity as horses were precious animals to be appreciated and looked after. Their military value was the most important reason for keeping them. They guaranteed a military hegemony which exceeded that brought about by camels, which are slow and unsuited for hit-and-run military strategies although easier to maintain for long periods without water and food. In contrast, horses are well-suited for short military encounters near wells or water sources. The amir´s stables were again a spatial arrangement reflecting the political and military necessities of the time. The Hail leadership became stronger as a result of conquest and military expansion. Consequently, stables and horses were part of their military reservoir as well as enhancing their social and political prestige. (Rasheed).


Wallin noted in 1854: “These animals are more numerous here than in any other part of Arabia which I have visited… The stud of Abd Allah alone, I was told, contained nearly 200 horses, quartered upon the different villages of his land. A couple of these animals are sent yearly to Almedina with the pilgrimcaravan as a present for the Turkish Pasha, another couple to Mecca for the Governor of that town, sometimes a third for the Pasha of Baghdad, and during the late years Abbas has sent an expedition almost every year from Egypt, in order to purchase a number of horses for his extensive stud in Alkahira. Others are occasionally presented to the princes of the family of Saood, or sold privately to the Badawis of the neighbourhood.” Guarmani reports (1863) that in the pastures of Jebel Shammar near Hail 500 mares were grazing under the protection of 300 slaves. In 1879 the Blunts visited the large stud of Mohammed Ibn Rasheed and saw horses of which some came from Ibn Saud and some from the Anaza: “Ibn Rashid´s stud is now the most celebrated in Arabia, and has taken the place in public estimation of the stud of Feysul ibn Saoud´s which Mr. Palgrave saw sixteen years ago at Riad, and which he described in the picturesque paragraphs which have since been constantly quoted….Mohammed Ibn Rashid is now not only the most powerful of Bedouin sheykhs, but the richest prince in Arabia; and as such has better means than any other of acquiring the best horses in Nejd, nor have these been neglected by him. The possession of thoroughbred mares is always among the Arabs a symbol of power; and with the loss of supreme position in Nejd, the Ibn Saouds have lost their command of the market, and their stud has been allowed to dwindle. ….and at the present moment, if common report speaks true, hardly a twentieth part of the old stud remains at Riad. That Feysul´s stud in its days was the best in Arabia is probable, and it may be that no collection now to be found there has an equal merit; but there seems little reason for supposing that it differed in anything but degree from what we ourselves saw, or that the animals composing it were distinct from those still owned by the various Bedouin tribes of Nejd. All our inquiries, on the contrary (and we spared no occasion of asking questions), tend to show that it is a mistake to suppose that the horses kept by the Emirs of Riad were a special breed, preserved in the towns of Aared from time immemorial, or that they differed in any way from those bred elsewhere in Central Arabia….. With regard to Ibn Rashid´s collection at Hail we looked it over three or four times in the stables, and saw it out once on a gala day, when each animal was made to look at its best…. It being winter time and they ungroomed, they were all in the roughest possible condition, and as has been mentioned, our first impression was one of disappointment…..The first yard one enters in going through the stables, contained, when we saw them, from twenty-five to thirty mares. In the second were twenty more…. And it requires considerable imagination to look upon them as indeed the ne plus ultra of breeding in Arabia. We made the mistake, too common, of judging horses by condition, for, mounted and in motion, these at once transfigured” (Blunt).













The German Nolde visited Mohammad Ibn Rasheed in 1893 and reports that the common love for horses was the door opener to the sympathy of his host. Ibn Rasheed admired Nolde´s stallion Manek that much that he paid him a visit every morning. When the German left he was given as present a stallion and three mares, among them Ibn Rasheed personal mount, Farha. After Mohammad Ibn Rasheed´s death his successors, weakened by internal power struggles (assassination was the predominant death of the amirs of Hail) and a total change in international politics after the First World War, lost influence and in 1921 Ibn Saud took Hail, and most of the Shammar Bedouins left their homeland and crossed the Euphrates to join their brothers in Iraq, a scene captured vividly by the eye-witness Glubb in his book “War in the Desert” and cited in the last part of the chapter of Bedouin history in this book (or click here).

Impressions of Hail by Gertrude Bell

Saud bin Abdul Aziz Rashi Rashid (ruled 1910-1920), at the entrance to Hail (Gertrude Bell, middle), Jebel Shammar by Lady Anne Blunt


A mare presented to the Sultan of Turkey by Muhammed bin Abdulla al Rashid: Seklaviye Cedraniye 1893, and Jebel Shammar (Gertrude Bell)

The House of al Khalifah on the Island of Bahrain


Bahrain is a group of 33 islands in the Arabian Gulf and a most active commercial center for centuries, exporting horses as far as China in former times. The name Bahrain is translated "two seas", one the sea around the islands and the second the sea of groundwater on the islands. The ruling family Al Khalifah, a clan from the Salqa section of the Amarat tribe, conquered Bahrain in 1783. They therefore descend from the great Anaza tribes and consider Al -Haddar in South Nejd as their ancestral home. Also it is said that they come from the Bani Utbah.


The Al Khalifahs came to Bahrain from Kuwait. Bahrain has been a British protectorate since the 19th century and gained independence in 1971. Since 2002 Bahrain is a kingdom, Mamlakat al-Bahrayn, under H.M. Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah. Horses have been present on the island for many centuries (horse depicted on a seal 4,000 years old, horse skeleton dated around 2,000 BC, horse stables from the 14th century). The Al Khalifah family has maintained many of the old strains of Arabia and has also acquired horses from the Ibn Jalawi and Ibn Saud families. Also Abbas Pasha obtained horses bred by the Al Khalifah family: For example the mares Jellabiet Feysul (c.1840, a Koheilah Jellabiah, also called Wazira/Waziria), Hajlah (c.1840, a Dahmah Shahwaniah, Talqah (c.1840, a Dahmah Shahwaniah, also called Faras Naqadam) or Waziri al-Auwal c.1850, a Koheilan Jellabi stallion bred by Muhamed Ibn Khalifah. The rasan of Koheilan Jellabi has been famous for a long time in Bahrain, as well as the Dahman strain, that died out in Bahrain in 2009.

Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah, who reigned from 1932-1942 on Mlolshan al Yateem, a son of Old Speckeld Jellaby (right), the most important sire of Bahrain, pictured at 34 years of age, born 1930. Middle: Mare Bint El Bahreyn, founder of a prolific family in Egypt.

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The following strains have been or are bred in Bahrain: Koheilat al Adiyat, Al -Dahmah, Al Hamdaniah, Al - Mlolesh, Koheilat Aafas, Al - Shuwaimah, Rabda, Al - Jellabiah, Al - Obeyah, Al Sawafah, Al Saglawieh, Hadfah, Muniqiah and Tuwaisah and others. Only very few horses found their way to the west. Most important as a stallion was Koheilan Afas 1930 from Emir Al Khalifah´s breeding, purchased as a yearling by Bogdan Zientarski and Carl Raswan, who found an important sire line in Poland through his grandson Comet 1953 and his followers: Dar, Pohaniec, Probat, Fawor and Pamir. The mare Bint El Bahreyn found a large dam-line in Egyptian breeding. Born in 1898, this Dahmah Shahwaniyah mare was bred by Issa Ibn Khalifah and imported to Egypt as a gift to Khedive Abbas II. Purchased in 1907 by Lady Anne Blunt for her Sheykh Obeyd Stud. In Great Britain the mare Nuhra, a Wadhnan Kurshan, imported in 1938 found a prolific family with some important show horses with the Maxwell family in the 1980´s and 90´s. Also just recently some horses from Bahrain have found their way to Britain, Poland and also to the E.A.O. in Egypt. 

Two stallions at the Royal Stud of Bahrain in 2017: Kuhailaan Al Adiyat Dami (left) and Hamdany Raan.

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