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Did a special nejd horse exists?

Krush, a stallion at Lady Blunt´s Sheikh Obeyd, came from the Mutair tribe of Nejd (photo from Arabian Exodus by Margaret Greely).

The horses from central Arabia, the Nejd, are legendary until today, but did a special type of Nejd horse exist? Palgrave was the first and only European to see the famous stud of Feysul al-Saud, often mentioned in the Abbas Pasha Manuscript. His account on it and on the Nejd horses in general became nearly as famous as the horses he saw:


“About half the royal stud was present before me, the rest were out at grass; Feysul´s entire muster is reckoned at six hundred head, or rather more. …. Never had I seen or imagined so lovely a collection. Their stature was indeed somewhat low, I do not think that any came fully up to fifteen hands; fourteen appeared to me about the average, but they were so exquisitely well shaped that want of greater size seemed hardly, if at all a defect. Remarkably full in the haunches, with a shoulder of a slope so elegant as to make one, in the words of an Arab poet, “go raving mad about it;” a little, a very little, saddle-backed, just a curve which indicates springiness without any weakness; a head broad above, and tapering down to a nose fine enough to verify the phrase of “drinking from a pint-pot,” did pin-pots exist in Nejed; a most intelligent and yet singularly gentle look, full eye, sharp thorn-like little ear, legs fore and hind that seemed as if made of hammered iron, so clean and yet so well twisted with sinew; a neat round hoof, just requisite for hard ground; the tail set on or rather thrown out at a perfect arch; coats smooth, shining, and light; the mane long, but not overgrown nor heavy; and an air and step that seemed to say “look at me, am I not pretty?” Their appearance justified all reputation, all value, all poetry. The prevailing colour was chestnut or grey; a light bay, an iron colour, white, or black, were less common; full bay, flea-bitten, or piebald, none. But if asked what are, after all, the specially distinctive points of the Nejdee horse, I should reply; the slope of shoulder, the extreme cleanness of the shank, and the full rounded haunch, though every other part too has a perfection and a harmony unwitnessed (at least by my eyes) anywhere else. …The genuine Nejdean breed, so far as I have hitherto found, is to be met with only in Nejed itself; nor are these animals common even there; none but chiefs or individuals of considerable wealth and rank possess them. Nor are they ever sold, at least so all declare; and when I asked how then one could be acquired, “by war, by legacy, or by free gift,” was the answer. In this last manner alone is there a possibility of an isolated specimen leaving Nejed, but even that is seldom; and when policy requires a present to Egypt, Persia, or Constantinople (a circumstance of which I witnessed two instances and heard of others), mares are never sent, and the poorest stallions, though deserving to pass elsewhere for real beauties, are picked out for the purpose. …Nejdee horses are especially esteemed for great speed and endurance of fatigue, indeed, in this latter quality none come up to them. …. I often mounted them at the invitation of their owners, and without saddle, rein, or stirrup, set them off at full gallop, wheeled them round, brought them up in mid career at a dead halt, and that without the least difficulty or the smallest want of correspondence between the horse´s movements and my own will; the rider on their back really feels himself the man-half of a centaur, not a distinct being” (Palgrave, rendering prominent by the author).

Straight Egyptian horses are regarded by many as coming close to the legendary Nejd horses of the past that Abbas Pasha and others collected: Mayda Bint Bint Mohssen (El Thay Shah Mabrouk/Bint Mohssen) and foal at Al Rayyan Farm, Qatar and AB Farida (DF Malik Jamil/Bint Farid Nile Moon) at the Egyptian Event Europe 2017.

NK Nabhan (NK Nadeer/NK Nerham) may symbolize the breeding ideal of his breeder, Dr. Hans Joachim Nagel and how he imagines the Nejd or Southern type of the Arabian horse.

Many authorities on the breed refer to Palgrave´s statement of a special quality of the Nejd horse. One of the modern advocates of this thesis is Dr. Nagel who distinguishes between the Southern or Nejdi type and a Northern or Shimali type of the Arabian horse. Rzewuski and Lady Blunt both report after their travels in northern Arabia, that among the Anaza and also the Shammar tribes the horses were divided in Nejdis and Schimalis. The first combined those horses and their descendants that the tribes had brought with them from central Arabia in their migrations to the north and also those brought up from Nejd later. The second were those who had been bred in the north with those tribes that had been living there already. Rzewuski writes: “The Nejdi Koheilan is the most noble horse on earth and in my opinion the most beautiful. This race is the most pure.” Also in the list of the horses he bought in Arabia he discerns between Nejdi Koheilan el Bedawi and Koheilan el Bedawi horses. Fürst Pückler was assured by three participants of the Wahhabite wars, Hassan Bey, Ahmed Pascha, and the Austrian consul Zuccoli, that only the Nejdis were the elite of the Arabian breed (cited from Schiele). He could see two stallions born in Nejd at Abbas Pasha´s stud in Schubra, which he describes to be the most perfect of all Arabians he had known.

Schiele stayed cautious in her summary on the Nejdi´s pre-eminence: “The climax of the breed was without doubt in the center of Arabia. …In the heart of Arabia the prototype, the original, of the Arabian crystallized, formed by environment, raising, using, and breeding-method, and that there, because of its isolation, the pureness and the type was conserved longest. The more it moved from its cradle, and met in a changed environment other breeds of horses, the more the danger of its mixing and changing rose.”


Paraskevas, on the other hand, sees “little consensus and some have discounted its importance while others see it as a core issue with the breed.” He cites his fellow-countryman Prince Mohammed Ali Tewfik: “Some Europeans make a big distinction between Syrian, or desert, and a Nejdy horse, etc. All these horses are from one origin. …I say this: there are good horses in all the tribes; Arabs are nomads and warriors, they fight between themselves and the conqueror takes all the best stock from the other.” This is in accordance with the information compiled in the chapters on the Bedouin tribes and the Bedouin society. It is obvious that horses were exchanged over vast distances in between the different tribes, sheikhs, or emirs, a fact also to be seen from the Abbas Pasha Manuscript. One important observation should be noted here: The best horses were gathered with those persons who had the greatest political influence and wealth. That applied especially to the central parts of Arabia there less pasturage was to be found and the possession of horses was a matter of wealth as their food had to be bought. The houses of Saud and Rasheed had “a collection” (Palgrave, Blunt), its size and reputation in relation to the actual power of the owner. Nejd, so the statement of the Blunts when visiting Ibn Rasheed at Hail, was a land of the camel.

Panarab Conference 1931, photo Matson Collection.

In the north, there the large camel herding tribes had migrated out of reason of better pasturage and also because of the Wahhabi pressure, the tribe of the Sba´ah, of the least political influence, became the tribe known as Humul al-Khayl, the people of horses. The breeding of horses flourished in the north under the better conditions for raising them, and the most dedicated breeder bred the best quality of Arabians, but also the best camels or other animals. Musil may be cited here: “In the inner desert the horses have no place and would perish did not the Bedouins look after them better than they look after their own children. A runaway horse cannot live long in the desert, while a camel will persist even without a man. …Nothing caused the Bedouin so much labor and trouble as a mare. It is easier to raise and bring up five children than a single filly, as the children require especial care only in the first two years but the care of a mare has no end.” The only reasons to do so was the usefulness of the mare in raids and battle, the foals she produced, and the prestige to own a mare.

In this context it is interesting to recall the many ways horses changed hands between the Bedouins. E. Al Dahdah lists six different ways:

  • Ransom for an important prisoner of war

  • Planned theft (hihyafah)

  • During war by unhorsing a rider (qila´ah or as Bedouins pronounced it gla´a)

  • Buying and selling

  • While raiding another camp by surprise and untying a mare from that camp (akhadaha wa hiya muqayyadah)

  • Claim under trover (´irafah).


We can add:

  • as a gift

  • as tribute between noblemen.


This clearly shows that Arabian horses circulated to a great extant between the different tribes all over the Arabian peninsula. By this heterosis was increased and inbreeding counteracted. What conclusions can be drawn from this? The existence of a special southern type of Arabian seems, at least, an oversimplification to the author. The heterogenic picture of the breed does not allow such an assertion. It belongs to the dogma of the “Ideal Arabian” that westerners have built up and that Paraskevas so vehemently objects, and with right. This ideal did never exist in the eyes of the Bedouins, their ideal was a functional horse, the war horse. The author also doubts that the horses of the nobles had ever differed from the horse of the poor Bedouin, but in number. The question of quality or superiority of certain subpopulations within the Arabian breed exists, as in any breed of animals. Its solution does not lie in an easy concept like two categories of difference, be it origin from north Arabia versus central Arabia, or be it beauty versus function. The solution depends on the breeder´s focus, on his preferences and dislikes, on his breeding concept and goal, and, most important, on the material of horses he owns. We will never know how the Nejd type of horses really looked like and if such a type as a single entity existed, as only very few photos of such horses exist. But it seems very likely that the breed in central Arabia may have been of the same heterogenity as in the north and this the more as it had to rely on horses bred and raised in the north, as central Arabia lacked the natural resources to support large numbers of horses, at least during the last 500 years.

Historic photos by Ekkehard Frielinghaus from El Zahraa: Helwa (Hamran II/Bint Farida) and Gassir (Kheir/Badia)

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