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The Future of the Arabian Breed???

19 June 2006

From: Mrs. Carol W. Mulder, Elk Grove, California

To Arabian Horse Owners,

     Attached are some remarks made by Sheila Varian which appeared in the February 2006 issue of Arabian Horse Times magazine. Sheila has given me permission to distribute this letter as I like.

     Also attached is a statistic sheet showing the decrease in annual U.S. registrations of purebred Arabian horses 1985-2007 The numbers of registration figures were gotten from the AHA’s (AHA = Arabian Horse Association - the new name for the Arabian horse registry in the U.S.) subscription internet data source.

      Although probably too many purebred Arabians to find homes were being registered for several of these years, the number registered from 2004 on is not enough to sustain the population or ongoing viability of the Arabian horse in the U.S. since the existing population is overall an aging one.

     Moreover, the dangerous drop means that some treasured old bloodlines are being, or will be (if the trend continues), lost forever.

     Most people with whom I have talked about this disturbing situation blame the AHA’s promotion of half-Arabians, the Sweepstakes program and many of the IAHA rules that make it too expensive for the less monied breeders and/or owners to show (these “priced out” people are often those who are the backbone and future of the Arabian horse in the U.S.), and the AHA’s failure to give pure Arabian horses primary and/or premier status in wither the “all Arabian” shows governed by AHA rules or in their own magazine. In other words, AHA is widely and strongly perceived as sabotaging its own breed and hurting it.

AHA is relatively new, as is roughly explained below.

1. The original Arabian horse registry in the U.S. was founded in 1908 as the Arabian Horse Club of America. Later it became known as the Arabian Horse Club Registry of America, Inc., then as Arabian Horse Registry of America, Inc.

2. Volume I of the stud book of the Arabian Horse Club of America, published in about 1912, contained a strictly separate section for Americo Arabs, an extremely handsome American trotting road horse breed (no longer existing) developed by founding U.S. Arabian horse breeder Randolph Huntington using the blood of some of the purebred Arabians registered in Volume I.

This was the only foray of the original registry into registering what we may call half-Arabians; this foray was short-termed.

3. Many years later half-Arabians began to be registered by an organization entirely separate from the American purebred Arabian horse registry. I cannot remember for sure, but I believe the U.S. Army Remount may have had something to do with this half-Arabian registry.

4. Many years later the IAHA (International Arabian Horse Association) was formed. It was separate from the American Arabian horse registry. Among its activities was taking over the registration of half-Arabians. It also became the rule- setting organization for American Arabian horse shows, controlled the licensing of judges, etc., etc.

5. Quite recently, IAHA took over the old American registry (founded in 1908) and combined it with IAHA, dropping the old names of both itself and the registry, and calling the combination AHA (Arabian Horse Association).

     At least some of the changes now disturbing - distressing - to so many seem to have begun with the inauguration of AHA as the combination of IAHA and the old original registry.

     IAHA brought with it to AHA the registration its tradition of registering half-Arabians. However, this tradition has been combined with the tradition of the old purebred registry of registering only purebreds. If there was strict separation of half-Arabian and purebred data sources, this might be made workable, but AHA has not kept strict separation and the result is extremely dismaying. AHA has combined the name pools of purebreds and half-Arabians, now making it impossible to register a purebred Arabian under any name previously used by a half-Arabian. This presents half-Arabians as the equals of purebreds, and they are not.

     Half-Arabians cannot breed on into the future for the propagation of the Arabian horse. Half-Arabians are not a breed - they are part-breds. For the purebred Arabian horse, half-Arabians are a dead end.

     Yet, AHA appears not to realize how much more important, both to the present and to the future, the purebred Arabian horse is than the half-Arabian.

     Most people with whom I have talked seem to feel that the AHA registry puts too much emphasis on half-Arabians and very badly fails in what has previously (since 1908 when the original registry was founded) been sole focus of the registry on purebred Arabians. In other words, it appears that the focus of the registry has changed and became much, much too half-Arabian oriented at a cost of harm to the purebred.

     People who receive the AHA magazine tell me that half-Arabians are given equal presentation in the magazine with purebreds which are thusly no longer emphasized as special. Half-Arabians are not equal to purebreds, and should never be treated as such by the purebred registry. Some people who get this magazine have told me this would be more tolerable if the half-Arabians were given their own separate section at the back of the magazine, with the purebreds getting premier coverage at the front of the magazine. Some of the people with whom I have talked have expressed considerable anger that they “have to plow through all those half-Arabians to find the purebreds.”

     Some show people are concerned because AHA programs shows giving half-Arabians prime time and place presentation, to the cost of the purebreds. Sheila Varian has said this much better than I can explain it, so, with her permission, I enclose a copy of what she has said on the subject. While people not interested in showing may not be interested in some of what she says, and while she has her registration figure more optimistic than the figures actually show, what she says generally is extremely important to the overall situation of the Arabian horse in the U.S.

     Thanks to the false image of the Arabian horse that has too long been presented to other breed horse people by the IAHA shows, and now by AHA, the Arabian horse has dramatically fallen in popularity, and thus in marketability.

     Of course, endurance people know that if one wants to be successful in endurance an Arabian is practically a necessity, but far, far too many people who want horses for plain pleasure and other purposes simply do not understand what an Arabian horse really is and what it can do. Promoting half-Arabians so prominently at the expense of the precious purebred does not help; it may even send a message that purebreds cannot do and are not suitable for many tasks which therefore must be done by half-Arabians with other breed components.

     Many people believe that every half-Arabian foaled takes a home away from a purebred, and this is largely true.

     Is production of half-Arabians, at cost of reduced production of purebreds and perhaps loss of more of the old precious bloodlines, and the lack of focus on the purebred by AHA, at cost of less and less interest in pure Arabians, going to make the Arabian horse in the U.S. “endangered?”

     Since AHA is not doing - and probably will not do - anything to remedy this situation by returning to a focus on the purebred Arabian horse, making people want to own a purebred instead of a half-Arabian or some other breed, it seems that it may be up to individual breeders to restore the focus onto the purebred. Perhaps this can partly be done with web sites, etc., etc.

U.S. Purebred Arabian Registration
Percentage Drops or Increases,

Year # Registrations Change %   Year
1985 29,999 increase 2.9% over 1984 figure of 29,158
1986 28,282 drop 5.7% from 1985
1987 26,420 drop 6.6% from 1986
1988 24,566 drop 7.0% from 1987
1989 21,723 drop 11.6% from 1988
1990 17,675 drop 18.6% from 1989
1991 12,993 drop 26.5% from 1990
1992 12,544 drop 3.5% from 1991
1993 12,349 drop 1.6% from 1992
1994 12,962 increase 5.0% over 1993
1995 12,398 drop 4.4% from 1994
1996 11,645 drop 6.1% from 1995
1997 11,594 drop .4% from 1996
1998 11,320 drop 2.4% from 1997
1999 11,501 increase 2.0% over 1998
2000   9,660 drop 16.0% from 1999
2001   9,266 drop 4.1% from 2000
2002   9,394 increase 1.4% over 2001
2003   8,171 drop 13.0% from 2002
2004   7,780 drop 4.8% from 2003
2005   7,861 increase 1.1% over 2004
2006   7,003 drop 11.0% from 2005
2007   2,257 drop 68.0% from 2006

Registration numbers from AHA datasource. Statistics compiled by Carol W. Mulder. Updated 3/5/2008

With permission from the author, Sheila Varian.


(From the Arabian Horse Times magazine, February 2006 issue, pages 266-267)

Following are the viewpoints of Sheila Varian

          “I think that unless our Association recognizes that the Arabian is the pure breed, and that they must promote it more heavily than they do the Half-Arabian, we could lose the Arabian,” Sheila Varian reflects. “The Half-Arabian is not a breed. It is a type.”

          “I think that to say things like, ‘we’re going to have the Half-Arabian English class on Saturday night because they can trot higher than the purebred’ is a huge mistake. We must always give the purebred Arabian the spotlight and the headlines, because that is what our breed is.”

          “She emphasizes that it is not that she doesn’t like Half-Arabians; she does, and she breeds them. “But I recognize that the purebred Arabian horse is what we are,” she explains. “And it’s very possible that if AHA does not take on the responsibility of really acknowledging the purebred Arabian as the number one effort, we might not have a breed in 20 years.”

          “I understand the argument for putting Half-Arabians in the prime show times - that they can ‘trot bigger’ - but I will not accept it as a valid reason. In a race, if the purebred runs against itself, there is a winner; the Arabian cannot outrun a Thoroughbred, but it is just as exciting if he runs against himself. It is the same thing in the show ring. I don’t want to hear that the Half-Arabian can trot a lot bigger. I want to hear who was the best horse. That’s what a horse show is all about.”

          “I don’t necessarily think that all Half-Arabians are going to trot higher than purebreds,” she continues, “but many do, because they are bred for it. That’s fine, but put them at a different time on the show schedule. If we put the Half-Arabian classes at the first part of the week and the purebreds in the second, there would be no conflict. We also need to acknowledge that in Half-Arabian classes as they are now, the horses aren’t being asked to look like Arabians; they’re being asked to look like Saddlebreds or Quarter Horses. By minimizing the comparisons, we could stop making purebreds try to trot as high as Saddlebreds or stop as hard as Quarter Horses.”

          “She details that problem’s impact. “Because of the influence of the Half-Arabian, we are trying to make our breed something that it is not. The purebred Arabian is important for its versatility. There is no breed as versatile as our Arabian, and we should not be asking it to compete against Half-Arabians. If we continue that, then eventually we will lose our purebred.”

          “That covers the performance divisions, but what about the halter classes?

          “The writing is on the wall,” Sheila says. “There were about three times as many horses entered in the open senior stallion class at the Sport Horse Nationals as there were at the U.S. Nationals in 2005. It was the same for the mares. What is it telling us? It is telling us that the Sport Horse people are more interested in Sport Horse halter, because they feel it is more fair and that their horses are looked at as individuals for their beauty and useful conformation - form and function. Thirty horses (versus nine), and how long has the Sport Horse Nationals been going on? Three years and it’s already tripled what’s happening at the U.S. Nationals. This is really telling us something, and, actually, it’s a wonderful thing. The Sport Horse is growing as fast as it can grow. The (non-Sport Horse) halter classes will either step up and see the writing on the wall or they may disappear.”

          “The baby classes are still full,” she acknowledges. “That tells you that they are monetarily driven. It is not something people are doing for the pleasure of competition; they are simply showing their horses in the hopes of marketing. Way too often, if the horses aren’t successful as yearling, we don’t see them again. Where are they going? Are they being discarded?”

          “This is not all a question of her opinion, she argues. “You can prove it by going to any show. The yearling classes, while not 40 or 50 anymore, are 16 or 17 - but then the stallion class and mare class will be seven, eight or five. At the Sport Horse shows, outside in the rain, they run all day long. The Sport Horse is a big and wonderful area that is becoming important, and I’m sure that AHA is thinking about it. But our National Championships, which are our signature event, must begin to really set the purebred up to have all of Friday and Saturday night. Put the Half-Arabians in the afternoon if you want to. Every time there is a choice of the best money, the best time, it needs to be our breed, and the Half-Arabian is not a breed.”

          “We could get 20 years down the road and have just a whole bunch of Half-Arabians,” she says, taking the scenario to its logical conclusion. “Then where would we be? We’d be breeding Half-Arabians, and pretty soon we’d just have Quarter-Arabians, and so on. The number of purebred foals being bred every year cannot get much lower than they are now; we are down to producing only about 8,000 Arabians a year. We now are running out of horses, and the average age of our horses now is not young. AHA can tell you.”

          “If we don’t make a place for the purebred, he becomes a second-rate citizen. He cannot be a second-rate citizen or even equal - we have to put him on a pedestal. He has to be a purebred, an Arabian horse. We have to put that extra importance on a purebred. It has to be the desired thing if we want our breed to go on and be successful.”

          “The sport horse phenomenon yields another lesson as well. “People want to ride,” Sheila says. “People want to do. Give them the reasons to say they want to do it on an Arabian.”

          She considers the situation. “I think AHA is making a real effort in promotion in other areas, but I think they have not looked down the road far enough yet. They need to recognize the importance of their own purebred breed and what they are about.”

Azria Arabians
Plymouth, Calif.

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