Three weeks in the Middle East would hardly qualify me as an experienced traveler compared to the many travelers who have preceded me in the last several hundred years. However, when one reads about their journeys over time it gives some perspective when actually making such a journey and experiencing it personally.
Now, I was there, and somehow all that I had read about was jumping out of those old books into my reality. As you shall see in this overview some things have changed but discovering what hasn't changed was a most regenerating experience for me as a lover of the traditional Arabian horse.
So much was packed into this 22 day journey that many articles will continue to flow from the experience from both myself and others who made this pilgrimage with me. However, this overview is from my personal perspective – more about how it FEELS to experience this trip through my eyes, than the details of each presentation which will need to be covered later.
← My first sunrise in the Middle East. At dawn from my balcony in Amman, Jordan, timeless stone buildings greet the peerless sun in a perpetual ritual. Nearby minarets of the mosques broadcast a most melodic singular man's voice giving the call to prayer.
My choosing to go on this adventure was inspired by two events which happened to occur independent of each other but in succession to each other. The first event was the annual Arabian Horse Historians Association (A.H.H.A) meeting, and subsequent trip, hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform in Damascus, Syria. The second event was the biannual World Arabian Horse Organization (W.A.H.O.) Conference held in Abu Dhabi and hosted by the Emirates Arabian Horse Society under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. I left the U.S. on October 28 filled with anticipation and curiosity and returned on November 18, 1996 feeling as though I had traveled through a millennium and back again deeply touched by the experience. The relevance of this trip as an Al Khamsa enthusiast unfolds throughout the reflections which follow. Because of the scope of this journey I will only be able to report on the Jordanian and Syrian trips in this issue. My coverage of travels in the Gulf region and W.A.H.O. will have to come in the following issue of Khamsat in order to give it the space it deserves.
The first two weeks of the trip were devoted to travel in Jordan and Syria as a part of the American delegation of A.H.H.A. which consisted of the following people: Dr. Jerald Dirks, Debra Dirks, Stephanie Parlove, Tim Parlove, Randall Harris, Mary Harris, Carol Wilkinson, William Viderman, Constance Viderman and myself. Convening in New York we boarded Royal Jordanian for a flight to Amsterdam and then on to Amman, Jordan. To our amusement and also frustration we were only supposed to be in Amsterdam long enough to pick up more passengers, fuel and food. However a relatively minor repair in the pilots' cockpit delayed the plane for a good many hours which enabled us to consume two airport meals and exchange some humor and conversation with both Dutch and Arab travelers. All of this added to my anticipation of what I would see on first landing in the ancient lands of Jordan. Arriving late at night, we were warmly greeted at the airport by Dr. Hani Hijazi along with family members and friends who made our transit to the hotel a comfortable one.
After the long journey I had no trouble going to sleep but the next morning I was awoken just before dawn by the most melodic yet strange high pitched singing of a solitary man's voice seeping through the seams of my hotel window to the balcony. I went out on to the balcony to discover that it was the morning call to prayer emanating from loudspeakers in the minarets of a nearby mosque. As I heard this penetrating and entrancing voice I watched from my balcony the sun rise ever so slowly over a landscape of timeless white and sand colored buildings and realized I was no longer in Quincy, Michigan. This was the gateway to the ancient land I had read about for years. This was the view and these were the sounds that were heard by travelers of the past and now it was as if I had walked right into one of the 19th century books I had read.
Preparing the day's feed at the Al-Maraai Livestock operation on the edge of the desert near Zarqa, Jordan. The Al-Maraai Establishment, owned by our Jordanian host, Dr. Hani Hejazi, is one of two large facilities which feeds and raises sheep and beef cattle for meat consumption throughout the Middle East and the Persian Gulf area. Pictured here is barley. The straw from barley is also chopped fine and used as a feed. →
Dr. Hani Hijazi, his family, friends and associates were truly generous hosts. After coming in from the balcony and having breakfast I discovered that a travel bus along with Jowad and his assistants were at our disposal for visiting sites in Jordan beginning with a visit to the Royal Stable arranged by invitation from Amira Alia Al-Hussein.
Enroute to the stable we stopped briefly at a service station for fueling and some soft drinks and I noticed the most beautiful red and white metal sign in Arabic calligraphy attached to a stucco wall separating rough terrain from the service station and had to photograph it thinking it must have some special meaning. I then inquired of our guide Jowad what it meant to which he replied "diesel available here." I realized that I had much to learn.
The visit to the Royal Stable was very enjoyable. We were seated in the shade of much greenery at the end of an extremely long pure white stucco-walled paddock filled with deep brown sandy loama colorful and relaxing setting to view horses. Prior to the presentation, attendants brought out tea for us to enjoy served in small clear glasses on a bright, metal tray tea that was both fragrant and rich in flavor.
All 4 feet off the ground, the Al Khamsa stallion DDA Sakhar (Letarnad x CL Kelligirl) romps in the paddock of the Royal Stables to show off for his visitors. →
← Stable window at the Royal Jordanian Stud. Clearly the horse reigns here.
A Kuhaylan Ajuz mare with her foal in the magnificent setting of the Royal Jordanian Stables. →
← Safa, an impressive moving 9 year old Kubaysha mare.
One by one the horses were brought out and brought up, first in hand, close to us for viewing. Surprisingly they were stood and posed in a very disciplined way, hardly moving, as though we were judging them in a major horse show. Perhaps some have competed in shows at halter but the presentation of the horses in hand was more like what I am used to seeing in the states. Each horse was presented by its name and strain. Then each horse was petted and turned free so that we could enjoy them at liberty. It was a fine collection of horses and included some interesting female lines we don’t have in the U.S. such as Kubayshan, and Kuhaylan Abu Arkub. I did not know the full ancestry of these horses but one of the horses in the presentation, the final horse, was a familiar face to some of us as he was exported from the U.S. to the Royal Stables. He is the chestnut Al Khamsa stallion DDA Sakhar (Letarnad x CL Kelligirl), a Kuhaylan Krush of the Davenport ancestral element.
← In Islamic style, this horse watering fountain in the courtyard of the Royal Jordanian Stables is colorfully decorated with tiles.
After the horse presentation, we were treated to a farrier demonstration in the beautiful stable courtyard, defined by a colorful mosaic fountain. We also visited a room housing Amira Alia’s fine collection of saddles, some 40 unique saddles of different riding eras from Spain, Africa and the Middle East. The visit to the stable was a memorable one and a fitting beginning for what was to come.
A small portion of the large panoramic view of Amman, Jordan from our hotel. Traveling through the city I noted often these buildings would have steel rod extending beyond the top floor. Dr. Hijazi had explained that in many city residences, a family is the owner of the building and each new floor is added as the next generation comes of age and needs a place for its own family so that a taller building would contain, floor by floor a large extended family. →
The next stop was at a new stable facility outside of Amman, set high on a hill which served as a quarantine station for imported horses. Here we saw the Syrian stallion Ta’an and 1 stallion and 7 mares of Davenport bloodlines and owned by Jerald and Debra Dirks and Jamal Rabia. These horses were recently imported to Jordan arriving just a few days before we did.
While at this facility I took a few moments to take in the enormous spread of colorful scenery across the valley below us. This endless valley was laced with strips of cultivated soil and plastic covered quonsets. Under the quonsets were thriving produce and flowers for export. Some of the cultivated strips were deep brown soil in waiting for the next planting, while other strips were lined with fresh green crops or with soft grey-green stripes being groves of olive trees. The quilting of planted patches were randomly separated by large, sometimes sandy, sometimes stony, nebulous areas of uncultivated ground. In the distance was the tinkling of bells a sound that aroused my curiosity but without binoculars, I had to wait for the cause of this sound to come into view. Then a distant grey, flowing shape came streaming slowly across one of the uncultivated areas like lava. It was one solitary Bedouin on foot herding a very large flock of sheep wearing bells – a most intriguing site and sound and a foreshadowing of visits to come.
← At the top is the entrance to the Roman ruins in Jerash, Jordan which date back to 63 BCE. At bottom, a view from the top of the Roman Amphitheatre at the Roman ruins in Jerash. Randall Harris and I scaled these steps and promised to stop counting when we reached the top exhausted. Seeing the ruins is a subtle reminder that we are travelling in an ancient region whose humanity has been directed by more than one culture over a long period of time.
Returning to the city, Dr. Hani Hijazi invited us to an evening dinner at his residence where I had my first opportunity to enjoy a feast in true Bedouin fashion and learned the correct manner of eating which was great fun for me, though I had to train out of myself my lefthandedness. Dr. Hijazi was educated in the U.S., after which he returned to Jordan to run the family’s business, The Al-Maraai Establishment, a large meat and food producing establishment. His familiarity with both cultures made us feel right at home learning the new ways.
Dr. Hani’s associate Jowad and staff kindly took us to see the ancient Roman ruins at Jerash, the historic Dead Sea (where I enjoyed my first camel ride) and a most amazing livestock operation of Al-Maraai on the edge of the desert near Zarqa. The Dead Sea is something that I had always read about and most wanted to see. Arriving in late afternoon I was not able to get the best photos but the almost blue silver, mirror like quality of the water was stunning. Its feel is so different than any of the ocean waters I had previously felt. The Dead Sea is the lowest, in altitude, (1300 feet below sea level) site on the entire planet and the water has nine times the saline content of any ocean.
← I had always wanted to visit the Dead Sea and found it captivating though nearly impossible to photograph. However, the local Bedouins offering horse and camel rides was a great pictoral. Having never ridden a camel I was treated to a camel ride by one of Dr. Hijazi's associates, Jowad. My riding style was clearly untrained but it was a very relaxing ride.
Our time in Jordan was certainly not long enough and left the desire to return but we are very appreciative of Dr. Hani Hijazi, his family and associates for giving us true Bedouin hospitality. Time had come to depart to Syria.
Taking a late flight to Damascus we arrived November 1, warmly greeted by friendly hosts. Our primary hosts throughout the entire visit in Syria included representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Arabian breeders of the Damascus area, Arabian breeders of the Aleppo area, the Tai Bedouin Tribe, and the Shammar Bedouin Tribe. It is at this point in the article, that I wish to indicate that many of the names of people, locations, horses and strains which appear in this feature are not necessarily spelled correctly but spelled as best as I can determine from my audio tapes or materials shared with me by our delegation. So I apologize in advance for any misspellings, or also if I have inadvertently omitted the name of any of our wonderful hosts along the way. While I have no mastery of the language in this regard, I had no difficulty in appreciating the wonderful gestures of generosity and friendship of all the people we met along the way for which I am most grateful whether or not I have been able to identify them by name.
From Damascus, Syria:
H.E. Asa’ad Moustafa
Dr. Mohammad Al-Wadi
Dr. Ameen Al-Zarkan
Dr. Abdul Shakour Al-Kari
Mohammed Hisham Ghrayeb
Ahmad Sheikh Mouhammed
Issam Haj Hassan
From Aleppo, Syria:
Dr. Munzer Absi
Mustafa Al Jabri
Kamal Abdul Khalek
Muhammad Ali Al-Hafez
Abd-Al Muttaleb Al-Hafez
Mohammed Fayad Al-Hafez
Abdul Latif Al-Hafez
From the Tribes:
Sheykh Farouk Sweidan
Sheykh Mohamad Abdul Razak AlTaiee
Mohammad Abdul Suleim Al-Raheel
Sheykh Humeidi Dham Al Asi Al Jarba
Sheykh Rakan Al-Nuri Al Jarba
Sheykh Jaddou Abdul Aqoub
Haj Nawwaf Thallaj
Dr. Serge Cataheir
Dr. Michel Minot
From Al-Hasakah, Syria:
Nedal Ahmed Al-Assa’ad
From Abu Dhabi:
Hamdan Al Falahi
From Homs, Syria:
Abdul Muhsen Nassif
The Al-Hafez family took us to a wonderful restaurant for our first Syrian feast which we enjoyed very much and had the opportunity for greetings and introductions. Then we retired to the Damascus Carlton hotel which became our base location for several days. The next morning, November 2, at the hotel we received our name badges and met A.H.H.A. members and guests from Syria, France and other countries. Though not necessarily complete, the following is a list of those either participating or hosting us in some fashion throughout this journey through Syria.
Upon meeting new faces at the hotel we then caravaned by bus to the Basil Al-Assad State Stud (National Center of the Arabian Horse) in Damascus. This excellent equine facility was named after the late Basil Al-Assad, son of president Hafez Al-Assad. Basil was a great horseman and lover of horses. He rode successfully for Syria’s Olympic Equestrian team and was largely the inspiration for the government’s progressive movement to encourage the preservation of the Arabian horse. Sadly, Basil was killed in an automobile accident, taken much before his time. However he has become a national hero and the massive efforts aimed at preserving the Arabian horse in Syria are a fitting tribute to his legacy.
← A Keheilah Rabda mare after being turned loose strikes a noble pose at the Basil Al-Assad State Stud in Damascus which is the National Center of the Arabian Horse in Syria. This was a magnificent mare with brilliant presence and action.
← A wonderful Keheilah Nawakiyah mare at the Basil Al-Assad State Stud. In Al Khamsa lines the foundation horses Kesia I and Kesia II, of the Borden Ancestral Element, are of this strain.
← At the top is one of the much admired foundation mares of the Basil Al-Assad State Stud is this white mare, Shahlah, a Kuhaylah Nawakiyah whose sire was a very famous Mu'niqi Sbaili. She was a favorite of Basil Al-Assad. At bottom, on display at the State Stud, is a painting done in tribute to the late Basil Al-Assad, son of President Hafez Al-Assad and a national hero among the many horse lovers in Syria. In this tribute painting, the mare Shahlah is depicted at left and in the background of the painting, stars and doves encircle both of them.
This state facility is modern and fully equipped for breeding, training and maintaining Arabian horses. It is also large enough to host major international equine events with a newly completed huge stadium with seating for tens of thousands for enjoying horse events. The stud has been founded on animals obtained from both Tribal and other Asil breeders in Syria. We were first seated in bleachers facing a training arena set up for Jumping training. One by one mares, some with foals were led before us then turned out into the arena together. One of the mares presented was the aged mare Shahlah, a personal favorite of the late Basil Al-Assad. After this several stallions were presented to us in hand and then returned to their stables. One of their much admired young sires, Hisham, a 6 year old grey Hamdani Simri, was presented in the large Equestrian stadium where we walked to next. Turned at liberty he gave an enjoyable show exhibiting true Arab nobility with personality. I might point out that the stallions and mares clearly exhibited good temperaments and intelligence. The stallions were very well behaved and calm yet with much presence when at liberty. A very striking young Kuhaylah El Wati mare, Nejdma who we saw earlier was then turned loose in the large stadium arena where she showed great action and beauty. Following her was a lovely grey Mu’niqiyah Sbailiyah mare also turned loose in the stadium and moved beautifully.
← At the top in the new stadium, the stallion Hisham, a 6 year old grey Hamdani Simri and sire of a number of foals we saw at the Basil Al-Assad facility. Above right, the stallion Dawas. Typical of the stallions brought out for our viewing he was quiet, kind natured and well mannered. Wonderful neck and mitbah with finely shaped ears.
← Top left, a wonderful Bedouin setting at the farm of Basil Jadaan in Damascus. Complete with all the trappings and of course the lovely Saluqi, Reisha (feather) keep us company. We were seated in a small courtyard and horses were brought in one by one down the magnificent peach grove aisleway and circled up close in front of us so we could observe up close, even pet our Asil Equine hosts. The mare top right is Ridab, the last remaining Dahman Amer in Syria. Clearly preservation is as much a concern here as in Al Khamsa. Basil Jadaan is very much a preservationist and lover of animals.
Following the presentation of horses we convened in the State Stud’s dining room for a social gathering and hot beverages. Then it was off to our next destination.
We arrived early afternoon at the farm of Basil Jadaan. This was an especially enjoyable presentation in a setting that was beautiful, peaceful and hospitable in true Middle Eastern fashion. Basil Jadaan is a young man in his 30s who has been loyally devoted to preserving the Arabian horse for a long time in Syria. He has worked cooperatively with other breeders and the tribes to locate and identify the remaining Asil Arabians in Syria. At his farm one is immediately impressed with the atmosphere of one who loves and admires nature. The aisle way from the stable to the courtyard is lined with groves of peaches and other fruit trees and a trellis for vines overhead. He is also a Saluqi breeder and one sees them roaming the compound freely as family members. There are also quarters for camels of which he has 3, several gazelle, and also a family of 5 Arabian wolves.
← Atiyah, a 6 year old Mu'niqi Sbaili Ibn Saifain stallion in the stud of Basil Jadaan'sa very balanced and typy horse with a wonderful disposition.
← Basil Jadaan's stallion, Hadad, an impressive black Saqlawi Shaifi. Note the flowing neck, prominent eyeset, and fine tipped ears often seen here.
We were seated cozily in a small courtyard as horses were led, one by one, down the grove lane up to our circle to see up close while attendants continually circulated serving tea and coffee. The horses some of which are pictured here were a very uniform group in quality and choice in their representation of families. One gets the sense when looking at this herd that Basil Jadaan is a knowledgeable and experienced breeder. There were numerous excellent individuals presented exhibiting wonderful overall balance and quality with consistently luminous, expressive eyes and fine tipped ears. Some of the mares were in their 30s and in excellent shape, some still producing. Strains represented included: Saqlawi Shaifi, Saqlawi Marzakani, Muniqi Sbaili, Shuwayman Sabbah, Abayyan Sharrak, Abayyan Seheili, Kuhaylan Krush and Kuhaylan Ibn Mizher. Also the last known female of the Dahman Amer family was presented. Of interest to Al Khamsa enthusiasts, Mumtazah, the paternal grandmother of the Al Khamsa foundation horse Ta’an was presented. She was 35 years old in the presentation. After the horses were presented individually we walked out to a large field fenced by high walls and all the mares and youngsters were turned out. It was a dramatic sight to see them galloping but what was even more dramatic was when two attendants mounted two of the mares and with just their bridles took off at full sprint speed across the field. It was as swift as the ghazus we have read about in the past. All guests then convened in front of the residence for a delicious Middle Eastern feast. This was followed by a visit to the stallion paddocks where some of the stallions were enjoyed at liberty. As the sun set it was time to board the buses again but Basil had given gifts to the guests and for me it was a new Kafiya and Agal to wear in true Bedouin style. Throughout most of the remaining visit in Syria the men of the A.H.H.A. delegation wore their traditional Arab Kafiyas. Later, I was to discover that keeping it on my head was sometimes a challenge.
← At Basil Jadaan's, above, a 14 year old Saqlawiyah Marzakani mare who we later saw an impressive son of at the new government breeding facility, The Al-Basil Center of Arabian Asil Breeding outside of Damascus. Below is a lovely black Shuwayma Sabbah mare whose dam is from the Tai tribe.
← At the top iis Mumtazah, the 35 year old paternal granddam of the Al Khamsa foundation horse, Ta'an. At bottom is Adeelah, a 32 year old Abayyah Seheili mare who had a filly last year and is in foal again. The aged mares were in magnificent condition and apparently very happy with their lives.
After resting at the hotel for a bit, the Damascus area Arabian breeders treated us to a night on the town in Damascus. Damascus is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. We had an intriguing evening walking tour through the “citadel of the old city” in Damascus. One gets a feel for the ancient aspect of this city when approaching the citadel’s 80 foot high stone walls with arrow shooting slits used in the days when arrows were the fiercest weapons. Near the center of the citadel is the magnificent and ancient Umayyad Mosque where the head of John the Baptist is buried next to Salah Al-Din. There are numerous narrow streets and passageways which, during the day, are filled with shoppers perusing the wares on display at Souk Al Hamidiyyeh. Because it was at night, the shops were closed but there were many still on the streets attending the various restaurants and cafes. Our destination was the Umayyad Palace Restaurant and getting there was as exciting and mysterious as dining there. To get there we walked through a long, narrow passageway in near total darkness, passing people we could not see in the dark, finally finding the softly lit entrance way which led down tile stairs into the most festive and colorful restaurant below the street level. Before reaching our reserved seating we could hear the festive Arab music of a live group of musicians. As we dined on an absolutely delicious meal we watched an exciting performance of whirling Dirvishes spinning to the lively music. Randall Harris sat with the “elders and wise ones” to partake of the Argheela, an Arabic style waterpipe which contains aromatic tobacco flavored with fresh fruit. This was an evening to remember as if right out of a Humphrey Bogart movie.
On November 3 the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian reform, our primary hosts, provided a wonderful day long forum at the Ministry headquarters in Damascus where noted people of Syria gave fascinating treatises on various aspects of the Arabian horse from history to its present role in Syria. This was considered the day of the official A.H.H.A. meeting. We had the honor of an audience with H.E. Asa’ad Mostafa, the Chief Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform. This would be the equivalent of having a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. He also hosted a dinner for us at the banquet facility for dignitaries.
Throughout the day, seven dignitaries each gave their papers before the attendees. This presentation received considerable media coverage in Syria and was a stimulating forum for learning about the Arabian horse in Syria. Following my article in this issue of Khamsat is a complete section covering these presentations (papers) edited by Dr. Jerald Dirks giving the text in English. There were also question and answer periods for the free exchange of ideas and information at this conference. The content of this day was very enriching and will no doubt be the subject of other future articles. We were most grateful for the Minister, the Ministry and the speakers for this very educational experience. The conference ran well into the evening and then we retired to our hotel.
On November 4 we boarded the busses for a visit to Al-Basil Center of Arabian Asil Breeding on the outskirts of Damascus. This is a brand new facility still under construction and being set up for the purpose of maintaining a breeding center for the Asil Arabian horse in Syria. This is an excellent facility and well planned. Construction began in late 1993 and it is hoped to be completed in 1997. It is only for maintaining the Asil lines of Arabians in Syria. Presently there are 80 horses at this facility. 4 wells have been dug and irrigation will be set up so that the facility can raise its own feed. Some of the strains represented presently at this facility include: Saqlawi Jedran, Hamdani Ibn Ghorab, Muniqi Sbaili, Kuhaylat Ajuz, Kuhaylat Jethnieh, Kuhaylat Dajani, Kuhaylat Haifi, Kuhaylat Rabda, Hadban Enzahi, and Shuwayman Sabbah.
We met in the guest facility for tea and coffee while Dr. Mohammad Al-Wadi explained the plans for this facility after which we were taken outside to view first some mares in hand and then stallions. The mares were led out one by one, some with foals then put in a large sandy paddock. Then we were shown some of the new barns and stalls some of which housed a group of Asil horses bred in Syria and scheduled for export to the Emirates. Several stallions were brought out in hand and then later turned out at liberty in stallion paddocks for us to enjoy their action. Two senior stallions displayed were the grey Kuhaylan Mimreh, Basil, bred by Mustafa Al-Jabri and Mubarak, a chestnut Hamdani Ibn Ghorab. Both were highly prized sires. I found Basil very reminiscent of the Al Khamsa stallion Muhairon and Mubarak reminded me of the Al Khamsa stallion Plantagenet. Time had come once again to board the buses to journey to our next visit.
Awaiting us next was a visit to Hisham Ghrayeb’s stud of Arabian horses. A very long tent had been erected along a large bright green field of forage for the guests to sit and enjoy coffee and tea while the horses were presented. Mr. Ghrayeb and sons are accomplished horsemen and his sons have competed and trained horses for some time. They are very successful in racing and have a consistent herd of marked quality and athletic ability as evidenced by the horses which were presented in the field in front of the guests tent.
Strains represented in the Ghrayeb presentation included: Kuhaylat Saada Togan, Kuhaylat Dajani, Kuhaylat Nawak, Muniqi Sbaili, Saqlawi Marzakani, Hamdani Simri and Hadban Inzihi. Mares were brought out first individually in hand and then paraded in the field. Some were turned loose in the field and put on a great show of dramatic, graceful action. After the mares were gathered up and taken back to their stables, the stallions were brought out one by one in hand. Two in particular drew much admiration, a young dapple grey Kuhaylan Dajani and an older white Hamdani Simri named Hassan.
After the horse presentation attendants swiftly brought in tables and set up a feast in the guests tent. Again very delicious Middle Eastern cuisine was enjoyed. But as the sun set it was time again to board the bus for Damascus. At dark we visited one more Damascus area breeder who treated us to a fine show of horses and some fresh fruit and tea and then it was back to the bus.
Upon returning to the Carlton hotel we took time for some rest and recuperation. Then we were off again for a unique evening in Damascus. This time we received a motor tour of the city leading up to an extraordinary visit to Qusiyoun Mountain. The mountain is located on the edge of Damascus and the location where we stopped looked down on the entire city of 4.5 million people. It was a memorable mountain top view that we would not forget.
November 5 brought another day of adventure. It was now time for us to begin our journey northward, leaving Damascus, making some interesting stops along the way with the evening destination being Aleppo. We boarded the bus following by another bus for our luggage and headed northeast. The Ministry had generously provided for our transportation throughout our travels and we were fortunate to have two buses and guides for our travels. They also thought it appropriate to give us some interesting historical stops along the way. The first of these was a stop in the Christian village Sayad Naya where we visited a church that is also a convent. Shortly afterward, we visited the village of Maaloula. Set into a small mountainside, the village is quite ancient and what is most intriguing is that the language spoken there is Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke. There was a large church of St. Takla set into the mountainside. We climbed the steps to enter it and observed the unique and colorful chapel inside with old paintings of the Blessed Mary as well as a very ornate alter and chandeliers. The tall wooden doors are decorated with copper bas relief of biblical scenes. Beside the church is an enormous fissure or narrow canyon about 20 feet wide which passes completely through the mountain and had apparently served as an escape route for St. Takla when he was being pursued during historic times. Prior to coming to Syria I did not realize that approximately 12 percent of the country is Christian.
We made a stop in the city of Homs, 3rd largest city in Syria, which was once a major metropolis during Roman times. Noteworthy of our visit here was a tour of the Khalid Ben Al-Walid Mosque in the city. Characteristic Islamic architecture defines the look of this mosque. Its clean open courtyard and serene tall ceilings provide a place of tranquility in a busy city.
Our next stop outside of Homs was an enjoyable visit to Abdul Muhsen Nassif’s stud of Arabians. Bedouin from the area and breeders of Homs were on hand for this visit. Approaching this setting by bus was an interesting sight as we traveled through a large open agrarian area where people were working in the field gleaning grain. From the bus window I observed villagers carrying bread on their heads. The fields were also occasionally punctuated by black tents with sheep nearby.
Arriving at Abdul Muhsen Nassif’s stud we noticed immediately that a Bedouin tent was erected for the guests alongside Mr. Nassif’s dramatic residence, artistically constructed of various kinds of stone and marble.
We first walked through the stables with Abdul Muhsen Nassif and observed the horses in their stalls. Then outside in front of the stable, horses were presented one by one, identified by strain and then turned out into a huge paddock. Some of the strains presented here include: Saqlawi Marzakani, Muniqi Jaluda (the last mare of this particular family), Muniqi Sbaili, Kuhaylat Armousheh, Abayyan Seheili, Kuhaylat Tuwaysa, Kuhaylat Hablani (a strain from the Amarat tribe), and Hamdani Simri. An interesting note here is that a Hamdani Simri mare was presented to us which had the bloody shoulder marking. When we inquired about it we were told that it is referred to as a “splash of blood” and that it is not esteemed regardless of where it appears on a horse. For superstitious reasons it used to be thought of as the “blood of the rider.” But in actuality it has no effect on the quality of the horse. This was a very fine group of mares presented to us.
As the presentation was completed we returned to the tent for our Bedouin feast of “Mensaf” (a huge round metal tray of rice blended with peas and pine nuts and topped by the major portion of a freshly roasted whole lamb). First, each of us was given the traditional Galabaya and Kafiya (robe and head dress) to wear before beginning the feast. A number of large round platters of Mensaf were set down on the carpets in the tent for groups to surround and dine from. Although plates and utensils were put out for the guests, by the time of this visit I could wait no longer to eat in the true Bedouin style with my right hand the way that I was taught at Dr. Hani Hijazi’s in Jordan. Our Bedouin hosts seemed pleased with my food grabbing efforts. This was great fun for me.
After the feast we enjoyed viewing how coffee is prepared Bedouin style. It was intriguing to observe. First the beans are roasted dry in a metal pan over the fires then poured into a large old wooden cylinder. A long wooden rod is inserted into the cylinder and the coffeemaker proceeds to pound and pound to a fascinating rhythm as though performing music. We were told that this sound was traditionally the call to coffee in the desert. Wherever travelers heard this sound it was to be taken as an invitation to come to the encampment for coffee.
As darkfall came is was time once again for us to say good-bye to our generous hosts and board the bus for the final leg of this day’s journey to end in Aleppo. We made an evening stop in the ancient Roman city of Hamma where there are Roman aqueducts and wooden water wheels which are still in operation since the times of the Roman empire. Set on the Orontes River, which according to Basil Jadaan is referred to as “the river that doesn’t behave” because it is the only river in Syria that travels from south to north, these huge wooden water wheels emit an eerie groaning sound which has been heard here since the Middle Ages. Basil Jadaan indicated that Hamma became the primary market area of the Sebaa tribe and they visited the souks and conducted business in this area for a long time.
We boarded the bus again in the dark to press on to Aleppo. Reflecting the festive and fun-loving spirit of our hosts we made a brief stop while several of our hosts got out and listening to a radio station playing Arabic music began to do a traditional dance for us, four men in a circle with a cane. It was such fun to watch and brought great levity. Then finally late on the evening of November 5, we arrived at the Pullman Shahba hotel in Aleppo and checked in.
Morning of November 6 found us in a downtown Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria and famous to Al Khamsa enthusiasts from past western travelers and writers. We had the traditional breakfast of a tasty white salty cheese and pita bread which was dipped into a sweet grain porridge and washed down with the traditional sweet tea. After breakfast we had an interesting tour of the Aleppo Museum of Antiquities. A whole article could be done separately on the archeological finds presented to us and we learned many intriguing things about the ancient aspect of the area of greater Syria including its tribes and horses. One thing of note on this visit was the recent discovery of what is believed to be the oldest library of stone tablets the Ebla tablets, the work of a joint effort between Syrian and Japanese archaeologists.
After this interesting museum visit we had a short period in one of the local souks for gift buying. I purchased an ornate hand-stitched vest which I wore throughout much of the remainder in Syria. Directly across from the souk was the citadel of Aleppo an imposing ancient high-walled castle like structure which reminded us of the citadel aspects of old Damascus.
We then visited the Umayyid Mosque in Aleppo where Zachariah, father of John the Baptist is buried. Removing our shoes, we walked through the large sunlit stone courtyard randomly punctuated by worshipers and visitors. This is one of the popular “must-see” sights for tourists as well as religious travelers and it is magnificent in its architecture and atmosphere. Adding to the extraordinary atmosphere of this site was a blind man seated on a small stool in the middle of the courtyard singing in a sharply melodic voice passages from the Koran.
Of interest to Al Khamsa enthusiasts, the Aleppo city tour was rounded out by an enjoyable visit to the Madafah (guest house) of Sheykh Ahmad Al-Hafez a portion of which still stands. The original structure was immense. This is where Homer Davenport was a guest during his famed expedition to acquire Arabian horses in 1906. I should indicate here that traveling with us throughout most of this trip were various relatives of the Al-Hafez family as listed earlier in this article. What was especially historic was that upon visiting this residence, an elderly woman greeted us who turned out to be the last living grandchild of Sheykh Ahmad Al-Hafez.
After an enjoyable day touring the sites of Aleppo we returned to the hotel for some rest and recuperation before going on to the next stop which was to see the horses of some of the Aleppo area breeders which were presented at the Aleppo Chivalry Club.
This facility is a full equestrian facility with excellent stabling and a race track around the large arena where the horses were presented to us. Photo opportunities were not the best as we were running out of daylight prematurely because of an approaching storm. Interestingly I managed to get a picture of one of the stallions, a bay Saqlawi Jidran, just as lightning struck in the background. Stallions only were presented here and they were brought to this facility by area breeders for our viewing. A number of them were bred by Mustafa Al Jabri. He is the largest Asil breeder in Aleppo with nearly 175 horses including foals. Most of these stallions were in excellent race training condition. One 23 year old chestnut stallion had been a winner of 30 kilometer races and was in excellent condition for an aged horse. After being presented in hand the stallions were turned out together in the infield of the race track which made for a dramatic show of natural racing, the bay Saqlawi Jedran seemed to demand the lead.
After the horse presentation we returned to the Chivalry Club dining facility for a very enjoyable evening banquet hosted by the Aleppo area breeders. This delicious feast was complete with an Arabic band of musicians with a lead singer performing Arabic songs for us. After the meal was finished and it was time to enjoy the music some of the men got up and danced traditional dances. Never one to miss out on the fun, I joined in and tried my best to dance their traditional step which brought smiles but also much laughter. This was the evening of November 6 and the celebration went late into the night. I had previously, in private conversation, mentioned to Basil Jadaan that tomorrow I would be celebrating my 50th birthday and much to my surprise, a few minutes after midnight the lights went dark and the lead singer of the band started singing happy birthday to me in Arabic as the chef brought out several cakes with candles. I was most grateful and it added some excitement to the evening’s festivities. Again I was asked to get up and dance a birthday celebration dance and again there was much laughter.
It was now the very early morning of November 7 and we were boarding the bus for the long journey, crossing the Euphrates river, and on to the northern desert region of Jezirah to begin our tribal visits but there were fond memories for all of us of our festive time in Aleppo.
It was a long bus journey through the desert and occasionally we would see very small ensembles of three or four adobe style dwellings sometimes with tents nearby and an occasional scattering of horses shackled out. We stopped along the narrow highway through the region at the midway point and an interesting thing happened. We could not have been off of the bus for more than 5 or 10 minutes when from some huts in the distance came a father and son Bedouin contingent with a platter full of glasses of fresh tea for us. This was a sampling of Bedouin generosity and hospitality we were about to experience.
Our first destination is outside of Qamishli where the Tai tribe are located and prior to this we made a stop in Al-Hasakah for something to eat. Finally we reach the location of the Tai and the sight from my bus window was astonishing. Here in a dramatic massive open setting, with the mountains of Turkey about 20 kilometers north and the border of Iraq a short distance to the side, is a gathering of tribesmen numbering, we were told, about 5000. A tent nearly the length of a football field had been erected and we were escorted to one end of this enormous tent for special seating and introductions to the ruling Sheykh Mohamad Abdul Razak Al-Taiee, Amir of the Tai tribe, and other dignitaries. Behind him is a large banner saying in English: “Arabian Tai People Welcome To You.” All of this had been arranged just for our visit. We were also told there were about 150 horses present and that 50 lambs had been slaughtered for our later feast. I found the experience brought tears to my eyes as it was overwhelming that so large a family of people could offer us hospitality to this extent.
The majority of these tribesmen had ridden or walked their horses great distances to attend this occasion, as far away as 50 miles. As we were seated in the tent before us was an enormous open plain rimmed with thousands of people and across this span were marker flags as they prepared to hold their traditional Arabian for us. Races began with the shortest distance, 1,000 meters, and ending with the longest distance, 7,000 meters. The thousand meter race was for one and a half year-olds ridden by young Tai children and the riders and horses ages increased with the distances. The 7 Kilometer race would be very grueling for our Western horses but these tribal horses seemed fresh after the race as they are used to daily riding and work. At the completion of the races the Tai proudly paraded every horse, one by one in front of the tent for us, giving the strain of each. They passed swiftly and in the narrow passage way it was difficult for me to grab a good shot or two but nonetheless, some pictures here illustrate what wonderful quality and character these tribal horses have.
As we noticed from the horse presentation the Tai have a great wealth of strains. Some of the ones which we saw the most of were Saqlawi Jidran (several branches, Ibn Amood, etc.), Abayyan Seheili, Abayyan Sharak, Shuwayman Sabbah, Hamdani Simri, Kuhaylat Ajuz, Kuyahlat Dajani, Kuhaylat Rabda, Kuhaylat Mimreh, Muniqi Hadruj, Muniqi Sbaili, Hadban Inzihi, Rarer strains (as noted by Issam Haj Hassan, Ministry translator) included Kuhaylat Riznieh, Kuhaylat Ziada, Kuhaylat Al Wadna and Kuhaylat Saada Togan. With over 150 horses presented these are by no means all the strains but at least some that I remember or caught on audio tape.
Following the races and horse presentations, it was time to feast from the large platters with traditional Mensaf and a chance for me once again to eat with my hands. Here one eats all they can swiftly and then stands back from the huge platters making room for the next round of eaters. After the feast attendants repeatedly circulate serving tea and coffee as we begin a round of discussions with Sheykh Mohamad Abdul Razak Al-Taiee to learn about the Tai horses and their history. This exchange will no doubt be the subject of more complete articles in later publications.
Sheykh Abdul Razak is a man who immediately radiates a presence of both wisdom and calm self assuredness. His expression is one of someone who is keen and has much of life’s experience in his eyes. He is easy to listen to and speaks in a matter of fact style inviting the listener to hear the wisdom. We were told that the Tai tribe consists of about 75,000 members and that the tribe has actually been involved with horses since before the Islamic revolution. They told us of some of the strains that were originated in the Tai tribe such as: Kuhaylat Rabda, Kuhaylat Ibn Mizher, Kuhaylat Mimreh, Kuhaylat Armousheh, and Kuhaylat Jilfa. Curiously, I had asked about the Kuhaylat Saada Togan that we saw earlier and was told that the strain originates with Sherif Hussein of Mecca the ruler of Hejaz (western Saudi Arabia). As day progresses toward evening other Sheykhs and elders continue to visit with us as we ask questions to learn more. There is much more that we learned than there is space here to cover at this time but it was a very educational visit.
By night fall myself, Randall Harris and Tim Parlove make the decision that we will sleep overnight in the tent while the others board the bus to return to a local hotel in nearby Qamishli. This was especially enjoyable for me to spend the actual day and night of my birthday in the desert Tai tent. Basil Jadaan showed us how to wrap our Kafiyas for night warmth and we were given huge feather quilts to keep us warm. However, not ready to go to sleep yet, we joined some of the Bedouin who were attending a campfire outside and we drank tea with them and humorously I tried my luck at a few Arabic sayings from my travel book. They very much enjoyed sharing the campfire with us. Language seemed no barrier as facial expression and gesture told stories as well as any poet could write. Before retiring I wandered off from the tent into the desert night to drink in the enormous black sky speckled with thousands of bright stars reflecting about the sensory and cerebral intensity this exciting journey had gifted to us.
The next morning we awoke and had coffee and tea with some of our hosts as we exchanged conversation and awaited the arrival of the others from the hotel in town. When they arrived breakfast was served in the tent. Then a most interesting event transpired, just like the stories of old about the Bedouin. An aged man appeared at the edge of the tent with a most beautiful grey mare which I believe was an Abayyah Seheili. He indicated through our translators that unfortunately in his journey to come to yesterday’s festival he did not arrive on time. But he wanted to be sure that we had a chance to see his mare of which he was justifiably very proud. He smiled and circled her for us and then in an instant, he swung gracefully up on to her back and rode off into the sun across the desert as though blown by a strong wind. He disappeared into the distance facing the same long journey that brought him here. What an incredible display of pride to have come all that way just for a few moments to show his fine Arabian mare. His love of the Arabian mare will no doubt be rewarded by Allah.
After breakfast we took a walk with the Sheykh and some hosts over a nearby knoll to see some more horses, some mares which were tethered out near a huge mound of barley straw. The senior mare was a lovely black Shuwayma Sabbah and there were several other mature mares shackled but the young fillies wandered freely.
Nearby was a beautiful grey Abayyah Sharrakiyah mare with saddle and bridle, tied to a pole. She had been ridden to this location for a breeding to the Sheykh’s young Hamdani stallion. We had the opportunity to witness the mating. The mare was hobbled diagonally with cotton rope and then mounted by the stallion. Immediately after the mating her owner unhobbled her and galloped swiftly back and forth across a ridge and then rode off. Silhouetted by the morning rising sun with a small black tent in the background, this was a beautiful closing sight for us to see before boarding the bus again to make the long journey southward to the Shammar tribe.
The region where the Shammar were to greet us was a considerable bus ride south from our Tai visit. After this long bus ride we were met at the Shammar border by a small contingent of tribesmen in a truck who greeted us and then proceeded to guide us on for miles to the ruling Sheykh Humeidi Dham Al Asi Al Jarba’s compound while videotaping our arrival. Sheykh Humeidi is the Amir of the Shammar tribe and its clans and under his guidance everything about our visit was treated in a formal way.
Arriving at Sheykh Humeidi’s compound was a very dramatic visual with the appearance of something out of an epic Cecil B. DeMille movie. Here in the desert surrounded by some small village like adobe dwellings, was this massive, high walled compound into which we drove. We deboarded the bus and were escorted to an endlessly long tent filled with many elders of the tribe and carpeted with oriental rugs. As we looked around the high walled courtyard, at one end was the enormous, palace like Madafah (guest house) of Sheykh Humeidi and everywhere were tribesmen numbering in the thousands. A loudspeaker announces in Arabic our arrival and greetings as we are seated in the very long tent which faces into the massive courtyard and seated behind us are several long rows of elders and important members of the tribe. Part of our welcoming from Sheykh Humeidi included a glass of warm camel’s milk for each of us which I found very pleasant and refreshing, being both rich and refined in taste.
Along with us, the thousands of tribesmen in the tent or surrounding the courtyard, or clinging to the roofs, balconies and high surfaces of the Sheykh’s guest house watch as the horse presentation swiftly begins. Horses are formally announced on loudspeaker by strain in groups, usually of 5 at a time, as they parade by the tent. Most of the horses were ridden by, some were in hand, and some youngsters roamed freely around their dams. The presentation consisted of an estimated 150 to 200 horses. Many strains were in the presentation and two of the larger presentation groups were, Saqlawi Jedran Ibn Amood and Hamdani Ibn Ghorab. Dr. Munzer Absi, translating the announcer’s comments, indicated that these two families originated with the Shammar and have been with them for many generations. Others presented include Muniqi Sbaili, Muniqi Ibn Al-Fataan, Saqlawi Marzakani, Abayyah Seheili, Hadban Inzihi, Shuwayman Sabba, Kuhaylat Wadna, Kuhaylat Dajani Ibn Mruneh, Kuhaylat Al Wati Ibn Rishm, Kuhaylat Reisha Ibn Hitneh, Kuhaylat Ibn Mizher, Kuhaylat Ibn Al-Wayma, Kuhaylat Tuwaysa, Kuhaylat Krush and Kuhaylat Haifi (of which only one was presented). We were told that the horses presented here represent about one third of the Shammar Jowad horse population and that a significant portion of their tribal horses are with some of their branches in Iraq.
After the presentation, many of the tribesmen joined arms in a large group and working their way toward us in the tent began chanting and singing their traditional “victory song” led by several swordsmen. Sheykh Humeidi joined in. It was an intriguing spectacle backlit by a huge bright blue sky, black robes, white Kafiyas and sparkling swords. Several of the sword dancers approached the tent and proceeded to demonstrate their “dueling dance.” Somehow I managed to get drawn into this dance as one of the swordsmen threw me a sword. In the instant that it was tossed to me, I remembered being told only to use the right hand (even though I am left handed) so I caught it with my right hand and proceeded to encircle the “challenger.” It did not take long for my awkwardness to become apparent and in an instant his sword was thrust toward my shoulder hooking my Kafiya flipping it up into the air, seemingly in slow motion and by the time it settled on the oriental rug there was a roar of laughter from the tribesmen. It was great fun for me. Then Tim Parlove was drawn into the dance and he and I were “set up” to be the mock duelers but neither one of us had the temerity to remove any more articles of clothing with the swords. The tribesmen seemed to enjoy very much our willingness to participate.
In the previous Khamsat I gave an overview of my time in Jordan in Syria last November. This feature covers where the journey continued for me on to the Gulf States.
Having had an extraordinary adventure in Jordan and Syria, my journey brought me back to Amman, Jordan’s Queen Alia Airport to prepare for going on to the Emirates for the WAHO Conference. Coming from Damascus I arrived at the airport at 8:30 am and my flight out to Abu Dhabi did not leave until 9:30 in the evening so I was excited at the prospect of having a whole day in the Amman area all to myself for my own little adventure. I had envisioned boarding a bus to see historic and ancient Petra to the south with time to return for my evening flight. However the adventure was far different than I could have imagined. When I proceeded to the Transit desk to get my passport papers in order for going on to Abu Dhabi (something that had to be taken care of right away before being allowed to leave the airport because of limited entry visas) I was in for a surprise. They asked me for copies of the group visa papers for my entry to Abu Dhabi. I had previously been told by the service handing the paperwork for the WAHO conference that I would not have to apply separately in advance for a passport stamp to Abu Dhabi before coming to the Middle East because it would be a part of a group visa waiting for me at Abu Dhabi. I had previously informed them of my prior travel plans and had only a confirmation fax from them of what I had sent them but not a visa document. Unfortunately I discovered that the Transit office in Amman could not allow me to go on until they got some kind of visa confirmation from Abu Dhabi that I was cleared for visit to that country. So I called the number on my fax of the service in Abu Dhabi handling the paperwork for the WAHO conference only to get a message that the number had been disconnected!
Suddenly my free day was turning into a form of airport incarceration. Without some form of authorization from Abu Dhabi I could not go on. I made a number of unproductive phone calls. The Transit office people were polite but were unable to assist me. The hours passed as I wandered the airport counting floor and ceiling tiles, feeling like someone without any country that would accept me. Fortunately I had the phone number from Tim Parlove of Mr. Hamdan Al Falahi of Abu Dhabi who I met briefly in Damascus. So I called his residence only to find that he was not there but was given his car phone. I managed to reach him by phone but he was about 100 km from Abu Dhabi. He gave me the name and number of a man to ask for at the WAHO host hotel in Abu Dhabi and I am most grateful for that because it was that call that finally got me into the Emirates. The service handling all this for WAHO had moved its offices to the host hotel and when I got them on the phone they had apologized because they had faxed my authorization to my home in Quincy, Michigan in November while I was sleeping in the Tai tents of Jezirah inaccessible and unknowing. They had forgotten that I would be in Syria not Quincy (otherwise they might have faxed the documents sooner).
Later when I arrived in Abu Dhabi some of the Al Khamsa people who were there had already heard stories via e-mail that I was held up somewhere in the Middle East, rumors no doubt becoming more embellished and humorous by the hour. So finally I boarded the plane for Abu Dhabi that evening knowing exactly how many floor and ceiling tiles there were in the airport but not how many stones in the ancient ruins of Petra which gave me all the more reason to return to Jordan to complete my adventure in the future.
The reason for telling this story is not to complain, because everyone along the way was very understanding and helpful, but to underscore the importance of making sure all of your paperwork is complete and in order before you reach that point in which some official has to dutifully ask you to present it.
Touchdown, 4:00 am Tuesday morning and I am warmly greeted at the airport by a special host who has a booth set up for all WAHO arrivals. He escorted me to an awaiting Mercedes taxi, with air-conditioning on duty before dawn. As the Mercedes sped along the boulevard towards my hotel I notice extraordinary landscaping along the median, sprinklers running and a string of colorful lights following the highway for miles into the metropolis. I had inquired about the lights and was told that preparations are being made for the return of His Highness Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi who had recovered successfully from medical treatment in the States. Shaikh Zayed I was to find out was a much admired leader in his nation and the celebration of his return was with much fanfare.
Like a giant redwood I crashed into my comfortable bed at the hotel and tried to pack 8 hours of sleep into two before arising to attend Tuesday morning’s schedule for the WAHO Conference.
When I awoke and looked out the window of my hotel room the view was spectacularly white with distant bright blue water as we were now on the edge of the Persian Gulf. Perhaps I was so tired this time that I did not hear the minarets singing at dawn as before in Jordan but here everything seemed modern, whiter and hotter. Much of the architecture was new or brand new. The pace and style of the city had a dramatically westernized feel but all architecture and signage were classically eastern even if modern. The contrasts distinguishing the gulf from the north were to become more apparent throughout the week but the common denominators are still Islam, extraordinary generosity, and love of the Arabian horse.
Held under the patronage of His Highness, the president of Abu Dhabi, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and hosted by the Emirates Arabian Horse Society, the WAHO week was a luxurious gathering on the grandest scale with attendance from all parts of the globe. This was my first time at a WAHO conference and while I was unable to attend the entire event because of arriving 2 days late from my previous journey in Syria and Jordan, I was able to enjoy most of the week’s events.
The Inter-Continental Hotel was the host location for the WAHO Conference meetings. Over 530 WAHO members arrived from more than 50 countries and beginning Sunday evening guests arrived checking in and visiting with each other. Members of the Emirates Arabian Horse Society had arranged to see that all attendees needs were met in the true generous spirit of the Middle East. Attendees were taken to the Dhows (ancient Arabian Gulf sailing boats) on Sunday evening for a cruise along the shores of Abu Dhabi ending at Al Raha Beach where a splendid dinner was served.
I was told that Monday morning saw the opening of the general session of the WAHO Conference. In the large Majlis room of the Inter-Continental were arranged tables organized by nations represented each with flags and country plaque. There are two delegates for each regular member nation and one for each applying nation. Behind the large delegation section is a section for all others attending as observers. Delegates from each nation gave a report on the status of Arabian population and registrations in their country. In late afternoon Conference attendees were taken to the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club where they enjoyed a race meet of Arabians of breeders from the Emirates. The Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club then hosted a superb dinner at the Sheraton.
Tuesday morning the Conference reconvened with guest lecturer David Suzuki, Ph.D., Professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He spoke about the advancements in learning about genetics in regard to breeding livestock and horses. The main operating basis for breeding programs is that “like begets like.” In the past few decades the understanding of DNA has opened up new horizons. Dr. Suzuki then gave a short video presentation about DNA. He then lectured on the aspects of gene manipulation, ova harvesting, transporting semen and the responsibilities of technology as well as the complexities drawing conclusions in this science.
After Dr. Suzuki’s fine lecture some reporting on the Executive committee’s work as well as presenting the WAHO - AHRA suspension issue (which has since been dealt with extensively elsewhere in print) was reported to the audience. At this point many of us were baffled and wondered what this was all about. This issue and all of its complexities and outcomes were lingering in social discussions throughout the rest of that week and ,in fact, are still being debated even today as you read this. However it did not overshadow the generous hospitality and grand celebration of the Arabian horse that was to permeate the rest of the week’s social events.
At the close of this session, guests were each given traditional Khafiyas and Abayyahs (Headdress and robes) to wear to His Highness Shaikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s stables where a delicious luncheon was served of fine Arabic cuisine. Following the enjoyable feast, guests were treated to a serving of tea in a large Bedouin tent while traditional dances were performed. Watching the fascinating performance while sipping tea and wearing the traditional garments helped guests to really steep in the feel of Middle Eastern tradition. Guests then had the opportunity to see the fine stable of Shaikh Mansoor’s Arabians representing an international weaving of the currently prominent bloodlines from Australia, Europe, Russia, U.S. and the Middle East. One of his striking chestnut stallions entertained visitors at liberty with his groom demonstrating the intelligence and affection of the Arabian. The horses presented herein were immaculately groomed and trimmed in the familiar western style for the most part. All were treated with the utmost of respect and care. To my knowledge, none of the horses I saw in this particular presentation were representatives of Al Khamsa’s roster, as most were representatives of European, Australian and American breeding programs from bloodlines other than Al Khamsa.
From Shaikh Mansoor’s stable guests were transported to the Al Wathba Camel Race Track for an intriguing afternoon at the camel races. Prior to the running another traditional dance and chant presentation was given in front of the grandstand with drums and swords. I might add here that the dances are very intriguing to listen to as well as watch for their entrancing sound, the chants, drums and compelling rhythm which is true to their Bedouin tribal origins. These compelling performances were very reminiscent of a similar performance I enjoyed among the Shammar tribe in the Jezirah region of Syria.
Tuesday evening unfolded a spirited evening gala entitled “1001 Arabian Nights” where many guests continued to wear their traditional Middle Eastern garments. Held outdoors in the beach front courtyard of Hiltonia Beach Hilton Hotel, the feast was exotic with many fine Middle Eastern foods punctuated by exotic ice sculptures and permeated by colorful and alluring “belly dancers” circulating from table to table. Guests basked in festivities late into the night.
Wednesday was a social day without any conference meetings. It commenced with a special exhibition of Arabian Horses of the U.A.E. at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club. Representing 16 owners/breeders of the Emirates, 58 specially chosen Arabians were presented many with race records or producers of such. A considerable number were also were endurance winners and major show winners. Bloodlines were again an international amalgam of American, European, Russian, Egyptian, Saudi and Emirates breeding. A quality color booklet with pedigrees and information on each horse was distributed to the guests. The booklet opens with the following statement: the Prophet Mohammed (may the peace and praise be upon him): “The horses, prosperity is linked to their foreheads till the day of resurrection. Its owners are aided to keep them, so gently touch their foreheads, and pray for them to be blessed.” This recitation was reminiscent of the sentiments of the Bedouin and private breeders in Syria where the Arabian horse has a direct link to the religion of Islam and in this regard is given the highest order of honor and respect. This was often evident in the presentations by the breeders and owners of the Emirates region punctuated by the affection with which they presented their horses. Without question the horses are still understood as gifts from Allah. After the enjoyable presentation of horses guests were taken to the Water Break for a luncheon and again enjoying the ancient Dhow boats.
Wednesday evening’s dinner was especially festive being held outdoors in the warm desert air amid the splendid architecture of the Al Asayl Stables of His Excellency Shaikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and President of the UAE Equestrian and Racing Federation. Again exotic cuisine was enjoyed of Middle Eastern flavor served colorfully outdoors surrounding the main residence of the stable. After dinner and socializing guests were treated to a musical dance period and celebration which included a limbo competition. The festivities ran well into the night.
Thursday morning reconvened attendees to the final business session of the WAHO conference. Some delegates from various nations took the opportunity to give their feelings on the impending possible AHRA suspension issue and it was clear that such an occurrence was not desired and a resolution to this issue was hoped for by all concerned. The concluding business was for each individual delegation to rise and offer its thanks to His Highness Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the Emirates Arabian Horse Society for its extraordinary hospitality in hosting a very enjoyable conference. Final executive committee business was announced by Jay Stream who also introduced the newest appointee as consultant to the executive committee, Basil Jadaan from Syria. Basil Jadaan was attending the WAHO conference along with a delegation of a number of familiar faces who were helpful to me from my travels in Syria, some formally representing that country and some attending privately for interest and curiosity.
Thursday evening saw the final banquet held in the Majlis room at the Inter-Continental. This was festive occasion, with a very talented contemporary band playing modern music for the dance oriented. It had occurred to me that I am probably a better “ad lib” dancer when invited join the traditional Bedouin dancers than attempting modern disco so I decided it was actually safer to sit this one out even though no swords were involved. A fine cuisine was enjoyed and final thank yous and acknowledgments were given to the hosts for another wonderful conference.
The remaining 3 days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday were for post conference presentations of horses and area events of interest to the many who had traveled so far to visit the Arabian Gulf area.
Beginning on Friday, the whole day was devoted to a visit to the island of Bahrain hosted by His Highness Shaikh Hamad bin Eisa Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain and Supreme Commander of Bahrain Armed Forces. Guests were flown over to Bahrain on 3 chartered airliners in the finest decor and finest Arabic food. This was a day that I had been waiting for with great anticipation as I had read much about the Bahrain horses before and had established a good correspondence with Danah Al Khalifa while working on the production of the Saluqi Coursing book.
Upon landing we were put aboard a large caravan of supercruiser airconditioned busses and given a tour of the new causeway that was built to join Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. We did not drive the full length to Saudi Arabia which would have taken some time and many miles but got to see enough of it to appreciate this spectacular engineering wonder. Then it was off to see the horses.
A special presentation of select horses from the Amiri Arabian Stud of Bahrain was given. 23 mares/fillies and 7 stallions/colts were presented in a beautiful sunny afternoon Bahrain setting at the Safriya horse facility fit for a king. Each guest had a booklet with the extended pedigree as each horse was quietly presented individually. The horses were all of old strains and in keeping with the balanced, good looking, good mannered, classic Bedouin type Arabians, these were a delight to see. Although these horses are not in the Al Khamsa roster, we have some from Bahrain that are, so this was the first presentation of horses from one of our Ancestral Elements, Khalifa. Here too special attention was given to the strains of the horses. The horses were presented one at a time and all had extraordinary good temperament and manners. For the interest of our readers and since ”Khalifa” is an Ancestral Element, I photographed almost every horse in the presentation and feature some of them here for your viewing.
Some of the Horses presented from the Amiri Arabian Stud in Bahrain:
Following the presentation of horses of the Amiri Arabian Stud of Bahrain refreshments were served and before long it was time to say good-bye but after boarding the busses the mares were led by the busses for one more view to our pleasure. Then it was off to the Bahrain race track where first a delicious luncheon was served then a special race was run appropriately named the WAHO cup, a 1600 meter race won by the 5 year old chestnut Bahrain stallion Al Jellaby 857 (Al Hamdaany 652 x Al Jellabieh 734) bred by the Al Roudha Stable. After the race meet it was time to board the planes for return to Abu Dhabi.
Saturday was a day trip to Sharjah by invitation from His Highness Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah. Upon arriving guests first toured the Sharjah Gallery to see an exhibit on Arabian horse art ad. The luncheon was served at the new Sharjah Women’s Club, a luxurious facility located on the shoreline of the Persian Gulf. A special arena and grandstand was set up on the white sand beach for a unique presentation of Shaikh Sultan’s horses complete with dramatic music and na by Patrick Swayze. Black stallions roared into the ring Bedouin style then a systematic presentation of champion broodmares and stallions was displayed. In this presentation, two of the horses were Al Khamsa horses: the mare JA Habala Halima (Ra’adin Inshalla x *Simeon Sasson) and her daughter Mahouba (x AK El Sennari). At the conclusion of the presentation there was a tug boat in the channel behind the beach which let loose thousands of colorful balloons into the sky. The presentation was a dramatic eyeful.
The evening took visitors to the Old Coral Souk for shopping and where traditional Arabic dance and music were observed while all enjoyed an Arabic meal. It was again interesting to hear the pulsating rhythm of drum beats but this time there were some unusual instruments employed which I had not seen before including an instrument reminiscent of bag pipes but instead being a large goatskin covered bag with flute at one end. As the sun set I new it would soon be time to leave.
Sunday was the final day. By invitation from His Highness General Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Defense Minister, busses left for Dubai for a parade of horses at the splendid Zabeel Stables. Also visited was the Dubai Equine Hospital, Central Research Laboratory and Dubai Feed Mill. Afterwards luncheon was served at the Dubai Golf and Racing Club. The week was consummated in a lavish shopping visit to the extraordinary Gold Souk.
One of the exciting things about attending a WAHO conference is the exchange with people from all over the world. There is so much listening to do. There is more to hear than to say. Many of the people from other countries know more about our horses than perhaps we realize with the exception of the Al Khamsa horses that we identify which still seems a curiosity to many. To the traditional Eastern breeders the philosophy of what we are about is not new because it is originally their history. It is very old and they share our concern for preserving the traditional Middle Eastern lines of Arabians which they feel too are not yet fully understood or appreciated. But at this conference all that is best in any Arabian, and is agreed upon as true to culture is very much admired regardless of how it is arrived at. As guests departed for various parts of the globe it was clear that this was an exceptional display of friendship, generosity and true Arabian hospitality all in the name of the world’s greatest equine, the Arabian Horse.
Some final reflections. It is not fair to judge the Middle East by anything one traveler such as myself reports in an article or two. This trip was simply my introduction to the bigger picture which takes a lifetime to paint. But nonetheless, I must reflect on some general impressions. Attending briefly both the extreme northern and extreme southern parts of the Arabian peninsula, one realizes that the inevitable path of modernization has established itself moved slowly from the south heading towards the north, perhaps fueled by oil trade and other increased commerce with the modern, developed nations. This wave of modernization can be likened to a very slow lava flow which creates great initial change and melting together of old an new. When it cools it leaves new soil upon which to plant while at the same time leaving artifacts of history beneath which it is hoped will eventually be rediscovered. In the north much that is ancient is still visible, not yet covered up but facing, no doubt in the future, the impending flow. This can’t really be judged as good or bad if one realizes that this is the cycle of life. But one feels a sense of lament for what moves into the past as things change. What is significant about this point in time, however, is that the history which is remains exposed for our learning still exists to behold in the East, not yet completely covered. Many of us in the West thought more of it was gone than actually is. I urge any of our readers to save a little over time and take the opportunity to make a trip or two to the Arabian peninsula and surrounding Middle Eastern areas. Looking into the eyes of our beloved Al Khamsa horses in our own back yards will quickly remind us of the antiquity and significant past we are trying to preserve without making that journey. But making that journey will remind us of why we must make these horses our future.
~ by Joe Ferriss