THE LEGEND OF AN ARABIAN BAHRAINI BAY MARE

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Under the strong and wise Al-Khalifa rulers, Bahrain prospered and grew to be the centre for the pearl diving industry.  Situated near the coast of Arabia proper, yet isolated from it as a group of islands, it often became a sanctuary for tribal Shaikhs and their mares at times of warfare on the mainland. According to old tribal system, all horses belonged to the ruling Shaikh, who traditionally kept a sizeable stud.  This is a custom, which has been kept up until present day.

It would be impossible to state the exact year when certain strains of horses first appeared with the Al-Khalifa. Some strains have been with the family for as far back as history is known, while others were acquired later by certain rulers as is well remembered or documented. Battle lore in Bahrain is rich in describing the Al-Khalifa  horses-many mares became famous in these battles for their fire and stamina.

The last battle on horseback to be fought on Bahrain soil took place in 1869 when Mohammed bin Khalifa invaded the island with his army from the mainland, and was met at Rufa hill by his half-brother Ali and his horsemen.  In the ensuing battle many brave horses and men were killed including Shaikh Ali.  The last horses to leave Bahrain for war purposes left in 1928, when a group of horses, among them three mares; Dahmeh, Jellabieh and Obeyah were sent on request to Fahad bin Abdulla Al-Jiluwi, the son of Emir of Al-Hasa province. Fahad fought a campaign against the Ajman tribe and was slain in a battle full of treachery and intrigue. History does not relate what became of these three Bahrain fighting mares.

With the advent of the motor car and peaceful life in general, the Bahrain war mare could have gradually disappeared, but the family tradition of horses was very strong and pride in her ensured that she survive.  Her nimbleness of foot was tested in pageants and mock battles, and her stamina was proven in long distance informal races.

In the past, some individual mares of certain strains became famous for their courage, speed and stamina on the battlefield.  Consequently they were much coveted and appreciated if presented as a gift.  Through the inherent generosity of the Arab people, many of these mares exchanged hands frequently.  As a matter of honour each Shaikh would give of his best and only good mares were thus exchanged.  Today, the descendants of some of the famous mares are still treasured more than others from less renowned strains.

Some stallions also attained more prominence than others by their exhibitional behaviour, carriage, spirit and soundness, particularly when chosen by an important Shaikh as his personal mount.  They were much sought after as studs, while other stallions equally good yet less legendary would soon fade from memory.

Selection of stud stallions is done by bloodline, performance and conformation. Once a stallion is tested on a few mares and the progeny are up to standard, he will stand at stud for the rest of his life. No stallion is tried before full maturity, at the age of 7 years or more.  Relatively few stallions are allowed to breed and the excess stallions are used for racing, gifts and police mounts.

No outside stallion is directly used for stud purposes.  New blood was introduced indirectly by the high caste mares received or exchanged with other Shaikhs from the interior of Arabia.  When these mares were bred to local stallions, their progeny or grand-progeny sometimes qualified as studs

The different strains or families of Arab horses are perpetuated through the mares, offspring always taking the dam’s name regardless of the stallion’s strain.  Although all the strains found in Bahrain are equally pure, stud horses are chosen only from the strains deemed most noble.  The word ‘noble’ here is the nearest equivalent to the Arab word ‘asil’ and does not convey the exact meaning.  All tribes recognise the inherent nobility of certain strains but the preference for some strains over others varied from tribe to tribe.

It was the custom in Central Arabia for the prominent Shaikhs to keep stud horses from a few selected strains only, but in some tribes after repeated breeding of these stallions with mares of a ‘new’ strain, the progeny of the latter gradually gained acceptance as studs.  In general, once a stallion has been chosen to stand as stud, his strain becomes unimportant.  The fact the he is chosen is the guarantee of his nobility.

In Bahrain a new generation’s tribal Shaikh would often favour a different strain to his predecessor and would increase horses of his favourite family line. However, the ancient revered lines maintained their supremacy in the long run, although unfortunately one or two of them have disappeared.

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