Oral History Program Description

An Oral History of the Desert Arabian Horse

Purpose: The Institute’s Oral History program aims to extend the oral tradition of the Bedouin by making recollections of Western breeders, trainers, and other individuals associated with the Desert Arabian horse available to the public, researchers, historians, and future custodians of the breed.

Background: The Desert Arabian horse is bound to the Bedouin peoples who developed, nurtured, and valued its unique characteristics over several millennia and archived its history in their oral traditions From its original desert home, the Arabian horse has traveled to the studs of kings and commoners around the world, no longer the central focus of a living semi-nomadic culture but an adjunct element in post-industrial societies.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Arabian was a rare breed in the West. The nascent Arabian Horse Club in the U.S. recorded fewer than 250 imports and 7,000 foals born by 1950. In 1952, Egypt underwent a political revolution and established a populist government. The Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) was reorganized in the Egyptian Agricultural Organization (EAO). Horses formerly unobtainable were available for export, creating a bold scenario for Arabian horse breeding in the U.S. The 1950s-1980s were the heyday of the Arabian horse industry. More than 2,700 horses were imported, and registrations reached almost 30,000 annually.

Concurrently, a resurgence of interest emerged in the original Desert Arabian horse (the asil or “pure” horse of the Bedouin) and the physiological, temperamental, and genetic qualities developed by its original custodians. This increased interest led to formal and informal efforts to perpetuate what remained of the asil Arabian horse in the West. Many of the breeders involved were drawn by the characteristics that had been bred into the horse over millennia. Given its people-oriented disposition and its athletic prowess, the Arabian horse was well-positioned to make a transition from Bedouin war-horse to sporting animal.

Some written records from the first half of the 20th century are available, but the breeders who established the Arabian horse in the U.S. are no longer among us. Such written materials as do exist for the period 1950-1990 are largely un-cataloged and un-indexed. Despite some limited efforts to chronicle the experience of those who played key roles in perpetuating the Desert Arabian and popularizing its use in the West, much factual and contextual information has been lost. Many of the men and women who were involved with the breed during this period have critical knowledge that has never been recorded. Neither the character of significant horses nor the passion of their breeders is well-captured in print or other durable media.

Therefore, to supplement the written history of the Desert Arabian horse in the West, to record the passions and recollections of its breeders and other custodians, and to capture the now fast-fading memories of days gone by, the Institute for the Desert Arabian Horse has initiated an oral history program. The Institute seeks to preserve the stories of individuals who helped create the fabric of our shared experience with the Desert Arabian Horse and whose lives, in turn, were shaped by the people, places, events, and ideas of their day.

Program Description: The Oral History Program aims to extend the oral tradition of the Bedouin by making recollections of Western breeders, trainers, and other individuals associated with the Desert Arabian horse available to the public, researchers, historians, and future custodians of the breed. These recollections will be collected through sound-recorded interviews and archived as part of the Institute’s permanent collection. On completion of significant interviews, the Institute will create products to be delivered to the Arabian breeding community and the public in multiple modes.

Scope: The Oral History program will focus initially on the crucial period of the 1950s-1980s and on those individuals whose length, breadth, and depth of knowledge of the Desert Arabian horse can best inform future breeders, custodians, and others captured by the magic of the Desert Arabian horse. Interviews will capture recollections of this dynamic period, documenting breeding practices and decision processes of breeders who produced significant Desert Arabian horses and recording first-hand memories about key horses–characteristics not apparent from written records of awards, competitions, and the success of progeny and events. Subordinate projects will develop that may cover various bloodline traditions, subsequent historical periods, innovative breeding and conservation practices, and other related themes.

Interviewers: Interviewers will consist of Institute for the Desert Arabian Horse board members or volunteer interviewers with some subject-matter knowledge.

Interviews: Commercial transcription services will be used to record and transcribe the interviews. The transcriptions will be reviewed by the interviewees and individuals familiar with the spelling of the horses’ names to provide accuracy and uniformity.

Ancillary Material Collection: Through oral history interviews, researchers often identify useful background materials. The interview subjects may also offer printed materials, photographs, video, videos of horses, and other ephemera that supplement the material covered in the interview. The Institute welcomes the contribution of such material to its archive, subject to the standards and protocols for accepting material for that archive.

Cooperative Relationships: The Institute is in talks with the Library of the Horse based at the Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, KY to help expand the population of interested viewers of the transcriptions.

Archive: All materials, including copyright releases, donation forms, contributed print materials, interviewer notes, the audio/video recordings, and any transcriptions related to the Program will be maintained in the Institute archives in accordance with best professional practices.

Public Access, Use, and Dissemination: All materials will be for the non-profit purposes described in the Institute’s mission statement. The Institute will retain all rights, while making the materials available to researchers and other interested parties.

On completion of significant interviews, the Institute anticipates creating text to be delivered to the Arabian breeding community and the public in multiple modes (periodicals and/or text via the Web).

The Institute will maintain a page within its Web site (www.desertarabian.org) describing the Oral History Program, its rationale, objectives, and approach, as well as the names and roles of individuals serving the project. Materials obtained through this program, including a list of the interviews that have been completed and transcribed and descriptions of ancillary materials, if any, will be regularly updated. Program policies, agreement guidelines and forms, and sample release and deed of gift forms will also be posted.

Funding: Initial funding for equipment will be through designated donations to the Institute. Any necessary travel expenses for the interviews will be paid by contribution of the interviewer or by funds donated to the Institute.

Contact For further information, contact the Institute at contact@desertarabian.org .