Originally a commercial artist by profession, Joe Ferriss became a prolific writer, speaker and researcher whose encyclopedic knowledge and enthusiasm about Egyptian Arabians has educated and inspired thousands, here and abroad, despite simply describing himself as “an Arabian enthusiast” for 48 years. “It’s what I call an unexpected journey,” says Ferriss, citing the start as being a Half-Arabian mare bought as a second riding horse.
“I was stunned that half of something could be so different— the nobility and the style and the intelligence—the things we like about [all] Arabians. My wife got Homer Davenport’s book, My Quest of the Arab Horse. Some of the first pictures I saw and read were the stories of Homer Davenport going to the desert and bringing back 27 Arabians to America,” shares Ferriss.
Rare at the time, near his Michigan home, Ferriss was intent on breeding the mare to a purebred Arabian. “We found an older gentleman who was very knowledgeable and had a stallion that was a Grand Prix level dressage horse. This horse was absolutely beautiful! He was a grandson of Mr. [Henry] Babson’s Egyptian stallion Fadl (Ibn Rabdan x Mahroussa).” A fortuitous connection, Ferriss got introduced to Russell Jameson at Ranch Ruminaja—still a vivid visit. “Shaikh Al Badi (*Morafic x *Bint Maisa El Saghira++), a famous Egyptian horse, was only two when I first saw him there. Bint Magidaa (*Khofo x *Magidaa) was just a yearling. Those were the parents of Ruminaja Ali. It was an amazing first start to see horses like that, and they were Gleannloch-bred horses,” notes Ferriss about the renowned Straight Egyptian Texas farm owned by Douglas Marshall and his wife Margaret. (Douglas was one of The Pyramid Society’s founders.)
“It didn’t take long until my wife and I started planning our summer vacations around visiting different horse breeding farms,” recalls Ferriss, whose grandfather, a Canadian Percheron breeder, was an Arabian Registry member in 1918—discovered in family papers years later. “A lot of this travel led us to seeing more and more Egyptian horses, but it wasn’t all Egyptian. We were really interested in horses that were close to the original desert sources,” recalls Ferriss.
“There has been considerable growth of Egyptian blood in other countries, but the majority was in the United States for a long time,” says Ferriss. “From 1932 on, several American Arabian enthusiasts imported horses from Egypt that had a lasting influence. One of them is W.R. Brown and the other is Henry Babson. [William Robinson “W.R.” Brown founded Maynesboro Stud in 1912.] Ferriss explains, “Babson horses are one of the longest-running, closed-herd breeding groups in the entire Arabian community. A straight Babson Egyptian Arabian would be a horse that traces all its bloodlines to a combination of six horses imported from Egypt in 1932.”
Ferriss notes a game changer. “Early on, it would have been Mr. Babson’s stallion Fadl (Ibn Rabdan x Mahroussa). He was a beautiful Arabian of the old type, and he sired athletic horses.” Significant beyond Egyptian lines, Babson used the 1930 stallion on horses imported from Poland and England. “Fadl is in a lot of pedigrees,” notes Ferriss. One of Fadl’s grandsons, a very famous horse in the United States named Fadjur (Fadhielan x Bint Sahara), was the leading sire in America for decades. Fadjur is actually found twice in Khemosabi’s++++// (Amerigo x Jurneeka++) pedigree! So, Fadl is in his pedigree, too.”
“The Pyramid Society was formed in 1969 about a decade after the resurgence of the imports from Egypt and basically created a definition to identify the Straight Egyptian horse so it could be preserved,” explains Ferriss about the international Lexington-based organization that turns 50 next year. “The Pyramid Society identified a group of horses of interest— 66 original desert-bred mares and stallions from the past and what is physically a group of horses of Egyptian origins—which includes horses that were imported to Egypt from different countries. If you take it back to the last named desert-bred in the pedigree, there are 66 original desert-bred Arabians that make up the Straight Egyptian population,” he clarifies.
“In modern times, the names you’ll hear in Straight Egyptian breeding are the lines that come down from Nazeer (Mansour x Bit Samiha). In Egyptian breeding, Nazeer is very much like Skowronek (Ibrahim x Jaskolka) to contemporary Crabbet. He’s what I call a transformational sire. The same would be true for Nazeer,” says Ferriss, noting the two most influential sons, one being *Ansata Ibn Halima (Nazeer x Halima), imported from Egypt by Judith and Donald Forbis with their first foundation stock for Ansata Arabian Stud. (Founded in 1958, Ansata’s 60th Anniversary will be honored at The Egyptian Event.) “The other would be *Morafic (Nazeer x Mabrouka), who was imported by Gleannloch. They were quite different in build and conformation and in structure and demeanor.”
Ferriss reflects, “Ansata Ibn Halima himself looked more like the old style horses which seemed to be more popular with Americans because he looked more like the horses they were used to seeing. When some people saw Morafic, who was not very often taken out in public, they didn’t know how to take him because he was so extreme. He was a very athletic horse, but had such long, sinewy lines. He was a very different horse.”
Were they human, the Nazeer half-brothers would be among A-List celebrity circles or enduring political families. “Both were excellent sires and developed huge patriarchies, and that blood is very popular today. The Morafic sire line comes down largely from Ruminaja Ali, whom of course sired The Minstril (Ruminaja Ali x *Bahila), who sired Thee Desparado+ (The Minstril x AK Amiri Asmarr).” explains Ferriss. “By and large, Thee Desparado+ is the most prolific sire in Egyptian breeding in terms of the number of foals. His current progeny, I think, is near 1,000 horses.”
Deceased in 2013, Thee Desparado+ is still breeding via frozen semen (through Arabians Ltd.) as is his grandsire, Ruminaja Ali—now 21 years after his death (from Bergren Family Arabians) thanks to advanced reproductive technology using the ICSI procedure (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). Frozen semen from Ansata Arabian Stud's prized stallions of the past continues Ansata Ibn Halima’s legacy.
“Another Straight Egyptian stallion that was very influential and never bred to a Straight Egyptian was Aswan (Nazeer x Yosreia),” mentions Ferriss. A political gift from Egypt to Russia for assistance in building the Aswan Dam, Aswan was a seven-eighths brother to *Ansata Ibn Halima. “Aswan’s grandson in this country was the National Champion Padron (Patron x Odessa), the sire of Padrons Psyche (Padron x Kilika),” adds Ferriss. “That’s what’s remarkable within the breed now. You have Ansata Ibn Halima, Morafic and Aswan, the three most influential sons of Nazeer. That may be the most prolific sire line now in the breed, or at least in North America.”
“The Arabian horse is growing fast in Saudi Arabia,” says Ferriss. “For decades that population had gone down as Arabians had grown in Europe and America. Now a lot of those counties are getting back into it. The growth is kind of shifting in that direction.” He shares, “I’ve been stunned by what I hear of the new breeders in Egypt. A friend who was working for the World Bank said that there are now 400 breeders of Straight Egyptian horses in Egypt. There used to be only 20 or 30, not counting the government stud.”
With a passport stamped by countless countries, Ferriss keeps the flame burning for travel closer to home. “There is no substitute, in my mind, for going to the farm and seeing the horses. The more you see, the more you understand the great diversity in the Arabian breed and also how the different pieces of the puzzle come together when you decide to breed, ride or show. When you see their body language and how they react to their surroundings, it tells you a lot about a horse. I’m still a firm believer in get in the car and take a road trip. That’s how we all used to do it. Seeing them at the wash rack, you can learn a lot of things.”
Perspectives can change too. “The truth is, the Straight Egyptian horse has the ability and can compete on the world stage in performance. For some reason or another, it just has not taken root in America. They’re beautiful horses, and people want them for their beauty,” reflects Ferriss. “Getting pigeonholed into one type of thinking takes away opportunities. Probably one of the most successful Straight Egyptian stallions in performance was a stallion imported from Egypt named *Sakr (Sultann x Enayat). He was out of a Morafic daughter.”
“The thing I was told when I was first getting started is the best money you can spend is on books and resources to learn about the past in the pedigrees and take it forward from there,” says Ferriss who put considerable time and energy into The Pyramid Society 50th Anniversary Reference Handbook Volume XIII, which debuts at the 2018 Egyptian Event. “It’s quite an international panorama on Egyptian breeding,” explains Ferriss, ever the advocate of good reference books. “In my library, there’s a lot [and it’s] the best money I’ve ever spent on learning about horses.”
Reflecting on his unexpected journey because of a Half-Arabian riding horse decades ago, Ferriss says, “The more one can understand the Arabian and its history, the more he can enjoy the breed and do right by it for the next generation. Don’t lose sight of the special qualities. Most who have become breeders and owners of Straight Egyptian horses value the same things that others do in the Arabian breed.” His words are from the heart. “It’s important to keep an open mind. People have more in common than you would think. If you get too pigeonholed into one label, or even one narrow concept within a label, you risk losing the diversity of the Arabian horse. When you lose the diversity, you lose those characteristics.”