Say his name and he shall appear…

Memories are wonderful things. They are triggered by a multitude of things. Songs, especially, are powerful transporters of the here and now to a moment in time, one that can invoke feelings of happiness, love, joy and yes, sadness and pain, too. For me, music is a key part of the way that I write and the two are very linked together.

For others, it can be a certain smell that will take them back. Lavender and roses from an English garden can remind you of playing in the garden at your grandmother’s house, while the tang of salty sea air reminds you of carefree childhoods, running along isolated beaches.

Horses have the same ability. A name can transport you back in time – to a moment where, perhaps, you saw your first Arabian, or fell in love with your horse of a lifetime. The name of a show can always take you back to one image in your mind’s eye of a horse, one that just ingrained itself on your very soul, and you wish that you had the ability, or foresight, to record it, just so that you can watch it over again and again, without any blurred edges from recollections fading as the years go by.

Yesterday, I was researching a pedigree for a feature I am writing for The Arabian Breeders’ Magazine, and one name came up. That name instantly transported me – to a time and place that is burned into my memory.

His name?


IMG_0676 - Aboud head
Aboud (Diamond Star x Azeme Bint Gleam by Silver Flame).

What makes memories of this horse even more entrenched in part of my Arabian horse history is that he is linked to The Royal Stables – and thus, Al Aryam Arabians – in the United Arab Emirates, as well as the late Gillian Lancaster’s Rowchester Stud in Berwickshire, on the Scottish borders.

Aboud was born in 1982, a Crabbet/Old English stallion that would be such an amazing part of modern Crabbet breeding programmes were he still alive today. The highly spirited Indian Magic (Raktha x Indian Crown by Raseem) appears twice, quite far back, in Aboud’s pedigree through both the maternal and paternal sire lines.

Aboud’s sire was Diamond Star, a son of Indian Star (Indian Magic x Nerinora by Oran), out of Dalika (Dargee x Silver Gilt by Indian Gold). His damline is one that I love very much, as he is out of the 1976 mare, Azeme Bint Gleam and sired by the great Silver Flame (Indian Flame II x Silver Ripple by Silver Vanity). On the tail female line, we have Bright Gleam (Aldourie x Pale Shadow by Rissalix). Such names to conjure with, names of the past, and the names that I grew up with.

Bred by Jean Kirch, Aboud made his way to Rowchester Stud as a yearling and he and Gillian had an amazing bond. Renowned British photographer, Marilyn Sweet, once shared with the magazine her own memories of Aboud, saying:

“Every morning, when Gillian led him out to his paddock, his ritual had to include a spectacular rear! Gillian preferred to look after her horses herself and as can be seen in the photograph, she was quite relaxed with no fears about handling Aboud. He loved his time in his paddock and I spent much of our short stay there watching him show off. On one occasion, that is still quite vivid in my mind, he was trotting around, tail over his back, head held high with that ‘look at me’ superior look when he suddenly tripped up. As he regained his composure, he looked very indignantly at the ground, snorted at it and then trotted off looking even more regal; I just wish I had had a video camera with me at that moment to capture it!”

Aboud 0040
Aboud and Gillian. Photo copyright Marilyn Sweet Sweet Photography.

In 1990, Aboud was exported to The Royal Stables of the late HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. There, he lived a long and happy life, with progeny sired there going on to take championships across the Gulf. This includes my link, yesterday, as I mentioned the UAE National Champion Mare R.S. Ghaziya (Burkan x Gariah by Aboud out of Ghaflah), a granddaughter of this famed stallion.

Barry Shepherd, who worked at The Royal Stables until its closure, recalls how HH Sheikh Zayed saw a photograph of Padron (Patron x Odessa by Bright Wings) and he asked Jane Kadri, one of his advisers, to find him a “red stallion”.

“According to HH Sheikh Zayed, a stallion should be like a lion, ready to roar, and feisty and big.. Fire-breathing, with big eyes. Very proud and very, very masculine. That was the exact criteria that he set and Jane’s good friend, Deirdre Hyde, said that she knew of a horse in Scotland that met this – Aboud. And he truly was a magical find, Aboud met every criteria that Sheikh Zayed had listed.

“Not only that, but he was a great, great sire of beautiful mares who have gone on to be extremely valuable broodmares. Aboud truly was an extremely good horse. I just loved him!”

My memory, though, is neither in the Middle East nor in the Scottish borders. It was in Malvern, at the 2004 British National Championships, when this 22-year-old stallion made a return to the show-rings of his homeland. HH Sheikh Zayed, who sadly passed away in 2004, loved to share his horses with those in the UK and, on several occasions, had sent horses back over here to be shown. His son, HH Sheikh Hamdan of Al Aryam Arabians, does the same, following in this tradition set by his father.

Aboud at The Royal Stables, Abu Dhabi.

Aboud competed in two shows back on UK soil, the first at Lingfield Park in Surrey. I wasn’t there but those that were say that it was an amazing moment, to see Aboud back in the show-ring.

My moment came at that British National Championships – one that is so fixed in my memory. I had my own first homebred foal competing there, Crystal Silvern Aphrodite, sired by PHA Silvern Risalm (Silven Sceptre x Rislina by St John) and out of my own first purebred Arabian, the wonderful Crystal Belladonna (Donax x Bright Crystal by Crystal King). At it happened, PHA Silvern Risalm was at the same show and I have a rare photograph of all three horses together. And not only was PHA Silvern Risalm there, but he went British National Supreme Ridden Purebred Arabian of the Show; his is a story for another day…

We all knew that Aboud was coming to the show. As the veteran stallion class approached, all eyes were on the entry gate and we ticked the horses off, one by one, as they came in. No Aboud. Trying to control our disappointment, we settled down to watch the class and these old boys show off their spectacular trot. Just as they were being called into line, there was a kerfuffle at the gate – Aboud was there!

Even writing those words, tears prick my eyes and I have goosebumps over my arms…

I think, partly in fear of the audience reaction, it was agreed that Aboud could come into the ring and show, although he could not be judged as the horses had already completed their go-round; surely, if rules were ever made to be bent, it was for Aboud on a day like this! As this majestic stallion with his almost metallic-looking bright chestnut coat covered in distinctive white spots – something that came in later life – made his way into the ring, everyone got on their feet and applauded, cheered, and cried. With handler Barry Shepherd at the end of his rope, Aboud put on a British National Champion-winning performance; if only he had been allowed to challenge for it!

It was due to a traffic accident that Aboud was late for his class. We will never know what would have been, but I do think that, at 22 years of age, we would have had our oldest British National Champion to date.

Rather than fly Aboud back to the Middle East, the decision was made by HH Sheikh Zayed for him to remain in his homeland and sadly, he passed away not long afterwards.

Speaking of that day, and of Aboud in general, Barry tells me:

“I loved him. He was a wonderful stallion, and he had a very rare quality about him. His magnificent iridescent coat that meant, even on a cold winter’s day in the Middle East, he looked as if he was about to walk into the World Championships.  He was a wonderful horse, with so much attitude and a real arrogance – and that is why he was the champion stallion that he was. He would look at the other horses and flip his tail over his back, daring them to challenge him.

“It was very sad, that time at Malvern. I felt sure that he would have won but it was wonderful to have the opportunity to show him to all those people. It was a very emotional day for everyone concerned.”

For me, 12 years on, I just need to see the name ‘Aboud’, and I am transported back to that amazing hot, sunny Malvern day. I can picture the view from the grandstand as I looked to the left and Barry came in, Aboud dancing on the end of the lead, and how this charismatic stallion was just full of life, joie de vivre and happiness at being there. I remember how that horse made me feel, and I have shed tears writing this. The power of an Arabian horse such as this can never be underestimated.

Aboud was the king – and he knew it. Thank you for the incredible memory…

Barry and Aboud Malvern
Barry and Aboud, Malvern 2004.

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  1. ANNA MCKNIGHT says:

    I knew Aboud from the time Gillian bought him. Even as a youngster he had the look of eagles. But very gentlemanly at all times. I watched and photographed Gillian taking Aboud to cover Bandola. In her nightdress and slippers. Bandola had a foal at foot. There was no fuss and bother. It went like a dream.

    1. Samantha Mattocks says:

      What a beautiful memory, thank you for sharing.

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