The soft breath of the desert wind sweeps across a harsh and barren valley, cascading the sand against a single rock to create a small mound. As the winds grow stronger and with each gust gathering momentum, more grains of sandstone join. Inch by restless inch, a dune is created, so magnificent and resplendent in its creation that it could never be created by a mere mortal. The start of any such greatness begins with but one small step, a step that develops into such magnitude that the final result stands dazzling above the rest, shining like a beacon of foreboding beauty for all to see. A true work of art.
In the world of Arabian horse breeding, we each have a vision, our ideal that we try to create from a single thought. To study a pedigree, delving back into time to discover the flaws and attributes of distinction that lie within the genes. Blowing life into such a belief and then, suddenly, maybe in just one breeder’s lifetime, they create such a perfect example, that it becomes coveted and adored the world over.
One such filly springs to mind when I comb through my memories of some of the best such horses that the UAE has had to offer. I remember seeing her for the first time, and the collecting ring fell silent as everyone – trainers, DCs and grooms alike – saw this image walk past. As delicate as a new bud, we would all watch as she blossomed into the most magnificent of flowers.
AJ Sawahi is one of six full brothers and sisters, but she always had that unique, supreme quality that set her apart from so many sired by the king of the breeding barn, the incomparable Marwan al Shaqab (Gazal al Shaqab x Little Liza Fame). I cast my mind back to 2001 at the Qatar International Show to a bay yearling colt from one of the first foal crops of Gazal al Shaqab (Anaza el Farid x Kajora). Eileen Verdick walked into the arena with this colt that was so refined and elegant, eyes shining and a neck of a cobra, the like of which very few of us had ever seen before. It was, without doubt, that this vision would go onto become the most illustrious show horse and sire the world had ever seen and would constantly write and rewrite his own history in the glossy magazines around the globe. After his Middle Eastern success, it was Eric Dorssers who teamed up with Marwan to conquer Europe before Marwan al Shaqab settled down for a season to breed mares in Majorca with Marietta Salas, where he produced World Champions including the powerhouse Abha Palma (ex Abha Ghazali). It was with another World Championship title to his name that Marwan would leave the shores of Europe for America, and it was there that this horse sired champion after champion. With the ever-evolving industry, artificial insemination has made the accessibility to stallions so easy and with this simple procedure, Marwan al Shaqab has bred some of the best mares in the world.
AJ Sawahi’s dam is such a classic mare, one that every stud would treasure. Born in Brazil, Siberia SA (Nuzyr HCF x Eternia SA) came to Ajman as a filly where she went onto become a reserve champion of the UAE. However, it was her ability as a broodmare that brings Siberia her own famed reputation. She is of classic Brazilian breeding, with the greats sprinkled throughout her pedigree, the same ingredients as some of the best horses bred in South America have to offer.
In the sleepy fishing emirate of Ajman, at a newly-founded stud owned by the young and enthusiastic Sheikh Ammar, a filly was born under a shining star. AJ Sawahi was the one who launched Ajman Stud onto the global stage with the status as breeders of some of the best Arabian show horses in the world.
This filly had it all – a supreme structure, and she was smooth, rich and flawless. As a yearling AJ Sawahi was Gold Champion in the UAE, Qatar, the All Nations’ Cup and ended her year with Champion of the World in Paris; this was the time before there was a yearling championship, with the world title given to a junior horse. Her style, glamour was never seen before and although she was sometimes a little anxious in the arena, her beauty and class could never once be denied – she caught everyone’s breath and they held it for a moment.
As a two-year-old, AJ Sawahi was Gold Champion Filly in the heart of Dubai where even the radiance of the Burj Khalifa itself failed to outshine her. We were all watching greatness. It was with apprehension that she went back to the city of love to claim her throne once more, this time as a three-year old. And she claimed that title in style, unanimous World Champion for the second time to delight, tears and joy of her followers and ever loyal team that make the Ajman Stud so strong to this day.
With every horse, we bask in their glory, a champion who conquered all before them at such a young age and the story should end there. Just like the sand dune commanding the desert, standing strong and solid like a figurehead of power, it just takes the wind to once more change direction and as grand as it once was, the sands begin to flow away and in the blink of an eye, the small rock is once again exposed. AJ Sawahi suffered from the cruel disease of laminitis. She had such strength, and she fought it for many months, even giving precious embryos, but one morning her eyes lost their sparkle and she left this world. The filly that was to bring Ajman their first blush of success, their first homebred World Champion, their pride and hope gone as fast as it came. AJ Sawahi’s precious children still live on at the stud, ensuring that her cherished blood is still beating throw the veins of Ajman.
The Arabian horse has held us all captured in an ocean of desire to produce perfection and indeed, some have come very close. But nothing lasts forever. In these times, in the uncertain world where we find ourselves today, we continue to seek and create our own ideals of perfection. I hope that we will all be successful in our quests, and the story of the UAE stars will continue and be a reminder of all that the combined power of belief and passion that can bring us. After all, that single solidary rock made the biggest sand dune. Be safe and continue the romance of the Arabian horse within every heartbeat.