- HEIGHT: 15–16 hands
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: Hungary
- SPECIAL QUALITIES: A rare breed with the beautiful look of the Arabian but with more bone and substance; known for exceptional athleticism, endurance, courage, and an affectionate nature
- BEST SUITED FOR: Jumping, dressage, endurance, eventing, and driving
During the Turkish occupation of Hungary (1526–1686), a great many Arabian and other Oriental types of horses came to that nation. Although these horses’ attributes were widely recognized and their bloodlines treasured, formally organized state stud farms did not appear in Hungary until late in the eighteenth century. The first was founded in 1785, and the second, at Babolna, in 1789. By this time Hungary was already famous for its superb Arabian horses, and the stud at Babolna became the center for their breeding.
Babolna had twin advantages. It was managed by Magyars, native horsemen from the region with highly developed skills as horse breeders, and it was located in an ideal area for horse production. By 1816 the stud at Babolna concentrated its efforts on producing both purebred Arabians and crossbreds known as Arabian Race, which were crosses of purebred stallions on mares of very Oriental appearance that carried Hungarian, Spanish, and Thoroughbred blood. Lipizzans were also crossed in occasionally to improve movement and riding qualities. In pursuit of the best Arabian horses, experts from Hungary repeatedly set forth on dangerous expeditions to the deserts of Arabia, where they paid extremely high prices for the horses they wanted. Meticulous records were always maintained.
Gray is the most common color, but the breed includes all Arabian colors.
The Arabian Race crossbred lines ultimately produced the Shagya Arabian. The breed was founded by and named for the gray or cream-colored stallion Shagya, who was born in Syria in about 1830 and imported to Babolna in 1836. All sources agree that he was large for an Arabian at the time, standing between 15.2 and 15.3 hands. He was noted for the beauty of his head, as well as for his substance and overall quality. His profile was dished, his muzzle tapered and fine, and his eyes large and expressive. He had an excellent shoulder, which contributed to length of stride and freedom of movement, and fortuitously, he was an extremely prepotent sire. He fathered many successful stallions, and his direct descendants still reside at Babolna and at studs throughout Europe.
Shagya Arabians have a bigger frame and more substantial bone than purebred Arabians.
The original purpose of the breed developed from this horse was to produce a superior cavalry and carriage horse and also to provide a source of prepotent breeding stallions to be used to improve other breeds. The foundation stallions of the Shagya were desert-bred Arabians, and many of the mares showed a great deal of Arabian influence as well. Shagyas were used as cavalry mounts in many battles in Europe and as parade horses for Europe’s royalty. In Vienna, the Imperial Guard of the Hapsburgs was always mounted on Shagyas. At the time, parades of military and royal horses allowed countries to show off their wealth, military might, and skill with horses, and possibly to intimidate potential rivals. Such displays also promoted international horse sales.
The reputation of the breed spread, as did demand for the horses. Their toughness, endurance, and courage in battle were legendary. Breeding of Shagyas was expanded to the stud farms at Radautz and Piber in Hungary, and later to stud farms in Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Statues still stand in Hungary commemorating the heroic deeds of these horses.
In the United States, purebred Shagya breeding officially began in 1986, with the use of Bravo, then twenty-four years old. Bravo’s sire, Pilot, foaled in Poland in 1939, and dam, 52Gazall II, foaled at Babolna in 1937, were brought to America in 1947 under the direction of General Patton as prizes of war. Bravo produced three sons after 1986, one of which is now standing at stud in Venezuela. He also produced eleven daughters that are being used in Shagya breeding today.
After more than 185 years of very selective breeding, Shagya Arabians have a bigger frame and more bone and are said to possess better riding qualities than purebred Arabians. Their action is ground covering, free, and elastic, as though the horses move on springs. Correct movement at all three gaits is heavily stressed in the breed. They excel at jumping, dressage, endurance, eventing, and driving, having proved themselves repeatedly in open competitions against various breeds of warmbloods. Shagyas are also known to be unusually friendly with people and to make excellent family pleasure horses.
Shagyas are beautiful animals, typifying Arabian horses in every respect but with increased bone and substance. The circumference of the cannon bone just below the knee is at least seven inches, which is larger than for Arabians. The chest should be broad and well muscled. The depth of girth and barrel should harmonize with the frame.
The back should be close-coupled. Many Shagya are reported to have 17 ribs, 5 lumbar vertebrae, and 16 tail vertebrae, rather than the 18-6-18 ratio in most other breeds. The croup should be long. In the United States, the registry strongly emphasizes that the frame should be rectangular rather than square. Shagyas have very well sloped shoulders and withers that may be more prominent than those of purebred Arabians.
From its origins as a cavalry mount, the Shagya has come to excel as a versatile sport horse.
The legs are clean. The cannons should be short in relation to the forearms and the gaskins. Shagyas have excellent feet—the hooves are usually nearly perfect in size and shape.
The predominant color in the breed is gray, but all Arabian colors can occur.
BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES
Because the Shagya is such a rare breed, careful management is required in order to protect it genetically. To this end the North American Shagya-Arabian Society (NASS) and the International Shagya organization (ISG) are working together with highly motivated breeders to promote the breed while maintaining its historical legacy of superb quality.
According to the North American Shagya-Arabian Society (founded in 1985):
• In 2005 in North America there are 213 purebred Shagya Arabians and 187 part-breds.
• Each year, 15–20 new foals are registered.