Article and photos copyrighted - see credits below.
The Shagya Arabian, in a world of Arab horses that has many facets is one appreciated by many Arab enthusiasts, although the breed is not considered a pure Arab by purists. Aside from ideological aspects, however, these horses are straight Arabs for all practical reasons, if one wants to avoid the “pure” issue.
Hungary was occupied by the Turks from 1526 to 1686, during which time many Arabs and other oriental horses were reportedly brought into the country. In 1789 a stud farm was established at the city of Babolna, which dedicated its efforts to the breeding of Arab horses, building on what was already in the country, but also imported original Arab stallions. By concentrating exclusively on Arabians since 1870, the strain was developed into a breed now known as Shagya Arabian. The name it took from its most prominent progenitor, a stallion imported from Syria in 1836 by the name of Shagya. Up until 1982, the breed was just called “Arab”, but from then on the name was changed to “Shagya Arab” after its most important foundation sire.
It was the Hungarians’ breeding skills that developed these horses into an Arab breed of greater substance and size, with improved correctness of conformation and movement, such as was demanded by Central European and West European breed associations. All the while, care was taken to retain the Arab’s nobility, charm, and character.
When Arabs were used in many other horse breeds, as has been the case the world over, it was usually done to introduce some of the Arab’s refinement and balance to those breeds and - back when the Arab had been less of a show ring pet - his vigor and hardiness. To reach this improvement, European breeds liked to utilize the Shagya Arabian rather than ones from Arabia, because these horses were the result of improved animal husbandry and professional selective breeding.
The Shagya Arabian not only made a name for himself by improving other breeds, but also meets many people’s desire for an elegant, athletic riding horse, for sport and leisure, which combines robustness and refinement.
Between 15 and 16 hands, the Shagya is taller than the original, desert-type Arab. Its head is concave in profile (of course), with small ears, large eyes, a broad forehead, and fine, wide nostrils.
The neck is long and slim with a long, silky mane, and usually lacks any ewe-necked tendency sometimes found in other Arabs. The withers are prominent, the loin is short, the croup of medium length. The Shagya Arabian shines especially because of his correct, strong legs that have well-defined joints - a horse of solid constitution, bred with European thoroughness and knowledge.
The colors are bay, black, and sorrel, many however inherited a grey gene and therefore become white with age.
The breed is known to be docile, enduring, and easy-going. The challenge for the breeders is to maintain its character, size, and genetic integrity, but to avoid inbreeding. Outcrossing with unrelated Arabs and subsequent selection for the Shagya traits is a constant effort to preserve the breed in all its beauty and all its proven qualities.