Cradle Of The Asil Arabian Horse

In Iran, an Asil horse is not just a horse for most of the people; they consider it their family and it is a part of their heritage. The Khuzestan region is considered to be the cradle of Asil horses and it was the Salasel Historical Citadel in the Shushtar County which hosted the Iran Asil Horse National Championship in 2019.

Iran has a long tradition in breeding horses. The country has long been home to a wide range of purebred horses, including the Caspian and Arabian breeds. Both breeds are mentioned in historical documents like the travelogue of Marco Polo. Horse-riding was one of the most important skills which, as required by the law, every Iranian had to learn. Polo is one of Iran’s ancient sports, which is common around the world today.

No wonder, Shirin Salartash says: “Khuzestan is the original cradle of the Arabian horses with 5000 years of history. After the Islamic conquer settled in Persia they got acquainted with Persian horses and as Persians accepted Islam they also yielded their secrets of horsemanship other than other branches of science to their new religious brothers and for 200 years of settling down as conquerors in Old Persian Empire the Arab Moslem brothers of Persian learn the horsemanship and breeding these horses became a craft among them.” (see also Deb Bennet Ph. D., The Origin and Relationships of Mustang, Barb, and Arabian Horse, 2008).

The Iran Asil Arab National Championship saw 139 horses from around 130 breeders. The show, organized by the Iran Asil Association and Equestrian Federation, attracted the attention of a great audience in two days. For the first time, the show was broadcasted live by Arabian Horse Global Network.

In Europe, people arguing for “less is more” at shows but it seems that it is not realizable. Well, the Iran Asil Association and Equestrian Federation established clear rules right from the beginning. “The horses should be presented unshaved and without any cosmetics including oil as the national rule requires all the Asil horses in the shows to be in their natural condition,” Shirin Salartash, member of the Iran Asil Association, explains.

One of the most memorable moments of the show was probably Malek Alnasban’s performance in the class of 7 – 9 years old stallion. The bay stallion wowed spectators and judges likewise and received a perfect 20 for his amazing movement. “On the second day when four black Asils did a beautiful performance which brought tears to the eyes of lovers of this breed, the elegance, cadence and power of these lovely horses made some unforgettable moments in the show,” adds Shirin.

The Asil Championship takes place each year. Talking about Asil horses in Iran without referring to the late Mary Leili Gharagozlou is not possible. This strong, passionate lady was the founder of the Iran Asil Association. So the Asil Championship is also a way to honour Mary Leili Gharagozlou (who passed away in 2001) and her legacy. There are much more shows in Iran for Arabian horses in general; sometimes the organizers leave one day for Asils horses, too.

“As the previous years we had a large number of audiences who watched the show with great passion,” says Shirin. “The seats were full and the VIP area was fully booked. The amusement and excitement to see the horses are easy to witness. An Asil is not just a horse for most of them they consider it their family and passion a heritage they were proud of. And the love they showed was deep-rooted in their culture.”

But what is an Asil horse in Iran? “The Asils are the horses which never left Persia and they have not been crossbred with any other breed or any imported horse,” explains Shirin Salartash who was a close friend to Mary Leili Gharagozlou. “The Asil horses are ‘intact’ or ‘unaffected’ and have been living in their homeland forever. These are the genetic pool Persia keeps as the heritage of their great ancestors. And Persians dear this treasure as they believe it is also a breed which belongs to the rest of the world.”

Shirin also speaks very highly of the Persian horses’ unique character: “They are very intelligent as well as powerful and good-tempered. They make such very good companions. One of the hallmarks among Asil breeders to recognize an Asil is its temperament. An Asil does not be shy and respects human as his companion. Persian does not castrate Asils; the reason is they are easy to handle and there is no need to castrate them to control. Of course, Asils are used in competitions, Endurance, classic pleasure classes, etc. The Asils are in races, Endurance, Classic Pleasure, Ridden Trail, and recently some have started showjumping and dressage. They are so good-tempered that even a 5-year-old can ride a mature stallion in complete assurance.”

Unlike in other countries, the breeders in Iran dislike dished face and a flat croup in their Asil horses. Protruding eyes are not welcome, too. “Large, expressive eyes are fine among Asils but too big eyes are a fault,” Shirin specifies and continues: “A small straight head is also one of the traits of an Asil. The legs should be straight and fine as they are riding horses. In the modern time, beauty is also determined by media. The problems that accompany a very dished face is almost neglected a very flat croup is a conformation fault because it hurts the back of the horse in the long term.”

All Asils are WAHO registered and Iran is a WAHO member as well. There is a national studbook which registers all the Arabian horses without mentioning their background. But the Asil horses are registered in an independent registry, too, and the breeders of Asils keep them as they consider it their heritage of old Persian empire. Therefore, an Asil should be in the National studbook and the Asil registry as well.

Arabian Horse Global Network would like to extend thanks for the excellent collaboration to Shirin Salartash and the organizing team of the Iran Asil Association and Equestrian Federation. It was a pleasure to stay in your country, witnessing this special event against the backdrop of a proud, centuries-old culture.