Shagyas are born riding and carriage horses. The Shagya Arabian is a special Arabian breed which is not very well known worldwide because of its rarity. The breed was developed 150-200 years ago on the famous military stud farms of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. With its origins deriving from purebred desert Arabians, the Shagya breed was consolidated many generations ago, so that it breeds consistently true to type. The Shagyas combine the advantages of the Bedouin Arabian, (elegant type, great hardiness and toughness, endurance, easy keeping qualities, and inborn friendliness toward humans), with the requirements of a modern riding horse, i.e. sufficient height, big frame, and great "rideability", including excellent movement and enormous jumping ability. If purebred Arabians are considered the "diamonds" of the horse world, Shagyas can be considered the "brilliants", cut and polished in order to fulfill the demand for high quality riding and driving horses in the modern world.
This special Arabian breed, was created on the famous Austro-Hungarian military stud farms, primarily in Hungary at Babolna, Radautz, and Piber. Later studfarms in Topolcianky (Czechoslovakia), Mangalia (Romania), and Kabijuk (Bulgaria) also bred Shagyas. The purpose was to develop a breed of superior cavalry and carriage horses, as well as a breed which could supply prepotent breeding stallions to be used as improvers for other breeds. The Shagyas not only served as cavalry horses in many European theaters of war, they were also used as brilliant parade horses for Europe’s royalty. The Imperial guard of the Habsburgs in Vienna were always mounted on elegant Shagyas. The toughness, endurance, rideability, and courage of these horses was proverbial in horse breeding circles: "Tough as a Radautz horse". Every royal guard or officer regarded it a privilege to be able to ride a Shagya. Even today one can still admire many statues commemorating the heroic deeds of theses horses in Hungary.
The Shagya breed can be said to have begun in 1789, when, as a result of an edict from the Emperor, the Babolna stud was founded 36 miles west of Budapest. The conditions for developing a superior breed were extremely favorable. Not only was the studfarm endowed with gigantic pastures ideal for horse husbandry, it was also managed by the Magyars, Hungary’s talented native horsemen, who had highly developed skills as horse breeders.
The foundation stallions of the Shagya breed were original desertbred Arabians. They were bred with mares which showed a great deal of Arabian influence due to the long Turkish occupation of Eastern Europe. English Thoroughbreds and Lippizaners were also used occasionally in order to increase size and to improve movement and riding qualities. Meticulous records were kept of the breeding program in the studbooks. These venerable volumes contain not only the pedigree, color, and measurements of all of the stallions and mares used, they also record many other characteristics of the individuals and of their offsprings. The oldest mareline recorded is that of Moldvai, born in 1781. Another famous mareline is that of Tine, born in 1810. This mare is from the Hanidani strain from the Nedsch region, famous source of desertbred Arabians. From the basis of these mares and stallions, the breed was further developed by carefully breeding back time and again only to desertbred and purebred Arabians, combined with rigorous culling and selection. This long-term process can be traced in an unbroken line from the Shagyas of today all the way back to the beginning of the breed. Many Shagyas have pedigrees over 20 generations long. Only a few purebred Arabians in Europe can show such long and complete pedigrees.
The major progenitors of the Shagya breed were purchased by experts who were sent from Hungary on difficult and dangerous expeditions to the deserts of Arabia. Very high prices were paid for these prized individuals. The most important stallion to mention is the dappled-grey stallion Shagya, born in 1810. He was bred by the Bani Saher tribe of Bedouins, and came to Babotna in 1836. He was such an outstanding producer that he appears in nearly all Shagya pedigrees. He not only pressed his stamp on the breed, he also gave it his name. Shagya was not only a "picture perfect" stallion, he also turned out to be extremely prepotent. Other foundation stallions include the original Arabians Gazlan-Gazal, Koheilan, Mersuch, Dahoman, Siglavy, Siglavy-Bagdady, the black O’Bajan, and two stallions which came from the royal studfarm of Weil in Wurtenberg – Amurath and Kemir. Kuhailan Haifi, Ktthaylan Zaid, and the Egyptian stallions Ibn Gaial and Farag were used later and also have influenced the breed.
Shagya Arabians are taller, have a bigger frame, and possess better riding horse qualities than purebred Arabians. This is the result of over 150 years of selection in order to create a horse which is bigger, stronger, and more versatile than purebred Arabians for riding and driving.
Today’s horse is considered obsolete as a war instrument, and instead must earn his keep as a partner in horse sports. The Shagyas are therefore not obsolete because they have the qualities necessary to be ideal for dressage, jumping, endurance, and hunting. They are also eminently suitable to perform as pleasure horses for the enjoyment of the whole family. They are also outstanding for carriage driving. During the 1930’s Tibor von Petko-Szandtner, the former director of Babolna, thrilled audiences across Europe with his five-in-hand team of Shagya carriage horses. Shagyas have also proven themselves successful in open competitions against warmbloods in dressage, jumping, and 3-day eventing.
Contributed By: Oklahoma State Universit