Shagya Arabian Horse Origin and Characteristics

Not everyone agrees that the Shagya Arabian horse is an independent breed. They’re not listed as being a pure Arabian horse, but many don’t see them as being their own breed either. That makes this breed wander in fields of gray when it comes to official recognition.

The World Arabian Horse Organization recognizes the Shagya Arabian with a special status and has done so since 1978. Because the horses of this breed have been purebred since the 19th century in some instances, the organization permits horses with a proven lineage to be termed a purebred Shagya Arabian horse.

Shagya Arabian breeders are also allowed to use the emblem of the World Arabian Horse Organization.

Purebred Shagya Arabians, however, should not be confused with purebred Arabians. That confusion is what has led to the great debate about whether or not this breed should be treated as a distinct bloodline, a sub-type Arabian, or its own designation. 

Shagya Arabians are recognized as being a riding horse. They also perform well when using the harness. In the past, they were often used as a mount for local cavalry forces, so there is a certain formality to their presentation. That has made this breed become a popular choice in a few sporting horse disciplines, such as eventing and dressage.

In 2006, a Shagya Arabian was a world champion in the sport of endurance racing. 

History of the Shagya Arabian Horse

The Shagya Arabian was first developed in the 19th century in the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Studs were found at Radautz, Topolcianky, Piber, Babolna, and Mezohegyes studs. This region, which includes Romania, Poland, Germany, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, still provides the foundation for the continued survival of this breed.

If a Shagya Arabian has pure bloodlines, then its lineage can be traced back to the studs in all lines. Because of this, the breed is sometimes referred to as a sub-type of the Arabian breed instead of being its own breed. It may also be classified as a part-bred or an Anglo-Arabian horse.

The breed is named after one of its primary founding sires, who was named Shagya. He was a gray Arabian, though some argue that his lineage showed that he was only a part-red. Foaled in Syria in 1810, at 15.25 hands, he was taller than most other Arabians at that time. Shagya was used for breeding in Babolna, using his Arabian influence to improve local populations.

Several Arabian stallions were brought to the studs to continue the improvement process. As Turkish influences increased in the region, additional bloodlines from Lipizzans and Thoroughbreds were included with the breeding programs. Pedigree records from all this activity were kept, making it easy to know which horses can be considered a pure-bred Shagya Arabian and which are not.

When this line of horses from the above-mentioned studs were first recognized as an independent breed, there were referred to as the Araberrassee. Many felt that this was a term that was too generic, since it only indicated that the breed came from an Arabian ancestry. It would not be until after the second world war that the idea of naming the breed after the foundation stallion became the preference.

Despite their extensive European history, the Shagya Arabian wouldn’t be introduced to North America until the 1980s. Breeding programs would be established in 1986, with a foundation stallion named Hungarian Bravo leading the way. Hungarian Bravo was foaled from parents that General George S. Patton brought to the US in 1947 as a prize of war. 

Expected Characteristics of the Shagya Arabian Horse

The characteristics of a Shagya Arabian horse are similar to those of a purebred Arabian. Some non-Arabian genetics have been introduced into the breed, however, so there are some slight differences in the conformation. Shagya Arabians tend to be a little taller compared to a purebred Arabian, have bigger bones, and a visual appearance that is somewhat less refined.

A Shagya Arabian should be at least 14.3 hands high. Many horses within this breed exceed 16 hands. In comparison, most Arabians are 15.1 hands high or less in height. The standard range for an Arabian is as small as 14.1 hands. The cannon bone of the horse should be no less than 7 inches. The frame of the horse should always be longer than the horse is tall, with horses presenting with a square frame being listed as “not welcome.” 

The depth of the girth and barrel of the horse should be equal to the frame of the horse. The topline of the horse should extend from the ears to the tip of the tail and support the appearance of a good carriage and riding horse. 

The head should reflect the personality of the horse. The features should be distinctly Arabian, without being heavy or overly large. Roman noses are not usually permitted. The teeth cannot be under- or over-shot. The neck of a Shagya Araba should be arched, long, and noble. The neck mustn’t be set too low and it should support the rideability of the horse. 

Gray is the most common coat color that can be found within this breed. The coat looks white, especially as the horse reaches adulthood, but it is not a true white coloration. Chestnut, bay, and black coat colors are somewhat common within the breed as well.

To become a registered Shagya Arabian, the horse must pass a thorough evaluation process. Purebred Arabians also qualify to be registered as a Shagya Arabian if they can pass the evaluation. Judging is based on 7 criteria, including head, neck, body, type, legs, trot, and walk. 

Foals are scored on type, conformation, and movement. Measurements are reserved for adult horses only. Stallions are evaluated for free jumping and free lunging of all gaits if conditions are favorable for doing so.

The Shagya Arabian horse may be its own breed or it could be listed as a sub-type of a true Arabian. Both descriptions are somewhat accurate. Over time, the lineage that comes from the stallion Shagya may develop even more of its own personality and conformation preferences, especially with clear expectations being in place.

Until then, the debate about this horse breed will likely continue.