An interview with Mohammed Machmoum
By Claudia Darius
Photos by Erwin Escher
Article courtesy of Tutto Arabi
How did your passion for Arabian Horses get its start?
My little story with the Arabian horse started in 1990 when I was preparing my veterinary doctorate's thesis. In my genetic study, I compared the Arabian with the Moroccan horse (the Berber). Therefore I had the opportunity to analyse a few hundred horses and to see to what degree this noble creature is distinguished and releases the purity through its morphological expression.
After having integrated also the national stud farm, my contact with the Arabian horse became more professional, especially concerning breeding, reproduction, horse identification and stud book management.
It gave me the chance to visit all the important studs in Morocco and their breeding programs. Since that time, I have set myself my principal aim: To have the professional ability in order to appreciate a horse suitably. In that moment, my judge career had begun.
Have you ever imagined (or perhaps dreamt) how much those horses would mean to you one day ? And which were your aims already in that early time?
Honestly, I never thought that the Arabian horse would become for me a source of passion and inspiration; It all came with time and experience, and my love doubled with curiosity and desire of more discoveries.
Nowadays, the Arabian horse for me has a connotation of purity, strength and beauty added to the ancestral mystery around it.
I do believe that the Arabian horse was, still is and will always be the rarest known species having this universal unanimity!
My most important aims regarding the Arabian horse are firstly, to contribute to his development in my own country - Maghreb - and in a modest way also around the world, like I did already in Libya, Senegal, the Sultanate of Oman and the UAE.
Secondly, my permanent aims are the characterization of different Arabian horse bloodlines in a scientific and precise manner as well as the analysis of different breeding programs.
Finally, I wish to try to connect what was written on this breed, particularly in the Arabian literature, with what is current and real.
You have been working as an appreciated and much requested judge at international level for many years. Which was your first show and how have shows changed over the years?
I will never forget my first probation with Mr Barbier Depreaudeau during the French National Championship in 1991, at Pompadour. He passed to me the right base for judging. To me, standing in the ring with him was a memorable experience. That's why I'm still thankful to him.
Since that moment, I've never missed any opportunity to learn, ask or read about the mysterious beauty of Arabian horses. Yet, as a scientist, I always aim at objectives and precise answers: that it so difficult to achieve!
After a few years, I understood that horse assessment concerns at the same time science and subjectivity. Passion finds its expression in subjectivity, and that expression remains ingrained in each impassioned individual.
However, when passion is collective, its interpretation concerns the culture and individual vision. So the Arabian horse appreciation could be introduced as a common passion with individual perception. This explains the great richness and value of the Arabian horse.
I started to develop a strong appreciation for horses in general more than 18 years ago, studying their habits and qualities, seeing more horses, speaking to the professionals, like breeders and international judges.
But, in order to be qualified as an official International ECAHO A-judge, I attended the judge courses in 1996, 1998 and 2004 - apart from judging many national and international shows. During these courses, I was strongly supported by the Royal Moroccan Arabian Horse Breeders Society.
In general, the show environment changed a lot, both in a positive way - more new shows, more professional organization, best quality of horses - and in some negative ways such as limited panels of handlers and judges who participate everywhere.
I think it's urgent that the ECAHO starts thinking about a program/strategy which could assure a larger panel of new judges and proceed with their qualification in the next few years. Also, the ECAHO has to think about a good system in order to give this new generation of judges the opportunity to participate in the shows.
From your point of view, what is the most difficult criterion to judge?
Before answering this question, let me recall my fundamental principles of judging: knowledge, passion and impartiality!
Also, when we appreciate an Arabian horse in the arena, indirectly we evaluate the breeding program which produced this horse. So with the marks, the jury approves or rejects the result of this program.
These thoughts give higher responsibilities to the judges and prove their important contribution to improve the Arabian breed in the world.
During the shows, it is the presence of high-quality horses that makes judging difficult, especially when you have to decide between horses which have more or less the same value. But with more experience, you can make the difference.
The most subjective category is type. The other categories (head & neck, body and legs) are also difficult to judge, but there are many dimension, proportions and references that the judge can use for the assessment. Concerning movement, it depends a lot on the training and experience of the handler.
Finally the judge has to devote the same attention and concentration to all categories in order to do a correct and objective evaluation.
Can you describe the work of a judge to Tutto ARABI readers? The class starts and the horses enter the arena...
Since the beginning of the class, the judge has to concentrate in order to appreciate the horses correctly and express his judgment and ranking.
It all starts when the whole class is in the arena for the first inspection; this moment is very important, as it provides the judge with the only possibility to have a global idea of the quality of class, to identify the best horses and eventually compare the horses with the same quality.
All this work has to be done in a very short time. This overall assessment is followed by the individual examination of the horses. Also there, the judge acts logically with his method. He has the eye on the horse from its entry in the arena to its exit.
Then he proceeds to examine the individual horse presented in hand from various sides. This examination is done on the base of ECAHO judging references.
However, the judge has to control his emotion and try to be completely detached from the public's reactions, especially in big shows. This attitude is made possible only by experience.
Which system of judging do you prefer personally and why?
In general I believe that the best system for the judge to appreciate and classify the horses is the comparative one.
It allows the judge to have his permanent idea on the whole class, and at the same time compare horses side by side. On the other hand, this system also has some disadvantages for breeders, as it is not possible to see individual marks for each horse!
However, the use of the comparative system is very limited around the world.
The most popular method is the "20-points system": multiple juries with an independent judgement, 5 categories, with half points or not according to the level of the show.
Indeed this system with half points remains the one which offers more possibility to the judges to work easily - especially as regards a more detailed judgment in classes with high quality.
Often it is the half point which makes the difference, in particular for type as well as head and neck.
As to the American system, which excludes the highest note and the lowest one, it has the advantage of guaranteeing homogeneity of the marks given, but it also inhibits inexperienced judges or those who are not accustomed to this system. One effect can be fear that your own note is among those excluded. Moreover, this system is still not practiced very often outside the USA.
Finally, I believe that it is the judge and the harmony of the jury which makes the system successful or not. In other words, there is no perfect judging system but only a good panel of judges...
Besides being a judge, in 2009 you organized some international shows - please tells us about it...
You are referring to the latest international show which took place in Tripoli, Libya, on 14 and 15 August. This event was the result of a whole program aimed at levelling the Arabian horse in this country and I had the honour to contribute to this project on more than only one level. I shared my expertise as an expert in the management of stud books, identification and organization of stockbreeders I have gained since 1994. The LAHBS recorded outstanding performances, recognition of the stud book in 2002 by the WAHO, inclusion in ECAHO in 2004; moreover, it organized regional and national championships in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
This year we organized the first international show in the area of Maghreb. I have contributed modestly to this important event as I had the technical responsibility of the show. My great bet was to make a success of the event in conformity with ECAHO rules and regulations. I think that it was a great success.
For a first experiment, it exceeded expectations; participants showed high quality, there was a panel of high-level judges, an experienced technical staff and especially a large international professional audience from the USA, Europe, the Gulf countries and North African countries.
The impact of this show on the Arabian horse breeding in Libya was very significant, and the fame of ECAHO was also underlined.
On the other hand, it was time that the world of the Arabian horse organized some important international shows in the Maghreb area. I think that the start was made in Libya now.
The second imported appointment was the Moroccan International C-Show organized on 23 and 24 October 2009 by the Royal Moroccan Arabian Horse Breeders Association at El Jadida, during the second edition of Salon du Cheval of Morocco - it truly was a success. I also contributed modestly to this show together with the board of the Association. More than 4000 seats were occupied around the showground... the atmosphere was magical.
I think that in the next future, the Maghreb area will be a very important centre for Arabian horse activities!
Show organization is very complex and requires great experience. The key of success is to find a balance between all people taking part in the show.
Currently, many show organizers complain about the decrease in participants and spectators at the European shows. Do you have the same impression and how do you think the problem could be solved?
Indeed, during the last two years, the decrease in the number of participants in big events for Arabian horses was clearly noticed, in particular in Europe.
This phenomenon occurred at a time when the interest for the Arabian horse in general, and shows in particular was rocketing - it is enough to analyze sale prices of the last few years and the number of new large breeding projects installed.
Several reasons could explain this trend: the economic crisis had an impact, but it is not the only cause.
Indeed, the (legitimate and well-deserved) predominance of some large stables in big international shows contributes to this effect; thus "small" breeders and owners are not encouraged - considering the high level of competition which destroys their chances to be on the podium in these shows.
Moreover, a remarkable development both on the quantitative as well as qualitative level of international shows in the Gulf countries is the price money paid.
Also, I am tempted to see this phenomenon from another angle: this level of participation of horses in international - European, in fact - shows might mark a return towards a relatively normal level dating back to before the "booming years" which correspond to the starting of new stables in particular in the Gulf countries. Future years will certainly bring logical and convincing answers to this question!
What do you expect for the future? Please share with us some of your visions
As an enthusiastic Arabian horse lover, who sees his passion from a professional point of view, I believe that it is time that the international community concerned with the Arabian horse started to restore the balance of the breed.
Today, commercial dimensions and interests are more important than any other qualitative considerations, in particular the conservation and improvement of the breed.
The current development is not reasoned, it certainly harms the breed, especially the Arabian horse's genetic pool - the abusive use of embryo transfer, pushed selection, the dissolution of certain lines, etc.
That doesn't necessarily mean that we are against biotechnology, but we advocate its rational use.
What is necessary is the creation of an international structure/institution or commission made up of experts on the matter of selection, which may take these questions in serious consideration and recommend the authority and supervision of the WAHO, in particular, and ECAHO, in order to find a balance.
The other point relates to the judges. It is time that ECAHO show organizers made an effort to bring more new judges to the international scene.
Indeed a great positive step has already been taken with ECAHO's revision of judges' training, but there are more important steps to take...
What advice would you give to someone who is approaching the world of the purebred Arabian for the first time?
Firstly, that he or she is welcome in the family of Arabian horse enthusiasts. It is an excellent passion, rich and enriching. We realize quickly that the passion for Arabian horses enables you to make meetings and knowledge not easily conceivable in other contexts.
But it must be moderate and rational: we should never forget that the Arabian horse is first of all a "horse" which must have a function!