Origin: Arabia. Now widespread throughout the world, many countries have produced separate strains.
Height: Roughly 14.2-15.1hh, but can be smaller and occasionally a trifle larger according to the severity of climate and richness of pasture.COLOR: Gray, bay, chestnut; occasionally black.
Character: Remarkably spirited horse, fiery and airy; possessed of great intelligence; bold, loyal, and enduring.
Physique: Exquisite head, short and fine, with concave face, wide nostrils on an elegant muzzle, large, dark eyes, and small, prick ears; carried nobly ona graceful arched neck, set into good shoulders. Body compact and well-muscled with strong hindquarters; legs at once delicate and strong; feet small and hard. The whole effect is one of symmetry and grace, carried with pride and full of life, and the action is straight, free, and airy.
Allah said to the South Wind: “Become solid flesh, for I will make a new creature of thee, to the honor of My Holy One, and the abasement of Mine enemies, and for a servant to them that are subject to Me.”
And the South Wind said: “Lord, do Thou so.”
Then Allah took a handful of the South Wind and he breathed thereon, creating the horse and saying: “Thy name shall be Arabian, and virtue-hound into the hair of thy forelock and plunder on thy back. I have preferred them above all beasts of the burden since I have made thy master thy friend. I have given thee the power of flight without wings, be it in on-slaught or retreat, I will set men on thy back, that shall honor and praise and sing Hallelujah to My name.” Bedouin legend.
The Arab horse has been selectively bred for more than 1,000 years longer than any other breed, and some claim that he has run wild in the deserts of Arabia for many millennia. Others disagree because no prehistoric horse bones have ever been found in the desert, and they are supported by the fact that the Arab was not one of the 12 breeds mentioned by the Romans; nor is there any mention of him in pre-Roman history.
The Mohammedans believed that Allah created him out of a handful of the south wind; but the mundane truth of it must be that, like all other breeds of horse and pony, the Arab evolved over many centuries from the prehistoric wild horses who roamed the plateaux and steppes of Europe and Asia before man was civilized, and who looked very much like the Tarpan and the Asiatic Wild Horse of today.
Selective breeding of the Arabs by the Bedouin has been going on since at least the time of Mohammed (7th century AD), and there is evidence to suggest that it was practiced for as long as a thousand years before that. The Bedouins’ ruthless attention to the purity of line – so absolute that unless an ahorse was known to be asil (pure) he could never be bred into the rail line, no matter how perfect his conformation – plus the exceptional hardships of the desert climate are the two factors that have produced this, the most graceful and individual horse in the world. Food was scarce in the desert.
Grass grew only in winter and early spring, and for the rest of the year, the horses lived off camel’s milk, dried dates, locusts, and dried camel’s meat. Only the strong could endure it. So convinced was Mohammed of the military importance of these tough desert horses, which he bought from the wandering tribes and paid for with human slaves, that he wrote into the Koran an irresistible injunction to men to feed their horses well: “Many grains of barley as thou givest thy horse, so many sins shall be forgiven thee.”
Religious commandments reinforced by an extraordinary passion for their horses led the Bedouin into a man-to-horse relationship unequaled to this day. It was to last for 13 centuries. Not only did a man share his food with his horse, but even slept with him; and this, too, was on the instruction of Mohammed (“The Evil One dare not enter into a tent in which a pure-bred horse is kept”).
The mares, and not the stallions, were the most highly prized and were the mounts that were used for war and plunder. Purity of bloodline was treated with fanatical seriousness, and horses were generally inbred to reinforce good qualities – an entirely foreign concept to the Western breeder, whose school of thought has it that inbreeding produces congenital weaknesses. The several hundred “families” of the Arabian horse are divided into three main types, which are still to be seen today. They are:
Kehylan – masculine type, a symbol of power and endurance,
Seglawi – feminine type, a symbol of beauty and elegance,
Muniqi – angular type, a symbol of speed and racing.
The breeding of one Arabian type with another is not always desirable, since the offspring is sometimes of lesser quality than either parent.
Arabs were probably first introduced into Europe during the Moorish invasion of the western IVI Mediterranean. Incidental breeding with local mares must have occurred, but there is little evidence to suggest that there was thought of as anything more than perhaps a decorative parade mount.
During the Crusades, captured Arab horses seem again to have acquired some stature ass fit mounts for kings and princes on state occasions, though as cavalry chargers they never entered into consideration because the heavy armor of the times required horses of enormous size and power to carry it. Light arms and armor changed all that. From the Renaissance through the Napoleonic wars the superiority of the Turkish mounts, fleetness of foot and movement, and endurance were obvious, and the demand for Arab blood began to grow in Europe.
Following the disastrous retreat from Moscow in the bitter winter of 1812, Napoleon’s aide-de-camp wrote to his superior officer:
The Arab horse withstood the exertions and privations better than the European horse. After the cruel campaign in Russia, almost all the horses the Emperor had left were his Arabs. General Hubert was only able to bring back to France one horse out of his five, and that was an Arab. Captain Simonneau, of the General Staff, had only his Arab left at the end, and so it was with me els°.
Given such proofs as these, Arabians were wanted wherever courage and stamina were at a premium and so it came about that during the Crimean War vital news of the Russian defeat was entrusted to an Arab-mounted messenger. The bay stallion Omar Pasha galloped 93 miles from Silistrato Varna in one day. His rider died of exhaustion, but Omar Pasha seemed fresh as ever. Arab horses are sometimes known as Drinkers of the Wind.
Today the Arabian is bred in many countries, showing slight differences in type according to national preference and variations in height and build according to the climate and the pasture (obviously a horse bred on rich temperate-zone pasture will be bigger and softer than his dry, desert-bred cousin). Though his cavalry days are over, his dash and spirit as a riding horse ensure his future, and his prepotency as a sire will endure, as in so many cases in the past, wherever a new breed of quality and fire is evolved.
See more: Appaloosa Horse