Introduction: The Arabian is said to be the purest bred and most beautiful of all horses. This may be the greatest of the world's pure breeds, and it has added quality to every breed with which it has been crossed. It is certainly a breed of international importance. These horses are legendary--I have included some of the legends under curiosities. If you have any comments or suggestions, please click here.
Names: Arab, Arabian. I may use both on this page. Named for the part of the world known as Arabia even before the country was called Saudi Arabia. Called Banat er Rih by the Bedouin, which in Arabic means "Daughter of the Wind."
The Arab horse may be the oldest domesticated species in the
world. Early rock drawings depict slender horses with arched necks and the
typical high-flung tails, for all the world like today's Arabs. It has
been bred true to type for many centuries and is believed to originate as far
back as 2,000-3,000 B.C. Indeed, proof of its existence before the year 3000 B.C. is
said to be given
by archeological finds that have come to light in the deserts of Saudi
Did the Arabian originate as a wild native horse or was it brought to the desert from the East? Importation--perhaps by the Hittites--seems the likeliest explanation. Yet archaeology has shown that the lower region of Arabia, the Nedj, was once green and well watered, and its underlying rock is limestone, a factor in the development of sound bones. In such conditions a native horse could have flourished.
There are many theories about the origins of the Arabian horse. That it is unique among equines is certain, and since all the earliest movements of horses appear to have been from the north, from Central Asia rather than the other way around, the Persian claim for theirs being the older breed and the Akhal-Teke part ancestor to the Arab horse, could be correct. However, in truth, there is little proof to show either way. Until the Assyrian era, about 745 to 727 B.C., no Arabians were pictured with horses, they were always riding camels. The horse pedigree records date from the 6th century A.D.
Arabian horses have been known in Britain for centuries; possibly they were introduced by Phoenician traders. They were also imported by James I, Oliver Cromwell and Charles II.
Arabians came to America in various ways. In the late 1800's several were imported by a breeder named Randolph Huntington who hoped to create a "national" horse of a refined and distinctive type, using the great trotter Henry Clay as foundation sire.
Forty-five desert horses were sent by the Turkish government to the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 as part of an elaborate show. Fire and other disasters befell the troupe in Chicago and the horses that survived were sold. Eight were of the purest Arabian strains, and two of these became foundation horses in the American Registry.
When recent (1951) wars threatened the Arabian horse with extinction, Sir Wilfred Blunt and his wife, Lady Anne, imported the finest Arab mares and stallions into England. They knew that Arab blood is a white flame in its purity and, if it were snuffed out, there would be no way to refresh the blood of modern breeds. Today America is helping in the crusade which the Blunts began. There are now more Arabian horses in the United States than in all Arabia!
Total number of Arabians registered is more than 70,000 (1970s); 76 were registered in 1908 when the Arabian Horse Club of America was formed.
phase of Arabian lore seems certain: the existence of Al Khamseh
(or el khamsa), the foundation mares of the five families from
which subfamilies later branched out. However, authorities disagree on
what strains are included. About twenty strains of "asil" are currently
recognized, the most widespread being the Kuhaylan. (The origin of
"The Five" remains legendary and the stories vary with the
sources. Some of these legends are recorded below under Curiosities.)
The true Arabian desert horse has remained "asil," pure bred, partly because of the Arab's rigid ideas on purity of line, and partly due to inbreeding, in a relatively small area, of a comparatively small stock of highly prized animals--that were further culled by natural and human selection for the qualities of intelligence, endurance, alertness and speed, all of which were necessary for survival. Fortunately, the purity of the Arabian has continued to be the prime consideration of modern breeders throughout the world, and they have maintained it. The American registry, for example, permits no outcrossing with other breeds and scrutinizes all entries, even conducting blood tests if lineage is in doubt. This purity and the absence of undesirable characteristics may account for the exceptional ability of Arabians to transmit desirable qualities when crossed with other breeds.
The majority of Arabian horses are "kudsh," or impure, a term applied to either Arabians of faulty lines or to all horses except pure Arabians. In this breed mares have greater importance than stallions. Lineage, unlike that of other breeds, is traced through the dam side. Mares are valued more for pedigree than for conformation; the opposite being true for the males. The sire of an "asil" foal, however, must be himself "asil." The desert Arabs regard purity of line so rigidly that if a mare has once been mated with a "kudsh" stallion, all future foals are considered "kudsh" regardless of the sire. Purebred Arabian mares were so carefully guarded that until recent times it was almost impossible to bring one out of Arabia. (Empress Catherine the Great of Russia was able to acquire a number of matched stallions and mares.)
Today most of our finest Arabians are connected with the famous Crabbet Park and, now dispersed, Hanstead stud. Years of plentiful food and type breeding have produced many larger animals in Britain and countries outside the Middle East than those typical small Arabian horses, now at this time being bred-up from original desert lines at the Royal Stud in Jordan. Trivia: The WAHO is the World Arabian Horse Association, which approves the Arabian studbooks worldwide.
According to the Raswaan, the foremost authority on the subject, there are three basic types of Arab: the Assil or Kocklani, the purebred Arab, and the Arab breed. The Assil, which also came to be described by different tribes as Kohuail, Koheil, Khamsa or Kamsat, is said to be the true Bedouin Arab. It can be classified into three sub breeds: the Kuhailan, symbol of endurance, the Siglavy, the image of beauty and elegance, and the Muniqi, the ultimate expression of speed. In comparison with the others, the Muniqi tends to be more elegant in appearance and has longer limbs, a longer neck and back, and a straight profile. It is said that the purebred Arab is the result of crossing the three main sub breeds, whereas the Arab breed includes animals whose precise origins are uncertain, or whose pedigrees reflect the influence of the Berber (that is, the Barb), the Persian, the Syrian, the Egyptian Arab, and other related breeds. Most Arabs bred in Europe belong to this last group.
According to Guarmani (1824 - 1884) another famous horse expert, the Assil type can be divided into two basic types, which have each, in turn, given rise to five sub-breeds or strains: the Kamsat el Ressul type and the Kamsat el Mascecur type. The former can be divided into the strains of Gilfi, Manaki, Makladi, Saklani and Koheilan and the second includes the Obeyan, Gedran, Sueti, Daageni and Heabescian lines.
Note: There seem to be many ways to spell the various Arabic words in English. Following are some possible spellings you may see: Assil, Asil, asil (pure; Kocklani, Kohuail, Koheil, Khamsa and Kamsat are related words, although Khamsa and Kamsat probably mean "five" and Kohuail and Koheil may be forms of Kuhailan, which is also a strain); kudsh (impure); Kuhailan, Koheilan, Keheilan, Kehylan (a strain; may mean "pure" or "with eyes that look painted"; represents a masculine type); Seglawi, Siglavy (a strain; this may also be the same as Saklaui and Saklani; represents a feminine type); Muniqi, Munighi, Manaki, Managhi (a strain; may mean "with a superb neck"; compared to the former two, it tends to be more elegant in appearance and has longer limbs, a longer neck and back, and a straight profile); other strains include Hedban (probably the same as Hadban), Abeyan (probably the same as Obeyan), Hamdani, Gedran (may be related to the Gidran Arabian of Hungary), Hedregi, Gilfi, Trefi, Makladi, Sueti, Daageni, and Heabescian.
I already have too much information about the origin and breeding of the Arabian horse, but would like to add this information from a fairly old source. It states that the breeding area, of course, was originally Arabia, in the Nedjd Highlands, but today it is bred in many studs all over the world. There is large-scale breeding of the Arabian in Poland, Janow Podlaski Stud; Hungary, Babolna Stud; Germany, Marback Stud; the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. For several years, the foremost of all Arab studs has been El Zaraah, near Cairo, in Egypt (Arab Horse Society). The same source also states that the Arab breed possibly goes back to the Babylonian Empire and Egypt at the time of the pharaohs. It was taken over later by the nomadic Bedouin during the decline of the ancient civilization and the fall of the Roman Empire, and reared by them thereafter. According to fable, all pure-blooded Arab horses can trace their ancestry back to the seven mares of the prophets (plural according to the source; I also need to find the reference for seven instead of five). In actual fact, however, the origin is obscure. This source continues to say that nowadays (at the time of publishing) hardly any good quality Arab horses are to be found in the Nedjd. The best are found at El Zaraah, near Cairo, where only carefully selected material is used. During the course of history, the Arab has become the direct or indirect progenitor of all warm-blood breeds in every part of the globe. (While this last statement is generally, or at least popularly, accepted, I still find it difficult to believe and continue to research the influence of the Barb and other Oriental breeds in comparison to the Arabian.) The three foundation sires of the English Thoroughbred were Orientals: Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian: so are a large number of the top ranking mares in the General Stud Book.
Description: An elegant horse of the
type. The conformation has been called perfect, although
I do think this is a matter of opinion! Many
of the unique qualities of this breed are based on structural advantages.
The Bedouin cannot afford to "do" their foals well, and cow-hocks are common because of this and too-young riding (Desert Arabs), but although the Royal (Jordanian) horses are well fed and without this defect, they seldom make more than 15 hands, nor attain the dimensions of the large type Arabians. Nor would the true desert horse thrive, or be able to cope with its exacting environment, if it did so. Still, the desert Arabians of Jordan are said to be taller animals (than the Persian Arab) that lack the characteristic "dished" profile.
Action: Smooth gaits. Harmonious, supple movements; resilient, but not long stride. According to at least one source, it often walks faultily, and has a flat trot, but light gallop.
Body: Barrel short and compact, with well-sprung ribs, broad, short loins, and straight, short back. Abdomen rather tucked up. Compactness comes from having fewer vertebrae than other horses. While there seems to be some confusion about the actual numbers, most sources agree that the ordinary horse has 18 or 19 thoracic (ribbed) vertebrae, 6 lumbar (ribless) vertebrae, and 18 tail vertebrae. The Arabian, in contrast, has 17 or 18 pairs of ribs, 5 lumbar vertebrae, and 16 or 17 tail vertebrae. Chest well-muscled, broad and deep. Croup broad and flat; one source said often short and round. The nearly tireless propelling power of the hindquarters is due partly to their unusual length in relation to the short back that is characteristic of the breed. Shoulders long and well-inclined, with shock-absorbing slope. Some sources say the withers are prominent and clearly defined, others not very pronounced, others rather sharp and high. Short, compact rump.
Color: All solid. Grey or white very common. Usual colors are brown, bay, chestnut, and gray; more rarely, black and roan.
Hair: Coat silky and very fine, with exceptional sheen. Mane and tail not very thick and exceptionally fine and silky. Tail carried in a high plumed arch, especially in movement; strong enough to hold aloft a Bedouin rider's wind-tossed cloak; never pulled or trimmed; full, set-on high, and carried with elegance.
Small, delicate, light, and chiseled with wedge-shaped face. Broad, wide,
prominent forehead tapering to
a fine muzzle with flared nostrils and fine lips. It has been said that these horses should be able to lip water from a tea
cup. (One source said that the muzzle should be small and delicate enough to fit
into a teacup.) Ears small and alert, curved and
pricked, with inward-pointing tips. Eyes large and expressive, round,
dark, set low and wide apart, with protruding appearance. An unusually wide angle of vision is afforded to the Arabian by the wide spacing
and prominence of its eyes. Strong jaw, with well-defined, disc-like
cheekbones. The profile, very characteristic of the breed, is often concave or "dished,"
making the naturally large nostrils seem even bigger; sometimes straight or only slightly
dished; gazelle-like, with a tapering muzzle. Even the teeth are unique, much smaller and finer than in horses of other types.
Bedouins claim that the Arabian's intelligence is accounted for by its large brain pan, which is why a wide forehead, or "jibbah," is especially valued. (Actually, I believe the "jibbah" is the bulging forehead, not just the wide one. This is confirmed in at least one source, which describes the "jibbah" as a shield-shaped bulge between the horse's eyes.)
Hooves: Small, very round, and with very tough horn.
Legs: Short, clean, very strong, and resistant to disease and injury. One source said sinewy and well-developed, though not always quite correctly placed, with hocks and knees often weak, and constricted joints; I have not often found the legs of the Arabian horse criticized. The bones, though slender, are ivory hard and very dense, and the prominent tendons have steely resistance. Well-muscled, with broad joints, tendons clearly defined and prominent. Pasterns springy, slightly longer than Thoroughbred's. Long fetlocks.
Neck: Flexible, muscular, and well arched into the head. Curved, fine, and graceful. Long and crested, broad at the base and well set-on to the body, with a thick mane. Another asset, contributing to stamina and freedom from respiratory ailments, is the very large windpipe of the Arabian, with a wide entrance at the throat.
Size: Runs 14 to 15 hands (1.45 to 1.55 meters), though the horses will grow larger in favorable environments and in some cases, may fall below the lower limit. Weight ranges from 840 to 990 pounds (380 to 450 kilograms). Small size is the result of evolving in an environment where forage is sparse. Even the smallest Arabians are big enough. Warriors of all eras rode them to battle. An older source stated seldom over 15 hands, but in more recent times they are often bred bigger, especially in Western countries.
Skin: Thin and elastic, covered with short silky hairs. Also dark; an adaptation developed over generations of exposure to desert sun. Under the hair, the skin had to be jet black for protection against the rays of the sun. This underlying blackness is still found in Arabians today, and it gives to the coat a lively luster.
Temperament: A typical "hot-blooded" breed--spirited and proud, but gentle, kind, and very intelligent. Good natured, generous, and undemanding. Some sources say highly strung.
Features: Small, delicate, and
fiery, with great power and stamina. Known for their elegant appearance.
at least one less vertebra in each section (thoracic, lumbar and tail) than other breeds. Exceptional speed, endurance and
sight. Extraordinarily strong constitution. Swift
and strong, with well-proportioned and elegant lines. Owners of Arabian horses prize their beauty and spirit under
saddle. They can endure on the scantiest fare, even dry herbage,
bruised dates, or dead locusts. On average it lives to an
age of 21, but it is in its prime between seven and 14, which would explain an
Arab saying: “Seven years for my brother, seven years for me, and seven years
for my enemy” - which gives a fairly accurate description of the Arab
horse’s range of performance throughout its life.
This may be a matter of opinion, but at least one source has stated that the Arabian horse is unsurpassed by any other breed for beauty, harmony, high breeding, courage, endurance, excellent constitution and, of course, intelligence.
One thing that I find to be an interesting feature of the Arabian, which is discussed more fully under Origin and Breeding at this point in time, is noted in a calendar I found. It stated that the Arab was captured and domesticated in several locations, resulting in various strains of the breed with slight differences in appearances among them. While that may be partly due to where it was domesticated and partly simply to where it was bred later on, it nevertheless is true and I hope to eventually have at least a page discussing the different strains and possibly "breed" pages for each strain. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Bedouin Arab, sometimes called the Original or Elite Arab.
horse; light draft. Though generally regarded as pleasure horses, some Arabians
are being bred for stock work, which they do with characteristic intelligence.
A talented all-rounder, but it excels as an endurance horse with stamina and
toughness second to none.
The Arab was the Bedouin's most treasured possession, but it was probably not loved as a pet. Instead, it was depended on for early warning of the enemy, and as a swift and safe mount in battle. Mares were preferred in riding, as well as more important in breeding. Their milk was sometimes used for nourishment.
The most important use of the Arabian, however, is that of breeding. Wise horsemen are carrying on the strain, breeding Arabian stallions to Arabian mares to preserve the blood in its purity. Then it will always be available for future generations. Arabian blood is like the rare elements added to steel which give it the superior qualities of fineness and strength.
Most elegant as saddle and coach horse; also a racehorse. Due to his outstanding prepotency, used for improving nearly all warm-blood and native breeds. Definitely participated in the creation of the Thoroughbred.
Arab blood runs in other breeds, largely because of the Arab's ability to stamp its conformation, stamina, and good nature on its offspring.
Its stamina makes it a popular choice for endurance, trail, and long-distance riding competitions.
most importantly--almost every other breed
has an Arabian ancestor, and all
registered English Thoroughbreds
trace back to three sires
of Arabian blood.
The mark of Arabian blood is clear in many modern breeds. It was the key contribution in the formation of the Thoroughbred, whose foundation sires--Matchem, Eclipse, and Herod--were of Eastern ancestry. In England breeding of Thoroughbred sires to mares of strong Arab blood was continued for generations with excellent results: Thoroughbred descendants of the Darley Arabian won 87 percent of the runnings of the English Derby over a period of 127 years.
The Darley Arabian also contributed to the evolution of America's Standardbred trotters and pacers. A Darley descendant, Imported Messenger, was great-grandfather of Hambletonian 10, a chief Standardbred foundation sire.
is the horse of the Arabian desert, an ancient breed famed for its loyalty,
intelligence, and endurance. The following are selections from the colorful lore of Arabian
This legend concerns the origin of the five major strains within the breed and tells of Salaman, a famous Arab horseman of the 17th century BC, whose herd had traveled the desert many days without water. When water at last was reached and the horses were crowding toward it to drink, Salaman was forced to summon them back with the call to battle. Five mares obeyed, resisting the urge to slake their thirst. These noble animals--called Al Khamseh ("the five")--became the chief foundation mares of the Arabian horse family. Or so the legend goes.
This is another version of the above story: The storytellers relate that the Prophet Mohammed would tolerate only the most obedient mares for his campaigns. To test them he penned a hundred thirst-maddened horses within sight and smell of a clear stream. Turned loose at last, they stampeded for water but, almost there, they heard the notes of the war bugle. Only five mares halted. These were chosen by the Prophet to mother the race.
One of the five was named "Of-the-Cloak" because of a curious incident. A rider, escaping from an enemy, threw off his cloak for greater freedom. Picture his surprise when he arrived in camp to find that the arched tail of his mare had caught and held the cloak. Ever afterward this mare's descendants were called Abeyan or "Of-the-Cloak." Today the up-flung tail of the Arab is one of the chief characteristics of the species.
Another popular tradition claims that the Arab descends from the five mares of Muhammad that were the first to reach Mecca out of a total of eighty-five sent by the Prophet to bring news of the victory. (Which victory, I don't know!)
According to one legend, the Arab is descended from seven original ancestors, selected by King Solomon from the forty thousand chariot horses and twelve thousand riding horses that he owned. From these seven steeds, so the legend goes, seven breeds were subsequently produced: Koheilan (with eyelids that look painted), Manaki (of the superb neck), Hedregi (energetic and tireless), Saklani (brave and intelligent), Gilfi (swift and powerful), Hedban (noble and valiant), and Trefi (proud).
A lion challenged an Arabian horse to a sight contest. The cat distinguished a white pearl in milk--but the horse won by discerning a black pearl embedded in coal!
The story of the creation of the Arabian horse says that the Creator took a handful of south wind and said, "I create thee, O Arabian; I give thee flight without wings."
Mohammed taught that, "Every grain of barley given to a horse is entered by God in the Register of Good Works," and his conquests were made possible by the horses his warriors rode.
An Arab chieftain jealously guarded his mare's reputation, and bred her to only the noblest of stallions so that the pedigree of the foal became sacred. Often it was inscribed on parchment and tied in a little bag around the foal's neck, with a few azure beads to keep away evil spirits. When a foal was several months old, it was given a camel as a nurse-mare.
In Libya there are rock paintings said to be more than 8,000 years old that depict a horse very similar to today's Arab.
Another curiosity is that of the so-called "bloody-shouldered Arabian." Actually, I don't believe this is a trait unique to the Arabian, but it is very rare in any breed! Please see this link for more details -- Sweet Meadows Sanaya.
- Queen Victoria rode this chestnut Arab for seventeen years. Magnolia
- George Washington's Arabian charger; delicately made, but she was big
enough to carry him through his fiercest campaigns. Marengo - Napoleon's
desert stallion; bore him on his long retreat from Moscow.
Bedouin legends trace the Arab back to a stallion called Hoshaba. (I have heard of this, but need to look up more information on the subject.)
my conclusion, I have chosen the selection below from Marguerite Henry's Album of
Horses (see Books
on this site). But first, a quote from Brehm's Life of Animals,
as cited in The Empire of Equus, representing the sentiments of
nineteenth-century Arab horsemen:
"Do not tell me that this animal is my Horse; say that he is my son. It runs more quickly than the wind of a storm, more swiftly than the glance that sweeps the plain. It is pure as gold. Its eye is clear and so keen that it sees a hair in the dark. It overtakes the gazelle in its course. To the Eagle it says: I hurry on like you! When it hears the shouts of girls, it neighs with joy, and the whistling of bullets rejoices its heart. From the hands of women it begs for alms; the enemy it beats in the face with its hoofs. When it can run to its heart's desire, it weeps tears. It recks not whether the sky be clear or the blasts of the desert obscure the light of the sun with dust; for it is a noble steed and despises the rage of the storm. There is no other in this world that could vie with it. Swift as a Swallow, it courses on; so light is its weight that it could dance on the breast of your beloved and not annoy her. Its pace is so gentle that you could drink a cup of coffee on its back, when its speed is highest, and not spill a drop. It understands all like a son of Adam, and all it lacks is speech."
And Marguerite Henry: And so the blood of the "Daughters of the Wind" has streamed west, its strength undiluted, its character unchanged. In the wide-set eyes of these Arabian horses there is still the fire of sun and stars, and in their motion the flow of small winds and the tide of great ones. War horses. Builders of other breeds. Yet holders of their own purity.
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