All About Arabian Horses...
Origin of the Arabian Horse…
The origin of the Arabian horse remains a great mystery. Although this unique breed has had a distinctive national identity for centuries, its history nevertheless is full of subtleties, complexities and contradictions. It defies a short, simple explanation.
The first Arabian horse, or the prototype of what is known today as the Arabian, was somewhat smaller than its counterpart today. The breed has essentially remained unchanged throughout the centuries.
Authorities are at odds about where the Arabian horse originated. The subject is hazardous, for archaeologists' spades and shifting sands of time are constantly unsettling previously established theories. There are certain arguments for the ancestral Arabian having been a wild horse in northern Syria, southern Turkey and possibly the piedmont regions to the east as well. The area along the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent comprising part of Iraq and running along the Euphrates and west across the Sinai and along the coast to Egypt, offered a mild climate and enough rain to provide an ideal environment for horses. Other historians suggest this unique breed originated in the southwestern part of Arabia, offering supporting evidence that the three great river beds in this area provided natural wild pastures and were the centers in which Arabian horses appeared as undomesticated creatures to the early inhabitants of southwestern Arabia.
Because the interior of the Arabian Peninsula has been dry for approximately 10,000 years, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for horses to exist in that arid land without the aid of man. The domestication of the camel in about 3500 B.C. provided the Bedouins (nomadic inhabitants of the middle east desert regions) with means of transport and sustenance needed to survive the perils of life in central Arabia, an area into which they ventured about 2500 B.C. At that time they took with them the prototype of the modern Arabian horse.
There can be little dispute, however, that the Arabian horse has proved to be, throughout recorded history, an original breed-which remains to this very day.
Neither sacred nor secular history tells us the country where the horse was first domesticated, or whether it was first used for work or riding. It probably was used for both purposes in very early times and in various parts of the world. We know that by 1500 B.C. the people of the east had obtained great mastery over their spirited horses, which were the forerunners of the Arabian.
About 3500 years ago the proud and noble horse assumed the role of “King Maker” in the east, including the valley of the Nile and beyond, changing human history and the face of the world. With these horses, the Egyptians explored the vast world beyond their own borders. The Pharaohs were able to expand the Egyptian empire by harnessing the horse to their chariots and relying on its power and courage. With this help, societies of such distant lands as the Indus Valley civilizations were united with Mesopotamian cultures. The empires of the Hurrians, Hittites, Kassites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and others rose and fell under its thundering hooves. The strength of the horse made possible the initial concepts of a cooperative universal society, such as the Roman Empire. The Arabian "pony express" reduced distances, accelerated communications and linked empires together throughout the eastern world.
This awe-inspiring horses of the east appears on seal rings, stone pillars and various monuments with regularity after the 16th century B.C. Egyptian hieroglyphics proclaim their value; Old Testament writings are filled with references to their might and strength. Other writings talk of the creation of the Arabian, "Thou shall fly without wings and conquer without swords." King Solomon some 900 years B.C. eulogized the beauty of "a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots," while in 490 B.C. the famous Greek horseman, Xenophon proclaimed: "A noble animal which exhibits itself in all its beauty is something so lovely and wonderful that it fascinates young and old alike." But when was the "Arabian horse" born? We have seen this same horse for many centuries before the word "Arab" was ever used or implied as a race of people or species of horse.
The origin of the word "Arab" is still obscure. A popular concept links the word with nomadism, connecting it with the Hebrew word, "Arabha," (dark land or steppe land), also with the Hebrew word, "Erebh," (mixed), and hence organized as opposed to organized and ordered life of the sedentary communities, or with the root "Abhar" (to move or pass). "Arab" is a Semitic word meaning "desert" or the inhabitant thereof, with no reference to nationality. In the Koran “A'rab” is used for Bedouins (nomadic desert dwellers) and the first certain instance of its Biblical use as a proper name occurs in Jeremiah, 25:24: "Kings of Arabia," Jeremiah having lived between 626 and 586 B.C. The Arabs themselves seem to have used the word at an early date to distinguish the Bedouin from the Arabic-speaking town dwellers.
The horses flourished under the Semitic people of the east and became known as the horse of the "Arabas." The Bedouin horse breeders were fanatical about keeping the blood of their desert steeds absolutely pure, and through line-breeding and inbreeding, celebrated strains evolved which were particularly prized for distinguishing characteristics and qualities. The mare evolved as the Bedouin's most treasured possession. The harsh desert environment ensured that only the strongest and keenest horses survived, and they are responsible for many of the physical characteristics distinguishing the breed to this day.
Horse of the Desert Bedouin…
Centuries ago, somewhere in the inhospitable deserts of the Middle East, a breed of horse came into being that would influence the equine world beyond all imagination. In the sweet grass oasis along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, in the countries that are now known as Syria, Iraq, and Iran, and in other parts of the Arabia peninsula, this hearty horse developed and would soon be known as the Arabian horse.
To the Islamic people, the horse was considered a gift from Allah, to be revered, cherished and almost worshipped. The horse of the desert was a necessity for the survival of the Bedouin. These people could relate the verbal histories of each of their horse’s family as well as they could their own. The mythology and romance of the breed grew with each passing century as stories of courage and daring, endurance and wealth intermingled with the genealogies.
Certain traits of the breed, it's shape as well as its color, were influenced by religious belief, tradition and even superstition. It was believed that the "Jibbah" or bulging forehead held the blessings of Allah. Therefore the greater the "Jibbah" the greater the blessings carried by the horse. The "Mitbah" or boldly arching neck with a high crest, was a sign of courage, while a flamboyant, flagged tail showed pride. These characteristics were held in high esteem and the Bedouins selectively bred their horses to maintain or increase these traits.
Due in part to the religious significance attached to the Arabian horse, as well as the contribution it made to the wealth and security of the tribe, the breed flourished in near isolation. Traditions of breeding and purity were established to keep the breed "Asil" or pure, in the form intended by Allah. Any mixture of foreign blood from the mountains or the cities surrounding the desert was strictly forbidden. While other desert type breeds developed in North Africa and the periphery of the Great Desert, they were definitely not of the same blood as Arabians and were disdained by the proud Bedouin.
The Arabian horse was primarily an instrument of war, as were horses in general in most societies of the time. The well-mounted Bedouin could attack another tribe and capture their herds of sheep, camels and goats, adding to their own wealth. Such a raid was only successful if the aggressors could attack with surprise and speed and make good their escape. Mares were the best mounts for raiding parties, as they would not nicker to the enemy tribe's horses, warning of their approach. The best war mares exhibited great courage in battle, taking the charges and the spear thrusts without giving ground. Speed and endurance were essential as well, for the raids were often carried out far from the home camp, family and children.
The Bedouin people could be as hospitable as they were fierce. If a desert traveler touched their tent pole, they were obligated to provide for this "guest", his entourage and animals for up to three days without request for payment. A welcome guest would find his mare's bridle hung from the center pole of his hosts' tent to indicate his status. In this way, tribes that were often at war would meet and with great hospitality, break bread and share stories of their bravest and fastest horses.
Races were held with the winner taking the best of the losers herd as their prize. Breeding stock could be bought and sold, but as a rule, the war mares carried no price. If indeed they changed hands it would be as a most honored gift or war riches. Through the centuries the tribes who roamed the northern desert in what is now Syria became the most esteemed breeders of fine horses. No greater gift could be given than an Arabian mare.
The value placed upon a mare led inevitably to the tracing of her dam’s family – particularly her female line. The only requirement of the sire was that he be "Asil" and even better if the dam was a "celebrated" mare of a great mare family. Mare families, or strains, were named, often according to the tribe or sheikh who bred them.
The Bedouin valued pure in strain horses above all others, and many tribes owned only one main strain of horse. The five foundation families of the breed, known as "Al Khamsa", include Kehilan, Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani and Hadban. Other, more obscure or rare strains include Maneghi, Jilfan, Shuwayman, and Dahman. Substrains developed in each main strain, named after a celebrated mare or Sheikh that formed a substantial branch within the main strain.
A great story of courage, endurance, or speed always accompanied the recitation of the genealogy of the sub-strain, such as the great Kehilet al Krush, the Kehilet Jellabiyat and the Seglawi of Ibn Jedran. Each of these mares carried with them stories of great battles and intrigue. Their daughters were sought after by the most powerful Kings but often remained unattainable. Daughters and granddaughters of these fabled mares changed hands through theft, bribery and deceit. If any of their descendants were sold, the prices were legendary.
Each strain, when bred pure, developed characteristics that could be recognized and identified. The Kehilan strain was noted for depth of chest, masculine power and size. The average pure in strain Kehilan stood up to 15 hands. Their heads were short with broad foreheads and great width in the jowls. Most common colors were gray and chestnut.
The Seglawi was known for refinement and almost feminine elegance. This strain was more likely to be fast rather than have great endurance. Seglawi horses had fine bone, longer faces and necks than the Kehilan. The average height for a Seglawi would have been 14.2 hands and the most common color was bay.
The Abeyan strain is very similar to the Seglawi. They tended to be refined. The pure in strain Abeyan would often have a longer back than other Arabians. They were small horses, seldom above 14.2 hands, commonly gray and carried more white markings than other strains.
Hamdani horses were often considered plain; they had an athletic or somewhat masculine, large-boned build. Their heads were more often straight in profile, lacking an extreme Jibbah. The Hamdani strain was one of the largest, standing as much as 15.2 hands. The most common colors were gray and bay.
The Hadban strain was a smaller version of the Hamdani. Sharing several traits including big bone and muscular build. They were also known for possessing an extremely gentle nature. The average height of a Hadban was 14.3 hands, the primary color brown or bay with few if any white markings.
While the Bedoiun bred their horses in great obscurity, the Rulers of the East rode their Barbs and Turks into Europe as they sought to expand their empires. Though few Arabian horses accompanied the Turks and Vandals on their forays into Europe, their hardy Barb and Turkish horses were no less impressive.
Europeans had developed horses through the Dark Ages to carry knights with heavy armor. Lighter horses used for transportation and cartage were from the pony breeds. Europeans had nothing to compare with the small, fast, exotic beauties upon which the invaders were mounted. An interest in these "Eastern" horses grew, along with fantastic stories of prowess, speed, endurance and even jumping ability. To own such a horse would not only allow for the improvement of private stock, but would endow the fortunate man with incredible prestige. Such a horse in the stable would rival the value of the greatest artwork hung on the wall. Europeans of means, primarily royalty, went to great lengths to acquire these fabled horses.
As travel abroad increased and European began to explore the world beyond their shores, they traveled for diplomacy and trade. The Turkish rulers of the Ottoman Empire and beyond began to send gifts of Arabian horses to European heads of state. Such was the nature of The Godolphin Arabian (sometimes called "The Barb"), imported to England in 1730, as well as The Byerley Turk (1683) and the Darley Arabian (1703). These three "Eastern" stallions formed the foundation upon which a new breed, the Thoroughbred, was to be established. Today 93% of all modern Thoroughbreds can be traced to these three sires. By direct infusion, and indirectly through the blood of the Thoroughbred, the Arabian has contributed, to some degree to all existing light horse breeds. The Arabian horse also made inroads into other parts of Europe and even farther east. In France, the Arabian helped to make the famous Percheron. In Russia, the blood of the Arabian horse contributed to the development of the Orloff Trotter.
The Bedouins have generally been credited with the beginning of selective pure breeding of Arabian horses. These tribes, although their breeding records were kept by memory and passed down through verbally the ages, are also credited as the first people to keep written breeding records and maintaining the purity of the Arabian breed. To this date, many Arabian pedigrees can be traced to desert breeding meaning there is no written record but because of the importance of purity to the Bedouins, "desert bred" is accepted as an authentic verification of pure blood for those early imports.
Today the Arabian horse exists in far greater numbers outside of its land of origin than it ever did in the Great Desert. In the early part of the last century; greed, ambition, desire for prestige, as well as an honest interest in protecting and preserving the breed was the driving force behind governments, royal families and adventuring private citizens alike in the acquisition and propagation of this great prize of the Bedouin people--the Arabian horse.
Arabian Horses Come to Europe…
With the rise of the Prophet Mohammed and the dawn of Islam, circa 600 A.D., Arabia underwent a change in culture. Fired with zeal from their new-found faith, the followers of Mohammed swept out of the desert mounted on "Arabian horses," spreading the word of their Prophet. Bred in the desert, their remarkable horses had evolved like finely tempered steel into the swift, elegant, graceful and magnificent war horses. The Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean countries as far west as Spain, and others as far to the east as China, came under the rule of Islam.
The Christian Crusaders advanced to the East between the years 1099 A.D. and 1249 A.D. With the invention of firearms, the heavily armored knight lost his edge. After the Crusades, people of the western world began looking to the people of the east for Arabian bloodstock and during the 16th century handy, light and speedy horses were in demand for use as cavalry mounts. Subsequent wars proved the superiority of the Arabian horse as the outstanding military mount throughout the world. Europeans knew that their horses would benefit from an extensive infusion of Arabian blood.
In the late1700’s and 1800's adventure seeking Europeans became enamored with the people and horses of the desert. Members of royal families of Poland, Russia, Germany, England, and other European nations established notable studs dedicated to breeding and raising purebred Arabian horses. One extraordinary example was Lady Anne Blunt and Sir Wilfred Blunt, whose historical sojourns into the desert to obtain Egyptian and desert –bred stock, led to the establishment of their world-famous Sheyk-Obeyd Stud in Egypt and Crabbet Arabian Stud in England. These stud farms eventually provided foundation horses for many other countries including Russia, Poland, Australia, North and South America and Egypt.
Introduction of Arabian Horses to North America
Early America was built by utilizing horsepower and colonists were quick to realize the value of Arabian bloodstock. Nathan Harrison of Virginia imported the first Arabian stallion in 1725. This horse reportedly sired 300 foals from grade mares. Our first President, George Washington, rode an Arabian horse. The first breeder of consequence, however, was A. Keene Richard. He journeyed into the desert in 1853 and 1856, subsequently importing several stallions and two mares. However, his breeding program fell victim to the Civil War and nothing survived.
In 1877, General Ulysses S. Grant visited Abdul Hamid II, His Imperial Majesty the Sultan of Turkey. There, he was presented with two stallions from the Sultan's stable, Leopard and Lindentree. Leopard was later given to Randolph Huntington who subsequently imported two mares and two stallions in 1888 from England. This program, limited as it was, must be considered as the first purebred Arabian breeding program in the United States.
The Chicago Worlds Fair held in 1893 drew widespread public attention and had an important influence upon the Arabian horse in America. While every country in the world was invited to participate, Turkey chose to exhibit 45 Arabian horses in a "Wild Eastern" exhibition. Among the imported Arabians shown were the mare Nejdme and the stallion, Obeyran. Both subsequently became foundation animals No. 1 and No. 2 in the Arabian Stud Book of America (later changed to the Arabian Horse Registry of America and now, Arabian Horse Association). Several years later, two other mares and one stallion were also registered. Many breeding farms today have horses whose pedigrees trace to these 19th century Arabians.
Historical importations from England and Egypt were made soon after the The Chicago Worlds Fair by such breeders as Spencer Borden, who imported 20 horses between 1898 and 1911 to his Interlachen Stud, and W.R. Brown who imported 20 horses from England, 6 from France and 7 from Egypt between 1918 and 1932.
One of the most significant importations occurred in 1906, when Homer Davenport received permission from the Sultan of Turkey to export Arabian horses. Davenport, with the backing of then President Theodore Roosevelt, imported 27 horses, which became the foundation of Davenport Arabians. The Davenport importation of Arabian horses direct from the desert excited the few Arabian breeders in this country. This group of breeders decided that the time was right to form a registry to promote the horse and encourage the importation of new blood. In 1908, the Arabian Horse Club of America was formed (today known as the Arabian Horse Association) and the first studbook was published. Recognition of the Arabian studbook by the U.S. Department of Agriculture established the Registry as a national registry and the only one for the purebred Arabian breed. Seventy-one purebred Arabians were registered at that point.
Another significant importation occurred in the 1920s, when the Kellogg Ranch, founded by W.K. Kellogg, brought in 17 select horses from the Crabbet stud farm in 1926 and 1927. Soon after, Roger Selby established the Selby Stud with 20 horses imported from Crabbet between 1928 and 1933. The Albert Harris importation consisted of two horses from England in 1924 and five from the Hejaz and Nejd desert regions in 1930 and 1931. Joseph Draper brought Spanish Arabians into the American picture when he imported five horses from Spain in 1934. J.M. Dickinson's Traveler's Rest Arabian Stud was established between 1934-1937 on an imported mare from Egypt and one from Brazil as well as seven mares from Poland. Henry B. Babson sent representatives to Egypt in 1932 and they brought back two stallions and five mares. This farm still preserves the same bloodlines today.
In the 1940's and 1950's importations of Arabians to America slowed down as American breeding programs evolved from the previously imported stock. With the death of Lady Wentworth in 1957 and the dispersal of Crabbet Stud, importations in abundance were again made from England, and the post-war stud farms of Poland, Russia, Hungary, Spain, Germany, and Egypt were reestablished. Additional significant importations from these countries were made in the late 1950s and 1960’s by several groups of dedicated breeders and importations continued through the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s during which time the United States of America became the home of some the most successful breeders of Arabian horses in the world.
Text courtesy of the Arabian Horse Association: www.arabianhorses.org
The Arabian Horse –Links to More Information…
Arabian Horse Association: www.arabianhorses.org
AHA is a full-service breed association and registry for owners of Arabian, Half-Arabian and Anglo-Arabian horses.
Arabian Horse Breeders Alliance: www.arabianhorsebreeders.org
AHBA is an international community of breeders united in their dedication to the Arabian breed and home of the Arabian Breeders World Cup Championships.
The Arabian Horse Network: www.arabhorse.com
The Arabian Horse Network is the leading Arabian horse marketing company on the Internet. The Network was developed in June of 1996 and is run by Arabian horse owners and breeders. Services include: Website Design, E-newsletter Services, Print design and production, Event Video Live Feed, and more…
AJC-Arabian Jockey Club: www.arabianracing.org
The AJC is a nationally chartered non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and education of the Arabian racing industry in the United States.
Arabian Horse Association of Arizona: www.scottsdaleshow.com
The members of the AHAA host the annual Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, celebrating 56 years of world class Arabian show and breeding horses.
Arabian Reining Horse Association: www.arha.net
The members of the ARHA host the annual Arabian and Half-Arabian Futurity at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show and offer Large payouts to professional and amateur competitors.
European Conference of Arab Horse Organization: www.ecaho.org
The European Conference of Arab Horse Organization is the governing body for European Breeder Associations, Judges and Disciplinary Committees, Rules and Regulations and Horse Shows
Iowa Arabian Horse Association: www.iowaarabianhorseassociation.com
An Arabian breeders group founded in February 26, 1944. The members of the Iowa Arabian Horse Association are hosts of the popular Iowa Gold Star Futurity.
Minnesota Arabian Horse Association: www.mnarabhorse.com
The MAHA is an organization of professional and amateur exhibitors, breeders, trainers, and enthusiasts founded in 1955.
Minnesota Arabian Horse Breeders: www.medallionstallion.com
Founded in 1979, the Minnesota Arabian Horse Breeders, Inc. is a mix of talented, dedicated people who host the richest and longest running amateur only futurity program in the world.
OASIS Arabian Magazine: www.oasismagazine.com
The leading digital, online magazine that celebrates the beauty, romance and culture of the Arabian horse. It is a an exquisite visual treat that features exotic Arabian horses, personalities, events, travel, culture, art and the exciting Arabian lifestyle.
Pyramid Society: www.pyramidsociety.org
The Pyramid Society was created in 1969 by breeders passionately concerned about preserving and perpetuating the bloodlines of the Straight Egyptian Arabian horse.
Scottsdale Signature Stallion Program: www.scottsdaleshow.com/scottsdale-signature-stallion
Offering the breeding services of the top Arabian stallion in the world. Offspring from these stallions are eligible for prize money in excess of $200,000.00.
The Arabian Horse Times: www.ahtimes.com
A monthly printed publication dedicated to the Arabian horse; celebrating 40 years of covering the Arabian industry worldwide including breeding, showing, marketing, and enjoying Arabian horses.
The Arabian Horse World: www.arabianhorseworld.com
A monthly printed publication covering the Arabian horse industry with special quarterly issues as well. Features beautiful pictures and stories about Arabian horses, their owners, breeders and trainers.
United States Equestrian Federation: www.usef.org
The USEF was established in 1917 and is dedicated to uniting the equestrian community, honoring achievement and serves as the National Governing Body for Equestrian Sport.
World Arabian Horse Organization: www.waho.org
WAHO is dedicated to preserve, improve and maintain the purity of the Arabian breed. Any National Association or other, institution or Society, whether incorporated or unincorporated, which is generally recognised in its own country as a registration authority for horses of the Arabian breed shall be eligible to be a Member of the Organization.