Arabian horses have always been valued for their speed, stamina, beauty, and intelligence. The breed’s history has been obscured by legend, but even these stories are magical. The Arabian or Arab horse (Arabic: الحصان العربي ) is a breed of horse that originated on the Arabian Peninsula. Hidden in the ancient desert sands, the Bedouin tribes have selectively bred these horses since 3000 BC, keeping meticulous ancestral records, or what we call pedigrees today.
Arabian horses have a distinctive head shape and high tail carriage and this makes them one of the most easily recognized horse breeds in the world. A part-Arabian, part bred Arabian or, less precisely, half-Arabian, is a horse with documented amounts of Arabian horse breeding but not a purebred.
The origins of the Arabian breed are unclear, although some historians say they trace their roots back 4,500 years when they were bred by the Bedouins as war mounts for the desert tribes of the southwestern Arabian Peninsula. Existing and being ridden in harsh desert conditions was responsible for developing the Arabian’s large lung capacity, tough feet and incredible endurance.
In the 7th century A.D., the prophet Mohammed spread the Arabian’s influence instructing his followers to treat them with kindness, especially the mares to ensure the continuity of the breed.
Christian Crusaders returned from the East between 1099-1249 A.D. with stories of these beautiful, handy, light and speedy horses, interest in the Arabian horses grew and people of the Western world began to seek Arabian bloodstock. Three history-changing Arabian stallions were imported to England between 1683-1730 ‒ the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. The trio became the foundation for the Thoroughbred breed.
Historical figures like Alexander The Great, Genghis Khan, and George Washington all rode and seem to have preferred Arabian horses. Marengo, Napolean’s horse was a white Arabian stallion.
The first of the breed memorialized in motion pictures was Jaadan, the little white Arabian that Rudolf Valentino rode in his 1926 movie Son of a Sheik. This exotic animal increased the demand for Arabians across North America, but Jaadan himself was a notoriously poor sire and didn’t produce any quality offspring.
What are Davenport Arabians?
Homer Calvin Davenport (March 8, 1867 – May 2, 1912) was a famous political cartoonist and an Oregon ranch owner. He was the first major American breeder of Arabian horses and one of the founders of the Arabian Horse Club of America.
It all started in 1893 when Davenport first saw Arabian horses at the World’s Columbian Exposition also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. The Arabian horses had traveled from Constantinople under the auspices of Sultan Abdul Hamid, Emperor of the Ottoman Empire, and Mr. Davenport was greatly affected by their beauty and grace.
In 1904, Homer Davenport drew a favourable cartoon of Theodore Roosevelt that helped him win the Whitehouse. President Roosevelt in turn helped the would-be horse breeder two years later when the he requested certain diplomatic papers that were necessary to travel abroad in search of the world’s best Arabian bloodstock.
From 1906 – 1908 Homer Davenport scoured desert countries in the middle east alongside millionaire Peter Bradley, and together they traveled extensively among the Anazeh people of Syria where Davenport went through a brotherhood ceremony with a Bedouin leader. The twenty-seven horses the pair purchased and brought back to the United States became an important contribution to the modern Arabian horse breed.
The Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian and Godolphin Arabian are also conspicuous pedigrees. Similar initiatives were undertaken by other notable breeders in France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Hungary, and Russia.
How to identify an Arabian horse?
Arabians are perhaps the most easily recognizable horse breed in the world. This is because the desert Bedouins kept meticulous records and selectively curated their features over three millennium. Arabian horses have refined, chiseled heads with a dished profile, large nostrils, big eyes and a long arching neck with a short, straight back. Arabian horses have one less vertebra than other breeds. They have a deep chest, high tail carriage, strong legs and tough, hard hooves.
In motion, Arabians move with a signature floating trot which makes them agile and graceful, and enjoyable to ride. They have naturally high tail carriage. When viewed from rear, the tail should be carried straight out.
Arabians can be coloured as bay, gray, chestnut, black, and roan. Bay, gray and chestnut are the most common, black is less common. Although some Arabians appear white, they are not. A white hair coat is usually created by the natural action of the gray gene, and virtually all “white” Arabians are actually grays. These horses typically stand between 14.1-15.2 hands in height, which makes them a little smaller in size than other horses. They are highly intelligent, responsive, affectionate, courageous and spirited.
What does it mean that Arabians have a Dished Profile?
Horse’s profiles, the shape of their heads, are either straight, convex or dished. The adjectives relate to the relationship between the horse’s cranium and their face. A dished profile suggests a shortened face and teacup muzzle.
There are many styles of Arabian horses and the dished profile type has come to dominate horse sport and equestrian shows because of its pleasing appearance; now this type has spread everywhere and has become the definitive version of the breed.
According to some equestrians, the original desert Bedouins avoided horses with dished or concave profiles as the feature was considered a physical defect. It was thought that such horses could not keep up with others, because the slope or angle of their inhale could negatively affect the animal’s respiration while running.
Over the years people have selectively bred Arabian horses to enhance their dished profiles and thus purposely encouraged the facial traits that negatively affect the horse’s ability to breath, and chew and swallow its food.
More important to breed conformation might be the animal’s eye, the size and shape of its nostrils, the width between the jaws, the width between the eyes, and how well the head sets up in a bridle.
Are Arabian horses easy to train?
Yes. The Arabian horse breed was developed in harsh desert climates by the nomadic Bedouins who prized them for their reliable endurance. Deserts are cold and dangerous places at night and the best stallions were routinely brought inside the family tent for shelter and protection. Over thousands of years this close relationship with humans created a horse breed that’s good-natured, quick to learn and eager to please. But Arabians also have high spirits and the alertness needed in war horses. This combination of willingness and sensitivity means that trainers need to handle Arabian horses with more care and respect.
Arabians are noted for both intelligence and a gentle but spirited disposition. For centuries, Arabian horses were selectively bred by desert Bedouins and only the best horses who were friendly and good-natured were allowed to reproduce. The result is that modern Arabians have an inherent good temperament that, among other examples, makes them one of the few breeds for which the US Equestrian Federation allows children to exhibit stallions in nearly all show ring classes, including those limited to riders under 18.
Arabian horses are however classified as “hot-blooded” and some equestrians believe it’s more difficult to train hot blooded breeds. This category includes other horses bred for speed, such as the Akhal-Teke, Thoroughbred, and the Barb. Like these other hot-bloods, Arabians’ sensitivity and intelligence enables quick learning and better communication with riders, but their precocious nature also allows them to pick-up bad habits just as quickly.
What are Arabian Horses used for?
Arabians perform well in different disciplines such as English and western pleasure, dressage, lower-level jumping and in-hand showing. They frequently appear in sport horse competitions and shows including hunting, jumping, racing, dressage, trail riding and various working roles. They also do well in both racing and recreational riding and they make terrific school horses on which many new equestrians learn to ride.
However, their superior endurance and stamina make them exceptional competitive trail and endurance ride mounts and that is where they’re commonly found competing today.
Historically, Europeans used Arabian stallions to improve their own saddle horses as the Arab horse was considered a smoother animal to ride. Throughout history the breed has been used to refine native strains.
The Arabian Horse Association
Since 1908 the AHA Registry has registered over 1 million Arabian, Half-Arabian and Anglo-Arabian horses ensuring the integrity and perpetuation of the breed. Registration increases the value of your horse, makes it more marketable and opens the door to many Local, Regional and National Events available to registered horses.
For more information: