The Arabian Horse
“There is something about the outside of the horse that is good for the inside of man.”
With a domesticated history dating back several millennia, the Arabian horse is considered the eldest and most important of all modern equine breeds. The origin of the breed can be traced to the arid, desert region of the Nejd in the Arabian Peninsula, a harsh environment in which the basics of life, food and water, are scarce, and the existence of both man and beast is challenged in the extreme. Within this unforgiving terrain, the nomadic tribes of the Arabic Bedouin have survived for millennia. Essential to their survival has been their relationship with the Arabian horse, a creature most prized above all earthly possessions. The oral tradition of the Bedouin claims the Arabian horse was first captured thousands of years before the birth of Christ from among the wild horses of the Nejd and tamed for utility under saddle. This was the beginning of perhaps the most important and most intimate coexistence between man and any other member of the animal kingdom, one that would drive both progress and civilization and forever change the fortunes of both species.
Amongst the Bedouin, the life of the Arabian horse was starkly unromantic – harsh, little food of poor quality, scarcity of water, hot dry conditions, times of restrictive confinement followed by swift and tortuous raids. The life of the Bedouin was that of the daily struggle for survival, hence life was approached in the most unforgiving of contexts. Raids were considered an essential element of Nomadic culture, especially those taken against travelers. Life was one of incessant warfare, entailing forced marches and the roughest treatment. Pity was not taken for the injured or dying – death was accepted as both inescapable and inevitable. Both environment and culture seemed the most unlikely combination in which the successful rearing of any creature could long be sustained, yet through centuries of natural selection dictated by the necessity of man’s survival, the Arabian horse has not only efficiently evolved, but astonishingly thrived.
The extraordinary environmental conditions of the Arabian Peninsula demanded the evolution of a superior equine athlete of exceptional intelligence and uncommon courage. Strength, fortitude and tenacity of constitution were paramount if any horse were to survive life as a warhorse on the rugged terrain. Swiftness and endurance were vital to the success of raids, and only those Arabians with the best combination of these nearly polar attributes were fortunate enough to escape the dangers of battle and earn the respect of their masters. Vitality of spirit and courage were also essential to success in battle; this was to be tempered by intelligence and kindness as both a willing mount and as a large domesticated mammal forced to live in close coexistence with the spartan, mobile life of his keeper. Beyond this, the Arabians of the Nejd were required to be extremely efficient metabolizers, capable of going for many days without food or water, and sustaining both strength and vitality on very poor quality foods. The extreme daytime heat of the region furthermore predisposed those horses capable of dispersing heat more efficiently through thinner, more highly dilated skin for an increased chance of survival. Even those individuals blessed with the best combination of critical characteristics were subject to the availability of food and water and the good fortune of eluding death in battle. It is within this crucible that the Arabian horse was perfected and the distinct type of the breed made evident.
The modern Arabian, though no longer a warhorse subject to the cruel and unforgiving environment of the Arabian Desert, remains a breed of horse richly abounding in the qualities that made his ancestor a survivor. Above all, the Arabian horse was bred to serve his master, whose very life depended on the bravery, faithfulness and swiftness of his steed. These intrinsic merits as a synergistic whole define the breed as distinctly Arabian, comprising the essential elements of the authentic Arabian horse.
Perhaps, best described as a cross between an Olympic gymnast and a champion long distance runner, the Arabian horse is unrivalled as an athlete in the equine world. The defining characteristics of the Arabian horse are most often those that have historically been in highest demand by horse breeders of the civilized world down through the centuries. As the original racehorse, the Arabian was crucial to the foundation of the Thoroughbred, contributing the ability to run at great speeds over vast distances with courage, tenacity and superior physical fortitude. Arabians put the “hot” in the “hot-blood”, and all horses considered as such are largely Arabian in origin. The superior density, structure and quality of bone along with balance and harmony of proportion are unrivalled in the equine world and have been highly sought after in all equine breeds in which athleticism is of primary importance. Superior beauty, quality and refinement have always been distinct Arabian traits – all warm-blooded horses inherit these aesthetically pleasing and spiritually inspiring attributes from the horse of the Nejd.
Chiefly, the Arabian is a horse of superb balance, symmetry and harmony of proportion. The Arab is not a horse of extremes, but rather a distinctively athletic horse of perfect three-dimensional utility.Although balance is essential to all horse breeds, the zenith is achieved within the structure of the Arabian. Simply put, the Arabian horse is “the quintessence of all the good qualities of an equine in compact form”. It is true that balance is also a fundamental element of correct conformation, yet it is equally essential in establishing the foundation of type. Without balance, the Arabian horse fails to be a creature of utility, the very aspect that has so endeared him to the service of man. True beauty of the Arabian horse must always first be assessed as the eurhythmy of a harmoniously integrated composite of form and function.
If extreme is to be accepted in any aspect of Arabian type it is in the area of Quality. This elusive attribute, though often hard to quantify, is unmistakable by all who have seen it. Sometimes referred to as beauty, refinement, elegance, presence, charisma, radiance or vitality, quality is the singular element of breed type that has defined the excellence of the Arabian most proficiently. This quality is manifest in the proud, alert command of the Arabian stallion, the confident maternalbearing of the Arabian mare, the zest for life of the young foal, and the intelligent majestic countenance of the Arabian as both a creature of Nature and in service to mankind. All Arabians labeled as typey mustradiate irreproachable quality.It is exactly the quality of the Arabian about which the author wrote,when he penned the words “there is something about the outside of the horse that is good for the inside of man”.
Efficiency and capability of movement are vital in defining Arabian type, for the warhorse was principally a superior form of transportation. Bedouin mounts were expected to be both swift and enduring, demands, which forced the evolution of the Arabian as an equine of superior soundness, agility and versatile athleticism. As the original surefooted vehicles of war, Arabian horses were expected to have great dexterity – to be able to charge at great speeds with lancers astride and to stop at a dead halt upon assault, make a swift and surefooted turn on the haunches and beat a hasty retreat to safety. This agility not only required uncompromising soundness, but ample muscularity and synergistic strength of proportion, attributes which serve the Arabian well as the most celebrated versatile athlete in the Animal kingdom. The stride of the Arabianhorse has always been long, light, true, powerful and purposeful, with great overreach, efficiency of exertion and fluidity of motion.All Arabians of superior type exude abundant athletic ability.
As important as balance, quality and movement are to the most fundamental definition of Arabian type,they are of little consequence if the disposition of an Arabian is failing. Arabian horses are, without question, intelligent, kind, willing, courageous, curious and social. Blessed with an enthusiastically energetic but supremely tractable character, the Arabian horse is unrivalled as a companion within the equine world. His forced, extremely intimate coexistence with the nomadic Bedouin demanded a highly compliant and agreeable disposition. Yet despite domestication, the Arabian horse remained a vitally indomitable force within his desert environs, an attribute which proved critical to his resiliency and survival. It is perhaps this most intangible quality that has most endeared the Arabian horse to mankind.
From its origin within the cradle of civilization in the Middle East, the Arabian horse was introduced to the Western World as man’s ambition drove his desire to discover and conquer realms beyond. As a vehicle of war, the Arabian horse excelled amongst equine breeds, proving superior in swiftness, courage, tenacity and fortitude. Astute horsemen were quick to recognize the superlative characteristics of the Arabian horse, seizing every opportunity to incorporate Arabian blood into native stock, the foundation of which is every major light horse breed in existence today. The most influential breeders of means, royalty and aristocracy, established purebred Arabian breeding programs, paving the way for the foundation programs of modern Arabian horse breeding such as the Royal Stud of Ali Pasha Sherif, Crabbet Stud in England, Germany’s Marbach, Hungary’s Babolna, Russia’s Tersk, Spain’s Yeguada Militar and Poland’s celebrated State Studs at Janow Podlaski and Michalow. Through the ages, the Arabian horse has enjoyed the passionate admiration of the world’s most elite and influential people, from kings, queens, pashas, counts and lords in times past, to the emirs, innovators, celebrities, corporate leaders and royalty of modern day. The impassioned allure of the Arabian horse remains unchanged – there is simply no creature like the Arabian horse that can so ennoble the existence of man.