The Desert Horse
The spirited Arabian (Arab) is rarely mistaken for any other breed. Most horsemen would recognise the breed on sight and such is its 'look-at-me' air that it draws admiring glances from anyone who appreciates grace and elegance in a living form.
The Arabian is generally accepted as the oldest pure breed and often as the most beautiful. The almost fanatical devotion of the Arabian tribesmen has ensured its purity over many centuries. Its native environment has resulted in the development of remarkable qualities of endurance, strength, speed and soundness.
The Arabian has a different skeletal arrangement from other breeds. The Arab has 17 pairs of ribs, 5 lumbar vertebrae and 16 caudal vertebrae. In other breeds the arrangement is 18, 6 and 18. Interestingly the donkey has 5 lumbar vertebrae too.
The croup is relatively horizontal. The conformation is typical of breeds which excel at speed and distance.
The Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula set great store on their Arab mares which would share the tent with the family to guard against theft. The Bedouins' way of life depended on camels and horses. Raiding parties preferred mares to stallions as they were quieter. Prized mares were a very valuable asset and were highly protected. The ancestry of each horse was tracked by oral tradition, as was the pedigrees and history of their camels, Saluki dogs and families/tribes.
There are numerous legends and songs written about the beautiful Arabian which was used as a war horse in days gone by. Over time, the Arabian spread throughout the world and has been routinely used to introduce stamina and beauty to many of today's light breeds.
The Arabian has evolved in the desert and has features that suit him for living in hot, dry regions. His extreme endurance is legendary. Sound of wind and free from leg ailments, the Arab is extremely prepotent.
The nostrils are large and flaring, capable of enormous expansion to take in sufficient air when travelling across vast tracts of sandy waste. 'Drinker of the wind' is a common expression referring to the Arab. The head is small and neat carried high on an arched neck. The neck blends into a clean throatlatch allowing plenty of room for the windpipe.
The coat is fine and the skin quite thin give better evaporation of sweat. Some individual horses have a slight bulge between the eyes – the 'jibbah' – which gives added sinus capacity which is beneficial in a dry, hot climate. Living in close proximity to his owner developed an ability to form a relationship with humans. The Arabian is quick to learn and willing to please. His sensitivity requires competent, kind handling.
Especially indicative of the breed is the finely chiselled head with the 'dished' or concave profile. This feature is commonly passed on to crossbred progeny, greatly enhancing the animal's appearance. Also characteristic of the Arab is the flat croup and the high set tail. When in action the entire tailbone is stiffened and the tail plumes out from the body to float like a banner.
Today's Arabian has not changed much from 3,500 years ago. He is still on the small side as riding horses go with the breed standard giving 14.1hh to 15.1hh as ideal although there are now many that are taller.
The head is small and tapers to a tiny muzzle. The eyes are large and brilliant. The small ears are pricked and sharply cut. The arched neck is set into the jaw in an arched curve. The withers are not particularly high and slope into a strong, level back. The tail is set on a level with the back and carried high. The legs are strong with big flat knees, short cannons and springy pasterns. While bone measurement is not excessive, the bone is dense and strong.
The feet are round and hard. Such is the hardness of the hooves that shoeing is not always necessary. The action is free and springy, sometimes elevated and always speedy. The trot in particular has wonderful floating, cadenced quality. The momentary hesitation between the strides typifies the unique Arab movement.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Darley and Godolphin Arabians and the Byerley Turk were imported into England in the 18th century and became the foundation sires of the modern-day Thoroughbred. The Arab has played a vital role in the development of the Russian Don, the Haflinger, the Lipizzaner and even the Percheron. Most of Great Britain's Mountain and Moorland pony breeds have been influenced by the Arab. The finely chiselled head of a Welsh Mountain pony is very reminiscent of the Arabian.
Smetanka was an Arab stallion which was taken to Russia and became the foundation sire of the Orlov trotter. Napoleon Bonaparte's mount, Marengo, was an Arab stallion. As a light cavalry charger, the Arab or part-Arab had few equals being fast and tough.
The breed also went to the Americas with the Spaniards and played a part in establishing breeds such as the Morgan.
The Arabian is suited for all disciplines and is found throughout the globe. His temperament may be too 'hot' for some novices. The Arab/Thoroughbred cross is known as the Anglo-Arab. The Arab/ Morgan cross has been particularly successful and is recognised as a full-blown breed in its own right – the Morab.
With so many studs breeding so many Arabs all over the world, several different types have developed. The Egyptian Arab has a beautifully refined and graceful head, Spanish Arabs are sometimes straightish in the shoulders while Polish Arabs are unremarkable as yearlings but mature to have solid and exceptional shoulders, limbs and quarters.
The first Arabs to enter Australia and the United States were from England where the Crabbet type from Wilfred and Lady Anne Blunt's Crabbet stud had more substance than most. Nowadays Arabians are imported and exported all over the world. Arabs, like many breeds, can be subject to a few genetic diseases.
The spirited, alert appearance of the beautiful is tempered by a gentle and tractable nature making the Arab one of the equine world's most impressive breeds.