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Arabian horse

Arabian horse
An Arabian Mare
Distinguishing features: finely chiseled bone structure, concave profile, arched neck, comparatively level croup, high-carried tail.
Alternative names: Arabian, Arab
Country of origin: Developed in the Middle East, most notably Arabian peninsula
Breed standards
Arabian Horse Association (USA): Breed standards
The Arabian Horse Society of Australia: Breed standards
The Arab Horse Society (UK): Breed standards
World Arabian Horse Organization: Breed standards
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

The Arabian or Arab horse (Template:Lang-ar , DMG ḥiṣān ʿarabī) is a breed of horse that originated on the Arabian Peninsula. With a distinctive head shape and high tail carriage, the Arabian is one of the most easily recognizable horse breeds in the world. It is one of the oldest horse breeds, with archaeological evidence of horses that resemble modern Arabians dating back 4,500 years. Throughout history, Arabian horses spread around the world by both war and trade, used to improve other breeds by adding speed, refinement, endurance, and strong bone. Today, Arabian bloodlines are found in almost every modern breed of riding horse.

The Arabian developed in a desert climate and was prized by the nomadic Bedouin people, often being brought inside the family tent for shelter and protection. This close relationship with humans has created a horse breed that is good-natured, quick to learn, and willing to please. But the Arabian also developed the high spirit and alertness needed in a horse used for raiding and war. This combination of willingness and sensitivity requires modern Arabian horse owners to handle their horses with competence and respect.

The Arabian is a versatile breed. Arabians dominate the discipline of endurance riding, and compete today in many other fields of equestrian activity. They are one of the top ten most popular horse breeds in the world. Arabian horses are now found worldwide, including the United States and Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, continental Europe, South America (especially Brazil), and its land of origin, the Middle East.


Breed characteristics

A purebred Arabian stallion, showing dished profile, arched neck, level croup and high-carried tail

Arabian horses have refined, wedge-shaped heads, a broad forehead, large eyes, large nostrils, and small muzzles. Most display a distinctive concave or "dished" profile. Many Arabians also have a slight forehead bulge between their eyes, called the "jibbah" by the Bedouin, that adds additional sinus capacity, believed to have helped the Arabian horse in its native dry desert climate.[1][2] Another breed characteristic is an arched neck with a large, well-set windpipe set on a refined, clean throatlatch. This structure of the poll and throatlatch was called the mitbah or mitbeh by the Bedouin, and in the best Arabians is long, allowing flexibility in the bridle and room for the windpipe.[2]

Other distinctive features are a relatively long, level croup, or top of the hindquarters, and naturally high tail carriage. Well-bred Arabians have a deep, well-angled hip and well laid-back shoulder.[3] Most have a compact body with a short back.[2] Some, though not all, have 5 lumbar vertebrae instead of the usual 6, and 17 rather than 18 pairs of ribs.[4] Thus, even a small Arabian can carry a heavy rider with ease. Arabians usually have dense, strong bone, sound feet, and good hoof walls. The USEF breed standard requires Arabians have solid bone and correct conformation,[5] They are especially noted for endurance,[6][7] and the superiority of the breed in Endurance riding competition demonstrates that well-bred Arabians are strong, sound horses with good bone and superior stamina. At international levels of FEI-sponsored endurance events, Arabians and half-Arabians are the dominant performers in distance competition worldwide.[8]

File:Arabian horse skeleton.jpg
Mounted skeleton of an Arabian horse, showing underlying structure of breed characteristics including short back, high-set tail, distinction between level croup and well-angulated hip. This specimen also has only 5 lumbar vertebrae.

A misconception confuses the skeletal structure of the sacrum with the angle of the "hip" (the pelvis or ilium), leading some to assert that the comparatively horizontal croup and high-carried tail of Arabians correlates to a flat pelvis and thus they cannot use their hindquarters properly. However, the croup is formed by the sacral vertebrae. The hip angle is determined by the attachment of the ilium to the spine, the structure and length of the femur, and other aspects of hindquarter anatomy, not necessarily the structure of the sacrum. Thus, the Arabian has conformation typical of other horse breeds built for speed and distance, such as the Thoroughbred, which properly includes the angle of the ilium being more oblique than that of the croup, the hip at approximately 35 degrees to a croup angle of 25 degrees.[9][10] The proper comparison of sacrum and hip is in length, not angle. All horses bred to gallop need a good length of croup and good length of hip for proper attachment of muscles, and the two do go together as a rule. The hip angle, on the other hand, is not necessarily correlated to the line of the croup.[9] Thus, a good-quality Arabian has both a relatively horizontal croup and a properly angled pelvis with good length of croup and depth of hip (length of pelvis) to allow agility and impulsion.[3][11] Within the breed, there are variations. Some individuals have wider, more powerfully muscled hindquarters suitable for intense bursts of activity in events such as reining, while others have longer, leaner muscling better suited for long stretches of flat work such as endurance riding or horse racing.[12]


The breed standard for Arabian horses, as stated by the United States Equestrian Federation, describes Arabians as standing between 14.1 and 15.1 hands (57 to 61 inches (145 to 155 cm)) tall, "with the occasional individual over or under."[5] Thus, all Arabians, regardless of height, are classified as "horses", even though 14.2 hands (58 inches (147 cm)) is the traditional cutoff height between a horse and a pony.[13] A common myth is that Arabians are not strong because of their size. However, the Arabian horse is noted for a greater density of bone than other breeds, short cannons, sound feet, and a broad, short back;[2] all of which give the breed physical strength comparable to many taller animals.[14] For tasks where the sheer weight of the horse matters, such as farm work done by a draft horse,[15] any lighter-weight horse is at a disadvantage,[15] but for most purposes, the Arabian is a strong and hardy breed of light horse able to carry any type of rider in most equestrian pursuits.[14]


Arabians are noted for both intelligence and a spirited disposition

For centuries, Arabian horses lived in the desert in close association with humans.[16] For shelter and protection from theft, prized war mares were sometimes kept in their owner's tent, close to children and everyday family life.[17] Only horses with a naturally good disposition were allowed to reproduce. The result is that Arabians today have a temperament that, among other examples, makes them one of the few breeds for which the United States Equestrian Federation allows children to exhibit stallions in nearly all show ring classes, including those limited to riders under 18.[18]

On the other hand, the Arabian is also classified as a "hot-blooded" breed, a category that includes other refined, spirited horses bred for speed, such as the Thoroughbred and the Barb. Like other hot-bloods, Arabians' sensitivity and intelligence enable quick learning and greater communication with their riders. However, their intelligence also allows them to learn bad habits as quickly as good ones,[19] and do not tolerate inept or abusive training practices.[20]

Some sources claim that it is more difficult to train a "hot-blooded" horse such as the Arabian, Thoroughbred, Barb or Akhal-Teke.[21] However, most Arabians have a natural tendency to cooperate with humans, but when treated badly, like any horse, they can become excessively nervous or anxious, though seldom become vicious unless seriously spoiled or subjected to extreme abuse.[20] At the other end of the spectrum, romantic myths are sometimes told about Arabian horses that give them near-divine characteristics.[22]


The Arabian Horse Association recognizes purebred horses with the coat colors bay, gray, chestnut, black, and roan.[23] Bay, gray and chestnut are the most common, black is less common.[24] True roan may not actually exist in Arabians; rather, roaning in the Arab could simply be a manifestation of the sabino or rabicano genes.[25] All Arabians, no matter the coat color, have black skin, except under white markings. Black skin provided protection from the hot desert sun.[26]

File:LaMirage body07.jpg
A gray Arabian, note white hair coat but black skin

Gray and white

Although many 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.[27] A specialized gray colorization seen in some older gray Arabians is the so-called "bloody-shoulder", which is actually a particular type of "flea-bitten" gray with localized aggregations of pigment on the shoulder.[28][29] There is an extremely small number of Arabians registered as "white" and having a white coat, pink skin and dark eyes from birth, believed to be a new form of dominant white, a result of a nonsense mutation in DNA tracing to a single stallion foaled in 1996.[30]


One spotting pattern, sabino, does exist in purebred Arabians. The sabino gene (or gene-complex), produces white markings such as "high white" above the knees and hocks, irregular spotting on the legs, belly and face, white markings that extend beyond the eyes or under the chin and jaw, and occasionally, roaning.[31] Many Arabians meet the definition of having minimal to moderately expressed sabino characteristics,[32]

However, studies at the University of California, Davis indicate that the gene (or genes) which produces sabino in Arabians do not appear to be the autosomal dominant gene "SB1" or "Sabino1", that often produces completely white horses in other breeds. The inheritance patterns observed in sabino-like Arabians also do not follow the same mode of inheritance as Sabino1.[33][34] An all-white Arabian foaled in 1996 was originally thought to be sabino, but actually was found to have a new form of Dominant white mutation.[30]

Rabicano or roan?

A rabicano Arabian horse

There are very few Arabians registered as roan, and some geneticists suggest that roaning in purebred Arabians is actually the action of rabicano genetics. Rabicano is a partial roan-like pattern. Unlike a true roan, a rabicano horse's body does not have intermingled white and solid hairs over the entire body, nor are the legs or head significantly darker.[25] Another area of confusion is that some people confuse a young gray horse with a roan because of the intermixed hair colors common to both. However, a roan does not change color with age, while a gray does.[35][36]

Colors that do not exist in purebreds

There is pictorial evidence from pottery and tombs in Ancient Egypt suggesting that spotting patterns may have existed on ancestral Arabian-type horses in antiquity.[37] However, purebred Arabians today do not carry genes for pinto or Appaloosa spotting patterns, except for sabino. Spotting or excess white was believed by many breeders to be a mark of impurity until DNA testing for verification of parentage became standard. For a time, horses with belly spots and other white markings deemed excessive could not even be registered, and even after the rule was softened, excess white was sometimes penalized in the show ring. Purebred Arabians also never carry dilution genes.[38] Therefore, purebreds cannot be colors such as dun, cremello, perlino, palomino or buckskin.[39]

To produce horses with some Arabian characteristics but coat colors not found in purebreds, they have to be crossbred with other breeds.[40] Though the purebred Arabian produces a limited range of potential colors, they also never carry the frame overo gene ("O"), and thus a purebred Arabian can never produce foals with lethal white syndrome. In fact, Arabian mares were used as a non-affected population in some of the studies seeking the gene that caused the condition in other breeds.[41] Nonetheless, partbred Arabians can, in some cases, carry these genes if the non-Arabian parent was a carrier.[42]

Genetic diseases

There are six known genetic diseases in Arabian horses, two are inevitably fatal, two are not always fatal but usually result in euthanasia of the affected animal, the remaining conditions can be treated. Three are thought to be autosomal recessive conditions, which means that the flawed gene is not sex-linked and has to come from both parents for an affected foal to be born. The others currently lack sufficient research data to determine the precise mode of inheritance.[43] Arabians are not the only breed of horse to have problems with inherited diseases; fatal or disabling genetic conditions also exist in many other breeds, including the American Quarter Horse, American Paint Horse, American Saddlebred, Appaloosa, Miniature horse, and Belgian.[43]

Genetic diseases that can occur in purebred Arabians, or in partbreds with Arabian ancestry in both parents, are the following:

  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). Similar to the "bubble boy" condition in humans, an affected foal is born with no immune system, and thus generally dies of an opportunistic infection, usually before the age of five months. There is a DNA test that can detect healthy horses who are carriers of the gene causing SCID, thus testing and careful, planned matings can now eliminate the possibility of an affected foal ever being born.[44]
  • Cerebellar abiotrophy (CA or CCA). An affected foal is usually born without symptoms, but at some point, usually after six weeks of age, develops severe incoordination, a head tremor, wide-legged stance and other symptoms related to the death of the purkinje cells in the cerebellum. Such foals are frequently diagnosed only after they have crashed into a fence or fallen over backwards, and often are misdiagnosed as a head injury caused by an accident. Severity varies, with some foals having fast onset of severe coordination problems, others showing milder symptoms. Mildly affected horses can live a full lifespan, but most are euthanized before adulthood because they are so accident-prone as to be dangerous. Clinical signs are distinguishable from other neurological conditions, but a diagnosis of CA can also be verified by examining the brain after euthanasia.[45] As of 2008, there is also a genetic test that uses DNA markers associated with CA that can detect both carriers and affected animals.[46]
  • Lavender Foal Syndrome (LFS), also called Coat Color Dilution Lethal (CCDL). The condition gets it name because most affected foals are born with a coat color dilution that lightens the tips of the coat hairs, or even the entire hair shaft. Foals with LFS are unable to stand at birth, often have seizures, and are usually euthanized within a few days of birth.[47][48] In November, 2009, Cornell University announced that a DNA test has been developed to detect carriers of LFS. Simultaneouly, the University of Pretoria also announced that they had also developed a DNA test.[49]
  • Occipital Atlanto-Axial Malformation (OAAM). This is a condition where the cervical vertebrae fuse together in the neck and at the base of the skull. Symptoms range from mild incoordination to the paralysis of both front and rear legs. Some affected foals cannot stand to nurse, in others the symptoms may not be seen for several weeks. This is the only cervical spinal cord disease seen in horses less than 1 month of age, and a radiograph can diagnose the condition. There is no genetic test for OAAM, and the hereditary component of this condition is not well researched at present.[50]
  • Equine juvenile epilepsy, or Juvenile Idiopathic Epilepsy, sometimes referred to as "benign" epilepsy, is not usually fatal. Foals are born normal and appear normal between epileptic seizures, and seizures usually stop occurring between 12 and 18 months.[48] Affected foals may show signs of epilepsy anywhere from two days to six months from birth.[51] Symptoms of the condition can be treated with traditional anti-seizure medications, which may reduce the severity of symptoms.[52] Though the condition has been studied since 1985 at the University of California, Davis, the genetic mode of inheritance is unclear, though the cases studied were all of one general bloodline group.[51] Recent research updates suggest that a dominant mode of inheritance is involved in transmission of this trait.[53] Some researchers have suggested that epilepsy may be linked in some fashion to Lavender Foal Syndrome due to the fact that it occurs in similar bloodlines and some horses have produced foals with both conditions.[48]
  • Guttural Pouch Tympany (GPT) occurs in horses ranging from birth to 1 yr of age and is more common in fillies than in colts. It is thought to be genetic in Arabians, possibly polygenic in inheritance, but more study is needed.[54] Foals are born with a defect that causes the pharyngeal opening of the eustachian tube to act like a one-way valve. Air can get in, but it cannot get out. The affected guttural pouch is distended with air and forms a characteristic nonpainful swelling. Breathing is noisy in severely affected animals.[55] Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and radiographic examination of the skull. Medical management with NSAID and antimicrobial therapy can treat upper respiratory tract inflammation. Surgical intervention is needed to correct the malformation of the guttural pouch opening to provides a route for air in the abnormal guttural pouch to pass to the normal side and be expelled into the pharynx. Foals that are successfully treated may grow up to have fully useful lives.[56]

The Arabian Horse Association in the United States has created a foundation that supports research efforts to uncover the roots of genetic diseases.[57] The organization F.O.A.L. (Fight Off Arabian Lethals) is a clearinghouse for information on these conditions.[58] Additional information is available from the World Arabian Horse Association (WAHO).[59]


File:Antoine-Jean Gros 003.jpg
An Arabian horse in the desert. Antoine-Jean Gros, c. 1810

Arabian horses are the topic of many myths and legends, particularly about their origins. One creation myth tells how Muhammad chose his foundation mares by a test of their courage and loyalty. While there are several variants on the tale, one common version states that after a long journey through the desert, Muhammad turned his herd of horses loose to race to an oasis for a desperately needed drink of water. Before the herd reached the water, Muhammad called for the horses to return to him. Only five mares responded. Because they faithfully returned to their master, even though desperate with thirst, these mares became his favorites and were called Al Khamsa, meaning, the five. These mares thus became the legendary founders of the five choice "strains" of the Arabian horse.[60][61] Although the Al Khamsa are probably fictional horses of legend,[62] some breeders today claim the modern Bedouin Arabian actually descended from these mares.[63]

Another tale claims that King Solomon (سليمان) was said to have been given a pure Arabian-type mare named Safanad ("the pure") by the Queen of Sheba.[62] Another version says that Solomon gave his renowned stallion, Zad el-Raheb or Zad-el-Rakib ("Gift to the Rider") to the Banu Azd people when they came to pay tribute to the king. This legendary stallion was said to be faster than the zebra and the gazelle, and every hunt with him was successful, thus the Arabs put him to stud and he became a founding sire of legend.[64]

Yet another creation myth puts the origin of the Arabian in the time of Ishmael, the son of Abraham.[65] In this story, the Angel Jibril (also known as Gabriel) descended from Heaven and awakened Ishmael with a "wind-spout" that whirled toward him. The Angel then commanded the thundercloud to stop scattering dust and rain, and so it gathered itself into a prancing, handsome creature - a horse - that seemed to swallow up the ground. Hence, the Bedouins bestowed the title "Drinker of the Wind" to the first Arabian horse.[66]

Another Bedouin story states that Allah created the Arabian horse from the four winds; spirit from the North, strength from the South, speed from the East, and intelligence from the West. While doing so, he exclaimed, "I create thee, Oh Arabian. To thy forelock, I bind Victory in battle. On thy back, I set a rich spoil and a Treasure in thy loins. I establish thee as one of the Glories of the Earth... I give thee flight without wings."[67][unreliable source?] Other versions of the story claim Allah said to the South Wind: "I want to make a creature out of you. Condense." Then from the material condensed from the wind, he made a kamayt-colored animal (a bay or burnt chestnut) and said: "I call you Horse; I make you Arabian and I give you the chestnut color of the ant; I have hung happiness from the forelock which hangs between your eyes; you shall be the Lord of the other animals. Men shall follow you wherever you go; you shall be as good for flight as for pursuit; you shall fly without wings; riches shall be on your back and fortune shall come through your meditation."[68]


Arabians are one of the oldest human-developed horse breeds in the world.[22] The original progenitors, the Oriental subtype or "Proto-Arabian" was a horse with oriental characteristics similar to the modern Arabian. These horses appeared in rock paintings and inscriptions in the Arabian Peninsula as far back as 2,500 B.C.[69] In ancient history, throughout the Ancient Near East, horses with refined heads and high-carried tails were depicted in artwork, particularly that of Ancient Egypt dating to the expulsion of the Hyksos invaders, in the 16th century, B.C.[70]

Desert roots

Carl Raswan pictured on an Anazeh warmare

There are different theories about where the wild ancestor of the Arabian originally lived. Most evidence suggests the "proto Arabian" or "Oriental" horse came from the area along the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent.[71] Others argue for the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula, in modern-day Yemen, where three now-dry riverbeds suggest good natural pastures existed long ago, though perhaps as far back as the Ice Age.[72][73]

Some scholars of the Arabian horse theorize that the Arabian came from a separate subspecies of horse,[74] known as equus caballus pumpelli.[71] However, other scholars, including Gladys Brown Edwards, a noted Arabian researcher, believe that the "dry" oriental horses of the desert, from which the modern Arabian developed, were more likely Equus ferus caballus with specific landrace characteristics based on the environments in which they lived, rather than being a separate subspecies.[4][71] Horses with similar, though not identical, physical characteristics include the now-extinct Turkoman Horse, the Marwari horse of India, the Barb of North Africa and the Akhal-Teke of western Asia.[71]

The Proto-Arabian horse may have been domesticated by the people of the Arabian peninsula known today as the Bedouin, sometime after they learned to use the camel, approximately 4,000–5,000 years ago.[73][75] However, other scholars, noting that horses were common in the Fertile Crescent but rare in the Arabian peninsula prior to the rise of Islam, theorize that the breed as it is known today only developed in large numbers when the conversion of the Persians to Islam in the 7th century A.D. brought knowledge of horse breeding and horsemanship to the Bedouin.[76]

Regardless of origins, climate and culture ultimately created the Arabian. The desert environment required a domesticated horse to cooperate with humans to survive. Humans were the only providers of food and water in certain areas, and even hardy Arabian horses needed far more water than camels in order to survive (most horses can only live about 72 hours without water). Where there was no pasture or water, the Bedouin fed their horses dates and camel's milk.[77] The desert horse needed to thrive on very little food, and have anatomical traits to compensate for life in a dry climate with wide temperature extremes from day to night. Weak individuals were weeded out of the breeding pool, and the animals that remained were honed by centuries of human warfare.[78]

In return, the Bedouin way of life depended on camels and horses: Arabians were bred to be war horses with speed, endurance, soundness, and intelligence.[78][79] Because many raids required stealth, mares were preferred over stallions because they were quieter and would not give away the position of the fighters.[78] A good disposition was critical; prized war mares were often brought inside family tents to prevent theft and for protection from weather and predators.[80] Though appearance was not necessarily a survival factor, the Bedouin bred for refinement and beauty in their horses as well as for more practical features.[79]

Strains and pedigrees

For centuries, the Bedouin tracked the ancestry of each horse through an oral tradition. Horses of the purest blood were known as Asil and crossbreeding with non-Asil horses was forbidden. Mares were the most valued, both for riding and breeding, and pedigree families were traced through the female line. The Bedouin did not believe in gelding male horses, and considered stallions too intractable to be good war horses, thus they kept very few male foals (colts), selling most, and culling those of poor quality.[81]

Over time, the Bedouin developed several sub-types or strains of Arabian horse, each with unique characteristics. The strains were traced through the maternal line, not through the paternal.[82] According to the Arabian Horse Association, the five primary strains were known as the Keheilan, Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani and Hadban.[83] There were also lesser strains, sub-strains, and regional variations in strain names.[84][85] Thus, many Arabian horses were not only Asil, of pure blood, but also bred to be pure in strain as well, with crossbreeding between strains discouraged, though not forbidden, by some tribes. Purity of bloodline was very important to the Bedouin, and they also believed in telegony, believing if a mare was ever bred to a stallion of "impure" blood, the mare herself and all future offspring would be "contaminated" by the stallion and hence no longer Asil.[86] Carl Raswan, a promoter and writer about Arabian horses from the middle of the 20th century, held the belief that there were only three strains, Kehilan, Seglawi and Muniqi. Raswan felt that these strains represented body "types" of the breed, with the Kehilan being "masculine", the Seglawi being "feminine" and the Muniqi being "speedy".[87]

This complex web of bloodline and strain was an integral part of Bedouin culture. The Bedouin knew the pedigrees and history of their best war mares in detail, via an oral tradition that also tracked the breeding of their camels, Saluki dogs, and their own family or tribal history.[88] Eventually, written records began to be kept; the first written pedigrees in the Middle East that specifically used the term "Arabian" date to 1330 A.D.[89] However, as important as strain was to the Bedouin, studies of mitochondrial DNA suggest that modern Arabian horses recorded to be of a given strain may not necessarily share a common maternal ancestry.[90]

Historical development

File:Hittite Chariot.jpg
Hittite chariot (drawing of an Egyptian relief)

Role in the ancient world

Fiery war horses with dished faces and high-carried tails were popular artistic subjects in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, often depicted pulling chariots in war or for hunting. Horses with oriental characteristics appear in artwork as far north as that of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. While the horse wasn't called an "Arabian" in the Ancient Near East until later, (the word "Arabia" or "Arabaya" only first appeared in writings by the ancient Persians, circa 500 B.C.)[91] these "proto-Arabian" or "Oriental" horses shared many characteristics with the modern Arabian, including speed, endurance, and refinement. For example, a horse skeleton unearthed in the Sinai peninsula, dated to 1700 B.C., is considered the earliest physical evidence of the horse in Ancient Egypt. It was probably brought by the Hyksos invaders. This horse had a wedge-shaped head, large eye socket and small muzzle, all characteristics of the Arabian horse.[92]

In Islamic history

Following the Hijra in A.D. 622 (also sometimes spelled Hegira), the Arabian horse spread across the known world of the time, became recognized as a distinct, named breed,[93] and played a significant role in the History of the Middle East and of Islam. By A.D. 630, Muslim influence expanded across the Middle East and North Africa. By A.D. 711, Muslim warriors had reached Spain, and controlled most of the Iberian Peninsula by 720. Their mounts were of various oriental types, including both Arabians and the Barb horse of North Africa.[citation needed]

Another way Arabian horses spread to the rest of the world was through the Ottoman Empire, which rose in 1299, and came to control much of the Middle East. Though it never fully dominated the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, this Turkish empire obtained many Arabian horses through trade, diplomacy and war.[94] The Ottomans ecouraged the formation of private stud farms in their territories in order to ensure a supply of calvalry horses.[95] Ottoman nobility, such as Muhammad Ali of Egypt also collected pure, desert-bred Arabian horses.[94] An early record of importations and horses occurs with the stud farm of El Naseri, or Al-Nasir Muhammad, an Egyptian Sultan (1290–1342) who imported and bred numerous Arabians in Egypt. A record was made of his purchases, which describes many of the horses as well as their abilities. The record was deposited in his library, forming a source for later study.[94][96]

Battle of La Higueruela, 1431. Spanish fighting the Moorish forces of Nasrid Sultan Muhammed IX of Granada. Note the differences in tail carriage of the various horses in the painting. The Arabian's high-carried tail is a distinctive trait that is seen even in part-blooded offspring.

From the Middle East to Europe

Muslim invasions were not the only way Arabians reached Europe. During the Crusades, beginning in 1095, European armies invaded Palestine and many knights returned home with Arabian horses as spoils of war. As the knights and the heavy, armored war horses who carried them became obsolete, Arabian horses and their descendants were used to develop faster, agile light cavalry horses that were used in warfare into the 20th century.[73] Probably the earliest horses with Arabian bloodlines to enter Europe came indirectly, through Spain and France. Others would have arrived with returning Crusaders.[94] Under the Ottoman Empire, Arabian horses often were sold, traded, or given as diplomatic gifts to Europeans and, later, to Americans.[73]

One major infusion of Arabian horses into Europe occurred when the Ottoman Turks sent 300,000 horsemen into Hungary in 1522. Many Turks were mounted on pure-blooded Arabians, captured during raids into Arabia. By 1529, the Ottomans reached Vienna, where they were stopped by the Polish and Hungarian armies, who captured Arabians from the defeated Ottoman cavalry. Some of these horses provided foundation stock for the major studs of eastern Europe.[97][98]

Polish and Russian breeding programs

File:Evstafy Sangushka.jpg
Several noble families of Poland became major breeders of Arabian horses. Eustachy Sanguszko (1768–1844), painted by Juliusz Kossak

With the rise of light cavalry, the stamina and agility of horses with Arabian blood gave an enormous military advantage to any army who possessed them. Thus, many European monarchs began to support large breeding establishments that crossed Arabians on local stock. One example was Knyszyna, the royal stud of Polish king Zygmunt II August, and another was the Imperial Russian Stud of Peter the Great.[97]

European horse breeders also obtained Arabian stock directly from the desert or via trade with the Ottomans. For example, Count Alexey Orlov of Russia obtained many Arabians, including Smetanka, an Arabian stallion who was a foundation sire of the Orlov trotter.[99][100] Orlov provided Arabian horses to Catherine the Great, who in 1772 owned 12 pure Arabian stallions and 10 mares.[99] To meet the need to breed Arabians as a source of pure bloodstock, two members of the Russian nobility, Count Stroganov and Prince Shcherbatov, established Arabian stud farms by 1889.[99][101]

Notable imports from Arabia to Poland included those of Prince Hieronymous Sanguszko (1743–1812), who founded the Slawuta stud.[102][103] Poland's first state-run Arabian stud farm, Janów Podlaski, was established by the decree of Alexander I of Russia in 1817.[104] By 1850, the great stud farms of Poland were well-established, including Antoniny, owned by the Polish Count Potocki (who had married into the Sanguszko family); later notable as the farm that produced the stallion Skowronek.[103][105]

Western and Central Europe

The 18th century marked the establishment of most of the great Arabian studs of Europe, dedicated to preserving "pure" Arabian bloodstock. The Prussians set up a royal stud in 1732, originally intended to provide horses for the royal stables, but soon more were established animals were bred for other uses, including the Prussian army. The foundation of these breeding programs was the crossing of Arabians on native horses, and by 1873 some English observers felt that the Prussian calvalry mounts were superior in endurance to the British mounts. The observers credited the Arabian basis of the breeding program for this superiority.[106]

Other examples included the Babolna Stud of Hungary, set up in 1789,[107] and the Weil stud in Germany (now known as Weil-Marbach or Marbach stud), founded in 1817 by King William I of Württemberg.[108] Arabians were also introduced into European racehorse breeding, especially in England via the Darley Arabian, Byerly Turk, and Godolphin Arabian, the three foundation stallions of the modern Thoroughbred breed, who were each brought to England in the 1700s.[109] King James I of England imported the first Arabian stallion, the Markham Arabian, to England in 1616.[110] Other monarchs obtained Arabian horses, often as personal mounts. One of the most famous Arabian stallions in Europe was Marengo, the war horse ridden by Napoleon Bonaparte.[111]

During the mid-1800s, the need for Arabian blood to improve the breeding stock for light cavalry horses in Europe resulted in more excursions to the Middle East. Queen Isabel II of Spain sent representatives of the crown to the desert to purchase Arabian horses and by 1847 had established a stud book. Her successor, King Alfonso XII imported additional bloodstock from other European nations. By 1893, the state military stud farm, Yeguada Militar was established in Córdoba, Spain for breeding both Arabian and Iberian horses. The military remained heavily involved in the importation and breeding of Arabians in Spain well into the early 20th century, and the Yeguada Militar is still in existence today.[112]

This period also marked a period of considerable travel to the Middle East by European civilians and minor nobility, and in the process, some travelers noticed that the Arabian horse as a pure breed of horse was under threat due to modern forms of warfare, inbreeding and other problems that were reducing the horse population of the Bedouin tribes at a rapid rate.[113] By the late 1800s, the most farsighted began in earnest to collect the finest Arabian horses they could find in order to preserve the blood of the pure desert horse for future generations. The most famous example was Lady Anne Blunt, the daughter of Ada Lovelace and granddaughter of Lord Byron.[114]

The rise of the Crabbet Park Stud

File:LadyAnneBlunt and Kasida.jpg
Lady Anne Blunt with her favorite Arabian mare, Kasida

Perhaps the most famous of all Arabian breeding operations founded in Europe was the Crabbet Park Stud of England, founded 1878.[115][116] Starting in 1877, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt made repeated journeys to the Middle East, including visits to the stud of Ali Pasha Sherif in Egypt and to Bedouin tribes in the Nejd, bringing the best Arabians they could find to England. Lady Anne also purchased and maintained the Sheykh Obeyd stud farm in Egypt, near Cairo. Upon Lady Anne's death in 1917, the Blunts' daughter, Judith, Lady Wentworth, inherited the Wentworth title and Lady Anne's portion of the estate. She obtained the remainder of the Crabbet Stud following a protracted legal battle with her father, Wilfrid.[117][118] Lady Wentworth expanded the stud, added new bloodstock, and exported Arabian horses worldwide. Upon Lady Wentworth's death in 1957, the stud passed to her manager, Cecil Covey, who ran Crabbet until 1971, when a motorway was cut through the property, forcing the sale of the land and dispersal of the horses.[119]


Historically, Egypt was known for importing horses bred in the deserts of Palestine and the Arabian peninsula rather than as a source of native bloodstock.[120] By the time that the Ottoman Empire dominated Egypt, the political elites of the region still recognized the need for quality bloodstock for both war and for horse racing, and some continued to return to the deserts to obtain pure-blooded Arabians. One of the most famous was Muhammad Ali of Egypt, also known as Muhammad Ali Pasha, who established an extensive stud farm in the 19th century.[121][122] After his death, some of his stock was bred on by Abbas I of Egypt, also known as Abbas Pasha. When Abbas Pasha was assassinated in 1854, his heir, El Hami Pasha, sold most of his horses, often for crossbreeding, and gave away many others as diplomatic gifts.[121][122][123] A remnant was obtained by Ali Pasha Sherif, who then went back to the desert to bring in new bloodstock. At its peak, the stud of Ali Pasha Sherif had over 400 purebred Arabians.[122][124] Unfortunately, an epidemic of African horse sickness in the 1870s that killed thousands of horses throughout Egypt decimated much of his herd and wiped out several irreplaceable bloodlines.[122] Late in his life, he sold several horses to Wilfred and Lady Anne Blunt, who exported them to Crabbet Park Stud in England. After his death, Lady Anne was able to gather many remaining horses at her Sheykh Obeyd stud.[125]

File:Carle Vernet Mameluck en Attaque.jpg
"Mameluck en Attaque" 18th century painting by Carle Vernet

Meanwhile, the passion brought by the Blunts to saving the pure horse of the desert helped Egyptian horse breeders convince their government of the need to preserve the best of their own remaining pure Arabian bloodstock that descended from the horses collected over the past century by Muhammad Ali Pasha, Abbas Pasha and Ali Pasha Sherif.[126] Therefore, the government of Egypt formed the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) in 1908.[127] Today, the RAS is known as the Egyptian Agricultural Organization (EAO).[128]

To rebuild some bloodlines that had been lost, RAS representatives traveled to England during the 1920s and purchased eighteen descendants of the original Blunt exports from Lady Wentworth at Crabbet Park and returned these bloodlines to Egypt.[127] Other than several horses purchased by Henry Babson for importation to the United States in the 1930s,[129] and one other small group exported to the USA in 1947, relatively few Egyptian-bred Arabian horses were exported until the overthrow of King Farouk I in 1952.[130] After that, many of the private stud farms of the princes were confiscated and the animals taken over by the EAO.[128] After that, as oil development brought more foreign investors to Egypt, some of whom were horse fanciers, Arabians were exported to Germany and the United States, as well as to the former Soviet Union, then an ally of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Following the death of Nasser in 1970 and the rise of a less Soviet-oriented government, even more Egyptian-bred Arabians were exported.[citation needed] Today, the designation "Straight Egyptian" or "Egyptian Arabian" is popular with some Arabian breeders, and the modern Egyptian-bred Arabian is an outcross used to add refinement in some breeding programs.[131]

Early 20th century

In the early 20th century, the military was involved in the breeding of Arabian horses throughout Europe, particularly in Poland, Spain, Germany, and Russia. In addition, private breeders developed a number of breeding programs.[132][133][134][135] Significant among the private breeders in continental Europe was Spain's Cristobal Colon de Aguilera, XV Duque de Veragua, a direct descendant of Christopher Columbus, who founded the Veragua Stud in the 1920s.[112][136]

Modern warfare and its impact on European studs

During the course of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, many historic European stud farms were lost. For example, in Poland, the Antoniny and Slawuta Studs were wiped out except for five mares.[137] Notable among the survivors, however, was the Janów Podlaski Stud. The Russian Revolution, combined with the effects of World War I, destroyed most of the breeding programs in Russia. But by 1921, the Soviet government reestablished an Arabian program, the Tersk Stud, on the site of the former Stroganov estate,[101][101] which included Polish bloodlines as well as some importations from the Crabbet Stud in England.[138] The programs that survived the war re-established their breeding operations and some added to their studs with new imports of desert-bred Arabian horses from the Middle East. Not all European studs recovered. The Weil stud of Germany, founded by King Wilhelm I went into considerable decline and by the time the Weil herd was transferred to the Marbach State Stud in 1932, only 17 purebred Arabians remained.[108][139]

The Spanish Civil War and World War II had a devastating impact on horse breeding throughout Europe. For example, the Veragua stud was destroyed, and its records lost. The only survivors were the broodmares and the younger horses, who were rescued by Francisco Franco.[140][141] Other European studs such as Crabbet Park, Tersk, and Janów Podlaski survived. Both the Soviet Union and the United States obtained valuable Arabian bloodlines as spoils of war, which they used to strengthen their breeding programs. The Soviets had taken steps to protect their breeding stock at Tersk Stud, and by utilizing horses captured in Poland they were able to re-establish their breeding program soon after the end of World War II. The Americans brought Arabian horses captured in Europe to the United States, mostly to the Kellogg U.S. Army Remount station, the former W.K. Kellogg Ranch in California.[142]

In the postwar era, Poland,[143] Spain,[141] and Germany developed or re-established many well-respected Arabian stud farms.[144] The studs of Poland in particular were decimated by both the Nazis and the Soviets, but were able to reclaim some of their breeding stock and became particularly world-renowned for their quality Arabian horses, tested rigorously by racing and other performance standards.[145] During the 1950s, the Russians also obtained additional horses from Egypt to augment their breeding programs.[146]

After the Cold War

While only a few Arabians were exported from behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, those who did come to the west caught the eye of breeders worldwide. Improving relations between eastern Europe and the west led to major imports of Polish and Russian-bred Arabian horses to western Europe and the United States in the 1970s and 1980s.[147] The collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, greater political stability in Egypt, and the rise of the European Union all increased international trade in Arabian horses. Organizations such as the World Arabian Horse Association (WAHO) created consistent standards for transferring the registration of Arabian horses between different nations. Today, Arabian horses are traded all over the world.[148]

In America

The first horses on the American mainland since the end of the Ice Age arrived with the Spanish Conquistadors. Hernán Cortés brought 16 horses of Andalusian, Barb, and Arabian ancestry to Mexico in 1519. Others followed, such as Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who brought 250 horses of similar breeding to America in 1540.[149] More horses followed with each new arrival of Conquistadors, missionaries, and settlers. Many horses escaped or were stolen, becoming the foundation stock of the American Mustang.[150][151]

Early imports

Colonists from England also brought horses of Arabian breeding to the eastern seaboard. One example was Nathaniel Harrison, who imported a horse of Arabian, Barb and Turkish ancestry to America in 1747.[149]

Washington Taking Control of the American Army, at Cambridge, Massachusetts July 1775. Copy of lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1876.

One of George Washington's primary mounts during the Revolutionary War was a gray half-Arabian horse named "Blueskin", sired by the stallion "Ranger", also known as "Lindsay's Arabian", said to have been obtained from the Sultan of Morocco.[152][153] Other Presidents are linked to ownership of Arabian horses. In 1840, President Martin Van Buren received two Arabians from the Sultan of Oman.[149] In 1877, President Ulysses S. Grant obtained an Arabian stallion, Leopard, and a Barb, Linden Tree, as gifts from the "Sultan of Turkey."[73][154][155] Leopard is the only stallion among the early imports who left known purebred descendants in America.[156] In 1888 Randolph Huntington imported the desert-bred Arabian mare *Naomi, and bred her to Leopard, producing Leopard's only purebred Arabian son, Anazeh. Anazeh then sired eight purebred Arabian foals, four of whom still appear in pedigrees today.[157]

A. Keene Richard was the first American known to have specifically bred Arabian horses. He traveled to the desert in 1853 and 1856 to obtain breeding stock, which he crossed on Thoroughbreds, and also bred purebred Arabians. Unfortunately, his horses were lost during the Civil War and have no known purebred Arabian descendants today.[158]

Development of purebred breeding in America

File:Syrian man with Arabian horse 1893.jpg
Exhibitor from Syria holding an Arabian horse at the Hamidie Society exhibition, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893.

In 1893, the Hamidie Society exhibited 45 Arabian horses from what today is Syria at the World Fair in Chicago. Some remained in the United States and caught the interest of American breeders, who traveled abroad to obtain more.[154][159] By 1908, the Arabian Horse Registry of America was established, recording 71 animals.[154] By 1994, the number had reached half a million. Today there are more Arabians registered in North America than in the rest of the world put together.[160]

Major Arabian importations to the United States were made by breeders such as Homer Davenport and Peter Bradley of the Hingham Stock Farm, who purchased several stallions and mares directly from the Bedouin in 1906.[159] Spencer Borden of the Interlachen Stud made several importations between 1898 and 1911;[154][161] and W.R. Brown of the Maynesboro Stud, interested in the Arabian as a cavalry mount, imported many Arabians over a period of years, starting in 1918.[154] Another wave of imports came in the 1920s and 30s when breeders such as W.K. Kellogg, Henry Babson, Roger Selby, James Draper, and others imported Arabian bloodstock from Crabbet Park Stud in England, as well as from Poland, Spain and Egypt.[154][162] The breeding of Arabians was fostered by the U. S. Army Remount Service, which helped spread Arabian blood through the standing of purebred stallions at public stud at a reduced rate.[163]

Several Arabians, mostly of Polish breeding, were captured from Nazi Germany and imported to the U.S.A. following World War II.[164] Other importations came from the Crabbet Stud following the death of Lady Wentworth.[165] As the tensions of the Cold War eased, more Arabians were imported to America from Poland and Egypt. In the late 1970s, as political issues surrounding import regulations and the recognition of stud books were resolved, Arabian horses were also imported in greater numbers from Spain and Russia.[88][166]

Modern trends

In the 1980s, Arabians became a popular status symbol and were marketed simlarly to fine art.[167] Some individuals also used horses as a tax shelter.[168] Prices skyrocketed, especially in the United States, with a record-setting public auction price for a mare named NH Love Potion, who sold for $2.55 million in 1984, and the largest syndication in history for an Arabian stallion, Padron, at $11,000,000.[169] The potential for profit led to over-breeding of the Arabian. When the Tax Reform Act of 1986 closed the tax-sheltering "passive investment" loophole, limiting the use of horse farms as tax shelters,[170][171] the Arabian market was particularly vulnerable due to over-saturation and artificially inflated prices, and it collapsed, forcing many breeders into bankruptcy and sending many purebred Arabians to slaughter.[171][172] Prices recovered slowly, with many breeders moving away from producing "living art" and towards a horse more suitable for amateur owners and many riding disciplines. By 2003, a survey found that 67% of purebred Arabian horses in America are owned for recreational riding purposes.[173]

In Australia

The Arabian stallion Hector, or "Old Hector" was an early import to Australia whose bloodlines are still found today in the pedigrees of some Australian Thoroughbreds.

Early imports

Arabian horses were introduced to Australia in the earliest days of European Settlement. Early horse imports included both purebred Arabians as well as light Spanish "jennets" from Andalusia. Many Arabians also came from India. Based on records describing stallions "of Arabic and Persian blood", the first Arabian horses were probably imported to Australia in several groups between 1788 and 1802.[174] About 1803, a merchant named Robert Campbell imported a bay Arabian stallion, Hector, from India.[174] Hector was said to have been owned by Arthur Wellesley, who later became known as the Duke of Wellington.[175] In 1804 two additional Arabians, also from India, arrived in Tasmania one of whom, White William, sired the first purebred Arabian foal born in Australia, a stallion named Derwent.[174]

Throughout the 19th century, many more Arabians came to Australia, though most were used to produce crossbred horses and left no recorded purebred descendants.[174] The first significant imports to be permanently recorded with offspring still appearing in modern purebred Arabian pedigrees were those of James Boucaut, who in 1891 imported several Arabians from Wilfred and Lady Anne Blunt's Crabbet Arabian Stud in England.[176] Purebred Arabians were used to improve racehorses and some of them became quite famous as such. About 100 Arabian sires are included in the Australian Stud Book (for Thoroughbred racehorses).[175] The military also was involved in the promotion of breeding calvalry horses, especially around World War I.[176] They were part of the foundation of several breeds considered uniquely Australian, including the Australian Pony, the Waler and the Australian Stock Horse.[177]

In the 20th and 21st centuries

In the early 20th century, more Arabian horses, mostly of Crabbet bloodlines, arrived in Australia. The first Arabians of Polish breeding arrived in 1966, and Egyptian lines were first imported in 1970. Arabian horses from the rest of the world followed, and today the Australian Arabian horse registry is the second largest in the world, next to that of the United States.[178]

Modern breeding

File:Soviet Union-1968-stamp-Horse-6K.jpg
A postage stamp from the Soviet Union featuring the Arabian horse

Arabian horses today are found all over the world. They are no longer classified by Bedouin strain, but are informally classified by the nation of origin of famed horses in a given pedigree. Popular types of Arabians are labeled "Polish", "Spanish", "Crabbet", "Russian", "Egyptian", and "Domestic" (describing horses whose ancestors were imported to the United States prior to 1944, including those from programs such as Kellogg, Davenport, Maynesboro, Babson, Dickenson and Selby). In the USA, a specific mixture of Crabbet, Maynesboro and Kellogg bloodlines has acquired the copyrighted designation "CMK."[179]

Each set of bloodlines has its own devoted followers, with the virtues of each hotly debated. Most debates are between those who value the Arabian most for its refined beauty and those who value the horse for its stamina and athleticism. There are also a number of breeders who specialize in preservation breeding of various bloodlines. There are also various controversies over the relative "purity" of certain animals. Breeders argue about the genetic "purity" of various pedigrees, discussing whether some horses descend from "impure" animals that cannot be traced to the desert Bedouin.[180] The major factions are as follows:

  • The Arabian Horse Association (AHA) states, "The origin of the purebred Arabian horse was the Arabian desert, and all Arabians ultimately trace their lineage to this source." In essence, all horses accepted for registration in the United States are deemed to be "purebred" Arabians by AHA.[179]
  • The World Arabian Horse Association (WAHO) has the broadest definition of a purebred Arabian. WAHO states, "A Purebred Arabian horse is one which appears in any purebred Arabian Stud Book or Register listed by WAHO as acceptable." By this definition, over 95% of the known purebred Arabian horses in the world are registered in stud books acceptable to WAHO.[181] WAHO also researched the purity question in general, and its findings are on its web site, describing both the research and the political issues surrounding Arabian horse bloodlines, particularly in America.[88]
  • At the other end of the spectrum, organizations focused on bloodlines that are the most meticulously documented to desert sources have the most restrictive definitions. For example, The Asil Club in Europe only accepts "a horse whose pedigree is exclusively based on Bedouin breeding of the Arabian peninsula, without any crossbreeding with non-Arabian horses at any time."[182] Likewise, the Al Khamsa organization takes the position that "The horse...which are called "Al Khamsa Arabian Horses," are those horses in North America that can reasonably be assumed to descend entirely from bedouin Arabian horses bred by horse-breeding bedouin tribes of the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula without admixture from sources unacceptable to Al Khamsa."[183] Most restrictive of all are horses identified as "straight Egyptian" by the Pyramid Society, must trace in all lines to the desert and also to horses owned or bred by specific Egyptian breeding programs.[184] By this definition, straight Egyptian Arabians constitute only 2% of all Arabian horses in America.[185]
  • Ironically, some pure-blooded desert-bred Arabians in Syria had enormous difficulties being accepted as registrable purebred Arabians because many of the Bedouin who owned them saw no need to obtain a piece of paper to verify the purity of their horses. However, eventually the Syrians developed a stud book for their animals that was accepted by the World Arabian Horse Association (WAHO) in 2007.[186]

Influence on other horse breeds

File:Darley Arabian.jpg
The Darley Arabian, a foundation sire of the Thoroughbred.

Because of the genetic strength of the desert-bred Arabian horse, Arabian bloodlines have played a part in the development of nearly every modern light horse breed, including the Thoroughbred,[109] Orlov Trotter,[187] Morgan,[188] American Saddlebred,[189] American Quarter Horse,[188] and Warmblood breeds such as the Trakehner.[190] Arabian bloodlines have also influenced the development of the Welsh Pony,[188] the Australian Stock Horse,[188] Percheron draft horse,[191] Appaloosa,[192] and the Colorado Ranger Horse.[193]

Today, people cross Arabians with other breeds to add refinement, endurance, agility and beauty. In the USA, Half-Arabians have their own registry within the Arabian Horse Association, which includes a special section for Anglo-Arabians (Arabian-Thoroughbred crosses).[194] Some crosses originally registered only as Half-Arabians became popular enough to have their own breed registry, including the National Show Horse (an Arabian-Saddlebred cross),[195] the Quarab (Arabian-Quarter Horse),[196] the Pintabian[197] the Welara (Arabian-Welsh Pony),[198] and the Morab (Arabian-Morgan).[199] In addition, some Arabians and Half Arabians have been approved for breeding by some Warmblood registries, particularly the Trakehner registry.[200]

There is intense debate over the role the Arabian played in the development of other light horse breeds. Before DNA-based research developed, one hypothesis, based on body types and conformation, suggested the light, "dry", oriental horse adapted to the desert climate had developed prior to domestication.[201] However, DNA studies of multiple horse breeds suggest that while domesticated horses arose from multiple mare lines, there is very little variability in the Y-chromosome between breeds.[202] Nonetheless, following domestication of the horse, due to the location of the Middle East as a crossroads of the ancient world, and relatively near the earliest locations of domestication,[203] oriental horses spread throughout Europe and Asia both in ancient and modern times. Thus, there is little doubt that humans crossed "oriental" blood on that of other types to create light riding horses; the only actual question is at what point the "oriental" prototype could be called an "Arabian", how much Arabian blood was mixed with local animals, and at what point in history.[91][204]

For some breeds, such as the Thoroughbred, Arabian influence of specific animals is documented in written stud books.[205] For older breeds, dating the influx of Arabian ancestry is more difficult. For example, while outside cultures, and the horses they brought with them, influenced the predecessor to the Iberian horse in both the time of Ancient Rome and again with the Islamic invasions of the 8th century, it is difficult to precisely trace the details of the journeys taken by waves of conquerors and their horses as they traveled from the Middle East to North Africa and across Gibraltar to southern Europe. Mitochondrial DNA studies of modern Andalusian horses of the Iberian peninsula and Barb horses of North Africa, present convincing evidence that both breeds crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and influenced one another.[206] Though these studies did not compare Andalusian and Barb mtDNA to that of Arabian horses, there is evidence that horses resembling Arabians, whether before or after the breed was called an "Arabian", were part of this genetic mix. Arabians and Barbs, though probably related to one another, are quite different in appearance,[207] and horses of both Arabian and Barb type were present in the Muslim armies that occupied Europe.[112] There is also historical documentation that Islamic invaders raised Arabian horses in Spain prior to the Reconquista.[208] Furthermore, the Spanish documented imports of Arabian horses in 1847, 1884 and 1885 that were used to improve existing Spanish stock and revive declining equine populations.[112]


Arabians are versatile horses that compete in many equestrian fields, including horse racing, the horse show disciplines of saddle seat, Western pleasure, and hunt seat, as well as dressage, cutting, reining, endurance riding, show jumping, eventing, youth events such as equitation, and others. They are used as pleasure riding, trail riding, and working ranch horses for those who are not interested in competition.[209]


Arabians dominate the sport of endurance riding because of their stamina, where they are the leading breed in competitions such as the Tevis Cup that can cover up to 100 miles (160 km) in a day.[210] They also participate in FEI-sanctioned endurance events worldwide, including the World Equestrian Games.[211]

There is an extensive series of horse shows around the United States and Canada for Arabian, Half-Arabian, and Anglo-Arabian horses, sanctioned by the USEF in conjunction with the Arabian Horse Association. Classes offered include Western pleasure, reining, hunt seat and saddle seat English pleasure, and halter, plus the very popular "Native" costume class.[212][213] "Sport horse" events for Arabian horses are also becoming popular in North America, particularly the Arabian Horse Association began hosting a separate Arabian and Half Arabian Sport Horse National Championship in 2003[214] that by 2004 grew to draw 2000 entries.[215] This competition draws Arabian and part-Arabian horses that perform in hunter, jumper, sport horse under saddle, sport horse in hand, dressage, and combined driving competition.[216]

File:Arabian costume.JPG
An Arabian horse in "native" costume, used in both exhibition and competition

Other nations also sponsor major shows strictly for purebred and partbred Arabians, including Great Britain[217] France,[218] Spain,[219] Poland,[220] and the United Arab Emirates.[221]

Purebred Arabians have excelled in open events against other breeds. One of the most famous examples in the field of western riding competition was the Arabian mare Ronteza, who defeated 50 horses of all breeds to win the 1961 Reined Cow Horse championship at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California.[222][223] Another Arabian competitive against all breeds was the stallion Aaraf who won an all-breed cutting horse competition at the Quarter Horse Congress in the 1950s.[224] In show jumping and show hunter competition, a number or Arabians have competed successfully against other breeds in open competition,[223] including the purebred gelding Russian Roulette, who has won multiple jumping classes against horses of all breeds on the open circuit.[225] In eventing, a purebred Arabian competed on the Brazilian team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.[226]

Part-Arabians have also appeared at open sport horse events and even Olympic level competition. The Anglo-Arabian Linon was ridden to an Olympic silver medal for France in Dressage in 1928 and 1932, as well as a team gold in 1932. Another French Anglo-Arabian, Harpagon, was ridden to a team gold medal and an individual silver in dressage at the 1948 Olympics.[227] At the 1952 Olympics, the French rider Pierre d'Oriola won the Gold individual medal in show jumping on the Anglo-Arabian Ali Baba.[228] Another Anglo-Arabian, Tamarillo, ridden by William Fox-Pitt, represents the United Kingdom in FEI and Olympic competition, winning many awards, including first place at the 2004 Badminton Horse Trials.[229] More recently a gelding named Theodore O'Connor, nicknamed "Teddy", a 14.1 (or 14.2, sources vary) hand pony of Thoroughbred, Arabian, and Shetland pony breeding, won two gold medals at the 2007 Pan American Games and was third at the 2007 Rolex Kentucky Three Day CCI competition.[230][231]

Other activities

Rudolph Valentino and Jadaan. Publicity shot for The Son of the Sheik

Arabians are involved in a wide variety of activities, including fairs, movies, parades, circuses and other places where horses are showcased. Arabians have been popular in movies, dating back to the silent film era when Rudolph Valentino rode the Kellogg Arabian stallion Jadaan in 1926's Son of the Sheik.[232] Arabians have been seen in many other films, including The Black Stallion featuring the stallion Cass Ole,[233] The Young Black Stallion, which used over 40 Arabians during filming,[234] as well as Hidalgo[235] and the 1959 version of Ben-Hur.[236]

Arabians are mascots for football teams, performing crowd-pleasing activities on the field and sidelines. One of the horses who serves as "Traveler", the mascot for the University of Southern California Trojans, has been a purebred Arabian. "Thunder", a stage name for the purebred Arabian stallion J B Kobask, was mascot for the Denver Broncos from 1993 until his retirement in 2004, when the Arabian gelding Winter Solstyce took over as "Thunder II".[237] Cal Poly Pomona's W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center Equestrian Unit has made Arabian horses a regular sight at the annual Tournament of Roses Parade held each New Year's Day in Pasadena, California.[238]

Arabians also are used on search and rescue teams and occasionally for police work. Some Arabians are also used in polo in the USA and Europe, in the Turkish equestrian sport of Cirit (pronounced Jee-rit), as well as circuses, therapeutic horseback riding programs, and on guest ranches.[citation needed]


  1. Upton, Arabians p. 21–22
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Archer, Arabian Horse, pp. 89–92
  3. 3.0 3.1 Edwards, Gladys Brown. "How I Would 'Build' an Arabian Stallion." Arabian Horse World, January, 1989, p. 542. Reprinted in Parkinson, pp. 157–158
  4. 4.0 4.1 Edwards, The Arabian, pp. 27–28
  5. 5.0 5.1 United States Equestrian Federation. "Chapter AR: Arabian, Half-Arabian and Anglo-Arabian Division Rule Book, Rule AR-102" (PDF). 2008 Rulebook. United States Equestrian Federation. https://www.usef.org/documents/ruleBook/2008/05-AR.pdf. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  6. Arabian Horse Association. "Arabians are beautiful, but are they good athletes? - The Versatile Arabian"". AHA Website. Arabian Horse Association. https://www.arabianhorses.org/home/faq/AskExpert6.asp. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  7. Edwards, The Arabian, pp. 245–246
  8. Arabian Horse Society of Australia. "Arabians In Endurance". AHSA Website. Arabian Horse Society of Australia. https://www.ahsa.asn.au/endurance.htm. Retrieved 2008-05-31. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Edwards, "Chapter 6: The Croup", Anatomy and Conformation of the Horse, pp. 83–98
  10. Edwards, Gladys Brown. "An Illustrated Guide to Arabian Horse Conformation." Arabian Horse World Quarterly, Spring, 1998, p. 86. Reprinted in Parkinson, p. 121
  11. Schofler, Flight Without Wings, p. 8
  12. Schofler, Flight Without Wings, pp. 11–12
  13. Plumb, Types and Breeds of Farm Animals, p. 168
  14. 14.0 14.1 Ensminger Horses and Horsemanship p. 96
  15. 15.0 15.1 Ensminger Horse and Horsemanship p. 84
  16. Arabian Horse Association. "The Arabian Horse Today". Arabian Horse History & Heritage. Arabian Horse Association. https://www.arabianhorses.org/education/education_history_today.asp. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  17. Upton, Arabians, p. 19
  18. Stallions may be shown in most youth classes, except for 8 and under walk-trot: 2008 USEF Arabian, Half-Arabian and Anglo-Arabian Division Rule Book, Rule AR-112
    Breeds not allowing stallions in youth classes include, but are not limited to, Rule 404(c) American Quarter Horse; Rule 607 Appaloosa; SB-126 Saddlebreds; PF-106 Paso Finos - no children under 13; MO-104 Morgans; 101 Children's and Junior Hunters; HP-101 Hunter Pony; HK-101 Hackney; FR-101 Friesians; EQ-102 Equitation - stallions prohibited except if limited only to breeds that allow stallions; CP-108 Carriage and Pleasure Driving; WS 101 Western division.
    Other breeds allowing stallions in youth classes include AL-101, Andalusians, CO-103 Connemaras and (WL 115 and WL 139 Welch pony and cob
  19. Pavord, Handling and Understanding the Horse, p. 19
  20. 20.0 20.1 Rashid, A Good Horse Is Never a Bad Color, p. 50
  21. "Hot-blooded Horses: What are the hotblood breeds?". American Horse Rider & Horses and Horse Information. 2007. https://www.horses-and-horse-information.com/articles/horses-hotbloods.shtml. Retrieved October 19, 2009. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Edwards, The Arabian, p.28
  23. Arabian Horse Association. "How Do I... Determine Color & Markings?". Purebred Registration. Arabian Horse Association. https://www.arabianhorses.org/registration/Markings/Index.asp. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  24. Ammon, Historical Reports on Arab Horse Breeding and the Arabian Horse, p. 152
  25. 25.0 25.1 Sponenberg, Equine Color Genetics, p. 69
  26. Stewart, The Arabian Horse, p. 34
  27. Arabian Horse Association. "What Color Is My Horse?". Purebred Registration. Arabian Horse Association. https://www.arabianhorses.org/registration/Markings/Color.asp. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
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  • "America's First Lady of Arabs: Bazy Tankersley and the Horses of Al-Marah". Women and Horses 1 (3). September 2005. 
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  • Beaver, Bonnie V. G.; Sponenberg, D. Phillip (1983). Horse color. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. p. 98. ISBN 0-89096-155-7. 
  • Bennett, Deb. (1998). Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship (1st ed.). Lincoln: Amigo Publications Inc. ISBN 0-9658533-0-6. 
  • Bowling, A. T., A. Del Valle, M. Bowling (January 2000). "A pedigree-based study of mitochondrial d-loop DNA sequence variation among Arabian horses". Animal Genetics 31 (1): 1. doi:10.1046/j.1365–2052.2000.00558.x. 
  • Chamberlin, J. Edward (2006). Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations. Bluebridge. ISBN 0-9742405-9-1. 
  • Derry, Margaret Elsinor (2003). Bred for Perfection: Shorthorn Cattle, Collies, and Arabian Horses since 1800. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-7344-4. 
  • Derry, Margaret Elsinor (2006). Horses in Society: A Story of Animal Breeding and Marketing, 1800–1920. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-9112-1. 
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  • Edwards, Gladys Brown. (1973). The Arabian: War Horse to Show Horse (Revised Collector's ed.). Covina, California: Rich Publishing, Inc.. 
  • Equus Staff (April 2007). "Good news about recovery from foal epilepsy". Equus 335.  citing Aleman, Monica, DVM (November/December 2006). "Juvenile idiopathic epilepsy in Egyptian Arabian foals: 22 cases (1988–2005)". Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 
  • Forbis, Judith (1976). The Classic Arabian Horse. New York: Liveright. ISBN 0-87140-612-8. 
  • Francaviglia, Richard, Jerry Rodnitzky, Peter C. Rollins and Robert A. Rosenstone (2007). Lights, camera, history: portraying the past in film. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 1585445800. 
  • Gower, Jeanette (2000). Horse Color Explained. North Pomfret, Vt: Trafalgar Square Publishing. ISBN 1-57076-162-0. 
  • Greely, Margaret (1975). Arabian Exodus (Revised edition 1985 ed.). London: J A Allen. ISBN 0-85131-112-3. 
  • Patten, John W. (1959). The Light Horse Breeds: Their Origin, Characteristics, and Principal Uses. New York: Bonanza Books. 
  • Parkinson, Mary Jane (2006). Gladys Brown Edwards: Artist, Scholar, Author. Cambria, California: Arabian Horse World. ISBN 9781929164387. 
  • Rashid, Mark (1996). A Good Horse Is Never a Bad Color. Lincoln: Johnson Printing. 
  • Raswan, Carl (1967, 1969, 1990). The Raswan Index and Handbook for Arabian Breeders. Volume 1 (1990 ed.). Richmond, Virginia: The William Byrd Press. 
  • Sponenberg, Dan Phillip (2003). Equine Color Genetics (2nd ed.). Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 081380759X. 
  • Sumi, Akiko Motoyoshi. (2003). ""Contest as ceremony: A pre-Islamic Poetic Contest in horse description of Imru' Al-Qays vs 'Alqaman Al-Fahl" Quoting Letter of the Emir Abd-el-Kader to General E. Daumas in Daumas, The Horses of the Sahara.". Description in Classical Arabic Poetry: Waṣf, Ekphrasis, and Interarts. Brill. ISBN 9004129227. 
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Further reading

  • Budiansky, Stephen (1997). The Nature of Horses. Free Press. ISBN 0684827689. 

External links

Registries and related organizations

Educational organizations and articles


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