The Majestic Arabian Horse
- By Michael Russell
Bedouins believed that the horse was a gift from
Allah. It was to be cherished, revered, almost
worshipped. The Arabian horse has been bred for
centuries, with its beginnings in the oases around
the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the countries
known in our modern history as Iran, Iraq, and Syria,
as well as other parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
Because the Bedouins cherished their horses, the
bloodlines were a jealously guarded family treasure
within the different tribes. There are records which
indicate that the nomads began breeding these superb
horses as early as 3000 to 2500 B.C. However, the
modern Arabians trace their roots back to five mares
which were owned by King Solomon around 1600 B.C.
Those five mares were known as
"Al-Khamesh", literally "the
five". Those five bloodlines were Kehilan,
Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani and Hadban. As substrains
were developed in each of the bloodlines, those would
be named for celebrated mares and/or sheiks who
significantly contributed a substantial branch to the
Each of the five original strains had significant
characteristics which were preserved in breeding pure
Arabians. A brief description of each follows:
The Kehilan had a deep chest, masculine power, and
size. The average height for a pure Kehilan was up to
15 hands (60 inches, or 152.4 centimeters) at the
shoulder. It had a short head with a broad forehead,
and wide jowls. The most common colors were chestnut
The Seglawi had a refined look and was noticeably
femininely elegant. The bone structure was fine and
the face and neck were significantly longer than that
of the Kelihan. The most common color was grey, and
the average height was 14.2 hands (144.27 cm., or
The Abeyan was quite similar to the Seglawi. It
shared the refined look, but tended to have a longer
back than the other strains. It averaged 14.2 hands,
was commmonly grey, and had more white markings that
The Hamdani line had a plainer look than that
associated with Arabian horses. It was athletic and
masculine in appearance, with a large bone structure.
The head was straighter in profile than the typical
Arabian and it lacked the bulging forehead which the
Bedouins believed was "the blessings of
Allah". This strain was one of the largest,
standing 15.2 hands (60.8 in., or 154.43 cm.) at the
shoulder. The most common colors were bay and grey.
The Hadban was similarly configured as the Hamdani,
with the big bone structure and musculature. But it
was shorter in height and had an extremely gentle
nature. The average height was 14.3 hands (145.28
cm., or 57.2 in.), and the dominant colors were bay
and brown with few, if any white markings.
Bedouins "adopted" the horses, regardless
of how they came to be in the desert. Whether they
were strays, absconded, or whatever, it was of no
consequence to them. Once the horse was a part of
their herd, they set out to breed for offspring with
speed, stamina, strength, and courage. The different
strains, as stated previously, each had their own
characteristics, but all Arabians were bred to
withstand the rigors of desert life.
When the Europeans chose to improve their saddle
horses, Arabians were the breed they imported to
cross with their native stock. When they began the
process, their horses were the larger breeds which
had carried heavily armored knights into battle.
Their lighter stock had it roots in the pony breeds.
They had no breeds which could compare to the
smaller, faster horses upon which invading forces
from the Middle East were mounted. Thus, they sought
out purebred Arabian stallions with the attributes
desired and crossed them with choice native strains.
Ninety-three percent of the English Thoroughbred
breed today traces its roots to three distinct Arab
strains: the Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, and
Godolphin Arabian (sometimes called Godolphin Barb).
The first Arabian stallion imported to America was in
1725. He allegedly sired three hundred colts from
breeding stock mares. And between 1853 and 1856, a
breeder by the name of A. Keene Richard imported
several stallions and mares to establish the first
breeding program of consequence in the States.
Unfortunately, his horses were confiscated or
destroyed during the Civil War, the breeding line was
ruptured, and nothing survived.
On a visit to Turkey in 1877, General Ulysses S.
Grant was presented with two purebred stallions which
he imported to America. He gave on of those stallions
to Randolph Huntington. Mr. Huntington then imported
two more purebred stallions and two pure Arabian
mares from England in 1888. His breeding program is
considered the foundation of the first pure Arabian
stock in the United States.
Other breeds influenced by pure Arabian stock include
the Orloff Trotter of Russia, the American
Thoroughbred, the Morgan, the Percheron, the
Connemara pony, the American Quarter Horse and
National Show Horse. Strains of the breed were also
introduced to the Lipizzaners of Austria, as well as
numerous other breeds around the world.
Arabians are considered the oldest of all the light
breed strains, and its influence can be traced to
many foundation stocks. But, the pure strains are
still cherished and preserved by breeders in the
Middle East, even today.
The modern purebred Arabian outside of the Middle
East typically has a "dished," or concave,
profile set on a beautifully shaped head. The eyes
are prominent, the nostrils are usually small, and
the muzzle is usually "teacup", in shape
and size. The neck is gracefully arched, and the head
is inherently held high.
The back is short and level. The shoulders are long
and sloped. The chest is broad, deep and muscular.
Its legs are long, and the tendons are clearly
defined. The Arabian has small hooves, with a very
tough consistency, that are wide at the heel. The
hind quarters slope, and the tail is distinctly
arched before it drops.
Overall, one can clearly see that this horse defines
strength, speed, and stamina in a beautifully
The coat can be chestnut, grey, bay, or black and is
very fine. The underlying skin is always black. It is
not uncommon for a purebred Arabian to have white
markings on the face and/or legs. The mane and tail
are full, yet soft to the touch.
The typical Arabian ranges from 14.2 to 15.2 hands
(56.8 to 60.8 inches, or 144.27 to 154.45
centimeters) at the shoulder and weighs between 800
and 1000 pounds (56.8 to 71 stones).
Depending on the strain and characteristics, Arabian horses
are used for Western and English riding, racing,
jumping, endurance competitions, showing, cutting and
reining, and dressage. This is a very versatile horse
which bonds naturally with humans and can also be
used as a family horse for people of all ages.
Your Independent guide to Horses
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