Drinkers of the Wind
The History of the Arabian Horse
Written by Becky Sturdy
And God took a handful of South wind and from it formed a horse, saying:
"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."
-- from Ancient Bedouin Legend
(Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)
The image of a great black Arabian stallion, floating along the beach, nose to the wind, tail flagging, caught the attention of audiences with the release of The Black Stallion. The star of this film, Cass Ole, a purebred black Arabian stallion, brought the charisma of the Arabian horse to people worldwide with his flowing mane and proud head. Arabians have existed for centuries to insure that generations to come can enjoy a glimpse of great horses like Cass Ole. The oldest breed of horse, Arabians are the only true purebred in the equine world. They have played a significant role in the history of man and horse, and will continue to provide enjoyment and companionship for years to come through the work of national and global organizations dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the breed.
There are many myths and theories concerning the origins of the Arabian horse. The traditional legends, including the Bedouin legend above, have surrounded the Arabian's roots in mystery. Another story is that "In the beginning, God gave Ishmael, son of Abraham, a gift, made of mist and dust, as a reward for Ishmael's faith and dedication to the God of his father. Out of the mist and dust came the first Asil Arabian mare, who was at the time in foal, and produced a son. From these two gifts from God came the beginning of the Asil (pure) Arabian horse (Whitman Legend and Reality of Blue Star Arabians)." In most cases, the Arabian was considered a gift from god, and treated as such by the Bedouin society. The Arabian horse grew and flourished in the rich grass along the Fertile Crescent, now Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the Arabia peninsula (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). The origin of the name "Arab" is unclear; possibly derived from the concept of nomadism "Arabha," Hebrew for a dark or steppe land, or "Erebh," opposed to the ordered life of stationary communities (Origins of the Arabian Horse). "Arab is a Semitic word meaning 'desert' or the inhabitant thereof, with no reference to nationality...the Arabian became known as the hot-blooded horse of the 'Arabas' (Origins of the Arabian Horse)." Though the origin of the Arabian horse remains a mystery, his lineage traces back five thousand years. His ancient ancestors were slightly smaller than the Arabians of today, but otherwise the modern Arabians are exceptionally similar in appearance (The History of the Arabian Horse).
There are several characteristics that set the Arabian horse apart from other breeds, the most noticeable being their face. "The Arabian's head has a characteristic dished profile with a prominent eye, large nostrils and small teacup muzzle (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)." There was religious significance in the Arabian's features; the large forehead was said to hold the blessings of Allah. High tail carriage was symbolic of pride. The arched neck and high crest signified courage (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). The Arabian's broad chest, short, but strong back, and sloped shoulder give him power and floaty gaits (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). Arabian horses come in many colors, grey, chestnut, bay, roan, brown, and occasionally black. Most Arabians stand between 14.1 and 15.2 hands (one hand is equivalent to four inches) and weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds as adults (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian
Arabian horses are well known for being affectionate and bonding well with humans (The Arabian Horse Today). People enjoy many activities with their Arabians, from showing to pleasure riding. Arabians can be shown at local, regional, and national levels in a variety of disciplines. Classes include English, park, country, hunter, and western pleasure, sidesaddle, jumping, dressage, gaming events, and halter (The Arabian Horse Today). Arabians have also become the breed of choice in the endurance world because of their stamina and agility. One of the most popular events in Arabian shows is native costume; in this class horse and rider wear Americanized versions of Bedouin garb, complete with tassels and embroidery, and perform at walk, canter, and hand gallop. Arabians also
compete in racing, cattle and ranch work, and pleasure trail riding. Due to their friendly nature and willingness to work, Arabians are a popular choice for instructional programs and therapeutic riding (International Arabian Horse Association). Arabians become devoted companions, a testament to their long history of importance in the people's lives they share.
It is unknown whether the Arabian was first needed for work or riding, but by 1500 B.C. the people of the East had domesticated the Arabian horse (Origins of the Arabian Horse). The Arabian had become a necessity for the Bedouin people to ensure their survival (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). The horses were of great importance to the tribes, and "the head men of the tribes could relate the verbal histories of each family of horse in his tribe as well as he could each family of Bedouin (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." Like most horses, the Arabian horse was primarily used in. "A well mounted Bedouin could attack an enemy tribe and capture their herds of sheep, camels and goats, adding to the wealth of their own tribe (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." This desert warfare, "Ghazu," depended on the stamina, agility, and speed of the Arabian horse (The Arabian Horse Today). In many breeds of horses, stallions are held at higher importance than mares, yet the Bedouins considered their mares to be the prized possessions in their herd. "Mares were the best mounts for raiding parties, as they would not nicker to the enemy tribe's horses, warning of their approach. The best war mares exhibited great courage in battle, taking the charges and the spear thrusts without giving ground (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." The Bedouin would also race their horses, the winner receiving the best horses in the losers' herd (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). It was considered a great honor to receive a mare as a gift, and legends were often told of mares stolen or bought at great price. "For many years the greatest prize at the southern end of this trail was the exotic and beautiful 'white horse of the desert,' the purebred Arabian horse (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)."
The word of the elegant horses of the desert had begun to spread out of the Bedouins' tribes.
Starting about 3500 years ago, the Egyptian empire expanded its borders, and the civilizations of the Indus Valley mixed with the cultures of Mesopotamia. The empires of the Hurrians, Hittites, Kassites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and others rose and fell, and the Arabian "pony express" provided a means to connect the vast empires (Origins of the Arabian Horse). With the rise of the Prophet Mohammed and the Islamic faith, around 600 A.D., the desert warriors and their Arabian horses spread their faith to the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and China (Arabian Horses Spread to Europe). The Prophet Mohammed's teaching of "every man shall love his horse," was so powerful, that the Bedouin warriors and their brave steeds, proved to be invincible (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). In 868 A.D., a Mameluke, Ahmad Ibn Tulun, "finally
subjected Egypt to his will, building palatial gardens to provide a setting for the hippodrome that housed his finest Arabian horses (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)." Many Mameluke warriors and sultans presided over Egypt, and with their acknowledgment of fine bloodstock, they continued the breeding of some of the finest Arabian horses (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). It was not until Napoleon in 1798 that the Mamelukes were overthrown, and the horses captivated Napoleon; "the beautiful Arabian horses, richly harnessedsnorting, neighing, prancing gracefully and lightly under their martial riders, who are covered with dazzling arms inlaid with gold and precious stones. Their costumes are brilliantly colorful; their turbans are surmounted with egret feathers and some wear gilded helmets...( Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)." When the French left, Egypt was under the rule of the Albanian, Mohammed Ali the Great. He founded one of the greatest Arabian stud farms of all time (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). Word of the quick, yet elegant, horse had begun to spread across Europe, Asia, and into North America.
"Europe had developed horses through the Dark Ages to carry a knight and his armor. Their lighter horses were from the pony breeds. They had nothing to compare with the small, fast horses upon which the invaders were mounted (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." The world was becoming smaller as groups traveled from kingdom to empire, bringing with them gifts and possessions. Among these, the Arabian horse was brought by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire to rulers of Europe as gifts (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). Beginning with the Christian Crusades, European horses began to be "lightened" by Arabian blood, as the crusaders returned to Europe. Invention of firearms led to a desire for lighter horses as the heavy horses were no longer necessary to carry armor (Arabian Horses Spread to Europe). It became standard to use purebred Arabians to lighten and improve European stock (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). The Arabian did not stop at the Atlantic Ocean in its travels and influence.
In 1725, Nathan Harrison of Virginia imported the first Arabian stallion into the colonies (Introduction of Arabian Horses to North America). The next Arabian enthusiast in the United States, and the first Arabian breeder of consequence, was A. Keene Richard. Between 1853 and 1856 he imported several stallions and mares for breeding, but the Civil War interrupted his breeding program, and no horses survived (Introduction of Arabian Horses to North America). It would be several decades later before Arabians made an appearance in America, but when they came, they came to stay. In 1873, General Ulysses S. Grant was given two purebred Arabian stallions, Leopard and Lindentree, on a trip to the Middle East by Sulton, Abdul Hamid II of Turkey (AHRA Mission Statement). Leopard was then passed to Randolph Huntington, who then imported two more stallions and two mares in 1888 from England. This became the first purebred Arabian breeding program in the United States (AHRA Mission Statement). The 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, Illinois, was the turning point for Arabian popularity in America when Turkey exhibited forty-five purebred Arabians (AHRA Mission Statement). After the World's Fair, the importation of Arabian horses increased as they became a sought after mount and breeding stock among prominent Americans. One of the other great influences of Arabian horses in America came in 1906 when Homer Davenport, sponsored by Teddy Roosevelt and supported financially by Peter Bradley, imported twenty-seven Arabians into Boston (AHRA Mission Statement). These horses began the family of Davenport Arabians. Between 1898 and 1911, Spencer Borden imported twenty horses to his Interlachen Stud; W.R. Brown imported twenty horses from England, six from France, and seven from Egypt between 1918 and 1932. Another influential Arabian breeder, W.K. Kellogg, brought seventeen horses from Crabbet stud of England in 1926 and 1927 (Introduction of Arabian Horses to North America). Roger Selby established Selby stud with another import of Crabbet horses between 1928 and 1933 (Introduction of Arabian Horses to North America). Desert bred horses were brought to America in 1930 and 1931 when Albert Harris imported them along with two horses from England (Introduction of Arabian Horses to North America). Later, in 1934, the Spanish Arabian was introduced to America through Joseph Draper's five imported horses (Introduction of Arabian Horses to North America). The 1940's and 1950's imports slowed down, yet at the death of Lady Wentworth in 1957, the dispersal of her Crabbet Stud in England, the increase in imported horses resumed (Introduction of Arabian Horses to North America). By the end of the fifties, the Arabian horse had begun to flourish in the United States and around the globe, leading to the formation of local, national, and worldwide organizations to benefit the Arabian horse.
On September 2, 1908, the Arabian Horse Club of America, Inc., was founded in New York State; the club changed names many times, and eventually settled in Colorado as the Arabian Horse Registry of America (AHRA Mission Statement). In 1909, the Department of Agriculture recognized the Registry's Stud Book as the official Registry for purebred Arabian horses. At that time there were seventy-one horses registered and eleven owners (AHRA Mission Statement). The AHRA is the oldest North American club for Arabian owners, and it has become the record keeping organization for both New Mexico and United States purebred Arabian horses (AHRA Mission Statement). With the booming Arabian horse community, owners were looking for activities to participate in with their beloved steeds. In 1950, AHRA set a policy that it would remain only a registry, and suggested that an organization be founded for the purpose to guide the activities of the Arabian horse owners worldwide (AHRA Mission Statement). Clubs had begun to form starting in 1944, but it had become apparent a global blanket organization was needed to coordinate the work of the smaller groups (AHRA Mission Statement). Thus, on March 31, 1950, the International Arabian Horse Association was formed to promote and coordinate Arabian horse activities and oversee registries for Arabian crosses (AHRA Mission Statement). A third major organization arrived on the global Arabian scene in the 1970's: the World Arabian Horse Organization. WAHO was formed to provide an international voice for both the registries and the activity clubs from all countries (AHRA Mission Statement). Other clubs include the Arabian Jockey Club, dedicated to Arabian horse racing, and the Bedouin Source, a group focusing on horses whose pedigree can be traced back in every line to the horse breeding tribes of the desert (AHRA Mission Statement and Whitman Bedouin Source). Organizations have aided in guaranteeing the future of the Arabian through activities, public awareness, and breeding programs.
The definitions of a purebred Arabian have varied over time. "The Bedouins have generally been credited with the beginning of selective pure breeding of Arabian horses (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." The Bedouin tribes kept their breeding records in memory, passing them down to later generations through verbal stories (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). The Arabian was a gift from Allah, and was meant to be kept in the pure form intended by their god. In fact, "to this date, many Arabian pedigrees can be traced to "desert breeding" meaning there is no written record, but because of the importance of purity to the Bedouins, we accept desert bred as an authentic verification of pure blood (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." The Bedouins were careful to prevent the creation of crosses between their beloved Arabian mares and the outside "Kadish" stallion. It was believed that once a mare had been bred by these outside stallions, they were forever contaminated, and could never produce a purebred foal (Whitman Legend and Reality of Blue Star Arabians). Several strains of Arabians developed as the Bedouins bred their choice mares to select stallions exhibiting the type they preferred. "Mare families, or strains, were named, often according to the tribe or sheik who bred them (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." The tracing of a Arabian horse family was done along the dam line, proving the importance of the mares to the tribes (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). Other desert type horses evolved, but none were ever considered by the Bedouins for their Arabians. These horses, called "Barbs" and "Turks" developed in North Africa and the perimeters of the Great Desert (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). The Bedouins were the Arabian horses' first caretakers and protectors. They were conscientious about the breeding of their prized herd; this attitude towards the desert breed still comes through in the registries and clubs today who have devoted their efforts to the preservation of the Arabian horse.
As the mission statement of the Arabian Horse Registry of America states, "It is the purpose and responsibility of the Arabian Horse Registry of America, Inc. to preserve the integrity of the blood of the purebred Arabian horse. The Registry pursues this commitment by registering purebred Arabian horses, maintaining permanent records and engaging in activities which aid, promote, and foster the preservation and betterment of purebred Arabian horses and the Arabian breed (AHRA Mission Statement)." Starting in 1976 a permanent record blood typing program for breeding stallions was implemented by the Arabian Horse Registry of America, and in 1991 full parentage qualification by blood typing became required to register new foals as purebred Arabians (AHRA Mission Statement). The sire and dam must be registered as purebreds in the Registry, or an approved registry, and the foals need to be blood typed to ensure the identity and breeding of the foal. This is a more strict policy than the World Arabian Horse Organization, who requires horses to be purebreds, but has allowed horses of questionable breeding into their registries. This has led to a dispute between AHRA and WAHO, and breeders across the globe. The question of a horse's purity in their breeding can become complicated when the lineage leads back to the desert, or countries with less careful record keeping. Though the general theory is that a purebred Arabian must be able to have its lines traced to the desert breeders (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). The Arabian, though, has continued to be separated into different strains or families, many of whom originated in the Bedouin tribes.
"The Bedouin valued pure in strain horses above all others, and many tribes owned only one main strain of horse. The five basic families of the breed, known as "Al Khamsa," include Kehilan, Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani, and Hadban (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." Al Khamsa are descended in all lines from the Bedouin's desert horses (Whitman Legend and Reality of Blue Star Arabians). When the strains were bred pure, they developed characteristics that made them identifiable (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). "The Kehilan strain was noted for depth of chest, masculine power and size. The average pure in strain Kehilan stood up to fifteen hands. Their heads were short with broad foreheads and great width in the jowls. Most common colors were gray and chestnut (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." Compared to the Kehilan, the Seglawi was more refined with fine bones, long faces and necks, giving them a more feminine look. They were known to be quick, but were lacking the endurance of other strains. The Seglawi typically stood at 14.2 hands and were predominantly bay in color (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). A strain similar in build to the Seglawi is the Abeyan; they were also refined and had longer backs than the typical Arabian. These horses were usually small, grey, and more white markings than other strains (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). The Hamdani "were often considered plain, with an athletic if somewhat masculine, large boned build. Their heads were more often straight in profile, lacking an extreme Jibbah (bulging forehead) (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse)." This strain of Arabian stands taller than most, up to 15.2 hands, and are often gray and bay (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). Known for their gentle nature, the Hadban, were smaller versions of the athletic Hamdani; they kept the muscular frame despite their average size of 14.3 hands. Most Hadban Arabians are bay or brown with little white (History and Heritage of the Arabian Horse). These strains were later developed into "nationalities," where the names refer to the countries of origins.
All purebred Arabian horses are distantly related; they all trace back to their desert origins, and most include similar breeding stock in their pedigrees, especially the Crabbet Arabians (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). The Crabbet Arabian Stud of Sussex, England is given credit for promoting the Arabian to far reaches of the globe (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). The Crabbet Arabian Stud was owned and managed Mr. Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt and later by their daughter Judith Blunt Lytton, well-known as Lady Wentworth (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). The Blunts personally chose their foundation stock from the Egyptian desert and imported these Arabians to their farm (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). Lady Wentworth led the Crabbet Stud to its strongest seasons as a breeding facility with her prize Arabian, Skowronek, who sired three of the most famous Arabian stallions in the history of Arabian breeding, *Raseyn, *Raffles, and Naseem (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed).
One of the families influenced heavily by Lady Wentworth's Crabbet Stud was CMK Arabians. For an Arabian to be considered a CMK, he must meet the three following criteria: 1. Be 75% by pedigree descended from CMK sources; 2. Have a tail sire line to a CMK source; 3. Have a tail dam line established in North America by 1950 (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). The CMK sources include English breeding (Crabbet), the horses imported by Kellogg and Brown, Davenport Arabians, and special cases (Draper's Spanish Arabians) (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed).
Desert bred horses can trace their pedigrees straight back to original desert tribes (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). They are bred mostly for their specific strains in the tradition of the Bedouin breeders. Homer Davenport's Arabians are considered the largest group of desert bred horses existing today (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). Few true desert bred horses exist today, so they are rarely seen in show rings, remaining mostly for breeding. Many national champions today, though, have desert breeding in their lineage (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). Many confuse the desert bred Arabians with the Egyptian Arabian, a popular horse in show rings today. "Egyptian Arabian horses in the 1990s are highly valued both as straight individuals and as out-cross blood on other Arabian lines. They lend prepotent genetic vigor based on centuries of careful linebreeding and thoughtful culling (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)."
The French Arabian began being bred about one hundred years ago, around the same time breeding programs began in other countries in Europe, with imported desert horses (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). French Arabians were mainly bred for racing, and lack the beauty and type of their Crabbet counterparts. "For one hundred years the French, without government agendas, bred their Arabians exclusively to race. In doing this, so-called "type" may have been lost, but this type is a superficial aspect of the breed and only applies to nine of the listed strains (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)." French horses did become prominent in both Polish and Russian Arabian breeding (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed).
Poland was one of countries that imported purebred Arabians into their breeding programs in order to establish an Arabian stud farm (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). Polish Arabians originated from mostly Kehilian and Seglawi strains "to keep that so-called Arabian "type," wanting these horses for outcrosses. Their "prettiness" would add refinement to native stock (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)." Poland's purebred Arabian traditions date back to the days of the "Amber Trail," the trading thoroughfare between the Black and Baltic Seas (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). Polish Arabians are popular today because they tend to have more substance and still retain type and refinement. In 1993, the definition of "pure polish" was adopted by the Korona Polish Arabian Breeders Society, yet it remains disputed by breeders internationally (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). The older "pure Polish" horses were bred for athleticism, and this is where the breeders today are headed in establishing the Polish Arabian of the future (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed).
Russian Arabians have many ties to the Polish Arabians. In fact, "The first Russian-bred imports to the United States and Canada were considered "Polish" because they were imported from Poland, although bred and foaled in the Soviet Union (USSR) (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)." Russian breeding programs had relied heavily on the Polish and Crabbet lines with an infusion of French and Egyptian breeding as well (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed). The Polish influence is mainly due to the "evacuation" of twelve Polish Arabian stallions and forty-two mares during World War II, who were introduced into the Russian breeding programs (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed).
"The Arabians of Spain trace mostly to desert-bred, Polish, and Crabbet imports to Spain. In recent years, a few Egyptian lines have been added (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed)." Spanish Arabians were originally bred by and for Spanish royalty, and later private and military breeders began stud farms. The first large importation of Spanish Arabians into the United States was done by Joseph Draper of California. He imported four mares and a stallion during 1934, but it was not until the 1960's that America rediscovered the Spanish Arabian (Byford, et al. Origination of the Arabian Breed).
Breeding programs designed specifically for particular strains or families exist around the world, but many establishment also specialize in the breeding of horses with only partial Arabian parentage, or horses who were developed from Arabians as their foundation stock. The common racehorse today, the thoroughbred, is a direct descendant of the Godolphin Arabian, Darley Arabian, and the Byerly Turk, who were imported to England between 1683 and 1730 (Arabian Horses Spread to Europe). Other countries owe the origins of their national breeds to the Arabian: Russia's Orlov Trotter, France's Percheron, and the American Morgan and Trotter (The Arabian Horse Today). Currently Arabians are crossed with many breeds, including thoroughbreds, morgans, paints, appaloosas, quarter horses, and warmbloods; these "half-Arabians" can be registered through the International Arabian Horse Association as Half-Arabians or Anglo-Arabians (Arabian crossed with a thoroughbred) and shown in many of the same shows as purebred Arabians (Internation Arabian Horse Association). Part-Arabians have become increasingly popular as the "customized" show horse as breeders promote the different crosses and their individual benefits as show mounts or pleasure horses.
For centuries Arabians have been the mount of choice from world leaders to backyard horse owners. Even Napolean, George Washington, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great rode Arabians (The History of the Arabian Horse). Their exquistite beauty, intelligence, stamina, and devotion to their owners has made Arabians one of the most popular breeds to own and show. With the help of clubs and registries, the Arabian will remain unchanged from the "Asil" of the Bedouin tribes. Thanks to careful breeding programs, the Arabian will be enjoyed for generations to come, and the black stallions of children's dreams may eventually be a reality.