photo courtesy of US Arabian Registry

The Arabian horse is generally considered to be the world's oldest pure breed of horse and its exact origins are to a large extent shrouded in the mists of time. Statues and bas-reliefs from the ancient world clearly depict recognisably “Arabian type” horses on the tombs of kings and pharoahs. What can be certain however is that for the last few thousand years up until the twentieth century the Arabian horse was inextricably linked to the lives and lifestyle of the nomadic Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

The combination of a harsh environment and the Bedouin's preoccupation with purity of blood resulted in a breed of light horse ideally suited to their needs. Characterised by dense bone, hard round hooves, a short back, high tail carriage and a fine wedge shaped head with large eyes and nostrils, agility and intelligence as well as an effortless floating action. The pedigrees of the Bedouin horses were recorded by oral tradition emphasising the descent through female lines, in contrast with the western “stallion orientated” approach. The main use of horses, primarily mares, was in raiding neighbours; the demanding lifestyle resulted in the survival of only the fittest. Foals were ridden by small children as part of the training process.

Vitor Ribeiro with Atrevido practicing before a bullfight in Artesia, CA
photo courtesy of MAGKON /RC

The Bedouin traded surplus horses from time to time usually stallions (being too noisy for raiding purposes) rather than mares and these horses were highly sought after by all from Kings and Potentates on down.

Rulers have always desired to be seen riding a fine horse as a means of enhancing their own stature. This desire for outstanding horseflesh created a vibrant market for Arabian horses in Europe during the eighteenth century with horses being presented as gifts or being purchased through the horse markets of the Ottoman Empire, the horse-market in Constantinople being the largest in the world at that time. During the seventeenth century Turkish traders with their exotic foods, dress and Arabian horses dazzled western society. Indeed Arabian stallions were highly prized both as riding mounts and for breeding purposes to improve local breeds. Well-known eighteenth century riders of Arabian horses include George Washington (Magnolia) and Napoleon Bonaparte (Marengo).

During the nineteenth century far sighted individuals saw the benefit of establishing their own breeding programs of Arabian horses based on imported stock, often the initial motivation for this was to have a constant supply of Arabian blood to upgrade and improve the local stock, in many cases Arabian horse breeding became the main focus of these establishments. Breeding programs such as those established at Weil (Germany), Babolna (Hungary), Crabbet Park (England) and Slawuta (Poland) have had a profound impact on the Arabian horse world-wide. A major change during this period was that people began to travel to Arabia themselves in search of horses, rather than rely on third parties and agents such was their disire to be certain of the purity of the horses they obtained. One such person was an American A.Keene Richards of Georgetown Ky who made two journeys and imported several horses into the United States in the 1850's. He established perhaps the first pure Arabian breeding program in North America. Sadly his efforts were lost and scattered due to the civil war.

photo courtesy of US Arabian Registry

Modern North American Arabian horse breeding traces its roots to the gift from the Sultan of Turkey to former President Grant of the stallions Leopard and Linden Tree in 1878. Randolph Huntington's mare Naomi who was imported from England being the first Arabian mare to leave descendants who have bred on to the present day. When bred to Leopard in 1889 she foaled Anazeh the following year.

During the twentieth century, the Arabian horse became increasingly more widespread throughout the world, particularly during the last 50 years or so. Today an international community exists united by their love and enthusiasm for the Arabian horse. The same qualities of speed, tractability, agility, stamina and intelligence which gave the Bedouin the ultimate war horse, are now put to more peaceful endeavours, such as racing, endurance riding, dressage, driving, reining, working livestock or simply trail-riding for pleasure. For those who appreciate the unique combination of spirit with tractability and docility with courage and intelligence that the breed possesses, in the Arabian horse they have a riding companion without peer.

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