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Barb Horse: History, Colors, and Characteristics.

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While reading about the Thoroughbred foundation stallion, the Godolphin Arabian, I learned he may have been a barb. Since I wasn’t really familiar with this breed I researched its history and uses and found a lot of interesting information.

The Barb horse is one of the oldest equine breeds in the world. They are known for their versatility, stamina, strength, and intelligence. Originating in northern Africa, they are closely associated with the Berber and Amazigh peoples of the Maghreb.

The Barb Horse is a breed that has been around for centuries. They come in different colors and have some unique characteristics, but what exactly do we know about them? In this blog post, I will explore the history of these amazing animals as well as their characteristics.

Picture of a barb horse.

Barb horse history and origins

It is widely accepted that Barb horses originated on the northern coast of Africa. They were made famous by the Berbers, often called Moors, who invaded Europe riding the Barb horses.

These tough, agile, and brave horses, which were often said to have the “heart of a lion” outran and outmaneuvered the big slow horses ridden by European knights. In 711 the Moors conquered Spain, primarily because of the tenacity of the barb horses.

After the Moorish invasions of Spain came to an end, the Barb continued to be prized by the Spanish aristocracy. The Spanish nobles often used the Barb, and it soon became a popular breed in Spain and Portugal.

The characteristics of Barb horses were recognized and valued by Europeans, and they were bred to various horses on the continent creating new breeds, that were smaller, faster, and more intelligent than the large warhorse that populated most of the regions.

Was the Godolphin Arabian really a Barb?

When Barb horses were introduced to Europe, they were often mistaken for Arabian Horses. However, they didn’t share many physical characteristics with their equine counterparts from the “Middle East.”

This brings me back to the confusion about the great sire the Godolphin Arabian. In most historical writings he is listed as an Arabian with a caveat that he could be a Barb. However, the reason why the Barbs were called Arabian was due in part because of their similar size when compared to the standard large horses found in Europe at the time.

European people often referred to small foreign horse breeds as Arabs, even though they may have originated from somewhere else entirely. After reading all of the information I found, it seems that Godolphin Arabian was most likely a Barb.

Characteristics of Barb Horses

The Barb is a powerful light-riding horse characterized by its strong neck and chest, high withers, and muscular build. The Barb is an excellent horse for western riding disciplines such as barrel racing and roping.

It is also a popular choice for endurance riding and trail riding due to its sure-footedness and stamina. The Barb is known for its intelligence and willingness to please, making it an excellent choice for beginners and experienced riders.

  • Height: On average they are about 14-15 hands (1.47-1.57 meters) at the withers.
  • Weight: The average weight of the horses is between 900-1000lbs.
  • Colors: They can be found in multiple colors such as gray, black, brown, and chestnut. 
  • Temperament: Barbs are known to be docile, gentile, and willing to learn. You will commonly find them being used for general riding and equestrian games. 
  • Life expectancy: The life expectancy of this breed is anywhere between 20-25 years.
  • Health issues: Barb horses have no breed-specific health issues associated and are hardy horses that can survive the extreme conditions in Africa. Much like other horses, they feed on grass, shrubs, hay, grain, and plants. 

Here’s more detailed information about the physical characteristics of Barb horses:

  • Tail: The Barb is a horse breed with a low-set tail. They’re easy to identify because of this characteristic trait, which makes them different from other breeds like Saddlebreds or Arabs which have high tail sets.
  • Hooves: The hooves of a Barb are very different from those of other breeds. They’re typically boxier in shape and much stronger, with fewer issues related to pain or soreness when compared to the feet of many other equine breeds.
  • Legs: The barb horse has powerful legs attributed to its short, strong bones and tough tendons. Good feet and legs are desirable attributes in all horses and likely is the reason they were used in the development of so many breeds.
Picture of a Barb horse in ceremonial costume.
Tsaag Valren, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Barb Horse

Bay Barb horse dressed for a fantasia, in Tozeur, Tunisia Africa.

Uses for Barb Horses

Barb horses have been utilized since ancient times. With versatility and adaptability, this breed is excellent for many different equine purposes. Some examples of things the Barb horse excels in include:

Equestrian Games

The Barb is a horse that can be found in many different types of equestrian events, including polo. They possess the stamina needed for this fast-paced sport and it’s what allows them to participate so frequently at high levels.

Endurance

The Barb is known for its incredible stamina and can travel great distances in just one day. With some training, these horses are excellent endurance athletes that will not give up until the task at hand has been completed.

Ceremonies

The Barb is often used for ceremonial purposes in countries like Morocco and Algeria. They are decorated with ornate saddles that contain semi-precious gems to show off their owner’s wealth during ceremonies or performances riding on them which take place exclusively within the borders where they originated.

Pleasure Riding

One of the most popular uses for Barb horses is pleasure riding. They can be seen in both English and Western styles, but it’s more common to see them ridden with western tack.

Breeding

The Barb is the foundation of many popular horse breeds, including Thoroughbreds. The strong build and white markings on their face have been influential in horses such as mustangs, the American quarter horse, and appaloosas who exhibit traits of their Barb ancestors.

Pros and Cons of owning a Barb Horse

Like with most great things, there usually is a downside. The Barb horse has many great qualities but there are a few negative things that you must be aware of when dealing with Barb horses. Here are some pros and cons of owning a Barb Horse.

Pros

  • Stamina – As I stated earlier, these horses have amazing endurance and are great for long treks.
  • Adaptability – Barb horses are a jack of all trades. You can do many things with Barb horses and they are very eager to learn new things to adapt to any situation. 
  • Hardy – Although this is a small breed, they are very strong. They are desert horses exposed to harsh environments which over time have evolved them into tank-like horses. 
  • Breeding – Barbs are the reason we have many other types of breeds today. Thoroughbreds, quarter horses, and many more have come from selective breeding of the Barb horse. 
  • Eagerness to learn – Barbs are known to be slightly temperamental but once accustomed to you, they are very eager to learn. From racing to ceremonial demonstrations, this breed loves to learn new things. 

Cons

  • Expensive – Although Barbs are not one of the most expensive breeds, horses in general are expensive. Between purchase price, food, maintenance, and the land to keep them on, be ready to spend thousands of dollars if you are looking to buy a Barb horse. 
  • Not good for children – I know this contradicts what I wrote earlier, however with proper training Barb’s make excellent children’s horses, but inexperienced riders and an untrained Barb are dangerous.
  •  Critically rare – Although this breed is not considered an endangered species, it is listed by The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and The Equus Survival Trust as critically rare, which means they are considered to be threatened with extinction.
  • Small in stature – Barb horses are typically less than 15 hands and many are under 14 which is extremely short compared to other breeds. 

Are Barbs and Arabians the same?

The short answer to this is no, they are not the same. There is actually a debate on which horse breed came first. Some say that the Arabian breed came first due to the influence the breed has had on the Barb horse breed. 

Wrap up

Barb horses are a North African breed that has a long and colorful history. They are known for their gentle disposition, intelligence, and willingness to please. Their coat colors can range from bay to black, and their average height is 14.3 hands. If you’re interested in owning a Barb horse, be sure to do your research first to find a reputable breeder. These horses make excellent companions and partners for riders of all levels of experience.

Below is an interesting YouTube video about the Barb horse breed.  

FAQ

Are Barb horses fast?

Barb horses are fast, they are generally considered to be one of the quickest breeds but they can’t reach the top speed of Thoroughbreds or the explosiveness of quarterhorses. Barb horses are also known for their sure-footedness and stamina, making them ideal for long-distance travel.

 Are Barb horses rare?

Barb horses are rare, they are categorized by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and The Equus Survival Trust as a critically rare horse breed.