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The Arabian Horse Breed: Its History and Facts Revealed

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I have one friend that competes with Arabians in western pleasure and another friend that rides them playing polo. Seeing the range of this breed made me curious if this horse would be suitable for us, so I decided to research the Arabian breed.

The history and facts surrounding the Arabian horse breed are fascinating; they originated on the Arabian peninsula. Through centuries of selective breeding, they developed into one of the most desired horse breeds globally.  And Arabian blood helped develop many other horse breeds. 

The Arabian horse breed is one of the oldest and most influential horse breeds in the world. They’ve been ridden into battle and used to influence almost every modern horse breed.

History of Arabian horses.

Stone etching of Arabian horses dates back 3500 years. Arabian horses present a contradiction; they have unmatched beauty but are as tough as nails. They are hard-charging and fiery, graceful, and tempered.

Picture of an Arabian horse.

Signs of Arabian horses were discovered in stone etchings that are more than 3500 years old. However, current DNA testing determined modern purebreds can only be traced back to 200 years.

Scientific testing confirmed the Arabian we know today was created from a mixture of horses. sciencedirect.com/ Although theories vary on the exact location, the consensus is that the ancestor to the modern Arabians originated on the Asian peninsula.

In 2010 relics were discovered in Saudi Arabia from 6590 and 7250 BC that appear to portray Arabian horses. Thousands of years ago, on the peninsula, the Bedouin lived in a harsh desert environment.

Arabian horses were domesticated by the Bedouin.

To survive, they domesticated camels and horses. The Bedouin people lived a sparse life and needed a horse that could survive on little water and pasture.

Darwin’s theory was in action, the weak were culled, and the strong survived and adapted. Arabians developed into a fast, tough, robust breed.

This was the perfect horse needed by the Bedouin, they were marauders, raiding and pillaged neighboring villages. To be successful in their endeavors, they required horses with the traits developed in these hardy horses, speed, endurance, and intelligence.

Picture of an Arabian horse,

The horses were treated like family, often brought into the tents that served as homes for the dessert people. The Bedouins horse was a family member, warhorse, and status symbol.

Breeding for practical purposes was paramount, but the Bedouins also wanted refinement and beauty. The Bedouins were meticulous in their breeding practices.

The Bedouins bred only the best Arabians

The Bedouins treasured their pureblood Arabian mares and didn’t crossbreed them. The lineage of each horse was verbally passed from one generation to the next. It wasn’t until the 1300s that they began a written genealogy for their Arabians.

In the 7th century, their horses began to populate the known world. Muslims rode them in the invasion of Spain in 711 A.D., and they were used as fiery warhorses to pull the chariots of Eygptian warriors.

The Ottoman Empire established breeding facilities in 1299. The breeding facilities provided mounts for its cavalry soldiers and unique gifts for diplomats. The Ottomans’ collected purebreds from the desserts and maintained records of the horses’ pedigrees.

A scattering of Arabian horses first arrived in Europe in the early 2nd century. But the horses’ first significant influence on the continent occurred after the defeat of the Ottoman cavalry.

Europeans obtain Arabian horses the 14th century

Picture of three Arabian horses in a paddock,

The Ottomans sent 300,000 mounted soldiers to invade Europe in 1322. Seven years later this large cavalry was defeated and their horses captured. Most of the horses were purebreds from the Ottoman’s farms.

European governments realized the advantages of a quick-strike cavalry. So they began breeding the captured horses to bolster their mounted troops. Russian, Poland, and England established stud farms to meet their military needs.

Arabian horses continued to spread across Europe and into North America and Australia. These foundation horses are commonly classified by the pedigree established through early stud farms, such as Polish, Spanish, Crabbet, or Russian Arabians.

Down through the centuries, Arabians were crossed with many other horses to add refinement, endurance, athletic ability, and beauty. Their blood flows through most light horse breeds, including thoroughbred, quarter horse, and Appaloosa breeds.

Arabian horse characteristics.

Versatility

Arabs are a versatile breed, best known for endurance riding, showy looks, and willingness to please their owners. They have been used in parades, film, and search and rescue teams. They also make excellent western horses. Click here to read about equine activities that the breed excels in.

Picture of an Arabian stallion.
By Trescastillos

What does an Arabian horse look like?

When my granddaughter and I walked by an Arabian, she quickly spun around and asked me what kind of horse is that. Arabians stand out from most of the other breeds we’re used to seeing at a rodeo.

The most distinguishing feature of an Arabian horse is its concave face. The classic Arabian has a refined wedged-shaped head, with large eyes, and small muzzles. Their body is lean, like a long-distance runner, and they are typically smaller in stature.

An Arabian also has a long and arching neck with a short back and sloping shoulders, plus powerful hindquarters and a high tail carriage.

Arabian horses are small.

Arabian horses are not large horses; they average 14.1 – 15.1 hands tall and usually weigh about nine hundred pounds or less.

What are Arabians used for?

Arabians are used in many equine activities such as endurance racing, showjumping, trail riding, and many more. Their versatility is one of the reasons they are favored by so many horse owners.

Arabian Horse Shows

Arabians compete in English, Dressage, Western pleasure, and a host of other events in shows throughout the year. The Arabian Horse Association has a list of competitions on its webpage. Their site has a calendar of events and locations for horse shows in the United States and Canada.

Arabian horses are good for trail riding.

Arabians make excellent trail riding horses. They have high endurance, are surefooted, and have a willing nature. For experienced riders, the Arabian is the perfect trail riding horse.

Are Arabians good showjumpers?

Arabians are robust, lightweight, and put together as though they could leap over a tall building. I haven’t known anyone who’s used one in showjumping competitions, so I decided to find out about their jumping ability.

Arabians are a great showjumping breed, they are athletic horses with powerful hindquarters, fearless, and are willing learners. They naturally collect themselves and explode over fences. A well-trained Arabian can read riders’ cues and has the quickness to dash between obstacles.

The Arabian horse associations have jumping competitions for registered Arabian horses. You can visit the Arabian Horse Association site for more information.

Arabians are generally not suitable for beginners.

The horses are high-strung and are not suited to inexperienced riders. All horses are individuals, and some in the breed may make excellent beginner horses, but this would be the exception.

Arabians are intelligent horses with a sensitive nature. This combination is not ideal for an inexperienced rider. The horse is as likely to get frustrated with the rider as the rider is with the horse. Leave Arabians to be ridden by more seasoned horsemen. Click here to read an article about the intelligence of horses.

Arabian horse facts.

How much does an Arabian horse cost?

There’s no doubt that Arabians are exceptional horses, but they’re plenty of breeders, at least in the south. So I’m curious how much I should expect to spend on decent Arabian.

Arabian horses range in price from 3,500-20,000. The cost of horses varies based on age, training, conformation, and pedigrees. To check current prices visit equinenow.com/arabian

During the 1980s, horses were used as tax shelters. Arabians became a favorite of the wealthy and turned into a status symbol in the United States. Beautiful horses are sold at auction for exorbitant prices. One mare sold for over 2.5 million.

The increase in the prices of Arabians led to a boom in the population of the breed. Eventually, the tax loophole was closed, and the market overran with unwanted horses.

The surplus of horses led to a steep drop in prices. However, the market crept back up, and the prices stabilized. Today the United States has the largest registered Arabian horse population in the world.

How long do Arabian horses live?

Arabians originated in the desert of the Iberian peninsula, which makes me think they’re hardy animals and should have a long lifespan. But before a purchase one, I need to know how long I can expect the horse to live.

Arabian horses live on average, 28 years, which is the range of the light horse population. Large breeds such as draft horses have a lifespan of 18 years, and Friesian’s is even lower, only 16 years old.

If you buy a mature six-year-old Arabian you still have many productive riding years to look forward to.

Are Arabian horses faster than Thoroughbreds?

I watched my friend darting around the polo field on his Arabian. Every other player was riding a Thoroughbred, this made me wonder if an Arabian could outrun a Thoroughbred.

An Arabian isn’t faster and would lose in a race against a Thoroughbred on a standard horseracing track. Arabian run their best races not on a track but over many miles.

Arabians are fast, athletic horses with exceptional endurance, but Thoroughbreds are bred for speed. The versatility of an Arabian offers tremendous upside for most horse lovers. Read our article on fast horses here.

Arabian Horse Names

Owners of Arabian horses like to name their foals with Arabic phrases, or terms that sound Arabic. However, the name could be foolish when translated. So before you choose an Arabic name for your Arabian foal I urge you to visit this site.

The author goes through the does and don’ts of Arabic names. It is an extensive article and will help you choose the best name for your new Arabian.

The Arabian Horse Association was established in 1908

Arabian Horse Association, United States

In the United States, the oldest Arabian Horse Registry is the Arabian Horse Association. The association was established in 1908, and interest in these light horses ignited during the Chicago World Fair.

At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair 45 Arabian horses were brought from Turkey and put on exhibit. After the world fair, some of the horses died in a fire; the remaining horses were sold at auction.

Purchasers of the horses had their interest peaked and imported more Arabians. They also met with other Americans with interest in the breed and formed the Arabian Horse Association in New York in 1908.

The registry started with the registration of 74 horses, and today they have over half a million registered.

Arab Horse Society of Australia

Arabian horses arrived on the shores of Australia with the convicts brought over from Europe. They were imported to enhance the horses already present in Australia.

Purebred Arabians in Australia were recorded in studbooks in Englands’ British Arab Horse Society. This practice allowed Australians to confirm the pedigree of their horses. Horse owners continued registering horses in England until the 1960s.

In 1957 the Arab Horse Society of Australia was established. The purpose of this new society was to preserve the purity of the breed. They began the process by investigating all existing pedigrees, before founding their first Stud Book.

World Arabian Horse Organization

The World Arabian Horse Organization was founded in 1970 and headquartered in the United Kingdom. They have 82 member country affiliates.

The World Arabian Horse Organization was formed with the following objectives:

  • To preserve, improve, and maintain the purity of the blood of horses of the breed.
  • To promote public interest in the science of the breeding of Arabian horses;
  • To disseminate knowledge of the history, care, and treatment of horses of the breed;
  • To be a source of advising and coordination of policies and activities of Members of the Organization;
  • To co-operate with people throughout the world in an endeavor to promote uniformity in terminology, definitions, and procedures relative to the breed;
  • To act as a source in discussion and negotiation with International, National, and other authorities on matters concerning horses of the breed.

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