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Horse Articles :: Mystique of Arabian Horses

Arabian Horse Mystique

Few breeds of horse have captured the imagination like the Arabian horse has. Since the dawn of history, Arabian horses have inspired and influenced many people.

In the days of early history, Arabian horses were prized as warhorses and mounts for royalty. The Old Testament in the Bible contains many references and descriptions to these horses, the most notable being in the book of Job, where a horse "rejoices in his strength" and "is not frightened - he devours the distance with fierceness."

Artwork of the time depicts these chariot horses with many of the physical attributes of modern Arabian horses, such as the dished face and high-set tail. The most prized warhorses were bred in Egypt, and it was indicative of the great wealth of King Solomon that he built entire cities to house Egyptian-bred warhorses and their handlers. These attributes of courage and speed are still prized in Arab horses today.

Arising much later, Islamic legend recounts how Allah made the first Arab horse from the four winds (or the south wind, depending on which version of the myth the teller uses), gifting it and all Arabian horses with "flight without wings" and naming it, "Lord of the other animals" and one of the "Glories of the Earth."

The Bedouin people in particular bred Arabian horses with great care for the purity of the bloodline, which they called Asil. They took this purity of the blood so seriously that if a mare was ever bred to a non-asil stallion, both she and all future offspring would be "contaminated."

Legend has it that the Asil strain are descended from the five favourite mares of the prophet Mohammed. It is ironic today that some Bedouin-bred Arabian horses are not considered or registered as purebreds, because the breeders do not see the need for paperwork to guarantee a horse's breeding and do not register their horses.

Arab horses have also played a vital role in the development of Thoroughbred racehorses. All modern Thoroughbreds can trace their ancestry back to one of three founding Arabian stallions, known as the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Barb ("Turk" and "Barb" were synonymous with "Arabian" at that time).

Arabian horses today are creatures of great beauty. Although they are not tall horses - some measure only 14 hands - they are never called ponies, even though they technically fall into this definition. The distinctive features of the breed are the dished or concave face (as opposed to the more Roman nose of, for example, the Shire horse), the flowing high-set tail, the large expressive eyes and a dark skin colour. The most common colours for an Arabian horse are grey (which includes white), chestnut and bay. Black is a rare color, though not completely unheard of.

It may have been a more common colour in antiquity; the Old Testament lists black horses alongside "white", "red" and "dappled." Arab horses are surprisingly strong and tough for their size, and these qualities mean that they are popular choices when breeding cross-breeds.

There is very little work that the Arabian horse cannot do. Their powers of stamina make them very suitable for endurance work. Their intelligence and beauty gives them a competitive edge in the show ring, and for show jumping and eventing. Speed makes the Arab horse an excellent racer - their role in developing the Thoroughbred has already been mentioned.

Intelligence also makes Arab horses suitable for stock work - one modern tale tells of how the owner of an Arabian stock horse was mocked by fellow-workers because of his "fancy show-pony" until they saw just what the horse could do. And as they have a willingness to please and a great capacity for affection - a result of millennia of close contact with humans - Arab horses are popular as pleasure horses and companion animals.

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