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The Arabian Horse Association
10805 E. Bethany Dr.
Aurora, CO 80014

Tel: (303) 450-4748
Fax: (303) 696-4599
[email protected]


Horse of the Desert Bedouin
Somewhere in the Near East, centuries ago, a prototype of a breed of horse came into being that would influence the equine world beyond all imagination. In the sweet grass oasis along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in the countries that are now known as Syria, Iraq and Iran and in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, this hearty horse developed and would later be known as the Arabian horse.

To the Islamic people, he was considered a gift from Allah, to be revered, cherished and almost worshipped. Long before Europeans were to become aware of its existence, the horse of the desert had established itself as a necessity for survival of the Bedouin people (nomadic inhabitants of the Middle East desert region). The headmen 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. The mythology and romance of the breed grew with each passing century as stories of courage, endurance and wealth intermingled with the genealogies.

Due in part to the religious significance attached to the Arabian horse, as well as the contribution it made to the wealth and security of the tribe, the breed flourished in near isolation. Traditions of breeding and purity were established to keep the breed "Asil" or pure, in the form intended by Allah. Any mixture of foreign blood was strictly forbidden. While other breeds developed in North Africa and the periphery of the Great Desert, these "Barbs" and "Turks" were not of the same blood as Arabians and were disdained by the proud Bedouin.

The Arabian horse was primarily an instrument of war, as were horses in general in most societies of the time. A well-mounted Bedouin could attack an enemy tribe and capture their herds of horses, sheep, camels and goats, adding to the wealth of their own tribe. Such a raid was only successful if the aggressors could attack with surprise and speed and make good their escape. 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. Speed and endurance were essential as well, for the raids were often carried out far from the home camp, family and children.

Races were held with the winner taking the best of the loser's herd as their prize. Breeding stock could be bought and sold, but as a rule, the war mares carried no price. If indeed they changed hands it would be as a most honored gift. Through the centuries the tribes who roamed the northern desert in what is now Syria became the most esteemed breeders of fine horses. No greater gift could be given than an Arabian mare.

The value placed upon the mare led inevitably to the tracing of any family of the Arabian horse through his dam. The only requirement of the sire was that he be "Asil." If his dam was a "celebrated" mare of a great mare family, so much the better. Mare families, or strains, were named, often according to the tribe or sheik that bred them.

Europe had developed horses through the Dark Ages to carry a knight and his armor. Their lighter mounts were mostly ponies. They had nothing to compare with the small, fast horses upon which the invaders were mounted. An interest in these "Eastern" horses grew, along with fantastical stories of prowess, speed, endurance and even jumping ability. To own such a horse would not only allow for the improvement of local stock, but would endow the fortunate man with incredible prestige. Europeans of means, primarily royalty, went to great lengths to acquire these fabled horses.

As the world slowly shrank due to increasing travel abroad, the Turkish rulers of the Ottoman Empire began to send gifts of Arabian horses to European heads of state. Such was the nature of The Godolphin Arabian (sometimes called "Barb") imported to England in 1730 as well as the Byerley Turk (1683) and the Darley Arabian (1703). These three "Eastern" stallions formed the foundation upon which a new breed, the Thoroughbred, was to be built. Today all modern thoroughbreds can be traced to these three sires. By direct infusion, and through the blood of the Thoroughbred, the Arabian has contributed, to some degree to all our light breeds of horses.

Origins of the Arabian Horse
The origin of the Arabian horse remains a great zoological mystery. Although this unique breed has had a distinctive national identity for centuries, its history nevertheless is full of subtleties, complexities and contradictions. It defies simple interpretation.

When we first encounter the Arabian, or the prototype of what is known today as the Arabian, he is somewhat smaller than his counterpart today. Otherwise he has essentially remained unchanged throughout the centuries.

Authorities are at odds about where the Arabian horse originated. The subject is hazardous, for archaeologists' spades and shifting sands of time are constantly unsettling previously established thinking. There are certain arguments for the ancestral Arabian having been a wild horse in northern Syria, southern Turkey and possibly the piedmont regions to the east as well. The area along the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent comprising part of Iraq and running along the Euphrates and west across Sinai and along the coast to Egypt, offered a mild climate and enough rain to provide an ideal environment for horses. Other historians suggest this unique breed originated in the southwestern part of Arabia, offering supporting evidence that the three great river beds in this area provided natural wild pastures and were the centers in which Arabian horses appeared as undomesticated creatures to the early inhabitants of southwestern Arabia.

Because the interior of the Arabian Peninsula has been dry for approximately 10,000 years, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for horses to exist in that arid land without the aid of man. The domestication of the camel in about 3500 BC provided the Bedouins (nomadic inhabitants of the Middle East desert regions) with means of transport and sustenance needed to survive the perils of life in central Arabia, an area into which they ventured about 2500 BC. At present, however, there is no proof of the horse existing on the Arabian Peninsula until approximately 300 BC.

There can be little dispute, however, that the Arabian horse has proved to be, throughout recorded history, an exceptionally old breed, which remains to this very day.

Debate continues over where and when the horse was first domesticated, and whether it was first used for draft or riding. We do know that by 1500 BC the people of the east had obtained great mastery over their horses that were the forerunners of the breed that eventually became known as "Arabian."

About 3500 years ago the hot-blooded horse assumed the role of king-maker in the east, including the valley of the Nile and beyond, changing human history and the face of the world. With the horse the Egyptians were made aware of the vast world beyond their own borders. The Pharaohs were able to extend the Egyptian empire by harnessing the horse to their chariots and relying on its power and courage. With the help of the horse, societies of such distant lands as the Indus Valley civilizations were united with Mesopotamian cultures. The empires of the Hurrians, Hittites, Kassites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and others rose and fell under its thundering hooves. His strength made possible the initial concepts of a cooperative universal society, such as the Roman Empire. The horse shrank space, accelerated communications and linked empires together throughout the eastern world.

This horse of the east appears on seal rings, stone pillars and various monuments with regularity after the 16th century B.C. Egyptian hieroglyphics proclaim his value; Old Testament writings are filled with references to the horse's might and strength. Other writings talk of the creation of the Arabian, "thou shalt fly without wings and conquer without swords." King Solomon some 900 years BC eulogized the beauty of "a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots," while in 490 BC the famous Greek horseman, Xenophon proclaimed: "A noble animal which exhibits itself in all its beauty is something so lovely and wonderful that it fascinates young and old alike."

Arabian Horses Spread to Europe
With the rise of the Prophet Mohammed and the dawn of Islam, circa 600 AD, Arabia underwent a change in culture. Fired with zeal over their newfound Islamic faith, the Arab warriors swept out of the desert mounted on "Arabian horses," spreading the word of their Prophet by the sword. Bred in the desert their remarkable horses had evolved like finely tempered steel into the swift, elegant, graceful and magnificent warhorse by whose means the Arabs shook the civilized world. The Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean countries as far west as Spain and others as far east as China, fell to Islam.

European horses soon felt an extensive infusion of Arabian blood, especially as a result of the Christian Crusaders returning from the east between the years 1099 AD and 1249 AD. With the invention of fire arms, the heavily armored knight lost his importance and during the 16th century handy, light and speedy horses were in demand for use as cavalry mounts. Subsequent wars proved the superiority of the Arabian horse as the outstanding military mount throughout the world.

After the Crusades, people of the western world began looking to the people of the east for Arabian bloodstock. Between 1683 and 1730 a revolution in horse breeding occurred when the three Arabian stallions were imported to England.

In the 1800's significant Arabian stud farms were founded throughout Europe. The royal families of Poland established notable studs as did the kings of Germany and other European nations. Travelers in the Victorian era became enamored with the horse of the desert, and as a result of Lady Anne Blunt and Wilfred Blunt's historical sojourns into the desert, as well as living in Egypt, the world-famous Crabbet Arabian Stud in England was founded on desert and Egyptian stock. This stud in turn eventually provided foundation horses for many countries including Russia, Poland, Australia, North and South America, and even Egypt.

Introduction of Arabian Horses to North America
America was built by utilizing horsepower and colonists were quick to realize the value of Arabian bloodstock. Nathan Harrison of Virginia imported the first Arabian stallion in 1725. This horse reportedly sired 300 foals from grade mares. The first breeder of consequence, however, was A. Keene Richard of Georgetown, Kentucky. He journeyed into the desert in 1853 and 1856, subsequently importing several stallions and two mares. However, his breeding program was ruptured by the Civil War and nothing survived.

In 1877, General Ulysses S. Grant visited Abdul Hamid II, His Imperial Majesty the Sultan of Turkey. There, he was presented with two stallions from the Sultan's stable, Leopard and Lindentree. Leopard was later given to Randolph Huntington who subsequently imported two mares and two stallions in 1888 from England. This program, limited as it was, must be considered as the first purebred Arabian breeding program in the United States.

The Chicago World's Fair held in 1893 drew widespread public attention and had an important influence upon the Arabian horse in America. While every country in the world was invited to participate, Turkey chose to exhibit 45 Arabian horses in a "wild eastern" exhibition. Among the imported Arabians shown were the mare Nejdme and the stallion, Obeyran. Both subsequently became foundation animals No. 1 and No. 2 in the Arabian Stud Book of America (later changed to the Arabian Horse Registry of America). Several years later, two other mares and one stallion were also registered. Many breeding farms today contain animals tracing to these horses as taproot foundation stock.

Historical importations from England and Egypt were made soon after the Fair by such breeders as Spencer Borden, who imported 20 horses between 1898 and 1911 to his Interlachen Stud, and W.R. Brown who imported 20 horses from England, 6 from France and 7 from Egypt between 1918 and 1932.

One of the most significant importations occurred in 1906, when Homer Davenport received permission from the Sultan of Turkey to export Arabian horses. Davenport, with the backing of then President Theodore Roosevelt, imported 27 horses that became the foundation of "Davenport Arabians." The Davenport importation of Arabian horses direct from the desert excited the few Arabian breeders in this country. This group of breeders decided that the time was right to form a registry to promote the horse and encourage the importation of new blood. In 1908, the Arabian Horse Club of America was formed (today known as the Arabian Horse Registry of America) and the first stud book published. Recognition of the Arabian stud book by the U.S. Department of Agriculture established the Registry as a national registry and the only one for the purebred Arabian breed. Seventy-one purebred Arabians were registered at that point.

Another significant importation occurred in the 1920s, when the Kellogg Ranch, founded by W.K. Kellogg, brought in 17 select horses from the Crabbet stud farm in 1926 and 1927. Soon after, Roger Selby established the Selby Stud with 20 horses imported from Crabbet between 1928 and 1933. The Albert Harris importation consisted of two horses from England in 1924 and five from the Hejaz and Nejd desert regions in 1930 and 1931. Joseph Draper brought Spanish Arabians into the American picture when he imported five horses from Spain in 1934. J.M. Dickinson's Traveler's Rest Arabian Stud was established between 1934-1937 on an imported mare from Egypt and one from Brazil as well as seven mares from Poland. Henry B. Babson sent people to Egypt in 1932 who brought over two stallions and five mares. This farm still preserves the same bloodlines today.

In the 1940's and 1950's importations of Arabians to America slowed down as American breeding programs evolved from the previously imported stock. With the death of Lady Wentworth in 1957 and the dispersal of Crabbet Stud, importations in abundance were again made from England, and the post-war stud farms of Germany, Poland, Russia, Spain and Egypt were "rediscovered." Significant importations followed from these countries by several groups of dedicated breeders and again a new era of Arabian horse breeding dawned.

The Arabian Horse Today
Historically the Arabian has maintained a reputation as the horse of beauty, intelligence, courage, endurance, and romance. Because he was bred and reared in close contact with man from the earliest records, and existing in mutual inter-dependence, he developed an unequaled ability to bond with humans. Indeed, his intelligence has been celebrated in thousands of anecdotes. He is gentle, affectionate, and familiar, almost to the point of being troublesome. Foals, for example, have no fear of man, and are usually indifferent to sudden noises. The Arabian gentleness and tractability, while originally the effect of education, is now inherited, and is observed in foals bred in a foreign environment.

Because the Arab often engaged in a form of desert warfare known as "Ghazu," a form of quick mounted foray upon his neighbors, his life and welfare depended upon the endurance and speed of his horse. These stellar qualities of the Arabian horse were also the natural result of a good original stock, which by intensive breeding in a favorable environment had maintained its purity. Its blood is commanding to a remarkable degree, and tends to dominate other the breeds to which it is introduced and contributes its own superior qualities to them.

When imported to England, the Arabian became the progenitor of the Thoroughbred. In Russia, the blood of the Arabian horse contributed largely to the development of the Orloff Trotter. In France, the animal helped make the famous Percheron. And in America, again it was the Arabian horse, which became one of the progenitors of the Morgan and through the English Thoroughbred, to make the Standardbred.

As the oldest of all the light breeds and foundation stock of most, the Arabian is unique. With other breeds it was necessary to establish a registry prior to the development of the breed, but the Arabian breed has been recognized for centuries and has been maintained and cherished in its purity over those years as much as is humanly possible.

The high intelligence, trainability, gentle disposition and stamina of the Arabian enable it to excel at a wide variety of activities popular today. Arabians are excellent on the trail as well as in the show ring. Show classes in English and western pleasure, cutting and reining, even jumping and dressage often feature Arabians. As an endurance horse, the Arabian has no equal.

Breed Characteristics
A delicate head characterizes the Arabian, often with a "dished" or concave profile below large, prominent eyes; a high-set, arched neck; and a naturally high tail carriage. The back is short and straight; the withers are pronounced and long; the chest is muscular, deep and broad; the shoulders long and sloping; the legs muscular with broad strong joints and clearly defined tendons; and the hooves small with very tough horn, wide at the heel. The ideal height for an Arabian is between 14.2 and 15 hands and they may be chestnut, gray, bay, and black. White markings on the face and legs are common. The coat is fine and silky and the skin is invariably black. The mane and tail are full.

The Pyramid Society
(pure Egyptian bloodlines)
4067 Iron Works Pkwy., Ste. 2
Lexington, KY 40511

Tel: (859)-231-0771
Fax: (859)-255-4810
[email protected]