Arabian horses have been bred along pure lines in the Arabian Peninsula
and North Africa for at least 1,000 years. The Arabs were not the first to domesticate the horse, but they were the first to carry out selective and planned breeding.
The Arabian horse today shows features which can be directly related to its early development.
Horses first appeared in Egyptian art around 1600 BC They were shown as having arched necks and prancing in a spirited way. The Egyptians worshipped them, and treated them with great devotion. Special horses were even mummified. From these early times the grace and beauty of The Arabian came to be valued.
All over the Arab World horses became status symbols for the rich and powerful. They were very scarce due to all the obvious problems of raising horses in the desert, but Royal and wealthy people took breeding seriously all the same.
Mahomet used horses to great effect in his Holy Wars. They proved faster and more maneuverable than camels.
It was Mahomet who directed that horses should be bred by the faithful (Moslems) so that they would be better prepared to gallop out and spread the Faith of Islam. The Order from the Prophet, enshrined in the Koran meant that horse breeding began to spread among the Bedouin and the true Arabian breed began.
The Bedouin had to raise their horses under the most difficult conditions. They were poor but driven on by religious belief. They had no crops to speak of and rather unreliable water supplies.
Horses were raised on Barley, Dates and Camel's Milk. Under these awkward conditions the Bedouin took care to breed only the best possible horses. The Bedouin's horses were part of their families: they ate their food and lived in their tents. Arabian horses are still animals which enjoy and seek human company.
The Arabian is also a willing and obedient servant. The legend goes that an ancient Arabian King taught a fine group of desert horses selected from far and wide to come to him at the blow of a horn. After thus teaching them, he kept the whole group away from water for two days and two nights until they were frantic with thirst. He then released them allowing them to go free to water but before they reached it, he blew his horn. Five mares dutifully returned to their master, overcoming their desire for water. These mares formed the five main strains of Arabian breed and were known as Al Khamsa (the five). They have passed their temperament on to future generations.
The Bedouins use of their horses in desert warfare meant that they had to develop horses with great speed, stamina and strength. They had to be tough enough to keep going all day in the heat. Modern Arabians still possess these features and the strong hooves which they needed to carry on this heavy work without shoes.
Amongst their other prepotent characteristics Arabians have fine coats and silky manes and tails. Working in the desert would obviously have been easier without thick matted hair.
Arab legend has it that the Angel Gabriel took a handful of the South Wind and said to God, "Here is a handful of the wind". God took this and used it to create the first Arabian Horse, a bay, blessing it ".. success and happiness are bound in thy forelock.. and I have endowed thee to fly without wings".
Many other legends and stories surround the Arabian horse and the Arabs have 1,000 words to relate to horses, 60 of these are to describe swiftness and speed in the horse.
It all goes to show how seriously the Arabs took their horse breeding. They developed Pure Bred strains, which became enormously important and valuable beasts. You had to be very careful to protect your best stock from "rustlers" wanting good blood lines.
Horses belonging to a given strain could not be bred to other strains and still give pure bred stock. This custom may have given rise to the modern standard that horses with any other breed anywhere in their lineage can never be accepted to the purebred register.
The Arabs valued their mares most highly. These were used almost exclusively, in preference to stallions. Many Bedouins did not even keep stallions, which were considered quite a nuisance.
One of the desirable features of the Arabian Stallion is a masculine and spirited nature (not uncontrollable). Stallions, with their high spirits were probably less easy to manage around tent settlements, where the horses had to be amongst the people. They were also more difficult to manage in battle. Mares traditionally have more feminine appearance and manners.
The Arabs believed that any mare bred to a non pure stallion could never again produce pure foals: such a mare was contaminated and had no future as a brood mare.
Large studs still exist in Egypt and other Arab countries. Arabian Racing is still a popular pastime in these countries. Horses originating here have been used to establish and improve just about all modern saddle breeds. The Thoroughbred for example, owes its origin to three Arabian stallions. The Arabian retains its prepotency and the characteristics which make it a brilliant saddle horse. It is probably one of the most popular breeds throughout the World with breeding establishments in just about every country.
In Australia all Arabians must be registered with The Arabian Horse Society of Australia. Stallions and Mares must be blood typed before they can be bred and pure bred foals can come only from pure bred parents; they cannot be "bred up" to pure as in many other Societies.
Arabian Breeders and Owners can take pride in the knowledge that their breed is the oldest and most influential in the modern World and that the characteristics of their horses come from centuries of selected breeding.
Arabian horses of good breeding are without parallel in their suitability as Show, Race, Endurance, Working or simply Pleasure Horses.