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
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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