The Arabian is the oldest purebred in the world and foundation horse for many modern light breeds including the Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Morgan, and American Saddlebred. Written documentation from more than 3,000 years ago verifies that the Arabian horse is essentially the same today as it was then.
The first Arabian breeders were the tribesmen of Arabia – Bedouins – who valued the Arabian horse above all other possessions. Islamic prophet Mohammed, who considered the Arabian horse sacred, made the breed a cornerstone of his holy wars. As the Moslem religion grew, so did the prevalence of the Arabian horse in North Africa, Spain, and France. Christian crusaders were also impressed by the swift, tough, Arabian horse and imported several into England and France.
As Christianity spread across the globe, so did the Arabian. The first Arabian horse in the United States belonged to George Washington, who crossbred his Arabian stallion with cavalry mounts to strengthen the military. The popularization of the breed in the United States began with its introduction at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. However, Arabian horse breeding really expanded within the last half century, as the popularity of horse shows soared. Today, some of the best Arabian horses are bred in the United States.
Half-Arabians are also popular and eligible for registration and competition. There are as many combinations as breeds of horses. The Half-Arabian cross of Arabian and Thoroughbred, the Anglo-Arabian, is more prevalent in Europe than the United States and has its own history. During pre-colonial conquests by the British Empire, Arabian horses found their way to English shores as spoils of war. They were crossed with native stock and eventually produced the English blood horse, a forerunner of the aristocratic English Thoroughbred.
Today, the Arabian Horse Registry administers the registration of purebred Arabians, while the International Arabian Horse Association administers the Half- and Anglo-Arabian registries.
The myths around the origin of the Arabian Horse go back to the beginning of time. The true story, even within the scientific community, has its origins as a mystery. It is believed that the original prototype of the Arabian was a smaller version than the breed known today. Yet apart from its size, it has remained unchanged for centuries. As for pinpointing the exact time or century and location for the Arabian, with each archaeological discovery of the breed, a new one appears predating the previous date, confusing even the experts. Many believe that the ancestral Arabian was a wild horse in northern Syria, southern Turkey and possibly the piedmont regions to the east. 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 believe the breed originated in the southwestern part of Arabia, offering supporting evidence that the three great horses appeared as undomesticated to the early inhabitants of southwestern Arabia. But 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 350o B.C. provided the Bedouins (nomadic inhabitants of the middle east desert regions) with means of transport and sustenance needed to survive life in central Arabia, an area into which they ventured about 2500 B.C. It is believed that at that time they took with them the prototype of the modern Arabian horse.
The most distinct characteristic of the Arabian is their face. The Arabian's head has a characteristic dished profile with a large forehead, prominent eyes, large nostrils and small teacup muzzle. The neck is arched and crests high. The Arabian's broad chest, short, but strong back, and sloped shoulder give him power and floaty gaits. It carries its tail high. Arabian horses come in many colors, grey, chestnut, bay, roan, brown, and occasionally black. Most Arabians stand between 14.1 and 15.2 hands (one hand is equivalent to four inches) and weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds as adults.
Arabian horses are well known for being affectionate and bonding well with humans. Arabians are versatile and able to be shown in a variety of disciplines from showing to pleasure riding. Classes include English, park, country, hunter, and western pleasure, sidesaddle, jumping, dressage, gaming events, and halter (The Arabian Horse Today). Arabians have also become the breed of choice in the endurance world because of their stamina and agility. One of the most popular events in Arabian shows is native costume; in this class horse and rider wear Americanized versions of Bedouin garb, complete with tassels and embroidery, and perform at the walk, canter, and hand gallop. Arabians also compete in racing, cattle and ranch work, and pleasure trail riding. Due to their friendly nature and willingness to work, Arabians are a popular choice for instructional programs and therapeutic riding. Arabians become devoted companions, a testament to their long history of importance in the people's lives they share.
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