Bedouins believed that the horse was a gift from Allah. It was to be cherished, revered, almost worshiped. The Arabian horse has been bred for centuries, with its beginnings in the oases around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the countries known in our modern history as Iran, Iraq, and Syria, as well as other parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
Because the Bedouins cherished their horses, the bloodlines were a jealously guarded family treasure within the different tribes. There are records which indicate that the nomads began breeding these superb horses as early as 3000 to 2500 BC However, the modern Arabs trace their roots back to five mares which were owned by King Solomon around 1600 BC These five mares were known as "Al- Khamesh ", literally" the five ". Those five bloodlines were Kehilan, Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani and Hadban. As substrains were developed in each of the bloodlines, those would be named for celebrated mares and / or sheiks who significantly contributed a fundamental branch to the strain.
Each of the five original strains had significant characteristics which were preserved in breeding pure Arabs. A brief description of each follows:
The Kehilan had a deep chest, masculine power, and size. The average height for a pure Kehilan was up to 15 hands (60 inches, or 152.4 centimeters) at the shoulder. It had a short head with a broad forehead, and wide jowls. The most common colors were chestnut and gray.
The Seglawi had a refined look and was noticeably femininely elegant. The bone structure was fine and the face and neck were significantly longer than that of the Kelihan. The most common color was gray, and the average height was 14.2 hands (144.27 cm., Or 56.8 in.).
The Abeyan was quite similar to the Seglawi. It shared the refined look, but tended to have a longer back than the other strains. It averaged 14.2 hands, was commmonly gray, and had more white marks that most Arabians.
The Hamdani line had a plainer look than that associated with Arabian horses. It was athletic and masculine in appearance, with a large bone structure. The head was straighter in profile than the typical Arabian and it lacked the bulging forehead which the Bedouins believed was "the blessings of Allah". This strain was one of the largest, standing 15.2 hands (60.8 in., Or 154.43 cm.) At the shoulder. The most common colors were bay and gray.
The Hadban was similarly configured as the Hamdani, with the big bone structure and musculature. But it was shorter in height and had an extremely gentle nature. The average height was 14.3 hands (145.28 cm., Or 57.2 in.), And the dominant colors were bay and brown with few, if any white markings.
Bedouins "adopted" the horses, regardless of how they came to be in the desert. Whether they were strays, absconded, or whatever, it was of no consequence to them. Once the horse was a part of their herd, they set out to breed for offspring with speed, stamina, strength, and courage. The different strains, as stated previously, each had their own characteristics, but all Arabs were bred to withstand the rigors of desert life.
When the Europeans chose to improve their saddle horses, Arabs were the breed they imported to cross with their native stock. When they began the process, their horses were the larger breeds which had transported heavily armored knights into battle. Their lighter stock had it roots in the pony breeds. They had no breeds which could compare to the smaller, faster horses which invading forces from the Middle East were mounted. Thus, they bought out purebred Arabian stallions with the attributes desired and crossed them with choice native strains. Ninety-three percent of the English Thoroughbred breed today encounters its roots to three distinct Arab strains: the Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian (sometimes called Godolphin Barb).
The first Arabian stallion imported to America was in 1725. He allegedly sired three hundred colts from breeding stock mares. And between 1853 and 1856, a breeder by the name of A. Keene Richard imported several stallions and mares to establish the first breeding program of differentiation in the States. Unfortunately, his horses were confiscated or destroyed during the Civil War, the breeding line was ruptured, and nothing survived.
On a visit to Turkey in 1877, General Ulysses S. Grant was presented with two purebred stallions which he imported to America. He gave on of those stallions to Randolph Huntington. Mr. Huntington then imported two more purebred stallions and two pure Arabian mares from England in 1888. His breeding program is considered the foundation of the first pure Arabian stock in the United States.
Other breeds influenced by pure Arabian stock include the Orloff Trotter of Russia, the American Thoroughbred, the Morgan, the Percheron, the Connemara pony, the American Quarter Horse and National Show Horse. Strains of the breed were also introduced to the Lipizzaners of Austria, as well as numerous other breeds around the world.
Arabians are considered the oldest of all the light breed strains, and its influence can be traced to many foundation stocks. But, the pure strains are still cherished and preserved by breeders in the Middle East, even today.
The modern purebred Arabian outside of the Middle East typically has a "dished," or concave, profile set on a beautifully shaped head. The eyes are prominent, the nostrils are usually small, and the muzzle is usually "teacup", in shape and size. The neck is gracefully arched, and the head is inherently held high.
The back is short and level. The shoulders are long and sloped. The chest is broad, deep and muscular. Its legs are long, and the tendons are clearly defined. The Arabian has small hooves, with a very tough consistency, that are wide at the heel. The hind quarters slope, and the tail is distinctly arched before it drops.
Overall, one can clearly see that this horse defines strength, speed, and stamina in a beautifully conformed body.
The coat can be chestnut, gray, bay, or black and is very fine. The under skin is always black. It is not uncommon for a purebred Arabian to have white markings on the face and / or legs. The mane and tail are full, yet soft to the touch.
The typical Arabian ranges from 14.2 to 15.2 hands (56.8 to 60.8 inches, or 144.27 to 154.45 centimeters) at the shoulder and weighs between 800 and 1000 pounds (56.8 to 71 stones).
Depending on the strain and characteristics, Arabians are used for Western and English riding, racing, jumping, endurance competitions, showing, cutting and reining, and dressage. This is a very versatile horse which bonds naturally with humans and can also be used as a family horse for people of all ages.