There is little doubt that when it comes to horse breeds, no one breed has been more important to the relationship of horses and humans than the Arabian. One of the oldest types of horses as well as one of the most recognizable, Arabians have made a significant contribution not only to human history, but to almost every modern breed of riding horse as well.
Arabians are unique in that they are believed, for the most part, to be directly descended from one of the four foundational groups which gave rise to the modern horse. Most researchers suggest that the direct progenitor of the Arabian was a subspecies of the Oriental horse known as the “dry” oriental.
Although which group of humans ultimately bred the horses first is a matter of debate (competition exists between the Persians and the desert Bedouins) what is certain is that this species was originally a desert horse. The Arabian did gain prominence genetically with the Bedouins, who had previous experience domesticating large mammals with the camel.
Desert horses needed the help of humans to survive, in order to provide them with both water and food. In return, these animals helped the Bedouin needed these horses for their wandering and combative way of life. In addition to hardy characteristics, the Bedouin also worked to breed animals along physically beautiful lines.
It is likely that Arabians began to take on an international presence again due to their popularity in war. Egyptian chariots often used Arabians to pull them into war. The horses began to spread to Europe because of combat as well. Muslim invasions of locations such as Spain as well as the Crusades would see many members of the breed captured as spoils or escape after their riders were killed in combat, creating some feral populations.
The horses were recognized for their military potential by the Poles and the Russians after a huge invasion by the Ottomans in 1522. Light cavalry warfare was just beginning to develop, and these fleet and manoeuvrable equines gave armies a huge advantage in the field. Both Russia and Poland began extensive breeding programs of Arabians in the 19th century.
Arabians were brought to North America with the Conquistadors, although for many years the purest stock was hard to come by. After the Iron Curtain fell over Europe, Arabians were even harder to find in North America due to the reluctance of the Eastern European countries to trade. Arabians became popular as “living art” and prices would skyrocket during the 1980s, which led to over breeding and even the slaughter of thousands of these beautiful horses when the markets dropped. Today, however, the Arabian population and breeding in North America is once again in a healthy state.
Although Arabian blood can be found in most types of breeds today, and there are several types of Arabians themselves, the breed is marked by several distinct features. They have refined wedge shaped heads, with very large eyes and nostrils. They tend to have very dense bone, and stand between 14.1 and 15.1 hands tall. They also have a very distinctive high tail carriage.