Earliest improved breed of horse, valued for its speed, stamina, beauty, intelligence, and gentleness. Its long history has been obscured by legend, but it was developed in Arabia by the 7th century AD. It has contributed its qualities to most modern breeds of light horses. It is compact and relatively small, with a small head, protruding eyes, wide nostrils, marked withers, and a short back. Its average height is about 15 hands (60 in. [152 cm]), its average weight 800–1,000 lbs (360–450 kg). Though many colours are possible, gray is the most common.
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The Arabian developed in a desert climate and was prized by the nomadic Bedouin people, often being brought inside the family tent for shelter and protection. This close relationship with humans has created a horse breed that is good-natured, quick to learn, and willing to please. But the Arabian also developed the high spirit and alertness needed in a horse used for raiding and war. This combination of willingness and sensitivity requires modern Arabian horse owners to handle their horses with competence and respect.
"The Versatile Arabian" is a slogan of the breed. Arabians dominate the discipline of endurance riding, and compete today in many other fields of equestrian activity. They are one of the top ten most popular horse breeds in the world. Arabian horses are now found worldwide, including the United States and Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, continental Europe, South America (especially Brazil), and its land of origin, the Middle East.
Arabian horses have refined, wedge-shaped heads, a broad forehead, large eyes, large nostrils, and small muzzles. Most display a distinctive concave or "dished" profile. Many Arabians also have a slight forehead bulge between their eyes, called the "jibbah" by the Bedouin, that adds additional sinus capacity, believed to have helped the Arabian horse in its native dry desert climate. Another breed characteristic is an arched neck with a large, well-set windpipe set on a refined, clean throatlatch. This structure of the poll and throatlatch was called the mitbah or mitbeh by the Bedouin, and in the best Arabians is long, allowing flexibility in the bridle and room for the windpipe.
Other distinctive features are a relatively long, level croup and naturally high tail carriage. Well-bred Arabians have a deep, well-angled hip and well laid-back shoulder. Most have a compact body with a short back. Some, though not all, have 5 lumbar vertebrae instead of the usual 6, and 17 rather than 18 pairs of ribs. Thus, even a small Arabian can carry a heavy rider with ease. Arabians usually have dense, strong bone, sound feet, and good hoof walls. They are especially noted for endurance.
Some people confuse the refinement of Arabians with having weak or too-light bone. However, the USEF breed standard requires Arabians have solid bone and correct conformation, and the superiority of the breed in endurance competition clearly demonstrates that well-bred Arabians are strong, sound horses with good bone and superior stamina. At international levels of FEI-sponsored endurance events, Arabians and half-Arabians are the dominant performers in distance competition worldwide. Another misconception confuses the skeletal structure of the sacrum with the angle of the "hip" (the pelvis or ilium), leading some to assert that the comparatively horizontal croup and high-carried tail of Arabians correlates to a flat pelvis and thus they cannot use their hindquarters properly. However, the croup is formed by the sacral vertebrae. The hip angle is determined by the attachment of the ilium to the spine, the structure and length of the femur, and other aspects of hindquarter anatomy, not necessarily the angle of the sacrum. Thus, the Arabian has conformation typical of other horse breeds built for speed and distance, such as the Thoroughbred, which properly includes the angle of the ilium being more oblique than that of the croup, the hip at approximately 35 degrees to a croup angle of 25 degrees. The proper comparison of sacrum and hip is in length, not angle. All horses bred to gallop need a good length of croup and good length of hip for proper attachment of muscles, and the two do go together as a rule. The hip angle, on the other hand, is not necessarily correlated to the line of the croup. Thus, a good-quality Arabian has both a relatively horizontal croup and a properly angled pelvis with good length of croup and depth of hip (length of pelvis) to allow agility and impulsion. Within the breed, there are variations. Some individuals have wider, more powerfully muscled hindquarters suitable for intense bursts of activity in events such as reining, while others have longer, leaner muscling better suited for long stretches of flat work such as endurance riding or horse racing.
For centuries, Arabian horses lived in the desert in close association with humans. For shelter and protection from theft, prized war mares were sometimes kept in their owner's tent, close to children and everyday family life. Only horses with a naturally good disposition were allowed to reproduce. The result is that Arabians today have a temperament that, among other examples, makes them one of the few breeds for which the United States Equestrian Federation allows children to exhibit stallions in nearly all show ring classes, including those limited to riders under 18.
On the other hand, the Arabian is also classified as a "hot-blooded" breed, a category that includes other refined, spirited horses bred for speed, such as the Thoroughbred and the Barb. Like other hot-bloods, Arabians' sensitivity and intelligence enable quick learning and greater communication with their riders. However, their intelligence also allows them to learn bad habits as quickly as good ones, and do not tolerate inept or abusive training practices.
Some people believe that it is more difficult to train a "hot-blooded" horse such as the Arabian, Thoroughbred, Barb and Akhal-Teke. However, most Arabians have a natural tendency to cooperate with humans, but when treated badly, like any horse, can become excessively nervous or anxious, though seldom become vicious unless seriously spoiled or subjected to extreme abuse. On the other hand, romantic myths are sometimes told about Arabian horses that give them near-divine characteristics.
The Arabian Horse Association recognizes purebred horses with the coat colors bay, gray, chestnut, black, and roan. Bay, gray and chestnut are the most common, black is less common. True roan may not actually exist in Arabians; rather, roaning in the Arab could simply be a manifestation of the sabino or rabicano genes. All Arabians, no matter the coat color, have black skin, except under white markings. Black skin provided protection from the hot desert sun.
Although many Arabians appear "white," they are not. A white hair coat is usually created by the natural action of the gray gene, and virtually all "white" Arabians are actually grays. There is an extremely small number of Arabians registered as "white" and having a white coat, pink skin and dark eyes from birth, possibly as a result of a nonsense mutation in DNA tracing to a single stallion foaled in 1996.
The Bedouin had assorted beliefs about color, including several myths about the so-called "bloody-shouldered" horse, which is actually a particular type of "flea-bitten" gray with localized aggregations of pigment. One tale states that a gray mare carried the Prophet Mohammed in battle when he was wounded. The faithful mare carried her bleeding master back to his tribe's camp. The blood from his wound stained her coat, and her shoulder permanently bore the mark. From then on, goes the myth, Allah marked the finest horses with the "bloody shoulder.
Some groups consider a "Maximum" Sabino to be a horse that is over 50% white. Today, some researchers call horses that are over 90% white (with pink skin) "Sabino-white." In either case, studies at the University of California, Davis indicate that the gene (or genes) which produces sabino in Arabians do not appear to be the autosomal dominant gene "SB1" or "Sabino1," that often produces completely white horses in other breeds.
There are very few Arabians registered as roan, and some geneticists suggest that roaning in purebred Arabians is actually the action of rabicano genetics. Rabicano is a partial roan-like pattern. Unlike a true roan, a rabicano horse's body does not have intermingled white and solid hairs over the entire body, nor are the legs or head significantly darker. Another area of confusion is that some people confuse a young gray horse with a roan because of the intermixed hair colors common to both. However, a roan does not change color with age, while a gray does.
To produce horses with some Arabian characteristics but coat colors not found in purebreds, they have to be crossbred with other breeds. Though the purebred Arabian produces a limited range of potential colors, they also never carry the frame overo gene ("O"), and thus a purebred Arabian can never produce foals with lethal white syndrome. In fact, Arabian mares were used as a non-affected population in some of the studies seeking the gene that caused the condition in other breeds. Nonetheless, partbred Arabians can, in some cases, carry these genes if the non-Arabian parent was a carrier.
Genetic diseases that can occur in purebred Arabians are the following:
The Arabian Horse Association in the United States has created a foundation that supports research efforts to uncover the roots of genetic diseases. The organization F.O.A.L. (Fight Off Arabian Lethals) is a clearinghouse for information on these conditions. Additional information is available from the World Arabian Horse Association (WAHO).
Another tale claims that King Solomon of Ancient Israel was said to have been given a pure Arabian-type mare named Safanad ("the pure") by the Queen of Sheba. Another version says that Solomon gave his renowned stallion, Zad el-Raheb or Zad-el-Rakib ("Gift to the Rider") to the Banu Azd people when they came to pay tribute to the king. This legendary stallion was said to be faster than the zebra and the gazelle, and every hunt with him was successful, thus the Arabs put him to stud and he became a founding sire of legend.
Yet another creation myth puts the origin of the Arabian in the time of Ishmael, the son of Abraham. In this story, the Angel Jibril (also known as Gabriel) descended from Heaven and awakened Ishmael with a "wind-spout" that whirled toward him. The Angel then commanded the thundercloud to stop scattering dust and rain, and so it gathered itself into a prancing, handsome creature - a horse - that seemed to swallow up the ground. Hence, the Bedouins bestowed the title "Drinker of the Wind" to the first Arabian horse.
Another Bedouin story states that Allah created the Arabian horse from the four winds; spirit from the North, strength from the South, speed from the East, and intelligence from the West. While doing so, he exclaimed, "I create thee, Oh Arabian. To thy forelock, I bind Victory in battle. On thy back, I set a rich spoil and a Treasure in thy loins. I establish thee as one of the Glories of the Earth... I give thee flight without wings. Other versions of the story claim Allah said to the South Wind: "I want to make a creature out of you. Condense." Then from the material condensed from the wind, he made a kamayt-colored animal (a bay or burnt chestnut) and said: "I call you Horse; I make you Arabian and I give you the chestnut color of the ant; I have hung happiness from the forelock which hangs between your eyes; you shall be the Lord of the other animals. Men shall follow you wherever you go; you shall be as good for flight as for pursuit; you shall fly without wings; riches shall be on your back and fortune shall come through your meditation.
Arabians are one of the oldest human-developed horse breeds in the world. The original wild progenitors, the Oriental subtype or "Proto-Arabian" was a horse with oriental characteristics similar to the modern Arabian. These horses appeared in rock paintings and inscriptions in the Arabian Peninsula as far back as 2,500 B.C. In ancient history, throughout the Ancient Near East, horses with refined heads and high-carried tails were depicted in artwork, particularly that of Ancient Egypt dating to the expulsion of the Hyksos invaders, in the 16th century, B.C.
Some scholars of the Arabian horse theorize that the Arabian came from a separate subspecies of horse, known as equus caballus pumpelli. However, other scholars, including Gladys Brown Edwards, a noted Arabian researcher, believe that the "dry" oriental horse of the desert, from which the modern Arabian developed, was more likely one of the four foundation subtypes of Equus caballus that had specific characteristics based on the environments in which they lived, rather than being a separate subspecies. Horses with similar, though not identical, physical characteristics include the now-extinct Turkoman Horse, the Marwari horse of India, the Barb of North Africa and the Akhal-Teke of western Asia.
The Arabian horse prototype may have been domesticated by the people of the Arabian peninsula known today as the Bedouin, sometime after they learned to use the camel, approximately 4,000-5,000 years ago. However, other scholars, noting that horses were common in the Fertile Crescent but rare in the Arabian peninsula prior to the rise of Islam, theorize that the breed as it is known today only developed in large numbers when the conversion of the Persians to Islam in the 7th century A.D. brought knowledge of horse breeding and horsemanship to the Bedouin.
Regardless of origins, climate and culture ultimately created the Arabian. The desert environment required a domesticated horse to cooperate with humans to survive. Humans were the only providers of food and water in certain areas, and even hardy Arabian horses needed far more water than camels in order to survive (most horses can only live about 72 hours without water). Where there was no pasture or water, the Bedouin fed their horses dates and camel's milk. The desert horse needed to thrive on very little food, and have anatomical traits to compensate for life in a dry climate with wide temperature extremes from day to night. Weak individuals were weeded out of the breeding pool, and the animals that remained were honed by centuries of human warfare.
In return, the Bedouin way of life depended on camels and horses: Arabians were bred to be war horses with speed, endurance, soundness, and intelligence. Because many raids required stealth, mares were preferred over stallions because they were quieter and would not give away the position of the fighters. A good disposition was critical; prized war mares were often brought inside family tents to prevent theft and for protection from weather and predators. Though appearance was not necessarily a survival factor, the Bedouin bred for refinement and beauty in their horses as well as for more practical features.
Over time, the Bedouin developed several sub-types or strains of Arabian horse, each with unique characteristics. The strains were traced through the maternal line, not through the paternal. According to the Arabian Horse Association, the five primary strains were known as the Keheilan, Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani and Hadban. There were also lesser strains, sub-strains, and regional variations in strain names. Thus, many Arabian horses were not only Asil, of pure blood, but also bred to be pure in strain as well, with crossbreeding between strains discouraged, though not forbidden, by some tribes. Purity of bloodline was very important to the Bedouin, and they also believed in telegony, believing if a mare was ever bred to a stallion of "impure" blood, the mare herself and all future offspring would be "contaminated" by the stallion and hence no longer Asil. Carl Raswan, a promoter and writer about Arabian horses from the middle of the 20th century, held the belief that there were only three strains, Kehilan, Seglawi and Muniqi. Raswan felt that these strains represented body "types" of the breed, with the Kehilan being "masculine", the Seglawi being "feminine" and the Muniqi being "speedy".
This complex web of bloodline and strain was an integral part of Bedouin culture. The Bedouin knew the pedigrees and history of their best war mares in detail, via an oral tradition that also tracked the breeding of their camels, Saluki dogs, and their own family or tribal history. Eventually, written records began to be kept; the first written pedigrees in the Middle East that specifically used the term "Arabian" date to 1330 A.D. However, as important as strain was to the Bedouin, studies of mitochondrial DNA suggest that modern Arabian horses recorded to be of a given strain may not necessarily share a common maternal ancestry.
Fiery war horses with dished faces and high-carried tails were popular artistic subjects in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, often depicted pulling chariots in war or for hunting. Horses with oriental characteristics appear in artwork as far north as that of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. While the horse wasn't called an "Arabian" in the Ancient Near East until later, (the word "Arabia" or "Arabaya" only first appeared in writings by the ancient Persians, circa 500 B.C.,) these "proto-Arabian" or "Oriental" horses shared many characteristics with the modern Arabian, including speed, endurance, and refinement. For example, a horse skeleton unearthed in the Sinai peninsula, dated to 1700 B.C., is considered the earliest physical evidence of the horse in Ancient Egypt. It was probably brought by the Hyksos invaders. This horse had a wedge-shaped head, large eye socket and small muzzle, all characteristics of the Arabian horse.
Another way Arabian horses spread to the rest of the world was through the Ottoman Empire, which rose in 1299, and came to control much of the Middle East. Though it never fully dominated the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, this Turkish empire obtained many Arabian horses through trade, diplomacy and war. The Ottomans ecouraged the formation of private stud farms in their territories in order to ensure a supply of calvalry horses. Ottoman nobility, such as Muhammad Ali of Egypt also collected pure, desert-bred Arabian horses. An early record of importations and horses occurs with the stud farm of El Naseri, or Al-Nasir Muhammad, an Egyptian Sultan (1290-1342) who imported and bred numerous Arabians in Egypt. A record was made of his purchases, which describes many of the horses as well as their abilities. The record was deposited in his library, forming a source for later study.
One major infusion of Arabian horses into Europe occurred when the Ottoman Turks sent 300,000 horsemen into Hungary in A.D. 1522. Many Turks were mounted on pure-blooded Arabians, captured during raids into Arabia. By 1529, the Ottomans reached Vienna, where they were stopped by the Polish and Hungarian armies, who captured Arabians from the defeated Ottoman cavalry. Some of these horses provided foundation stock for the major studs of eastern Europe.
European horse breeders also obtained Arabian stock directly from the desert or via trade with the Ottomans. For example, Count Alexey Orlov of Russia obtained many Arabians, including Smetanka, an Arabian stallion who was a foundation sire of the Orlov trotter. Orlov provided Arabian horses to Catherine the Great, who in 1772 owned 12 pure Arabian stallions and 10 mares. To meet the need to breed Arabians as a source of pure bloodstock, two members of the Russian nobility, Count Stroganov and Prince Shcherbatov, established Arabian stud farms by 1889.
Notable imports from Arabia to Poland included those of Prince Hieronymous Sanguszko (1743-1812), who founded the Slawuta stud. Poland's first state-run Arabian stud farm, Janow Podlaski, was established by the decree of Alexander I of Russia in 1817. By 1850, the great stud farms of Poland were well-established, including Antoniny, owned by the Polish Count Potocki (who had married into the Sanguszko family); later notable as the farm that produced the stallion Skowronek.
The 18th century marked the establishment of most of the great Arabian studs of Europe, dedicated to preserving "pure" Arabian bloodstock. The Prussians set up a royal stud in 1732, originally intended to provide horses for the royal stables, but soon more were established animals were bred for other uses, including the Prussian army. The foundation of these breeding programs was the crossing of Arabians on native horses, and by 1873 some English observers felt that the Prussian calvalry mounts were superior in endurance to the British mounts. The observers credited the Arabian basis of the breeding program for this superiority.
Other examples included the Babolna Stud of Hungary, set up in 1789, and the Weil stud in Germany (now known as Weil-Marbach or Marbach stud), founded in 1817 by King William I of Wurttemberg. Arabians were also introduced into European racehorse breeding, especially in England via the Darley Arabian, Byerly Turk, and Godolphin Arabian, the three foundation stallions of the modern Thoroughbred breed, who were each brought to England in the 1700s. King James I of England imported the first Arabian stallion, the Markham Arabian, to England in 1616. Other monarchs obtained Arabian horses, often as personal mounts. One of the most famous Arabian stallions in Europe was Marengo, the war horse ridden by Napoleon Bonaparte.
During the mid-1800s, the need for Arabian blood to improve the breeding stock for light cavalry horses in Europe resulted in more excursions to the Middle East. Queen Isabel II of Spain sent representatives of the crown to the desert to purchase Arabian horses and by 1847 had established a stud book. Her successor, King Alfonso XII imported additional bloodstock from other European nations. By 1893, the state military stud farm, Yeguada Militar was established in Cordoba, Spain for breeding both Arabian and Iberian horses. The military remained heavily involved in the importation and breeding of Arabians in Spain well into the early 20th century, and the Yeguada Militar is still in existence today.
This period also marked a period of considerable travel to the Middle East by European civilians and minor nobility, and in the process, some travelers noticed that the Arabian horse as a pure breed of horse was under threat due to modern forms of warfare, inbreeding and other problems that were reducing the horse population of the Bedouin tribes at a rapid rate. By the late 1800s, the most farsighted began in earnest to collect the finest Arabian horses they could find in order to preserve the blood of the pure desert horse for future generations. The most famous example was Lady Anne Blunt, the daughter of Ada Lovelace and granddaughter of Lord Byron.
Perhaps the most famous of all Arabian breeding operations founded in Europe was the Crabbet Park Stud of England, founded 1878. Starting in 1877, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt made repeated journeys to the Middle East, including visits to the stud of Ali Pasha Sherif in Egypt and to Bedouin tribes in the Nejd, bringing the best Arabians they could find to England. Lady Anne also purchased and maintained the Sheykh Obeyd stud farm in Egypt, near Cairo. Upon Lady Anne's death in 1917, the Blunts' daughter, Judith, Lady Wentworth, inherited the Wentworth title and Lady Anne's portion of the estate. She obtained the remainder of the Crabbet Stud following a protracted legal battle with her father, Wilfrid. Lady Wentworth expanded the stud, added new bloodstock, and exported Arabian horses worldwide. Upon Lady Wentworth's death in 1957, the stud passed to her manager, Cecil Covey, who ran Crabbet until 1971, when a motorway was cut through the property, forcing the sale of the land and dispersal of the horses.
Historically, Egypt was known for importing horses bred in the deserts of Palestine and the Arabian peninsula rather than as a source of native bloodstock. By the time that the Ottoman Empire dominated Egypt, the political elites of the region still recognized the need for quality bloodstock for both war and for horse racing, and some continued to return to the deserts to obtain pure-blooded Arabians. One of the most famous was Muhammad Ali of Egypt, also known as Muhammad Ali Pasha, who established an extensive stud farm in the 19th century. After his death, some of his stock was bred on by Abbas I of Egypt, also known as Abbas Pasha. When Abbas Pasha was assassinated in 1854, his heir, Elhami Pasha, sold most of his horses, often for crossbreeding, and gave away many others as diplomatic gifts. A remnant was obtained by Ali Pasha Sherif, who then went back to the desert to bring in new bloodstock. At its peak, the stud of Ali Pasha Sherif had over 400 purebred Arabians. Unfortunately, an epidemic of African horse sickness in the 1870s that killed thousands of horses throughout Egypt decimated much of his herd and wiped out several irreplaceable bloodlines. Late in his life, he sold several horses to Wilfred and Lady Anne Blunt, who exported them to Crabbet Park Stud in England. After his death, Lady Anne was able to gather many remaining horses at her Sheykh Obeyd stud.
Meanwhile, the passion brought by the Blunts to saving the pure horse of the desert helped Egyptian horse breeders convince their government of the need to preserve the best of their own remaining pure Arabian bloodstock that descended from the horses collected over the past century by Muhammad Ali Pasha, Abbas Pasha and Ali Pasha Sherif. Therefore, the government of Egypt formed the Royal Agricultural Society (RAS) in 1908. Today, the RAS is known as the Egyptian Agricultural Organization (EAO).
To rebuild some bloodlines that had been lost, RAS representatives traveled to England during the 1920s and purchased eighteen descendants of the original Blunt exports from Lady Wentworth at Crabbet Park and returned these bloodlines to Egypt. Other than several horses purchased by Henry Babson for importation to the United States in the 1930s, and one other small group exported to the USA in 1947, relatively few Egyptian-bred Arabian horses were exported until the overthrow of King Farouk I in 1952. After that, many of the private stud farms of the princes were confiscated and the animals taken over by the EAO. After that, as oil development brought more foreign investors to Egypt, some of whom were horse fanciers, Arabians were exported to Germany and the United States, as well as to the former Soviet Union, then an ally of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Following the death of Nasser in 1970 and the rise of a less Soviet-oriented government, even more Egyptian-bred Arabians were exported. Today, the designation "Straight Egyptian" or "Egyptian Arabian" is popular with some Arabian breeders, and the distinct "dry" look of the modern Egyptian-bred Arabian is an outcross used to add refinement in some breeding programs.
The Spanish Civil War and World War II had a devastating impact on horse breeding throughout Europe. For example, the Veragua stud was destroyed, and its records lost. The only survivors were the broodmares and the younger horses, who were rescued by Francisco Franco. Other European studs such as Crabbet Park, Tersk, and Janow Podlaski survived. Both the Soviet Union and the United States obtained valuable Arabian bloodlines as spoils of war, which they used to strengthen their breeding programs. The Soviets had taken steps to protect their breeding stock at Tersk Stud, and by utilizing horses captured in Poland they were able to re-establish their breeding program soon after the end of World War II. The Americans brought Arabian horses captured in Europe to the United States, mostly to the Kellogg U.S. Army Remount station, the former W.K. Kellogg Ranch in California.
In the postwar era, Poland, Spain, and Germany developed or re-established many well-respected Arabian stud farms. The studs of Poland in particular were decimated by both the Nazis and the Soviets, but were able to reclaim some of their breeding stock and became particularly world-renowned for their quality Arabian horses, tested rigorously by racing and other performance standards. During the 1950s, the Russians also obtained additional horses from Egypt to augment their breeding programs.
One of George Washington's primary mounts during the Revolutionary War was a gray half-Arabian horse named "Blueskin," sired by the stallion "Ranger," also known as "Lindsay's Arabian," said to have been obtained from the Sultan of Morocco. Other Presidents are linked to ownership of Arabian horses. In 1840, President Martin Van Buren received two Arabians from the Sultan of Oman, and in 1877, President Ulysses S. Grant obtained the Arabian stallion, Leopard and the Barb Linden Tree, as gifts from the "Sultan of Turkey." A. Keene Richard was the first American known to have specifically bred Arabian horses. He traveled to the desert in 1853 and 1856 to obtain breeding stock, which he crossed on Thoroughbreds and also breed purebred Arabians. Unfortunately, his horses were lost during the Civil War and have no known purebred Arabian descendants today.
Leopard is the only stallion among the early imports who left known purebred descendants in America. In 1888 Randolph Huntington imported the desert-bred Arabian mare *Naomi, and bred her to Leopard, producing Leopard's only purebred Arabian son, Anazeh. Anazeh then sired eight purebred Arabian foals, four of whom still appear in pedigrees today.
Major Arabian importations to the United States were made by breeders such as Homer Davenport and Peter Bradley of the Hingham Stock Farm, who purchased several stallions and mares directly from the Bedouin in 1906. Spencer Borden of the Interlachen Stud made several importations between 1898 and 1911; and W.R. Brown of the Maynesboro Stud, interested in the Arabian as a cavalry mount, imported many Arabians over a period of years, starting in 1918. Another wave of imports came in the 1920s and 30s when breeders such as W.K. Kellogg, Henry Babson, Roger Selby, James Draper, and others imported Arabian bloodstock from Crabbet Park Stud in England, as well as from Poland, Spain and Egypt. The breeding of Arabians was fostered by the U. S. Army Remount Service, which helped spread Arabian blood through the standing of purebred stallions at public stud at a reduced rate.
Several Arabians, mostly of Polish breeding, were captured from Nazi Germany and imported to the U.S.A. following World War II. Other importations came from the Crabbet Stud following the death of Lady Wentworth. As the tensions of the Cold War eased, more Arabians were imported to America from Poland and Egypt. In the late 1970s, as political issues surrounding import regulations and the recognition of stud books were resolved, Arabian horses were also imported in greater numbers from Spain and Russia.
Arabian horses were introduced to Australia in the earliest days of European Settlement. Early horse imports included both purebred Arabians as well as light Spanish “jennets” from Andalusia. Many Arabians also came from India. Based on records describing stallions "of Arabic and Persian blood," the first Arabian horses were probably imported to Australia in several groups between 1788 and 1802. About 1803, a merchant named Robert Campbell imported a bay Arabian stallion, Hector, from India. Hector was said to have been owned by Arthur Wellesley, who later became known as the Duke of Wellington. In 1804 two additional Arabians, also from India, arrived in Tasmania one of whom, White William, sired the first purebred Arabian foal born in Australia, a stallion named Derwent.
Throughout the 19th century, many more Arabians came to Australia, though most were used to produce crossbred horses and left no recorded purebred descendants. The first significant imports to be permanently recorded with offspring still appearing in modern purebred Arabian pedigrees were those of James Boucaut, who in 1891 imported several Arabians from Wilfred and Lady Anne Blunt's Crabbet Arabian Stud in England. Purebred Arabians were used to improve racehorses and some of them became quite famous as such. About 100 Arabian sires are included in the Australian Stud Book (for Thoroughbred racehorses). The military also was involved in the promotion of breeding calvalry horses, especially around World War I. They were part of the foundation of several breeds considered uniquely Australian, including the Australian Pony, the Waler and the Australian Stock Horse.
Arabian horses today are found all over the world. They are no longer classified by Bedouin strain, but are informally classified by the nation of origin of famed horses in a given pedigree. Popular types of Arabians are labeled "Polish," "Spanish," "Crabbet," "Russian," "Egyptian", and "Domestic" (describing horses whose ancestors were imported to the United States prior to 1944, including those from programs such as Kellogg, Davenport, Maynesboro, Babson, Dickenson and Selby). In the USA, a specific mixture of Crabbet, Maynesboro and Kellogg bloodlines has acquired the copyrighted designation "CMK."
Each set of bloodlines has its own devoted followers, with the virtues of each hotly debated. Most debates are between those who value the Arabian most for its refined beauty and those who value the horse for its stamina and athleticism. There are also a number of breeders who specialize in preservation breeding of various bloodlines. There are also various controversies over the relative "purity" of certain animals. Breeders argue about the genetic "purity" of various pedigrees, discussing whether some horses descend from "impure" animals that cannot be traced to the desert Bedouin. The major factions are as follows:
Today, people cross Arabians with other breeds to add refinement, endurance, agility and beauty. In the USA, Half-Arabians have their own registry within the Arabian Horse Association, which includes a special section for Anglo-Arabians (Arabian-Thoroughbred crosses). Some crosses originally registered only as Half-Arabians became popular enough to have their own breed registry, including the National Show Horse (an Arabian-Saddlebred cross), the Quarab (Arabian-Quarter Horse), the Welara (Arabian-Welsh Pony), and the Morab (Arabian-Morgan). In addition, some Arabians and Half Arabians have been approved for breeding by some Warmblood registries, particularly the Trakehner registry.
There is intense debate over the role the Arabian played in the development of other light horse breeds. While the complete tale will cannot be verified until more genetic studies are performed, it is thought that all modern domesticated horse breeds descended from one of four Wild prototypes, one of which was the light, "dry," oriental horse adapted to the desert climate, the prototype of the modern Arabian. Because of the location of the Middle East as a crossroads of the ancient world, as well as one of the earliest locations of domestication of the horse, oriental horses spread throughout Europe and Asia both in ancient and modern times. Thus, there is little doubt that "oriental" blood was crossed on that of other wild prototypes to create light riding horses; the only actual controversy is at what point the "oriental" prototype could be called an "Arabian," how much Arabian blood was mixed with local animals, and at what point in history. For some breeds, such as the Thoroughbred, Arabian influence of specific animals is documented in written stud books.
For older breeds, dating the influx of Arabian ancestry is more difficult. For example, mitochondrial DNA studies of the modern Andalusian horse of the Iberian peninsula and Barb horse of North Africa, present convincing evidence that both breeds crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and influenced one another. While outside cultures, and the horses they brought with them, influenced the predecessor to the Iberian horse in both the time of Ancient Rome and again with the Islamic invasions of the 8th century, it is difficult to precisely trace the details of the journeys taken by waves of conquerors and their horses as they traveled from the Middle East to North Africa and across Gibraltar to southern Europe. Though the studies did not compare Andalusian and Barb mDNA to that of Arabian horses, there is evidence that horses resembling Arabians, whether before or after the breed was called an "Arabian," were part of this genetic mix. Arabians and Barbs, though related to one another, are quite different in appearance, particularly in tail carriage, and horses of both Arabian and Barb type were present in the Muslim armies that occupied Europe. There is also historical documentation that Islamic invaders raised Arabian horses in Spain prior to the Reconquista. Furthermore, the Spanish documented imports of Arabian horses in 1847, 1884 and 1885 that were used to improve existing Spanish stock and revive declining equine populations.
Arabians dominate the sport of Endurance riding because of their stamina, where they are the leading breed in competitions such as the Tevis Cup that can cover up to in a day. They also participate in FEI-sanctioned endurance events worldwide, including the World Equestrian Games.
There is an extensive series of horse shows around the United States and Canada for Arabian, Half-Arabian, and Anglo-Arabian horses, sanctioned by the USEF in conjunction with the Arabian Horse Association. Classes offered include Western pleasure, reining, hunt seat and saddle seat English pleasure, and Halter, plus the very popular "Native" costume class. "Sport horse" events for Arabian horses are also becoming popular in North America, particularly the Arabian Horse Association began hosting a separate Arabian and Half Arabian Sport Horse National Championship in 2003 that by 2004 grew to draw 2000 entries This competition draws Arabian and part-Arabian horses that perform in Hunter, Jumper, Sport Horse Under Saddle, Sport Horse In Hand, Dressage, and Combined driving competition.
Purebred Arabians have excelled in open events against other breeds. One of the most famous examples in the field of western riding competition was the Arabian mare Ronteza, who defeated 50 horses of all breeds to win the 1961 Reined Cow Horse championship at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, CA. Another Arabian competitive against all breeds was the stallion Aaraf who won an all-breed cutting horse competition at the Quarter Horse Congress in the 1950s. In show jumping and show hunter competition, a number or Arabians have competed successfully against other breeds in open competition,including the purebred gelding Russian Roulette, who has won multiple jumping classes against horses of all breeds on the open circuit. In eventing, a purebred Arabian competed on the Brazilian team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Part-Arabians have also appeared at open sport horse events and even Olympic level competition. At the 1952 Olympics, the French rider Pierre d'Oriola won the Gold individual medal in show jumping on the Anglo-Arabian Ali Baba. The Anglo-Arabian Harpagon was ridden to a team gold medal and an individual silver in dressage at the 1948 Olympics. Another Anglo-Arabian, Tamarillo, ridden by William Fox-Pitt, represents the United Kingdom in FEI and Olympic competition, winning many awards, including first place at the 2004 Badminton Horse Trials. Most recently a gelding named Theodore O'Connor, nicknamed "Teddy," a 14.1 (or 14.2, sources vary) hand pony of Thoroughbred, Arabian, and Shetland pony breeding, won two gold medals at the 2007 Pan American Games and was third at the 2007 Rolex Kentucky Three Day CCI competition.
Arabians are involved in a wide variety of activities, including fairs, movies, parades, circuses and other places where horses are showcased. Arabians have been popular in movies, dating back to the silent film era when Rudolph Valentino rode the Kellogg Arabian stallion Jadaan in 1926's Son of the Sheik. Arabians have been seen in many other films, including The Black Stallion featuring the stallion Cass Ole, The Young Black Stallion, which used over 40 Arabians during filming, as well as Hidalgo and the 1959 version of Ben-Hur.
Arabians are mascots for football teams, performing crowd-pleasing activities on the field and sidelines. One of the horses who serves as "Traveler", the mascot for the University of Southern California Trojans, has been a purebred Arabian. "Thunder", a stage name for the purebred Arabian stallion J B Kobask, was mascot for the Denver Broncos from 1993 until his retirement in 2004, when the Arabian gelding Winter Solstyce took over as "Thunder II". Cal Poly Pomona's W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center Equestrian Unit has made Arabian horses a regular sight at the annual Tournament of Roses Parade held each New Year's day in Pasadena, California.
Arabians also are used on search and rescue teams and occasionally for police work. Some Arabians are also used in polo in the USA and Europe, in the Turkish equestrian sport of Cirit (pronounced Jee-rit), as well as circuses, therapeutic horseback riding programs, and on guest ranches.