THE ARABIAN HORSE
by Albert W Harris
From the U. S. Remount Magazine, “The Horse”. July-August, 1944
Before saying anything on this subject I wish to say a few words about horses in general. It is customary in discussing any particular breed of horse to admit first the desirable qualities in all other breeds. It is not merely to be in proper form, but because of the influence of the blood of the Arabian on all our light-horse breeds, and probably some of the draft breeds, that this preliminary statement is desirable.
Having had more or less experience with all of them, having worked, driven, and ridden, as well as raised, trained, and even raced them, I know how well these various breeds fit into the picture and how many wonderful individuals there are in all of them. Then there are the grades and the mongrel horses, many of which have well deserved fame. Each of us, no doubt, at one time or another has owned the best horse that ever looked through a bridle. I once owned a better one. Without taking time to prove it, I will simply admit it. He was “said to be” by a Kentucky Saddle stallion out of a Standard Bred pacing mare. I was very fond and proud of him.
If we could trace the ancestry of these wonderful horses back far enough, we would find their ancestral tree rooted in Arabian blood. In this connection I will quote what General J. M. Dickinson has to say, and he has made it a study. He says:
“While it would be untrue and absurd to claim that all our modern light-weight breeds carry direct infusion of Arabian blood as such, for one has been developed from another, it is an incontrovertible fact that none of them would be as they are today if they did not carry that blood which originated with the Arabs and grade Arabs so frequently imported to Europe for breeding purposes and left there by the back wash of many military invasions.”
John Hervey, the celebrated writer and authority, has said:
“The dominant quality of Arab blood is its eternal, its immortal persistence; wherever, as the horseman of today looks about him and among horses observes beauty, speed, grace, fire, activity, docility, and fineness, yet toughness of fibre, he sees that eternity, that immortality incarnated. Everything worth while in the shape of a horse today partakes of it.”
Now to take up our subject. Let us have a look at this horse. As historians and writers on mythology do not seem to agree on the origin of the Arabian horse, any more than those who tried to determine whether the egg came before or after the chicken, I was much relieved when my assignment to write about the Arabian horse was limited to this horse’s type, characteristics, and usefulness. We do not need to read ancient history to determine these things, because there are Arabian horses of authentic ancestry and breeding in this country today. Here are the facts regarding the number in this country.
The registry maintained by the Arabian Horse Club of America contains the names of about 1,800 living horses and a membership of 266, with 685 owners scattered over 43 states, the largest number of horses being located in the West. The number of pureblooded horses is increasing annually and so, while the Arabian horse is not widely known or very numerous, its numbers are steadily increasing and before many years more persons will have opportunities to own them and thus be able to judge for themselves as to their merits.
The questions most people will want answered are, What kind of horse is the Arab? What can he do?
Answering the first question, — The Arab is a small horse, comparatively speaking. The average height is around 14.2 hands, the average weight slightly under 1,000 pounds. Of course, some are larger and some smaller, but one can readily see that such a horse can be easily mounted. His conformation is such that he can carry the weight of any but the heaviest of riders easily. He is short-coupled, has good, dense bone, strong tendons, and good feet, and so can take his rider over any kind of country and go on indefinitely. His endurance is proverbial. He is an easy horse to sit on. His gaits are so smooth and elastic one does not grow fatigued. This, no doubt, is accounted for by the fact that he does not lift his feet high or pound the ground. He is a good walking horse and has a nice trot, at which he merely lifts his feet high enough to clear the ground, and his canter, or gallop, is low, but smooth and graceful.
As to his speed, again using average figures —as all horses are not alike— his fastest gait is, of course, the extended gallop. At this he is swift, sure-footed, and tireless. Extended, many Arabs can go a mile under two minutes. His trot is smooth and easy to sit, as are all his gaits, but he is not a fast trotting horse, nor a high stepper. Some can move along at from ten to twelve miles an hour, but the average rate of speed of the Arab at the trot will be from seven to ten miles. His walk is very good. Four and one-half miles per hour is not unusual, and five miles the writer has often made. As with every horse, it depends on his rider or trainer how well he performs.
In color the Arabs are limited to three shades— bay, grey, and chestnut, with white markings. Except where the white marking occur, the skin is black, no matter what color the horse is. The greys turn white with age or become fleabitten. Exceptions are now and then a black or a brown, but never pinto or spotted and never with pink skin and glass eyes. The peculiarity of the head is quit noticeable. Large circumference at the throat latch tapering to small muzzle. A loose and prominent windpipe of great capacity.
They (Arabs) are beautiful horses to look at and in motion the tails are carried high and gracefully. They have splendid dispositions; in fact, unless spoiled, they have no vice, are very intelligent quick, and alert, easy to teach, and very courageous. They are fond of their masters; in fact, they like to be handled and talked to and are very easily trained. They are, however, a hot-blooded horse. They will not stand abuse and they cannot be forced to do anything against their will. Like a dog, they can be shown or taught and they always seem pleased to obey, once they know what is wanted. They are aristocrats, but they “can take it.” They have been bred to hardship and do well in any climate or altitude. They need no different care from other horses and eat less. The following quotation from an owner and breeder is used to illustrate this:
“We have had very good luck, due to the intelligence and hardy constitution of the Arab horse. We have raised better than fifteen colts. We have had no losses or serious injuries to any of our horses. Our veterinary bills for that length of time have been between twenty-five and fifty dollars and that was mostly for sleeping sickness shots. We find them very sensitive, with the intelligence of a pet dog. They resent any abuse and will hold a grudge. One can reason and ‘kid’ them along and can do anything with them that can be done with a horse.”
So far, because their owners are interested in raising more pure Arabs, there are very few geldings to be had. Most Arabs are either mares or stallions. Because of their splendid dispositions, mares have always been preferred for riding. Because of the inherent absence of vice in the stallions, it has never been the habit to geld them. Horsemen who for one reason or another are adverse to riding anything but a gelding will not likely have an opportunity very soon to try out the Arab, as there are so few registered geldings. However, there are quite a few Half-Bred geldings coming along which percentagely take largely after their Arab sires and make very satisfactory and attractive mounts.
This blood is being introduced and used to advantage in connection with various registries being established for the new breeds that have been in the making for many years and now particularly by those interested in a general-purpose horse. These folks have formed the General Purpose Horse Association of America and for the first time plans for a new breed of horse were drawn up before starting. Most breeds have resulted from a more or less haphazard program over many years. Cross-breeding with registered animals, of which the Arab is the essential, should speed this program up. The number of grade Arabs on the ranches and in general use is thus increasing rapidly. Consider this phenomenon carefully, as it is most astonishing and incredible. To the strong impress of the desirable characteristics produced as a result of cross-breeding with the small Arabian is added an increased average size in the progeny. This result, so desirable, but to some so incredible, has created and maintained over the world through the years the demand for the blood of the Arabian horse.
To take up the second question, What can he do? —
In the first place, the Arabian horse is not a specialist, as most horses shown in the ring are. In the second place, there are very few owners of Arabs and of those, very few are interested in making specialists of their horses. The fact is that the Arab is a natural He can fit in almost anywhere, at any time, with training, and is just naturally a show horse. With so few horses of this breed, there are not enough to make any impression in the saddle and show class world, but, with the small percentage they represent, where they have competed results speak for themselves. They have won most of the endurance and 100-mile trail rides in which they have been participants. In the various 300-mile rides for the United States Mounted Service Cup the Arab entries made the best record. In 1921 there were seventeen starters, carrying 245 pounds each, for sixty miles a day, for five days. It so happened that year that just one registered Arabian competed, the Arabian gelding Crabbet, but he won it easily. In the 100-mile trail rides held in the West during the last few years the result has been the same. The percentage of Arabian entries has been the smallest and the percentage of “wins” the largest. These are examples of the Arab’s weight-carrying ability and endurance.
There have been so few Arabian horses to put into the saddle classes in the horse shows, and so few classes into which they would fit, that such entries have been negligible, but again, when entered, the result has been about the same—the smallest number of entries and the largest percentage of wins. To illustrate this point,— In one class of twelve three-gaited saddle horses there is just one Arab. He gets all the gallery, but the judge puts him down to Second because his mane is not roached or his tail pulled. One does not so trim an Arab, therefore he does not belong in that class. In the open lightweight hunter class, one Arab entry in twenty, the Arab makes a perfect score, but is put back on account of conformation; that is, he does not belong in that class. Hence, in these saddle classes for specialists he has to be better than the class in order to win. However, here are some of the wins made in spite of the fact that perhaps he did not belong in the class.
In one of the local shows a gelding wins First in the three-gaited class with a dozen entries, only one Arab.
From another report I will quote the following in regard to an Arab mare:
“In the three-gaited classes competing with Saddlers with set tails and before the nationally known Professor E. A. Trowbridge of Columbia, Missouri, she placed Second in the under 15.2 and Third in the open championship, although she was the only entry not ridden by a professional; nor were her white mane and tail even so much as braided. Her natural beauty and style could not be overlooked.”
So there are not many classes into which the Arab naturally fits in the show ring. Nevertheless, that has not prevented him from making a good showing.
From Montana comes the following report:
“Beydaan, Arab gelding, has helped much to popularize the Arabian breed in this section of the country. He appeals to the Thoroughbred enthusiast because of his excellent jumping ability; he appeals to the American Saddler admirer because of his style and animation; he has for eight years been a consistent winner in horse shows for us; his dependability keeps him in demand as a parade horse; he appeals to the cowboy because he ‘can take it.’
“Winters are severe in Montana. How calmly and collectedly Beydaan will break the ice and slide into the water wins the admiration of any hardened ‘cow-poke,’ long a lover of the tough range horse. I have seen him take water at forty degrees below zero and on reaching the other side have to jump out of the running water onto a two-foot ledge of ice.”
These illustrations are given simply to show that, while very few Arab horses have ever appeared in the show ring, they seem to have given a good account of themselves where they have appeared.
As to driving horses to a buggy, that is getting to be a lost art here, although we still read of these horses being driven in Cairo and North Africa.
Now from a general-purpose standpoint, the following information comes from the users and owners of the horses and may be of interest:
“Before the war we had always used our horses for pleasure riding, gymkhanas, hunting trips in the mountains, as well as pleasure pack trips. For nine years we have never missed exhibiting and showing our Arabians at the Fair here. (This is Montana’s state fair and the largest fair in this Northwest region.) The war has, of course, necessitated our discontinuing this practice and has brought more severe tasks for the horses.
“When recreational facilities at the air base were yet unorganized, our horses helped fill in for many of the boys before they left here direct for combat zones. It was great satisfaction for us to see how well our Arabs adapted themselves to strangers whose riding ability varied from that of beginners to that of professionals. The soldiers all seemed very appreciative and there was no injury to either horse or rider.”
“In keeping with the times, we have enlarged our cattle business, which in turn makes more work for the horses. We haul the horses about by truck for this work. The loading and unloading is simplified by the way our Arabs will jump into and out of the truck any place.”
“The real climax for ‘war work’ was the excellent way in which the young stallion Adonis worked to cultivate the Victory garden. Not the kind of work an Arab stallion should do, I will agree, but, nevertheless, he did it and gracefully too.”
From another source:
“Answering your recent letter concerning what we do with our horses under saddle, please be advised that they are worked the same as any horse would be out here in the West, under western equipment and actual western working conditions.”
“All of our stallions are well-reined western horses who understand how to work cattle, can travel over the toughest sort of terrain, and have been put to every use that a western mount might be used for.”
“The mares that we use for breeding purposes are, as nearly as we can possibly select, the well-muscled, short-backed, compact type of Arab.”
“When the war first broke out, a Sheriff’s Posse was formed here in Humboldt County and three of our stallions participated in the various movements of that organization and gave a mighty good account of themselves. They are accustomed to everything from the sands along the Pacific Ocean to the high mountain terrain that we have in this country and seem to be equally at home under either of these conditions or anything intermediate.”
“All of them are broke so that the rider might shoot from their back and we have yet to find any situation that the Arab cannot cope with.”
“They are extremely useful in handling of cattle and any work that takes fast coordinated action.”
In connection with the preceding quotations, it would seem that the Arab is still every whit the same horse that carried forlorn hopes to victory not only for the Moslems, but for the Spanish Invaders of this continent. Is there a more stirring picture than that of Lord Roberts riding his white Arabian Stallion Vonolel at the head of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Procession? With the medals awarded him worn on his breast collar, he must have been a glorious picture of a horse. Lord Roberts writes that he secured Vonolel in Bombay when he was five years old, had him for twenty-two years, during which Vonolel traveled with him over 50,000 miles and was never sick or sorry, and adds that he was only 14.2 hands.
Because man has not changed him much, the Arab remains the wonderful horse he has always been. There was an impression among some horsemen that, if a breed of horse was very good, a larger horse of that breed would be better and thus many breeds have been nearly ruined before the horsemen discovered their mistake. Neither can Arabian horses be made better by being changed and bred larger; that has also been demonstrated. Thus has the Arabian horse been kept unchanged since he first came upon the scene thousands of years ago and it is imperative to keep him so. His beauty, intelligence, and natural qualifications for a horse to ride, combined with his historic background, lend a touch of romance to the pleasure of ownership.
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