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September 22, 2014     
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Arabian Horse History & Heritage

Origin of the Arabian Horse

The origin of the Arabian horse remains a great zoological mystery. Although this unique breed has had a distinctive national identity for centuries, its history nevertheless is full of subtleties, complexities and contradictions. It defies simple interpretation.

When we first encounter the Arabian, or the prototype of what is known today as the Arabian, he is somewhat smaller than his counterpart today. Otherwise he has essentially remained unchanged throughout the centuries.

Authorities are at odds about where the Arabian horse originated. The subject is hazardous, for archaeologists' spades and shifting sands of time are constantly unsettling previously established thinking. There are certain arguments for the ancestral Arabian having been a wild horse in northern Syria, southern Turkey and possibly the piedmont regions to the east as well. 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 suggest this unique breed originated in the southwestern part of Arabia, offering supporting evidence that the three great river beds in this area provided natural wild pastures and were the centers in which Arabian horses appeared as undomesticated creatures to the early inhabitants of southwestern Arabia.

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 3500 B.C. provided the Bedouins (nomadic inhabitants of the middle east desert regions) with means of transport and sustenance needed to survive the perils of life in central Arabia, an area into which they ventured about 2500 B.C. At that time they took with them the prototype of the modern Arabian horse.

There can be little dispute, however, that the Arabian horse has proved to be, throughout recorded history, an original breed-which remains to this very day.

Neither sacred nor profane history tells us the country where the horse was first domesticated, or whether he was first used for work or riding. He probably was used for both purposes in very early times and in various parts of the world. We know that by 1500 B.C. the people of the east had obtained great mastery over their hot-blooded horses which were the forerunners of the breed which eventually became known as "Arabian."

About 3500 years ago the hot-blooded horse assumed the role of king-maker in the east, including the valley of the Nile and beyond, changing human history and the face of the world. Through him the Egyptians were made aware of the vast world beyond their own borders. The Pharaohs were able to extend the Egyptian empire by harnessing the horse to their chariots and relying on his power and courage. With his help, societies of such distant lands as the Indus Valley civilizations were united with Mesopotamian cultures. The empires of the Hurrians, Hittites, Kassites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and others rose and fell under his thundering hooves. His strength made possible the initial concepts of a cooperative universal society, such as the Roman empire. The Arabian "pony express" shrank space, accelerated communications and linked empires together throughout the eastern world.

This awe-inspiring horse of the east appears on seal rings, stone pillars and various monuments with regularity after the 16th century B.C. Egyptian hieroglyphics proclaim his value; Old Testament writings are filled with references to his might and strength. Other writings talk of the creation of the Arabian, "thou shallst fly without wings and conquer without swords." King Solomon some 900 years B.C. eulogized the beauty of "a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots," while in 490 B.C. the famous Greek horseman, Xinophon proclaimed: "A noble animal which exhibits itself in all its beauty is something so lovely and wonderful that it fascinates young and old alike." But whence came the "Arabian horse?" We have seen this same horse for many centuries before the word "Arab" was ever used or implied as a race of people or species of horse.

The origin of the word "Arab" is still obscure. A popular concept links the word with nomadism, connecting it with the Hebrew "Arabha," dark land or steppe land, also with the Hebrew "Erebh," mixed and hence organized as opposed to organized and ordered life of the sedentary communities, or with the root "Abhar"-to move or pass. "Arab" is a Semitic word meaning "desert" or the inhabitant thereof, with no reference to nationality. In the Koran a'rab is used for Bedouins (nomadic desert dwellers) and the first certain instance of its Biblical use as a proper name occurs in Jer. 25:24: "Kings of Arabia," Jeremiah having lived between 626 and 586 B.C. The Arabs themselves seem to have used the word at an early date to distinguish the Bedouin from the Arabic-speaking town dwellers.

This hot blooded horse which had flourished under the Semitic people of the east now reached its zenith of fame as the horse of the "Arabas." The Bedouin horse breeders were fanatic about keeping the blood of their desert steeds absolutely pure, and through line-breeding and inbreeding, celebrated strains evolved which were particularly prized for distinguishing characteristics and qualities. The mare evolved as the Bedouin's most treasured possession. The harsh desert environment ensured that only the strongest and keenest horse survived, and it was responsible for many of the physical characteristics distinguishing the breed to this day.

Go to Horse of the Desert Bedouin

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