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July 23, 2014     
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Frequently Asked Questions

I've owned horses before, but are there differences in the care, feeding and breeding of Arabians?

Care, Feeding & Breeding

Outfitting Your Arabian

Arabian horses require the same kinds of saddles, bridles and stable halters as other breeds. However, most Arabians require slightly different sizes.

Arabians usually need western bridles that are smaller in the cheek and brow areas. A cob size English bridle (the smallest size made for horses) fits most Arabians. Breast collars made for Arabians usually fit better than those designed for larger, more broad-chested breeds such as Quarter Horses. If used, a martingale designed for Arabians fits best because it accommodates the breed's higher neck set and head carriage.

Because Arabians usually have more refined heads with smaller muzzles than other breeds, they also need smaller bits. The typical Arabian bit is size 4 3/4 (4 3/4 inches across). Horses with narrower jaws (from side to side, where the bit lies in the mouth) may need a 4 1/2. Arabians with wider mouths may take a standard horse size bit (5 inches).

Retail and mail-order tack stores often sell tack specifically designed to fit Arabian horses. However, some standard horse equipment also may fit. For example, western saddle blankets and pads that are 30 inches x 30 inches will fit most Arabians. Pads measuring 29" down the back may fit even better. A 30-inch western cinch usually fits an Arabian, and an English girth of 44 to 46-inches should fit the average Arabian (girth sizes start at 38 inches).

Most Arabians are wide (very round) in the barrel. The "well-sprung" ribs which contribute to the Arabians exceptional lung capacity and stamina result in wider backs. Because of this, "Arab" saddle trees (the underlying structures of saddles) are wider than standard saddle trees. A wide tree also prevents the saddle from rubbing low and/or wide withers.

Arabians usually have short backs, which help them carry heavier weights than longer-backed horses. Because the Arabian's back is shorter, the western saddle's skirt should not be more than 27 inches long (measured down the horse's back). The shorter skirt prevents chafing as the hind legs move forward. There are a variety of English saddles, depending upon the style of riding. Most riders use dressage, hunt seat (jumping), or "all-purpose" English saddles (designed for both the flat and jumping) for casual pleasure riding. Lightweight saddles designed for endurance riding are also popular for competition and trail riding. In English Pleasure classes at Arabian shows, cutback saddles are used. Riders in Show Hack classes use dressage saddles, and hunters and jumpers use hunt saddles.

To learn which style of tack is best for your horse and how to fit it, observe what others use and ask experienced Arabian owners for guidance. Tack store employees can also help you find the proper fit for your Arabian. The sizes suggested here are general guidelines. Individual Arabians vary, and all tack should be chosen to provide the most comfort to the specific horse. 

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Feeding Your Arabian

Most Arabian horses use their feed efficiently, which means that they may require less feed than other breeds. Perhaps this is because their ancestors came from the deserts of the Middle East, where feed was scarce. Also, because Arabians also are smaller in comparison to larger, heavier breeds, they require less feed to maintain their weight.

This does not mean, however, that Arabians should be kept extremely thin or that they will thrive on poor quality feed. They need adequate calories and the same nutrients as any other horses. Like people, they need a proper mix of vitamins and minerals to stay in good shape and perform well.

If the horse is carrying the proper amount of weight, his contours will look rounded, rather than angular. You should feel the horse's ribs when you brush your hand across the horse's sides, but the ribs should not be visible. If they are, the horse is too thin and needs more feed. (If he's getting enough feed, have a veterinarian examine the underweight horse.)

Overfeeding also can create health problems. Feeding a horse too much rich feed or allowing a horse to become obese can cause founder (laminitis, a serious inflammation of the hooves). Feeding too much rich feed also can bring on a deadly bout of colic. So be careful when feeding grain, rich springtime grass, or other high protein feeds.

Fortunately, it's easy to feed an Arabian properly. Feed an Arabian as you would any other breed: give it enough good quality feed to maintain its proper weight, along with plenty of fresh, clean water.

Horses' feed requirements change depending upon their age and kind of use. Good quality horse hay and/or pasture may be sufficient for a lightly used, mature Arabian pleasure horse. More calories are needed when horses are more active and during cold weather. Young, growing horses and breeding or show stock need additional grains or supplements. Horses that are heavily used also require grain, supplements, and perhaps electrolytes when especially stressed. All horses need constant access to a salt block and, if recommended by your veterinarian, mineral supplements.

For tips on feeding your Arabian properly, ask your veterinarian. You can also seek advice from Arabian horse owners whose horses are in good condition, or refer to books that discuss the feeding and care of horses.

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The Joys of Breeding

There is much to know before you can consistently breed Arabian horses with good conformation, breed type, athletic ability, and the people-loving dispositions that have made the breed famous.

The primary goal of all serious breeders is improving the quality of their breeding stock, which can only be done over several generations. This takes years of study and commitment.

First, breeders need a clear vision of the type of horses they hope to produce. They must discover which bloodlines have successfully produced the kind of horses they want to breed, and which may do so in the future.

A breeding program is a plan for mating specific individuals or families of horses to consistently reach the breeder's goals. Skillful breeders adjust their breeding programs to emphasize successful nicks, eliminate disappointing crosses, and introduce additional bloodlines.

A horse's pedigree is its "family tree." However, breeders must know much more than just the names that appear in their horses' pedigrees. To breed for improvement, they must know both the good and bad points of their horses' ancestors, because either can be inherited.

Conscientious breeders carefully study each horse's genotype (traits inherited from the horse's ancestors, whether or not they appear in that individual). They also analyze the phenotype (appearance) of each individual. Every Arabian used for breeding should be a good representative of the breed. Horses with serious inheritable defects should not become breeding stock.

Breeders also must protect the breed from inheritable weaknesses that cause serious health problems or death. An example is Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome (SCIDS), for which there is a medical test to identify carriers. Responsible breeders must find out whether any of their mares and stallions carry such defects and, if so, avoid breeding them to each other.

Breeding Arabian horses requires time and commitment. The dedicated breeder's greatest reward is the satisfaction of producing quality Arabians that can be enjoyed by others. Click here, for information on horse care.

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