The Arab has been a proud and prized companion to humans for centuries. Tamed by the ancient Bedouins it often lived with its family in their tent. This kept it safe not only from the coldness and wind of desert nights, but also from thieves. Its affinity with humans, combined with its beauty and athleticism has made the Arab one of the world's most popular horses.
As their name suggests, the Arab has its origins on the Arabian Peninsula. The wild horses there were more refined than the native breeds in other countries. This is probably because they survived in conditions where they were mainly battling excessive heat rather than the cold and wet. The desert environment meant that co-operation between horses and humans was beneficial to both parties. Humans could supply the horses with food and, more crucially water, which could be scarce and hard to access. Horses were not the preferred form of transport. The Bedouins had hardy and efficient camels for that. They were used for warfare. Unlike in Europe, warfare in the Arab world generally meant guerilla raids. The Arab's speed, lightness of foot and intelligence made it the perfect raiding partner. Interestingly, whereas many cultures preferred stallions for use in warfare, due to their superior strength, the Arabs preferred mares because they were quieter and therefore less likely to be detected by the enemy.
War was also the catalyst for the Arab's spread through Europe and ultimately the rest of the world. Arab invaders conquered parts of Southern Europe, notably Spain and took their horses with them. At the same time, Crusaders were determined to conquer the Arab world and when they returned home, often brought fine horses back to improve local stock. As European countries then went on to build global empires, so they took horses with them both for war and then continued to breed the best of them for peace-time mounts. Arabs were popular as war horses well into the 20th Century. Ironically the militaries of various countries began to take a serious interest in breeding them right before mechanization made cavalry obsolete. Although the World Wars of the early 20th Century did not decimate the Arab population as it did for other breeds, it did cause an upheaval. Quite simply horses were seen as spoils of war and were moved to the home country of whoever had the upper hand at any given time. After the wars, the Cold Wars meant that international trade in the horses was limited. Fortunately the Cold War has long since thawed and the breed is now flourishing around the world.
Modern Arabs are sub-classed into various types depending on their ancestry. They also have a number of breeding societies and stud books. Nonetheless they all share certain common traits. They generally range between about 14.1 and 15.1 hands. Even those who are 14.2 or under are still classed as horses. Only whole-coloured horses are recognized for breeding purposes. Their heads are very distinctive having broad foreheads with large eyes, tapering down to small muzzles. They have large nostrils, which help to bring in air and are part of the reason why they excel at endurance riding. Arabs are known for having dished faces, which are often seen in breeds which have had input from Arabs. Powerful quarters make them capable jumpers and their slim legs are no cause for concern as they are noted for having particularly dense bones and hooves.
In some ways the relationship between Arabs and humans is more like that of a dog than that of a typical horse. Horses lived in tents with humans and only those which demonstrated soundness of temperament as well as good physical characteristics were allowed to reproduce. This means that, generally speaking, if you treat an Arab with respect, they will respond in kind. Having said that, they are extremely intelligent and sensitive which means that not only are they quick to learn good behaviours but they can also be quick to learn bad habits, inadvertently taught to them by humans. They may also become frustrated by riders or handlers who give them confusing or contradictory instructions. With this in mind, although purebred Arabs are gentle horses, they are probably best suited to at least moderately experienced riders. Arab/native crosses however are hugely popular as all-round ponies (or small horses) for both children and adults as the native stock adds a more easy-going element to the refined Arab.
Sadly Arabs are known to suffer from some genetic disorders of varying degrees of seriousness. Severe Combined Immunodeficiency and Lavender Foal Syndrome both usually result in an animal dying in early foal-hood. Cerebellar Abiotrophy can be managed in mild cases, but often euthanasia is the kindest option. There are now DNA tests to detect carriers of these disorders and if considering buying a young foal or an adult with the intention of breeding, it's wise to check for these. Occipital Atlanto-Axial Malformation generally leads to euthanasia. There is no DNA test for it as yet, but it can be detected through an Xray. If buying an Arab foal, this can be a wise check. Equine Juvenile Epilepsy and Gutteral Pouch Tympany can generally be treated. It should be noted that these conditions are all rare and are all generally detected in early foal-hood. Although buyers of older animals are strongly recommended to have it checked by a vet before purchase, if an animal has reached adulthood they are almost certainly free of these disorders (although they may be carriers).
Caring for a Arabian
Arabs developed in warmer climates, which means in the UK they need protection from the weather. Living out is only a feasible option in the warmest months. Owners should be prepared to spend money on top-quality rugs so they can be turned out in colder weather and to stable them at night. Although Arabs are relatively good doers for such refined animals, they are likely to need hard feed as the weather gets cooler. Otherwise their requirements are essentially in line with most horses: water, daily grooming and regular foot-care and worming.
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