One of the oldest breeds in the world, the Arabian is one of the Kings of the show ring. Their beauty, power and movement makes many owners enter showing classes. There is a range of classes that can be entered, some very specific to the Arab.
In-hand showing is done to show the conformation and freedom of a horse’s gait. Handlers must therefore learn how to show off their horse’s best attributes especially when the judge is watching. Arabs under three can wear show halters, whereas adults must wear a bridle with a bit so they can be handled safely.
Although horses must appear as natural as possible, some elements of beautification are allowed. Muzzle hair can be trimmed, but ears and fetlock feathers must be kept natural. Manes and tails can be thinned, but should hang naturally. Baby oil and even make-up are used on their faces to accentuate features. This mustn’t be excessive as judges can remove you from the class.
Some UK producers now show their Arabians in an American showing stance. This requires the horse to stand with their hind legs further back than square. Their necks will be arched upwards, with the profile elevated so it is almost horizontal to the ground. This gives them “the look of eagles”, showing off their elegance. The handler will need to teach the horse at a young age to stand this way, and the long whip can be held in the air to attract their attention. Other British handlers prefer the traditional way of showing, where the Arab will stand square with neck arched as if they were on the bit. This shows their balance and conformation as a riding horse.
Handlers will need to learn the speed that best shows off their Arab’s paces. You will be expected to present the horse at walk and trot, your fitness is paramount.
All Arabs that enter a ridden class must be over 4 years of age. Showing tack should be used to show off their conformation – as a result the saddle flap should be cut straight to accentuate the shoulder. Large numnah’s will hide the ribcage so must be cut to sit under the saddle. Arabs tend to be shown in fine bridles to show off their refined heads. In Novice classes you must use a snaffle bit and not wear spurs.
As part of the class you must complete a “show” to show off your horse’s appearance, ride-ability and gaits. Work on both reins, and include all gaits. The judge will also ride your horse. As part of training you will need to get your horse used to accepting different riders, and trained to understand the standard aids. The judge will ride their own show to see how easy the horse is to ride and to assess how good it is under saddle. Arabians must be ridden on the bit.
Popular in America, the Arabian shows its flexibility of use by also competing in Western Pleasure classes. The most noticeable difference to English Ridden is the tack. Western bridles and saddles must be worn, with riders wearing bright attire with plenty of bling. All horses will be ridden one handed, with neck reining to control direction. Arabs must walk, jog (a slow trot developed to conserve energy), lope and do a hand gallop.
Western riding means training the Arab to learn these paces and the aids specifically used in Western Riding. Reining is very different from English riding, but the intelligence of the Arab means they can learn to do both. They will associate the tack with the different types of showing.
It could be seen as fancy dress class for grown-ups, but it has a very specific function. The Native class allows owners to show off the horse in the costumes they used to wear in the desert. Traditional costumes should include:
Saddle – unlike the European saddle the native saddle is a quilted heavy pad covered in thick woollen embroidery. Some original saddles did have simple wooden trees, so if used they will also need to be covered with heavy padding, and an ornate pattern. The edges of the saddle will be covered in large tassels.
Saddle bags – these will sit behind the saddle, following a similar embroidered pattern and including more large tassels around the outside. Originally the tassels would be made from the owner’s wool crop, and finished with blue beads which were considered good luck.
Items to hold the pad in place – being only a pad, the Bedouins created a number of items to keep it in place as they rode. A girth was used to keep the blanket on the horse. A braided woollen collar was also added to the front of the saddle, attaching to rings on the pad either side of the neck. Tassels were also added for decoration, becoming very elaborate. A woollen crupper was also attached to the back of the pad, slipping underneath the tail to stop the pad slipping.
Stirrups – most Bedouins rode without them, but those who did created engraved metal stirrups draped over the saddle on a single leather.
Bridle – the original bridle was a simple braided halter, with a series of brass chains over the nose. A single rein would be added to a swivel ring on the bottom of the bridle. Riders would swing the reins to cause pain to make the horse change direction. Bits are now used, usually underneath the elaborate halter which includes tassels, beadwork and charms. Double reins will also be tasselled.
Rider – the rider must also become part of the costume. They must wear a Bedouin outfit, with a woollen skull cap and robe.
Unlike the traditional costume, yours can come in any colour. Make sure they match your horses colour, and are not too large hiding your horse’s conformation. Some shows also hold a Hollywood costume section, which allows you to design a striking, glamorous native costume with rhinestones and bright colours.