Arabian Horses in the United States and Their Origin
by General J.M. Dickinson
Reprinted by permission of his daughter Margaret D. Fleming
Part 10 - The Place of the Arabian
Arabian horses have today as ever a high value as improvers of less warm blooded stocks, and have been proven to be of value to cross on other breeds that have become over-specialized.
But, more important to the average horse lover and owner, who wants a horse that he or she can use and enjoy, is the versatile usefulness of the Arabian. Under saddle at three or five gaits, as a hunter or jumper, as a working stock horse, and in harness, the Arabian satisfies. The Grand Champion Hunter at the Tennessee State Fair Horse Show of 1934 was an Arabian mare. Antez proved his worth as a racer, driving horse, show horse in hand and under saddle, a young girl's constant mount, and as a champion sire. Alyf has won prizes in harness, and the premier California stock horse championship of 1946 at the Cow Palace was won by a registered Arabian stallion, a half-brother to Ronek. Bazleyd readily took seven distinct gaits without mixing, and performed with all the fire and dash of the American Saddle Horse, though of course in somewhat different manner because of the difference in conformation between the two breeds. He has also won prizes in plantation, or "walking" horse classes. He and Kolastra were officially approved for breeding purposes by the association which fosters the breeding of plantation walking horses. Though it is seldom profitable to speculate upon matters that are hardly susceptible of proof because the threads of breeding history have been broken, one may wonder whether or not the "plantation walk," so well known and highly prized in parts of the South, did not originate with the Arabian blood that surely flows in the veins of so many Southern "saddle" horses. It is of interest in this connection to note that Colonel Dodge, in his "Riders of Many Lands" (New York, 1894), and Locher in "With Star and Crescent" (Philadelphia, 1889), both observed that the Arab is readily gaited. Though both agreed that the Bedouin Arabs habitually ride at the walk, a fast running walk, and gallop, Dodge stated that the Arabs of North Africa ride at a "saddle" gait, and published pictures to prove his point; while Locher wrote of the Turkish mail carriers riding their grade Arab horses at a saddle gait called the "rachwan." Lochner described the gait in considerable detail and said, "Even the very poorest equestrian can sit as firmly on a 'rachwan' horse as if he were screwed to the saddle." Various Travelers Rest Arabs have developed into prize winning stock horses and parade horses in a number of western states. These various examples of the versatility of the Arab ably bear out the statement of Major-General F. W. Ramsey, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., in "Polo Pony Training," Aldershot, 1932: "Like human beings some horses have more brains than others. Of all horses I have known, the Arab has the best brain; . . ." And of Colonel Paul Rodzianko, C.M.G., who makes a statement to the same effect in his "Modern Horsemanship," New York, 1937.
It is not our wish to make extravagant claims for the Arab, nor to slander any other breed. It is not fast enough to compete on the race track with the Thoroughbred, nor has it the extreme action to qualify it for competition in the show ring according to the specialized standards of the American Saddle horse, or Hackney. Its merit lies in all around usefulness and flexibility under saddle, and in exceptional soundness, healthiness, hardiness and gentle but high spirit. Owing to gentleness and good manners, the males need not be gelded wholesale as in other riding horses, and if treated sensibly and without roughness are usually safe and interesting companions. The Arab is naturally very friendly and kind, but too intelligent, spirited, and fearless to tolerate abuse.
Mr. Harris, dean of American breeders of Arabs, has written: "Arabian horses, I find, will do anything gladly, once they know what you want; and they know when they have done wrong, and will stand correcting for that. *** You can't make an Arab stallion do anything." We subscribe completely to the foregoing, yet would explain at more length lest there be misunderstanding. In the sense that our various most highly improved modern breeds of light horses are "hot blooded," as the expression goes, the Arab is utterly "hot." Yet this quality of hot blood does not render the Arab dangerous as being apt to run away or to attempt to injure his rider. On the contrary, through long association with the bedouins of the desert on terms far more intimate than are enjoyed by our western horses, the Arab horse seems to appreciate the company of his rider. Not having been bred primarily as a race horse he has not the disposition to run away when excited. It seems, however, that the Arab horse has grown accustomed through the ages to understanding treatment that is not always accorded. Quick and willing to learn, courageous in face of the unknown, the Arab horse evidently wishes to "feel his way," so to speak. He reacts favorably to teaching, yet resents being forced to do what he has not yet learned to understand. We affirm our belief, based upon years of experience with a very large number of Arab horses and with an even larger number of other horses, that while a purebred Arab is sufficiently intelligent to accept, and profit from, punishment for wrongdoing, it is a mistake to attempt to force an Arab to entirely new ways by whipping or similar violent methods. It has been our experience that the Arab expects and requires sympathetic and intelligent handling, and mild bitting, to which it responds handsomely. With such treatment the Arab makes a most delightful and capable mount which will seldom if ever prove disappointing.
Prince Mohamed Aly, late Prince Regent of Egypt and one of the most distinguished of all breeders of Arab horses, has most aptly written: "The Arab horse is strong, docile, easy to teach, pleasant to manage, with lots of go and endurance. One of his chief attributes is his beautiful long stride and his nice canter. He turns easily, very sharply and quickly. Certainly he cannot trot like a European horse, neither can he jump like a hunter. You must take the horse as he is, according to the needs of his countrymen and their habits. It is very difficult to have perfection. You cannot find all the qualities in one horse anywhere you go."
It is an unfortunate fact that the reputation of the Arabian horse has suffered in the United States from disparagement, both written and verbal. Occasionally one hears uncomplimentary references, made only too often by persons who have never owned or had anything to do with an Arab, and even by those who have never seen a purebred specimen. While many such remarks can be discounted because of the known interest of the speakers in furthering the reputations of other breeds in which they are especially interested, and which they suppose to be competitors of the Arab, it can hardly be doubted that some are made by those whose motives are unquestionable. It is only fair to presume that such honest, even though misinformed, critics have formed their unfavorable opinions in reading books of authors who have permitted themselves to be biased by especial interest in praising their favorite breeds of horses at the expense of others, including the Arabian.
In discussing just such matters, John Gilmer Speed, in "The Horse in America," wrote: "There is a peculiar characteristic of most writers on the horse. Let a man be ever so fair in his ordinary business and social life, he is apt, when he becomes interested in horses, to throw away his judicial attitude and change to an advocate who sees only one side. When his interest in that one side carries him to the length of writing, the tendency is to be so partisan that he is even discourteous to others who do not agree with him." A few writers, even while confessing total lack of personal experience with the Arab, have gone to great pains in efforts to discredit well established and known historic facts concerning it, all with the apparent purpose of enhancing the reputations of their favorite breeds at the expense of the Arab. In one sense such disparagement may be interpreted as equivalent to praise. One does not measure the value of the worthwhile by contrasting it with the worthless.
We do not care to retaliate by criticism of other good horses. The horseman is surely blind that cannot recognize the real worth of various breeds known to us today in the United States. Each seems to surpass the others for some special purpose for which developed. While admiring the Arab for its general usefulness, and for the inestimable value of its blood in the early development of all our well bred strains, we do not yield in admiration of such as have been developed to the point of excelling the Arab in special fields. We only regret that the reputation of the Arab suffers, and may be expected to continue to suffer, as a direct consequence of such paucity in numbers that most Americans, even including experienced horsemen, have little or no opportunity to get first hand information about the breed.
In "The Arab Horse," 1906, Colonel Spencer Borden wrote significantly:
"Various answers, all good, may be given to this question. In the first place the average horseman has come to believe their qualities and reputation to be figments of the imagination, like the Arabian Nights tales, and having similar origin. He has never seen one of these wonderful horses, and none of his friends have seen one. Therefore, the horse as he is represented does not exist. Again, even if he becomes convinced there is such a horse he does not know where to look for him, does not feel certain he can secure the genuine article if he parts with his good money to obtain one, and if he does find what he wants the price is sure to be a stiff one."
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