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Arabian Horse Association
April 24, 2014     
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Arabian Horses in the United States and Their Origin

by General J.M. Dickinson

Reprinted by permission of his daughter Margaret D. Fleming

Part 1 - Introduction

THE ARABIAN HORSE is a thing of transcending beauty and stamina," wrote the late Lt. Col. McTaggart, the distinguished British horseman. According to the Prophet Job, himself a bedouin who lived about forty centuries ago, "He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength; he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword." During the ages that have intervened, countless books have been written, stories have been told and retold, of the ancient breed of horses that we now know as the Arabian.

Scientists have argued over its origin, disputing with each other and with men who have devoted substantial parts of their lives to the study of the Arab. Enthusiastic admirers of other breeds have occasionally gone far afield in attempts to discount historic facts and discredit well founded tradition, in a mistaken zeal to enhance the positions of their favorites in contrast with that of the Arab, the standard of comparison.

One desiring authentic information on thc Arabian horse may encounter difficulty. Few bibliographies relating to the subject exist, and none are complete. On the other hand, there is probably no horse subject that has been treated in more different published books and articles and in more different languages than that of the Arab, and probably no such subject about which there has been more dispute between the sincere, and more misrepresentation by the irresponsible or misinformed.

The most complete book on the subject that has been published in the United States is W. R. Brown's "The Horse of the Desert," which appeared in 1929, and is to be re-published in 1947. In 1941 Mr. Albert W. Harris published his long anticipated "The Blood of the Arab . . . The World's Greatest War Horse," which has done much to popularize the Arab. Lady Wentworth's "The Authentic Arabian Horse" and her earlier "Thoroughbred Racing Stock." published in England in 1945 and 1938 contain a world of lore. It would be fruitless in a horse catalog to list all the works on the Arabian horse, especially when the above named books should cover the subject rather completely.

Three interesting studies have been published recently bearing on the possible origin of the Arabian horse. In 1937 Thornton Chard made an authoritative statement in Western Horseman, showing that the Arabian horse had been selectively bred for at least five thousand years. He followed that up in The Horse in 1939 with a startling review of records and references to the Mittanian horsemen in the Mesopotamian Valley. The horse records of Kikkuli of the Mittanians were referred to in even greater detail in the third June, 1940, number of Deutsche Sankt-Georg Sportzeitung. Such early existence of domesticated horses in a region so closely identified with Arab horses negatives the suggestion of any recent origin of the breed.

In 1938 Dr. Skorkowski advanced the theory, which he has supported with a mass of technical data, that the Arab horse is a consequence of the mingling in early historic times of three principal primitive subspecies of light horses.

The considered verdict of the years is well expressed in the Farmers Bulletin, "Breeds of Light Horses," published by the United States Department of Agriculture:

"The oldest breed of horses generally recognized at present and the fountainhead of all our other light breeds was developed in the desert country of Arabia, from which it derives its name. Needing an animal that would carry him swiftly and safely over long stretches of sandy soil and at the same time withstand the lack of feed and water to a remarkable degree, the Arab developed a type of horse that has long been noted for its activity, endurance, docility, and handsome appearance."

"The Arabian horse, while primarily developed as a saddle horse and ridden by the Arabs at a canter, is easily broken to make a safe although not fast driver. He possesses the general characteristics desired in a saddle horse, viz., good carriage of head and neck; deep, well sloped shoulders, a short back with proportionately long underline; wide and deep quarters; short, strong loin; tail attached high; compactness of middle; and superior quality of underpinning without any tendency to appear leggy."

"A typical Arabian horse has a wedge-shaped head; small nose; dish face; wide, deep jaws; eyes set low, wide apart, and near the middle of the head; a relatively large brain capacity; one less lumbar vertebra than most other horses, giving a short, weight-carrying back; one or two fewer vertebrae in the tail, which is set up on a high croup and gaily carried; ribs sprung wide and deep; large knee, hock, tendon, and hoof; dense bone; small stomach capacity, with small feed requirements and the ability to assimilate rough feed; and a marked prepotency in the stud."

"Generally the Arabian horse in action shows only the walk, trot, and canter. The usual height is from 14 to 15:1 hands and the weight from 850 to 1,100 pounds. Bay, grey, and chestnut are the predominating colors, with an occasional white or black. White marks on the head and legs are common, but purebred Arabians are never piebald or spotted, not withstanding an erroneous impression created by circus horses that are commonly called Arabians."

The high opinion embodied in this disinterested description has been carried into practice by the United States Government, as a substantial number of Arab stallions are among the horses owned by the Remount Service, which has for several years operated the largest Arabian stud in the United States.

 
 

 

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