The Ultimate Guide To The Arabian Horse


Arabian horses are amongst the most well-known types of horse. They have a long history spanning thousands of years, developed in desert climates to produce a strong, intelligent and attractive horse. Many qualities of the Arabian horse are found in modern light horse breeds.

An Informative Video Describing The Arabian Horse In More Detail Below

Arabian horse history and origins

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the origins and history of the Arabian horse. A breed dating back thousands of years, the Arabian horse is generally agreed to have originated in the Arabian Peninsula. There is evidence that the Arabian dates back 4,500 years, with Bedouin tribes dating their history with the breed back to 3000 B.C. It’s a strong, hardy breed, and characteristics developed back then are evident in modern breeds, as a result of the desert climate it was bred in.

Arabian horses had multiple uses, including transportation, carrying loads and of course, during battle. Trade and wars meant that Arabian horses eventually made their way into Europe and beyond. Famous images of those who rode Arabian horses include Napoleon and Alexander the Great. 

By the 1700s, Arabian horses begin to arrive in America. George Washington famously owned and rode an Arabian horse. His name was Blueskin and was ridden during the American Revolutionary War. Blueskin has been well documented, and there is even a portrait of him with George Washington. 

The Arabian Horse Registry of America was founded in 1908, recording 71 horses to begin with. Today, there are more Arabian horses in the United States than there are in the rest of the world.

Arabian horse size

An Arabian horse is typically smaller than other types of horse. On average, they stand between 14 and 16 hands. Some characteristics of an Arabian horse include a small head, with protruding eyes and broad nostrils. They have a shorter back compared to other horses, with 23 vertebrae instead of the standard 24. 

Arabian horses can weigh anything from 800 to 1,000 pounds, with a fine-to-medium build. 

Arabian horse speed

The Arabian is the third fastest horse breed, reaching up to 40mph. They are often used for horse racing because of their speed, but also because of their stamina. In an endurance race, an Arabian is a strong contender. An Arabian could run for 50 miles or more if needed.

Read more about how fast horses can run to see how the Arabian compares to other horse breeds.

Arabian horse breeding and uses

Developed in tough desert conditions, the Arabian developed a hardiness and endurance that has lent itself to many uses. They are athletic and capable of maintaining great speeds for long distances, and are strong too.

In the past, they have been war horses and used to help bear loads, and in more recent times have become a popular choice for racing and other equestrian events.

Ideal for long distance races, they are a great breed for trail races. They are also a wonderful breed for dressage competitions and other ring-based events. Many people also favor the Arabian for ranches and leisure riding.

Types of Arabian horse

There are six different types of Arabian horse, each one with its own unique qualities. The purebred Arabian horses are the Straight Egyptian, Spanish Arabian, Polish Arabian, Crabbet Arabian, Russian Arabian and Shagya Arabian.

Straight Egyptian

Straight Egyptian are known for their long lineage, and can be fully traced back to the Bedouin tribes, such as those owned by Viceroy Mohammed Ali. They are majestic, beautiful and somewhat of a rarity today. With around 6,000 Straight Egyptians worldwide, they make up around 3% of all Arabian horses. 

Spanish Arabian

The Spanish Arabian can be dated back to the 19th century, where they were particularly favored by Queen Isabel II, who had an interest in Arabian horses. Spanish Arabians are typically rarer than the Egyptian, making up a small percentage of all the Arabian horses. 

They are known for generally having fewer color varieties, with most Spanish Arabians being white or gray. They are built for endurance, but are also a popular Arabian for showjumping. 

While their lines can’t be traced back as far as the Straight Egyptian, they have a limited gene pool, making them rare amongst Arabians, with no new lines being introduced in over 1,000 years. 

Polish Arabian

The Polish Arabian is linked to times of war, and were first introduced in the 16th century. The horses were captured as spoils of war, and they were soon bred in the country. During World War I, however, the breed was almost wiped out in Poland. A resurgence and launch of a breeding program after the war so the breed numbers replenished.

Over time, two types of Polish Arabian emerged – the Seglawi and the Kuhailan. The Seglawi are very popular in America, admired for their beauty, while the Kuhailan variety is better known for being an athletic breed.

Highly intelligent, Polish Arabians are great horses, and well-loved by riders.

Crabbet Arabian

The Crabbet Arabians date back to 19th century England. They were originally imported after drawing admiration from nobility who’d traveled overseas. They were bred to strong horses, rather than bred for their beauty, and they are known for being amongst the tallest of the Arabian types. They also have a wider range of coat coloring and markings.

Known for their athleticism, Crabbet Arabians are a great breed for different equestrian events, including endurance races, show jumping and dressage.

Russian Arabian

Following the introduction of the Arabian to Europe, Russia quickly adopted its own breeding program. They were popular with Czars and the nobility, and soon grew in popularity. As with other types of European Arabian, periods of war led to a decline in the number of Russian Arabians, finding a resurgence once more after World War II. 

Russian Arabians make an excellent racing horse due to their athleticism, but they are also loved for their friendly, calm personalities. 

Shagya Arabian

The Shagya Arabian is one of the most unique of the Arabian types. They were bred during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, fulfilling a need for a cavalry horse featuring the traits of an Arabian, but larger and more agile. 

Interestingly, the Shagya Arabian is named after the Arabian stallion who was strong and tall, and whose traits were found in subsequent offspring. Taller than some Arabians, they are fantastic athletes, a popular sight in equestrian sport.

Colors and markings

Like other breeds of horse, the Arabian has many different types of coat colors and markings. The main colors recognized by the Arabian Horse Association are:

  • Bay
  • Gray
  • Chestnut
  • Black
  • Roan

They can have white markings on their faces, as well as socks or stockings. Some breeds have more atypical features.

The colorings of the Arabian are very distinct, even amongst the different varieties. They are not found in dun, palomino, buckskin or cremello varieties, which aren’t typically associated with purebred horses. As for markings, it’s only the white sabino patter that is recognized. 

As they were developed in hot, dry conditions, their skin is black to provide them with protection against the sun.

Unique characteristics of the Arabian horse

Most modern horses are descended from Arabian horses in one way or another, purebred Arabians have a number of traits that make them more distinctive.

Typical Arabian characteristics include having long and arched necks, and a high tail. They also possess floating gaits, and because of their size are excellent for riding. 

Arabian horses are also well-known for their endurance due to their origins and continued development, making them a very athletic horse.

Over the centuries, Arabian horses have been widely admired by key figures in history, often being imported or gifted due to their unique qualities. While each of the six types of Arabian horse have their own unique qualities, their general characteristics and build remain the same.

Diet and nutrition

Like all horses, a good diet is a must to help keep them strong and healthy. A typical Arabian diet should include the right mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. As well as water to stay hydrated. They will eat grass, hay, grains and fruit and vegetables.

Compared to other horses, Arabians eat less food. This is due to their size, and their history of being in a desert climate where they would have needed to survive for long periods, up to several days without food or water. Fortunately, today, this is less common! 

It’s important to find the right balance to help them maintain a healthy weight, while making sure they get all the nutrition they need.

Common health and behavior problems

Arabian horses are prone to different health and behavior problems. These are important to be aware of.

There are six types of genetic disorder that Arabians are prone to, two of which will end up being fatal, two are more disabling than fatal but will usually result in euthanasia, while the other two are generally treatable. These conditions are:

  • Lavender Foal Syndrome: A type of recessive genetic disorder, with no visible signs in carriers, making it difficult to detect. Most foals born with the condition are unable to stand and may suffer from seizures. They are generally euthanized shortly after birth.

The condition gets its name from the dilution of coat color that leaves foals with lighter tips with a coat color dilution that lightens the tips of the coat hairs, or is visible in the entire length of the hair.

Gene tests have been developed by different researchers to enable carrier DNA to be tested.

  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency: As with Lavender foal syndrome, it’s difficult to detect whether a horse is a carrier. It is an immunodeficiency in which the affected foal has no immune system, and will therefore die from an infection shortly after birth. 

DNA testing has made it possible to identify the condition in carriers to enable smarter breeding pairings. 

  • Occipital Atlanto-Axial Malformation: This condition is caused by the malformation or fusion of the occiput, atlas and axis vertebrae in the neck or the base of the skull. The main signs are incoordination. Signs may not show straight away, although foals born with a severe case will fail or struggle to nurse. 

There are now genetic tests available to check for potential carriers of the condition.

  • Cerebellar Abiotrophy: Foals born with Cerebellar Abiotrophy may not display symptoms for a long time after birth. It is a neurological condition affecting balance and coordination, which can leave foals accident prone and at a greater risk of injury. Because of this, it can be difficult to judge whether an accident and associated head injury was the cause of symptoms, or the condition. A post-mortem will then identify the cause.  

There is genetic testing available for both carriers and offspring. While some foals suffering from the condition will be euthanized, those with a mild case might live until maturity, provided they don’t become a danger.

  • Equine Juvenile Epilepsy: Equine Juvenile Epilepsy is typically present in Arabians from a certain bloodline, and has been linked to Lavender Foal Syndrome too. With Equine Juvenile Epilepsy, foals may develop signs after a few days, experiencing seizures, although these tend to ease off by the time the foal is 12-18 months old.

The condition can be treated with anti-seizure medication until the seizures cease.

  • Guttural Pouch Tympany: This condition can appear in foals up to around a year old. It can make breathing difficult, with air able to get in but not out as easily. Surgery and medication can improve the condition, and many foals treated successfully will live a full life.

Behavior

Arabian horses are generally considered to be sociable horses that get on well with people. They are not as hot-headed as other horses, with a tendency to have calmer personalities. Many people choose to have them as a first horse, especially for children.

Behavior issues typically occur as the result of poor training and mishandling, as well as mistreatment. It’s important to handle them correctly to avoid aggression and other negative behaviors, but this shouldn’t be an issue for experienced riders and handlers.

Generally, Arabian horses are considered highly intelligent and eager to please, making them hard workers. It’s easy to see why they have been a popular breed throughout history and continue to be today.

It’s also worth noting that Arabian horses are very sensitive, and they bond easily with their owners. They’re intuitive and behave differently with younger riders, and are also used for therapy for those with developmental disorders or those with mental health issues.

With proper care and a lot of love, Arabian horses can make excellent, hard-working companions capable of some incredible things.

Grooming

Often favored because of their attractive qualities, it’s important to groom an Arabian horse regularly to keep its coat in a smooth, shiny condition and to ensure their skin stays healthy too. 

You should aim to brush an Arabian regularly, while always brushing after exercise. Oils are distributed with brushing, helping to keep the coat and skin healthy. The main and tail should also be detangled to keep them in great condition.

Hoof care is also important to make sure they don’t sustain any injuries or infections. You should try to clean their hooves on a daily basis, which gives you the opportunity to check for any problems.  

Grooming is a necessity to keep your horse’s coat in good condition, but it can also help to encourage bonding between horse and owner or trainer.

Famous Arabian horses

With their long history, Arabian horses have been featured regularly. They have carried great leaders to war, won races and of course, been featured in many novels and film and television series. 

Some of the most famous Arabian horses include:

  • Marengo: Belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, and named after the battle he carried him in. Has been depicted in several portraits of Napoleon. 
  • Skowronek: A famous horse, who was the foundation stallion for the Crabbet Arabian in England, and whose genes have been passed down to today’s North American Arabians. 
  • Cass Ole: An Arabian who starred in The Black Stallion (1979). 
  • Thunder: Mascot of the Denver Broncos.
  • Wahana: A chestnut mare who played the role of My Friend Flicka in the 1950s TV series. 

With Arabians being such renowned athletes, there are a lot of famous Arabians in the sporting world too, especially among equestrian fans.

Is the Arabian horse right for you?

There are many benefits to owning an Arabian horse. As they are loyal, loving and intelligent, they make great companions and are particularly well-suited to younger riders because of their calm nature.

With the right handling, the Arabian’s gentle nature will be evident, and they will be eager to please – making them an ideal working horse too. Without the right training, they can become hot-headed or aggressive, but this isn’t a typical trait of the breed compared to others.

Training is important to encourage bonding and to bring out the best in your horse.

Because of their friendly and sensitive nature, Arabians love people and enjoy human company, making them a firm part of the family. Strong, healthy and hardy, their development over the centuries means they are adaptable and high performers, with a lot of endurance.

How to adopt or buy an Arabian horse

Arabian horses are a popular breed all over the world, and while some breeds are rarer than others, it should be pretty straightforward to find a reputable breeder.

Arabians are distinctive because of their pure bloodlines, and it’s important that you do your research to make sure that what you’re getting is a genuine specimen. Ask the breeder questions about their lineage and consider getting recommendations from others if you’re unsure.

You will also want to make inquiries about the horse’s health and whether there are health issues to be aware of. You can ask for a history, and information about their behavior to get you a clearer profile of the horse you’re buying.

It’s recommended that you have your vet examine the horse for confirmation of what you’ve been told. They might be able to identify issues that haven’t been diagnosed before.

Buying a horse isn’t a decision to rush into, and you might want to spend some time with the horse first and get to know their personality, witness their training, etc. If something doesn’t seem right, or you have concerns, walk away and look elsewhere. A horse isn’t a small purchase, and you might not find the right one straight away.

Another option if you’re looking to own an Arabian horse is to adopt one that has been rescued. There are a lot of rescue horses out there looking for new homes, and it could be one way for you to give a horse a second chance, as well as make it more affordable. 

Cost

How much does an Arabian horse costs? The price can vary greatly, costing anywhere between $5,000 to $30,000 on average. As the Arabian is a breed that is founded on pure bloodlines, you can expect to pay more for horses of a certain caliber.

For those that have been prizewinners or can be traced to certain lines, you could expect to pay a lot more for your Arabian.

It’s important to research costs first and make sure you’re paying a price that’s in line with the current market. Prices could fluctuate, but you can always consult an expert if you’re unsure if what you’re paying is correct. 

In addition to the cost of buying the horse, you’ll want to consider the ongoing costs for your Arabian. From the cost of feeding to vet costs, equipment and stables, there are a lot of recurring costs you’ll need to pay for your horse’s upkeep. 

As one of the oldest and most famous types of horses, the Arabian is a fascinating breed with a lot to offer, an excellent companion who is hardworking, intelligent and loyal. 

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