Horse Properties International

Horse Properties International - News

Arabian Horses - Legends & Origins


Arabian horses are the topic of many myths and legends. One origin story tells how Muhammad chose his foundation mares by a test of their courage and loyalty. While there are several variants on the tale, a common version states that after a long journey through the desert, Muhammad turned his herd of horses loose to race to an oasis for a desperately needed drink of water. Before the herd reached the water, Muhammad called for the horses to return to him. Only five mares responded. Because they faithfully returned to their master, though desperate with thirst, these mares became his favorites and were called Al Khamsa, meaning, the five. These mares became the legendary founders of the five "strains" of the Arabian horse. Although the Al Khamsa are generally considered fictional horses of legend, some breeders today claim the modern Bedouin Arabian actually descended from these mares.

Another origin tale claims that King Solomon was given a pure Arabian-type mare named Safanad ("the pure") by the Queen of Sheba. A different version says that Solomon gave a stallion, Zad el-Raheb or Zad-el-Rakib ("Gift to the Rider"), to the Banu Azd people when they came to pay tribute to the king. This legendary stallion was said to be faster than the zebra and the gazelle, and every hunt with him was successful, thus when he was put to stud, he became a founding sire of legend.

Yet another creation myth puts the origin of the Arabian in the time of Ishmael, the son of Abraham. In this story, the Angel Jibril (also known as Gabriel) descended from Heaven and awakened Ishmael with a "wind-spout" that whirled toward him. The Angel then commanded the thundercloud to stop scattering dust and rain, and so it gathered itself into a prancing, handsome creature - a horse - that seemed to swallow up the ground. Hence, the Bedouins bestowed the title "Drinker of the Wind" to the first Arabian horse.

Finally, a Bedouin story states that Allah created the Arabian horse from the south wind and exclaimed, "I create thee, Oh Arabian. To thy forelock, I bind Victory in battle. On thy back, I set a rich spoil and a Treasure in thy loins. I establish thee as one of the Glories of the Earth... I give thee flight without wings." Other versions of the story claim Allah said to the South Wind: "I want to make a creature out of you. Condense." Then from the material condensed from the wind, he made a kamayt-colored animal (a bay or burnt chestnut) and said: "I call you Horse; I make you Arabian and I give you the chestnut color of the ant; I have hung happiness from the forelock which hangs between your eyes; you shall be the Lord of the other animals. Men shall follow you wherever you go; you shall be as good for flight as for pursuit; you shall fly without wings; riches shall be on your back and fortune shall come through your meditation."


Arabians are one of the oldest human-developed horse breeds in the world. The progenitor stock, the Oriental subtype or "Proto-Arabian" was believed to be a horse with oriental characteristics similar to the modern Arabian. Horses with these features appeared in rock paintings and inscriptions in the Arabian Peninsula dating back 3500 years. In ancient history throughout the Ancient Near East, horses with refined heads and high-carried tails were depicted in artwork, particularly that of Ancient Egypt in the 16th century BC.

Some scholars of the Arabian horse once theorized that the Arabian came from a separate subspecies of horse, known as equus caballus pumpelli. Other scholars, including Gladys Brown Edwards, a noted Arabian researcher, believe that the "dry" oriental horses of the desert, from which the modern Arabian developed, were more likely Equus ferus caballus with specific landrace characteristics based on the environments in which they lived, rather than being a separate subspecies. Horses with similar, though not identical, physical characteristics include the Marwari horse of India, the Barb of North Africa, the Akhal-Teke of western Asia and the now-extinct Turkoman Horse. Recent genetic studies of mitochondrial DNA in Arabian horses of Polish and American breeding suggest that the modern breed has heterogeneous origins with ten haplogroups. The modern concept of breed purity in the modern population cannot be traced beyond 200 years.

Desert roots

There are different theories about where the ancestors of the Arabian originally lived. Most evidence suggests the proto-Arabian came from the area along the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent. Another hypothesis suggests the southwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula, in modern-day Yemen, where three now-dry riverbeds indicate good natural pastures existed long ago, perhaps as far back as the Ice Age. This hypothesis has gained renewed attention following a 2010 discovery of artifacts dated between 6590 and 7250 BCE in Al-Magar, in southwestern Saudi Arabia, that appeared to portray horses.

The proto-Arabian horse may have been domesticated by the people of the Arabian peninsula known today as the Bedouin, some time after they learned to use the camel, approximately 4,000–5,000 years ago. One theory is that this development occurred in the Nejd plateau in central Arabia. Other scholars, noting that horses were common in the Fertile Crescent but rare in the Arabian peninsula prior to the rise of Islam, theorize that the breed as it is known today only developed in large numbers when the conversion of the Persians to Islam in the 7th century brought knowledge of horse breeding and horsemanship to the Bedouin. The oldest depictions in the Arabian Peninsula of horses that are clearly domesticated date no earlier than 1800-2000 BCE.

Regardless of origin, climate and culture ultimately created the Arabian. The desert environment required a domesticated horse to cooperate with humans to survive; humans were the only providers of food and water in certain areas, and even hardy Arabian horses needed far more water than camels in order to survive (most horses can only live about 72 hours without water). Where there was no pasture or water, the Bedouin fed their horses dates and camel's milk. The desert horse needed the ability to thrive on very little food, and to have anatomical traits to compensate for life in a dry climate with wide temperature extremes from day to night. Weak individuals were weeded out of the breeding pool, and the animals that remained were also honed by centuries of human warfare.

The Bedouin way of life depended on camels and horses: Arabians were bred to be war horses with speed, endurance, soundness, and intelligence. Because many raids required stealth, mares were preferred over stallions as they were quieter, and therefore would not give away the position of the fighters. A good disposition was also critical; prized war mares were often brought inside family tents to prevent theft and for protection from weather and predators. Though appearance was not necessarily a survival factor, the Bedouin bred for refinement and beauty in their horses as well as for more practical features.

Strains and pedigrees

For centuries, the Bedouin tracked the ancestry of each horse through an oral tradition. Horses of the purest blood were known as Asil and crossbreeding with non-Asil horses was forbidden. Mares were the most valued, both for riding and breeding, and pedigree families were traced through the female line. The Bedouin did not believe in gelding male horses, and considered stallions too intractable to be good war horses, thus they kept very few colts, selling most, and culling those of poor quality.

Over time, the Bedouin developed several sub-types or strains of Arabian horse, each with unique characteristics, and traced through the maternal line only. According to the Arabian Horse Association, the five primary strains were known as the Keheilan, Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani and Hadban. Carl Raswan, a promoter and writer about Arabian horses from the middle of the 20th century, held the belief that there were only three strains, Kehilan, Seglawi and Muniqi. Raswan felt that these strains represented body "types" of the breed, with the Kehilan being "masculine", the Seglawi being "feminine" and the Muniqi being "speedy". There were also lesser strains, sub-strains, and regional variations in strain names. Therefore, many Arabian horses were not only Asil, of pure blood, but also bred to be pure in strain, with crossbreeding between strains discouraged, though not forbidden, by some tribes. Purity of bloodline was very important to the Bedouin, and they also believed in telegony, believing if a mare was ever bred to a stallion of "impure" blood, the mare herself and all future offspring would be "contaminated" by the stallion and hence no longer Asil.

This complex web of bloodline and strain was an integral part of Bedouin culture; they not only knew the pedigrees and history of their best war mares in detail, but also carefully tracked the breeding of their camels, Saluki dogs, and their own family or tribal history. Eventually, written records began to be kept; the first written pedigrees in the Middle East that specifically used the term "Arabian" date to 1330 AD. As important as strain was to the Bedouin, modern studies of mitochondrial DNA suggest that Arabian horses alive today with records stating descent from a given strain may not actually share a common maternal ancestry.


Latest News

Sign In Window

[ X ]

Please sign in here. Please register if you need to.

Real Estate Agent or Owner     Standard user     Advertiser    

Forgot my password