Travels in Arabia the Desert

The Chevalier D’Arvieux’s TRAVELS IN Arabia the Desert
Originally published London, 1718
CHAPTER XI Of the Arab Horses
from the KHAMSAT Volume 2 Number 1 January 1985

The Khamsat introduction:

This is a most amusing reprint from a very long time ago (1718) in a form of English seldom seen or read in many years. We have reprinted it without modifying any of the phrases or spellings so it will read somewhat differently than we are used to but it provides some interesting insights into bedouin life with their horses as observed nearly 300 years ago. We thank Dr. Sherman Stinson for submitting it to us.


There’s not the sorriest Arab but has his Horses. The Arabs had rather be without the most necessary Things in the World, than want a Nag to go about their Affairs, to seek their Fortunes upon the High-ways, and to make their Escape from their Enemies with.

ChelseaSide-400x340There are few of that Price, but abundance of a Thousand, Twelve hundred, Sixteen hundred, and Two thousand Crowns a-piece; and as there is a great deal of Profit to be made of their Colts, their Owners join with other Arabs, deducting their Share of the Sum she was agreed to be consider’d at, after the Rate of Three, Four, or Five hundred Crowns a Leg, (that’s their way of Bargaining.) Those who have none of the Value, join two, three, or four of ’em together, and buy one: He that keeps her and makes use of her, is oblig’d to maintain her; and when she has Foal’d, and the Colt is fit for Sale, they sell it, and part the Money amongst ’em.

A Marseilles Merchant that liv’d at Rama, was Part’ner so in a Mare with an Arab whose Name was Abrahim Abou Vouasses: This Mare, whose name was Touysse, besides her Beauty, her Youngness, and her Price of Twelve hundred Crowns, was of that first noble Race. That Merchant had her whole Genealogy, with her Descent both of the Sire’s and Mother’s side, up to Five hundred Years of antiquity, all from public Records, and in the Form I spoke of, Abrahim made frequent Journies to Rama to enquire News of that Mare which he lov’d extremely. I have many a time had the Pleasure to see him cry with Tenderness, whilst he was kissing and caressing her; he would embrace her, would wipe her Eyes with his Handkerchief, would rub her with his Shirt-Sleeves, would give her a thousand Blessings during whole Hours that he would be talking to her: My Eyes, would he say to her, my Soul, my Heart, must I be so Unfortunate as to have thee sold to so many Masters, and not keep thee my self: I am yours, my Antelope : You know well enough, my Honey, I have brought thee up like my Child’s; I never beat nor chid thee; I made as much of thee as ever I could for my Life: God preserve thee, my Dearest; thou art pretty, thou art sweet, thou are lovely; God defend thee from the Looks of the Envious; and thousand such Things as these. He then embrac’d her, kiss’d her Eyes, and went backward, bidding her the most tender Adieu’s.

This puts me in mind of an Arab of Tunis, whither I was sent to execute a Treaty of Peace, who would not deliverer us a Mare which we had bought for the King’s Stud. When he had put the Money in the Bag, he look’d wishfully upon his Mare and begun to weep; Shall it be possible, said he, that after having bred thee up in my House with so much Care, and had so much Service from thee, I should be delivering thee up in Slavery to the Franks for thy Reward? No, I will never do it, my-Dear; and with that he threw down the Money upon the Table, embraced and kissed his Mare, and took her Home with him again.

As the Arabs have only a Tent for their Horse, it serves ’em too for a Stable; the Mare, the Colt, the Man, the Wife, and the Children retire thither and all pig together. There you’ll see little Children asleep upon the Mare’s Belly, upon her’s and the Colt’s Neck, without the least harm from those Creatures. ‘Tis said they durst not stir for fear of hurting ’em. Those mares are so us’d to live in that familiarity, that they bear any kind of Toying with. The Arabs neér beat ’em, they make much of ’em, talk and reason with ’em; and take the greatest Care imaginable of ’em; they always let ’em pace, and never spur ’em without necessity; but as soon as ever they feel their Belly tickled with the Corner of the Stirrop, they fly with such Swiftness that the Rider had need have a good Head not to be stunn’d with it, as well as with the Wind they raise in his Ears by the violent Agitation of the Air. Those Mares leap Rivulets and Ditches as nimbly as Stags, and if the Rider happens to fall whilst they are leaping or upon full speed, they instantly stop and give him time to get up and mount.

All the Arabs Horses are Middle-siz’d, of a free, easy Shape, and rather Lean than Fat. They dress ’em very carefully Morning and Night; They have large Curry-combs, which they use with both Hands; they afterwards rub ’em with a Wisp of Straw and Woollen Brush as long as there’s the least Soil upon the Skin; they wash their Legs, Mane, and Tail, which they leave at its full length, and but seldom comb it, not to break the Hair. They eat nothing all the Day, in which time they give ’em Drink twice or thrice, and every Evening half a Bushel of very clean Barley in a Bag which they hang about their Head like a Halter: They feed in the Night, and keep the Bag ’till the Morrow Morning, when they eat up what is left. They litter ’em every Evening with their own Dung, when it has been dry’d in the Sun, and bruis’d between their Hands. They think that the Dung dries away the ill Humours, and preserves ’em from the Farcy; they heap it up in the Morning, and in the height of Summer sprinkle it with fresh Water, to keep it from overheating and breeding Corruption.

They turn their Horses out a grazing in March, when the Grass is pretty well grown: Then it is that they get their Mares Cover’d; and they eat neither Grass nor Hay anymore the whole Year. They never give ’em any Straw but to heat ’em when they have been some time without an Inclination to drink; Barley alone is all their Feeding.

They cut their Colts Manes as soon as ever they are a Year or Eighteen Months old, to make ’em grow handsomer; and they back ’em at two Years, or two Years and a half at most. They never tie ’em up ’till then; after which they stand bridled and saddled from Morning ’till Night at the Tent Door. They accustom ’em so much to see the Lance, that when once it is fix’d upon the Ground, and they are placed near it, they ne’er budge from it without any fast’ning; they walk quite round without losing sight of it.

These Horses are not often sick; The Arabs are all good Horsemen, and know their Distempers, and every thing that is necessary to cure and manage ’em; so that they have no manner of occasion for Farriers but only to make their Shoes; Those Shoes are of a soft flexible Iron, hammer’d cold, and always two Fingers shorter than the Horn of the Foot; They pare off before all that is over, that nothing may hinder their Running.

The Arabs and Turks have a great Faith in certain superstitious Writings and Pray’rs which preserve, according to them, from several Accidents. They fold these Talismans in a Paper made Triangular, put ’em in a leather Purse of the same Figure, and so hang ’em about their Horses Necks; It is, besides, to hinder the Effect of Envious Eyes. I express my self so, because I can meet with no Terms in our Language that render literally those of the Arabs: The Provence People’s Ceouclami is exactly what they mean. They hang likewise about their Necks a couple of Boar’s -Tusks, join’d by the root with a Silver Ring, that makes ’em a very agreeable Half-Moon; and this is to keep ’em from the Facy. The Turks keep too upon that account your young wild boars or He-goats in their Stables to attract, as they say, all the bad Air.

I have seen some Arab Horses so extremely fond of smelling the Smoak of Tobacco, that they would run after Folks they saw lighting their Pipes; They took so great a pleasure in having it puffed into their Noses, that they would rise up and End after it, and shew their Teeth, as they usually do when they have smelt the Stale of some Mare. One should see Water at the same time drop from their Eyes and Nostrils. I don’t know whether, considering the Instinct that leads ’em to seek that Smoak, one may believe it does ’em good. There are some Horses that are continually shaking their Heads when they are tied up in the Day-time; the Mahometans think that they are reading when they make that Motion; and that these Creatures being noble, generous, and proper for the Progress of their Religion, the Prophet Mahomet has obtain’d for ’em the Blessing of God, and an occult Capacity to read or repeat tacitly every Day some chapter of the Alcoran. These are the Whims of devout Persons in that Religion, who thus contrive Mysteries from every thing they see and don’t know how to assign a Reason for. As soon as ever the Horse has Cover’d the Mare, they immediately throw some cold Water upon her Buttocks; and at the same time a Fellow takes the Stallion by the Halter, and makes him frisk two or three Turns round the Mare, to fill her with the Image of the Horse at the Moment of Conception, having the same Notions as we have about the Causes of Likeness.

Their Saddles are of Wood, cover’d with Spanish Leather; they have no Panels as ours. Instead of that they make use of a stitch’d Felt that goes cleverly betwixt the Saddle and the Horses back, standing out about half a foot upon the Crupper. The Stirrops are very short, so that a man fits a Horseback as in a Chair, when he gallops he lifts himself above Saddle, and bears upon the Stirrops, to strike with the greater Vigor. The Bottom of those Stirrops is flat, large, and square; their Corners are pointed, and sharp: They use ’em instead of Spurs to prick their Horses with. This cuts their Skin, which makes the horses so tender, that if they are tickled ever so little in that Part, they manage ’em as they please.