Arab Horse

By Homer Davenport
Cyclopedia of American Agriculture
Edited by L.H. Bailey
MacMillan Co., 1908

The Arab horse is notable as a saddler, and to impart vigor, quality and intelligence in cross-breeding. His blood has been prominent in the development of the Percheron, Hackney, Thoroughbred, Russian Orloff, Triccaney, Hanoverian, French and German cavalry horses, the coach horse, polo ponies; in fact, a large proportion of our present-day types are more or less traceable to the influence of the Arabian horse.


The Arabian in his purity is a horse of high courage, possessing length, power and substance, combined with elastic and graceful movement. He is gentle and affectionate. He seems to have no fear of anything, even man, a trait shown particularly in young colts. In his native country he stands closer to fourteen hands and two inches than any other height; but his size is merely a matter of feed given him when he is a colt, as is shown by the fact that among the Gomussa tribe of the Sabba Anazeh, who pay better attention to their horses than do others, we find colts at two years old standing fifteen hands high; and at the Circassian villages up the Euphrates, where even better care of the live-stock is taken than by any of the Bedouins, we find the Arab horse much advance in size.

Farewell to Haleb

There is a peculiar balance and harmony throughout the frame of the Arab. The beauty of head, ears, eyes, jaws, mouth and nostrils is noteworthy. The ears are not small, but are so shaped that they appear small; the head is short from the eye to the muzzle, broad and well-developed above; the eye is soft and intelligent; the nostrils are long and appear puckered, drawn back up the face, and are capable of great distention; the neck is a model of strength and grandeur, of which he can make a perfect arch, that matches the arch of his tail. The throat is large and well developed; it is loose and pliant when at rest, and much detached from the rest of the neck. This feature is not often noticed, but it is indicative not only of good wind, but of the capacity for prolonged exertion without distress, owing to the great width between the jaws. The shoulder is good, as is the deep chest, the appearance of which is diminished by the big, deep ribs; the back is short, the loins of immense power, and the quarters long and strong, the whole beautifully turned. The legs and feet are superior. The two great features, possible, that a stranger would notice first in the Arab horse, are the forehead, or jibbah, which cannot be too prominent, giving a peculiar dish to the lower part of the face, and the tail, set high and carried in an arch. The form of the Arabian horse is essentially one of utility; the space for the seat for the rider is sufficient, and at once fixes his true position; the weight is therefore carried on that part most adapted for it. The rest of the frame is taken up with the powers of progression. The color varies, and may be white, gray, bay, chestnut, brown and rarely black. Roan, spotted or piebald and yellow colors are not found among the Arabs, although roan and yellow are common among Barbs. The bays often have black points, and generally one or more white feet, with some white in the face. The chestnuts vary from the brightest to the dullest shades.


There has been a great deal of query as to where the Arab horse came from. It seems probable that he came originally from Mesopotamia, although some writers hold that his native home was in the vicinity of Nejd. According to Plumb, the Arabs are descendants of Ishmael, who, according to tradition, inherited a valuable horse of the Kuhl race. The Anazeh tribe descended in a direct line from Ishmael, through sheik Salaman, who lived about 1635 B.C. (four generations removed from Ishmael, through sheik Salaman, who lived about 1635 B. C. (four generations removed from Ishmael), and who owned five famous mares. From this ancestry has come the purest and best Arab horse blood. This race was in existence many centuries before the time of Mohammed. Early in the seventeenth century Arab horses were brought to England, and in the eighteenth century the importations were numerous. These exerted considerable influence on the development of the Thoroughbred and the Hackney.

In America. — The first record we have of the Arab in America was the importation of the stallion Ranger, about 1765, to New London, Conn. In 1838, J.D. Elliott imported a number of both sexes. The late A. Keene Richards brought them to Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1856. His plant was making the most rapid strides toward success, when it was destroyed by the Civil war. The blood of his horses, however, is found in the present Kentucky saddle horses, six and seven generations back, and there is little doubt that much of the beauty of that splendid animal today is traceable to the horses that A. Keene Richards imported. The next importation was the two stallions given to General U.S. Grant, by the Sultan of Turkey. These were of unknown families, but they sired many beautiful and useful horses.

A number of Arabian horses were brought to the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago, in 1893. The Sultan was induced to permit these horses to come to America for the exhibit, and through mortgages they were eventually held. Nine were burned to death in their stalls at the Exposition by the Syrians that brought them, as the outcome of a wrangle. From these horses, however, came the best results from any Arab horses brought to America. Most of them were bought by Mr. Peter B. Bradley, of Hingham, Mass., who crossed them on some of our best breeds, besides breeding them in their purity. With a pure horse of his breeding, Mr. Hess, of New York City, won the only blue ribbon ever won over our own types of saddle horses, with an Arab in open competition. Mr. Bradley also bred a trotter, two removes from Arab blood, that trotted to a record of 2:30 in the sixth heat of his first race. He produced the finest types of polo ponies and accomplished much with the Arab blood.


The home of the Arab horse, speaking of the pure Arab, is the district that is covered by the Nomad Arabs, and is confined to Arabia proper and the Syrian desert. In its greatest perfection it is found among the Anazeh and Shammar bedouins, occupying the territory east and west along the Euphrates river; the Shammar on the eastern shore and the Anazeh west of the river. The latter make a circuit of the desert annually, going from the summer pastures near Aleppo, in the north, to Nejd, in the south, in winter. They swing east past Bagdad and Deyr on their way north, and on their journey south, go west, brushing near Palmyra and Damascus. Within that circuit the home of the Arabian horse may be said to lie. The haunts of the pure Arabian are those of the desert Bedouins, who still carry the lance. Of course, specimens of pure blood can be found sometimes at Beyrout, and the coast towns, but such horses have been brought there by wealthy citizens. In like manner they have been carried into northern Africa, Persia, Turkey, Hungary, Germany, France, Russia, England and America.

The adaptability of the Arab is noteworthy. Accustomed naturally to the most intense heat, yet he thrives in the extreme cold, and the writer has known one to winter perfectly in the mountains of Pennsylvania. His coat, while fine and silky in spring and summer, in winter is as thick as a beaver’s, and has an undercoating of fur-like hair.

Types and families.

It has been asserted that there were two breeds of Arabian horses, a large breed and a small breed. This is untrue; there is but one general breed of Arabian horses, of which there are many families, which are different and distinct in many ways. While there are not two distinct breeds, there are a first and a second class. A horse, or mare, about whose breeding there is the slightest doubt, is disqualified, and not called “chubby,” and therefore is of the second class. The families originated and descended from some great mare. In all cases the breed of the colt is that of the dam, and not of the sire; thus, a colt, whose father had been a Hamdani Simri, and whose dam had been a Seglawieh Jedranieh, would necessarily be a Seglawi Jedran. The Bedouins count the father little, so long as he is “chubby,” meaning a Thoroughbred that the Anazeh would breed from, but they place everything in the value of the mother’s blood, and of her own individuality.

The Gomussa, of the Sabba Anazeh, are the shrewdest horse-breeders of the desert. They have retained, in the largest numbers, specimens of the five great families, which are called the Khamseh, which means five. They also have the choicest of the other families, which are rated equal in point of blood. The Khamseh, so the story runs, have descended from the five great mares, which, with other mares of Sheik Salaman, were drinking at the river after long hardships in war, when the trumpet blew, calling them back to battle. Only five responded to the call, and it was those five that founded the five great families.

(1) The Keheilan Ajus. — This strain is the most numerous, and from it all other Keheilans are offshoots. The words Keheilan Ajus mean the mare of the old woman, derived from legend that the mare was dropped by its dam near a well kept by an old woman, where the rider had stopped. The traveler rode off in a short time, leaving the filly colt with the old women. The next morning the colt was found by its mother’s side, having traced her across the desert during the night. Among the Keheilans, bays are more numerous than any other color. They are the fastest, although not the hardiest horses nor the most beautiful. They bear a closer resemblance to the English Thoroughbred than any others, as they are more nearly related. The Darley Arabian, perhaps the only thoroughbred Anazeh horse in our studbooks, was a Keheilan of the sub-family called Ras-el-Fadawi.

(2) The Seglawi family have descended from four great mares owned by a man of that name. At his death he gave his favorite mare to his brother Jedran, and thus the Seglawi Jedrans are the favorites of the Seglawies; he gave the second mare to his brother Obeyran; the third to Arjegi; and the fourth to El-Abd, meaning the slave. Many writers consider that all four mares were full sisters. The Seglawi Argebi are extinct, and of the remaining stains, the Seglawi Jedran ranks first in the esteem of the Bedouins, and Seglawi El-Abd second. Some years ago, Abbas Pasha, of Egypt, purchased nearly all of the Seglawi Jedran mares from the Anazeh tribe, paying as high a price, it is said, as 3,000 pounds, for a single old mare. Many chestnut-colored horses are found among the Seglawis; possibly, with the bays, they would form about an equal division.

(3) Hamdani. — The Hamdanis are not common anywhere on the Syrian desert, the Shammar being supposed to have the best. They are mostly greys, although very handsome browns and chestnuts are to be found in the Shammar. the only strain of the Hamdani that is counted “chubby” is the Hamdani Simri. Mares of the Hamdani Simri are very rare.

(4) Abeyan. — The Abeyan is generally the handsomest breed, but it is small and less resemblance to the English Thoroughbred than any of the other families of the Arabian horse. The Abeyan Sherrack is the most esteemed of the seven strains of the Abeyan (and there are but two others of the seven, the Abeyan Zahaine and Abeyan Fadaha, that are counted “chubby”). It is the name of the family, and the other strains are derived from Abeyan Sherrack. Abeyan Sherracks carry their tail much higher than other Arabian horses. They are also noted for their prominent forehead or jibbah. Their endurance is remarkable. The colors are bay, chestnut and grey.

(5) Hadban. — There are five strains of the Hadban family, Hadban Enzekhi being the favorite, and Hadban al-Fert being the only other that is considered “chubby” by the Anazeh. The Gomussa of the Sabba Anazeh are supposed to have the best Hadbans at the present time. Brown and dark bay are the favorite colors of the Hadban Enzekhi family.

Other families. — Besides these five families, there are sixteen other families that are esteemed almost as much as the Khamseh: (1) the Maneghi, supposed to be an offshoot of the Keheilan Ajus. They are plain and without distinction, being somewhat coarse, with long necks, powerful shoulders, much length, and strong but coarse hind-quarters. They are strong boned, and are held in high repute as war horses. There are four sub-families in this group, the favorite being Maneghi Sbeyel, which is counted “chubby” all over the desert. Maneghi Hedruj, the next esteemed, is not counted “chubby” at Nejd, but is by some tribes of the northern desert. The family of Sbeyel of the Gomussa possesses the finest specimens of the strain known by that name. (2) Saadan, often very beautiful horses; the sub-strain, Saadan Togan, is the most highly esteemed. (3) Dakhman. (4) Shueyman. The sub-strain of Shueyman Sbah are rated as first-class. (5) Jilfan. Of this there is a sub-strain, Jilfan Stam el Bulad, meaning the sinews of steel. In some parts of the desert, the Jilfan Stam el Bulan is prized equally with Hamdani Simri. (6) Toessan. Of this, there is the sub-strain Toessan Algami. (7) Samhan, with a sub-strain, Samhan el Gomeaa. The horses of this family are frequently very tall, and are much esteemed. (8) Wadnan, with the sub-strain, Wadna Hursan. (9) Rishan, with the sub-strain Rishan Sherabi. (10) Tamri. The Keheilan Tamris are highly prized. (11) Melekhan. (12) Jereyban. (13) Jeytani. (14) Ferejan. (15) Treyfi. (16) Rabdan. Besides these, there are the Keheilan Heife, Keheilan Kroash, Keheilan el-Ghazala, Keheilan al-Denais, Keheilan al-Nowak, Keheilan al-Muson, Keheilan abu Junub, Keheilan Rodan, Keheilan Wadnam Harsan, Dahman abu Amr, Dahman Shawan, Dahman Khomais, Abu Arkab, all of which are considered “chubby.” All these are Keheilans, and most, or all of them, have descended from Kehailan Ajus.

Feeding and care.

Unaccustomed to much feed, or regular feed, the Arab is likely to get very fat under our method of feeding, so that the horse, once the picture of all that is beautiful and graceful, with us may soon become a fat horse. He thrives best on half of what other horses require. Of all horses, the Arabian is least fit to stand idle in his stall. His life for centuries has been under the saddle, as a war horse, on the scantest rations any horse lives on; and to pen him up in a close stall and feed him three meals a day so completely changes his life, that if changes his form.


For riding and driving. — As a saddle horse the Arab horse ranks high. He has always been accustomed to the saddle, and has developed remarkable endurance, carrying riders long journeys, day after day, in a scorching sun, with little feed or water. He can carry very heavy weights on his back. When hitched to the carriage, he makes a gentle, attractive, driving horse.

For crossing.– the importance of the Arab for cross-breeding purposes is well known. He has entered into the development of many of our present-day breeds, — trotting, running, saddle, coach and draft, — and has imparted his endurance, quality and intelligence wherever used. That he is still valued for this purpose is evidenced by the fact that in certain European countries Arab studs are officially maintained for breeding purposes. a new infusion of his blood is much needed in our modern horses. The farther we get from the Arab blood, that in former days was strong in our runners and trotters, the less our horses show of the powers of endurance that made them great animals. And while our race horses have become greater sprinters, they have lost much of their staying power. A fresh infusion of the best blood of the desert should improve those families of horses that have been bred in the extreme for any special purpose, to the exclusion of many of the qualities possessed in such a marked degree by the Arabian horse. One of the most noticeable differences between our best types of today, especially in America, and the Arab horse, is the flat and contracted sides of our horses compared with the round, barrel-shaped ribs of the Arabian and narrow openings of the jaw-bones of our horses compared with the wide openings of the jaw-bones of the Arab horse. The importance of this latter point is seen especially in race horses. The many deaths among modern race horses, supposed to be due to the bursting of blood-vessels, are attributed to the narrow jaw-bones. The heart is wrought to high action in the effort to force the air through the narrow passage, and the result is the breaking of a blood-vessel and death. This was much less common a few generations ago. Another very noticeable difference is the dropping off below the knee of our American horses compared with the big, flat bone below the knee of the Arab horse.

The finer quality of bone that is transmitted by the Arab horse in crossing is one of his greatest values. Beyond this, perhaps, is his ability to stamp evenness and beauty of disposition on his offspring, a quality desired in all horses, especially in cavalry horses. The very close relation that has long existed between the Arab horse and his master, has produced in him a docility and intelligence that is seldom found in horses of other breeds. the prepotency of the Arab is due to the fact that in his veins flows only thoroughbred blood, with no admixture of cold blood, a fact that cannot be said of any other breed.

Organizations and records.

At this time efforts are being made to organize an American Arabian Horse Association, which shall publish a studbook. Arabian horses are now eligible for registration in the American Studbook and in the General Studbook of Great Britain.


Roger D. Upton, Gleanings from the Desert of Arabia, London (1881);
Lady Anne Blunt, The Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates, 2 vols., London (1879);
Same, A Pilgrimage to Nejd, 2 vols., London (1881);
Boucant; The Arab, the Horse of the Future, Gay & Bird, Strand, London (1905).
[For further references, see page 416.]