Riding the wind: a portrait of the Arabian horse

The breed born in the desert has become a legend and a symbol

by 30 November 2010

Somewhere back in the sands of time, a creature was born in the most adverse conditions. An animal with great stamina, capable of withstanding the harshness of the natural environment. And, above all, a horse of great beauty.

Brought to life some four thousand years ago in the Arabian Peninsula, this creature is said to have been a gift from Allah. According to legend, Allah created this horse by combining the characteristics of the four winds to attain absolute perfection. From the North wind he took vitality, from the South he took strength, from the East he took speed, and from the West, he took intelligence.

And so the Arabian horse was born, a creature greatly revered by the Bedouins. Its hallmarks are an average height of 150 cm, which is relatively low for a horse, a distinctive head shape, large expressive eyes, arched neck, muscular build, and a tail that is often raised, creating an impression of elegance and pride. The Arabian was developed to be a strong horse capable of traveling large distances, withstanding the rigours of the desert, and with a docile temperament. They were mostly used as war horses to raid enemy camps. They were cared for with great respect, and revered above virtually all other possessions. Still today, the Arabian is a horse of majestic beauty and noble temperament.

Maintaining the purity of the breed was essential. Pure blood Arabian horses were known as Asil and their lineage can be traced back to the dawns of history. The Bedouins had a special system for recording the pedigree of their horses (the earliest written records date to 1330 AD) and they were very methodical in their breeding. They would select horses which had traits such as speed, intelligence and a good temperament, and these were thus deemed appropriate for breeding. Crossbreeding was strictly forbidden. The Bedouins never gave away or sold their horses, and they kept a very watchful eye over their herd.

As time passed and travel increased, legends about these incredible horses reached Europe, and many people became interested in purchasing them. Arabian Horses were introduced to Europe and the rest of the world through privileged acquisitions or as gifts to royalty or influential figures. Possessing such a creature was a sign of prestige. The most famous of these horses in Europe was Marengo, Napoleon Bonaparte’s grey stallion. The breed also reached America, when the Sultan of Turkey awarded American General Ulysses S. Grant two stallions.

As the number of Arabian Horses in Europe and abroad grew, some people (for example, Catherine the Great of Russia) tried to preserve the breed, while others, not as strict as the Bedouins, cross-bred Arabians with other European breeds. Today, several modern breeds have blood from the Arabian horse, such as the Thoroughbred, the Percheron, the Orlov Trotter, and the Appaloosa.

Arabian horses are powerful and fast, and they are top ranking champions in numerous equestrian disciplines. They are always in top positions in show jumping, dressage, reining and endurance. Endurance riding is one of the toughest forms of competition, and so Arabians are particularly outstanding in these gruelling contests. They consist of a race across 160 km of terrain, and the winner, the first to cross the finish line, is more often than not an Arabian. Because of their physical qualities, they are also commonly used for search and rescue work.

The Arabian horse is an important national symbol for the United Arab Emirates. Not only have horses played an important role in the country’s history, but, here just as in most Islamic countries, they are considered as a gift from God. Whether in Endurance competitions or in the ‘Sport of Kings’, Arabian racing, these horses remain the most popular and most admired breed.
Great efforts are currently being made to preserve the true Arabian breed, and these include international competitions, which offer a wonderful opportunity to see the finest Arabian horses. Participants arrive from many different countries and compete for substantial prize money.

The most prestigious of these competitions for purebred Arabian horses is the Dubai International Show, which has been running for eight years under the sponsorship of His Highness Sheikh Hamdam bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance of the UAE.

International Championship events featuring Arabian horses for 2011 will be held at the following locations and dates in the United Arab Emirates:
9 – 11 February 2011 Abu Dhabi International Show
10 – 12 March 2011 Sharjah International Show
17 – 19 March 2011 Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship
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Polo, King of Sports, the Sport of Kings
Dubai's Passion for Polo

UAE Winter 2010