Small, light, Arabian breed of horse whose qualities of endurance and agility have been introduced into European stock by selective breeding. Thoroughbred racehorses are descended from Arab stallions.
The origins of the Arab horse are unknown, but it was found in the Nejd, central Arabia, and in the 5th century AD was a special breed belonging to the Bedouins. By the 6th century the Arabian tribes were carefully breeding from Arab horses. They were a decisive factor in the conquests of the Muhammadan Saracens, and over the centuries these Arabian horses developed into the superb strains which eventually improved the standard of light horses throughout Europe.
Pure Arabs Only a small proportion of horses bred in Arabia are pure Arab, and these are known as the Kohl on account of the bluish-black tint of their skin. Legend has it that the five chief families of the Arabian horse are descended from a mare known as Kehailet Ajuz (‘the mare of the old woman’); but the Bedouins recognize five Kohlani strains, the first and most numerous strain being the Kehailan, which are largely bays, with a white ‘star’ and one or two white feet, and are reputed to be the fastest, though not the hardiest, of the five. These are the most like the English thoroughbreds, being more nearly related to them than the others. The Darley Arabian, one of the most famous horses ever brought to England, bought 1704 in Aleppo by Mr Darley, HM consul, was a pure-bred Kehailan. The Abeyan strain, a smaller if handsomer horse, does not so strongly resemble the English thoroughbred.
Characteristics A characteristic of the Arab is the peculiar way it carries its well elevated tail very still and without the usual sideways swing, while at the gallop the dock is carried almost vertically. The Arab's weak points are a tendency to ewe-neck and excessive thickness of shoulder. A height of 14.2 hands is the proper height for the breed. Pure-bred Arabs are of most colours, but the bay and grey predominate; there are also many chestnuts, and sometimes browns and blacks. A feature of the Arab is endurance; but, as regards speed, and owing to careful crossing, it is now outmatched by modern English racehorses.
Modern uses Arabs are not good jumpers, steeplechasers, or hunters, but they do make excellent polo ponies. The Anglo-Arab, a first cross of thoroughbred Arabs, or descended wholly through ancestors so bred, is, despite its name, a French speciality, and many international showjumping trophies have been won by French teams mounted on Anglo-Arabs.
The best-known use of Arabs in horse breeding today is in the upgrading of pony stock by the use of Arab stallions on selected mares of British native breeds, such as the Welsh, Connemara, New Forest, and Highland.
In the Nejd itself the Arab is threatened with extinction owing to motorization, oil royalties, and the fact that Islamic law condemns horsemeat as food.
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