Arabian Horse Origin and Characteristics

Arabian horses are one of the most popular horse breeds in the world today. They are consistently in the Top 10 because of their appearance and versatility. You’ll find Arabians compete well in endurance competitions, do well on racetracks, and perform in show events at exceptional levels.

The trademarks of the Arabian breed include a strong skeletal structure, high intelligence, and a willingness to please. They are spirited horses that are constantly on alert. There is also a sensitivity to this breed that can make them difficult to handle for those who are not familiar with the breed.

Arabians demand respect. If they don’t receive it, then they are unlikely to offer it in return. 

What Is the Origin of the Arabian Horse?

The Arabian is believed to be one of the world’s oldest breeds. Horses that resemble the physical traits of the modern Arabian have been found through archaeological findings that have been dated to be at least 4,500 years old. Through trade, because of war, and the need for a sturdy and strong horse for agricultural work and transportation, Arabian bloodlines spread rapidly from its early days in the Middle East.

One can find Arabian bloodlines in virtually every modern breed of horse today.

What makes the Arabian genetics so highly prized is how the horse adapted to the arid climate of the Middle East. Often part of the Bedouin tribes, the Arabian grew up in the hottest deserts of the world. It developed a dark skin to help protect itself against the heat and intensity of sunlight. Its hardiness developed because of the need to sometimes go long distances with few supplies.

Its social nature developed because of how these horses were treated in the ancient days. These horses were highly prized, which meant they were commonly stolen. To prevent this from happening, many families would bring their horses into their family homes for shelter, even if that home happened to be a basic tent.

This cooperative relationship has continued until today, even though the Arabian is one of the few horse breeds that is classified as being hot-blooded.

In the past, lineage strains and subgroups were specifically defined within the lineage of each horse. These classifications still exist, but are informal now. Popular classifications include Egyptian, Russian, and Domestic. Each informal classification has its own passionate following, with the virtues of each set of physical characteristics.

What each classification offers, however, is a piece of the puzzle that completes a picture of the beneficial characteristics that the Arabian horse offers to the equine world.

The Characteristics of the Arabian Horse

Arabian horses have a skeletal structure that is different from most horse breeds. Instead of having 6 lumbar vertebrae, then tend of have 5. They also tend to have 17 pairs of ribs instead of 18. This structure doesn’t apply to all Arabians, but it is a common enough trait within the breed.

Arabians tend to have a good croup length and excellent depth at the hip This allows the Arabian to have excellent agility.

Most Arabians stand between 14.1-15.1 hands, according to information that is published by the US Equestrian Federation. Some individuals may be a little larger or smaller than this average range. Because the breed standard falls below the “pony standard” or 14.2 hands, shorter Arabians are still classified as a horse.

Arabians tend to have a greater bone density than other breeds, allowing them to look refined, but remains incredibly strong. Compared to heavier and taller breeds, the Arabian can hold its own because of its sure-footedness, short cannons, and a shorter, but broader back. This also means that Arabians can carry heavier riders compared to breeds of similar size.

What tends to attract or dissuade people from what the Arabian can provide is the temperament of the horse. There is an unusual willingness with the breed, but there is also a spirited disposition that is virtually beyond compare in the equine world. This has created a loyalty between horse and human that is difficult to find in other breeds.

It is this loyalty and even-temperament, despite the hot-blooded nature of the horse, that allows the US Equestrian Federation to allow children under the age of 18 to exhibit stallions in virtually all show-ring classifications.

Arabians learn quickly and this can be an asset or a problem, depending on the circumstances of the horse. An Arabian which picks up a bad habit will not let go of that unwanted behavior without a fight. Trying to teach an Arabian to stop an unwanted behavior can sometimes interpreted by the horse as a lack of respect, which creates a cycle that encourages more unwanted behaviors.

Arabians will not tolerate inept training practices either. They are not typically dangerous to be around should this occur, but it can make for a horse that is stubborn and won’t want to listen to your commands.

What Coat Colors Come with the Arabian Horse?

The Arabian Horse Association will register a purebred horse that comes in five common coat colors: black, gray, bay, chestnut, or roan. Chestnut, bay, and gray horses tend to be the most common.

For those with a roan coat, it is more of an expression of a sabiano or rabicano pattern instead of a true roan. DNA testing shows that the standard roan gene does not seem to exist within the Arabian lineage.

All Arabians, no matter what their coat color happens to be, will have black skin. If the horse has white markings, then the skin is a lighter color as well.

Some Arabians appear to have a “white” coat. This is usually a reflection of the gray coloring that is found within the breed. There is a dominant white lineage of Arabians thanks to a stallion that was foaled in the late 1990s. In a random mutation, a purebred Arabian had pink skin, a white coat, and dark eyes from birth.

A purebred Arabian does not have any dilution genes, so palominos, buckskins, cremellos, or dun Arabians are not actually a purebred Arabian, by definition, today. There is historical evidence to suggest that some of these colors or patterns may have existed previously, but that trait has been removed for the modern breed – except for the sabiano gene.

What Is the Health of the Arabian Horse as a Breed?

There are 6 known genetic issues which affect the Arabian breed. Two of them are always fatal, two are usually disabling, while the other two are often treatable.

The two treatable conditions are a form of juvenile equine epilepsy and guttural pouch tympany. Surgical intervention may be required in some instances to correct malformations, while ongoing medications are usually required to manage physical symptoms, but many foals with these conditions can go on to have a life that is fully useful.

Malformations in the vertebrae in the neck and the base of the skull can cause fusions and this may lead to problems with coordination or, in severe instances, a paralysis of the front or rear legs. Some foals with this condition may be unable to stand to nurse.

Cerebellar abiotrophy is a recessive disorder that may not show any symptoms for up to 6 weeks. At that point, foals may become uncoordinated, develop head tremors, or maintain a stance that is wide-legged.

The two fatal health conditions are Lavender Foal Syndrome and Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disorder. These are both recessive disorders that are fatal if they are homozygous. Foals with LFS are born with a color dilution that lightens the hair of the coat to give it a tone that almost seems purple in color. SCID can cause a foal to be born without an immune system, which causes the foal to die of an infection early in life.

Genetic testing can find some, but not all, of these conditions within Arabian horses.

How Arabian Horses Have Influenced the Equine World

The Arabian breed has an almost incomparable genetic strength. Virtually every light horse breed has Arabian bloodlines as part of its foundation. Even Thoroughbreds have Arabian lineage in their ancestry have the influences written directly into the stud books for individual horses. 
Arabians are also regularly used to strengthen current breeds when endurance, agility, or refinement needs to be added.

Horses that are one-half Arabian even qualify for their own registry, no matter what the other breed of horse may be. Some half-Arabian horses have even been approved for breeding with the registries of full-breed warm-blooded registries.

This means the Arabian is one of the most versatile breeds available to the equine world. Having it be one of the oldest is just another benefit. You’ll find these horses showcased in movies, theater, and other forms of entertainment. They excel in show jumping events, love to compete in racing events, and win at the Olympic level on a regular basis. 

When the classic lines of the Arabian are included into this versatility, along with their spirit and temperament, it is easy to see why they are consistently one of the most popular breeds of horse in the world today.