A Brief History of Arabian Horses and Their Importance in Arab Culture

Gary Greer 8/11/2021
Arab Culture

Bedouins and other native Arab cultures consider the Arabian horse a gift from God and they treat them as such.  Indeed, the bond between Arabs and their horses over the years has played a vital role in Arab culture. After all, how many grand poems have been written to the Arabian horse? And how many songs have Bedouins sung by their desert campfires at night praising these noble beasts?

Horses in Arab History

There are many theories surrounding the history of Arabian horses. Some believe they were born in the desert and have been in contact with humans since at least 3,500 B.C. Ancient artifacts such as the cylinder seal of the Achaemenid Persian King Darius only seem to prove this theory. Dating from 522-483 B.C.E., it shows the might king hunting lions in a horse-drawn chariot.  

Another theory is that the Arabian horse has its origins in the Sabean Kingdom, what we know today as Yemen. Equine scholars believe that the Queen of Sheba gifted Arabian horses to King Solomon. The king, in turn, gave one to some visiting Omanis. This stallion would go on to produce 157 descendants throughout southern Arabia. In the hundreds of years that would pass, India would import untold numbers of the beautiful beasts.

Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?

In early cultures, horses slowly became a means of fast transport where they used to pull chariots. People also used them for riding, as evidenced by a 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian terra cotta mold found in modern-day Iraq. In fact, it’s one of the first pictures of a horse and rider known to exist. What’s more, archaeologists also unearthed a tomb painting depicting a horse and rider that they believe Egyptians painted around 1,400 B.C.

Indeed, horses were vital not only as early forms of transport, but also crucial when it came to warfare and hunting. The famous Achaemenid Persians were some of the first to use horses to deliver messages during battle. Also, the Romans seemed to have a profound respect for their Parthian foes and their eponymous “Parthian shot”.  With this shot, a horseman in retreat would turn around on his horse and shoot his arrow. The shot usually meant a mortal wound to his foe.

The Arabian Horse in Islam and Bedouin Culture

Since the 7th Century A.D., the Arabian horse has become be a vital part of both Arab and Islamic culture. Indeed, the lightweight and swift Arabian horse was crucial in spreading Islam as far away as China and Spain. As a result, even the Prophet Mohamed spoke highly of horses and told his followers to take care of them.

Since then, horses have also become a vital part of Bedouin life, and they prize Arabian horses for their grace, spirit, courage and vigor. In fact, there is a story about a prize winning horse called Al-Kahila. One day a thief made away with his horse and his Bedouin owner sent his son to retrieve him. However, deep in his heart he really hoped that his son would never find him. He preferred to lose his beloved Al-Kahila rather than find out that the horse could be overcome.

Types of Arabian Horses

Today, nearly all Arab countries devote themselves to breeding and racing Arabian horses. In doing so, they carry on a vital part of both their customs and their culture. What’s more, they often live in palace-like stables complete with nearly everything a horse could want, including air-conditioning. Over 1,000 of them registered in the United Arab Emirates alone are cared for by and trained by experts.

Nevertheless, in the thousands of years that they have been bred, there are mainly six types of Arabian horses that are purebloods. They are Egyptian, Russian, Polish, Spanish, Crabbet, and Shagya – all of which experts consider to be true Arabian horses.

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