The Arabian

Compiling my research notes continues apace ... I've decided to start with the horse, what a surprise!!

And Allah took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it, and from it created the horse, saying, “I have made thee as no other. All the treasures of the earth lie between thy eyes. Thy shalt carry my friends upon thy back. Thy saddle shall be the seat of prayers to me. And thou shalt fly without wings, and conquer without sword; oh horse.

'… the Angel of the Lord descended … A wind whirled toward him, scoring red sand with its feet, scattering the dust with the blast of its nostrils, screaming with ferocity. Jibrail stayed the thundering cloud with his outstretched hand and grasped the fullness of it with his hands … The wild element condensed in Jibrail’s hand, and by the majesty of the Living God emerged as the steed of the desert – the Drinker of the Wind.'  ~ a Bedouin conception of the creation of a Horse: Carl R. Raswan

A horse skeleton, dated to 1700BC, unearthed in the Sinai Peninsula, is considered the earliest physical evidence of the horse in Ancient Egypt; it had a wedge-shaped head, large eye socket and small muzzle. War horses with dished faces and high-carried tails were found on art of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. This ‘oriental’ horse has also appeared on seal rings, stone pillars and other monuments.

This is part of an Assyrian wall relief (875-860BC) at the British Museum; I wonder if this was one of those 'oriental' horses ...

In the Quran, the wor a’rab is used for Bedouins, nomadic desert dwellers. When the Bedouins ventured into central Arabia around 2500BC, they took the horse. Because of the harsh climate and terrain of the desert, horse and man were dependent on each other for survival. The Bedouins had their camels, but the Arabian, with its great lung capacity and endurance, proved indispensable as a war mount.

'Bedouins' - Adolf Schreyer

To these Islamic people, the Arabian was considered a gift from Allah. The horse’s bulging forehead, the ‘jibbah’, was believed to hold the blessings of Allah; the greater the ‘jibbah’ the greater the blessings carried by the horse. The ‘Mitbah’, the arching neck with a high crest, was a sign of courage. And the lifted tail showed pride.

Traditions of breeding were established to keep the breed pure or ‘asil’, and any infusion of foreign blood was forbidden, for it was written in the Quran that ‘no evil spirit will dare to enter a tent where there is a purebred horse’. This strict breeding has given us a horse marked by its distinctive dished profile; large, wide-set eyes on a broad forehead; small, curved ears; and large, efficient nostrils.

Because the Bedouins shared their food, water and sometimes even their tents with their horses, Arabians developed a close affinity to man and a high intelligence. Horses in most societies of the time were used in war, and the Arabian was no different. The best mounts for raiding parties were mares as they would not attempt to communicate with the enemy tribe’s horses and inadvertently warn of their approach. Speed and endurance were essential of course, but so was courage in battle, facing charges and spear thrusts without recoiling.

Despite their warlike nature, the Bedouin were known for their hospitality. If a traveller touched their tent pole, they were duty-bound to provide for the guest, his entourage and animals for up to three days without expecting or asking for payment. And if a guest was particularly welcome, his mare’s bridle would be hung from the centre pole of his host’s tent.

Wherever different tribes gathered, breeding stock could be bought and sold but war mares were without price; if at all they changed hands, it was only as an honoured gift. For the Bedouin, there was no greater gift than an Arabian mare.

Even though the Bedouin bred their horses in obscurity, Arabian horses found their way into Europe. One major event that led to a great number of Arabs in Europe was in 1522, when the mounted Ottoman Turks rode into Hungary. Many rode pure-blooded Arabians, captured during raids into Arabia. When the Turks reached Vienna in 1529, they were defeated by the Polish and Hungarian armies, who captured the horses. Some of those horses provided foundation stock for the major studs of Eastern Europe.

Ottoman cavalry

In 1616, King James I of England imported the first Arabian stallion, the Markham Arabian. Other monarchs obtained Arabian horses, often as personal mounts. Later, 3 famous stallions were imported that formed the foundation, which led to the Thoroughbred – the Godolphin Arabian, the Byerley Turk and the Darley Arabian.

The Arabian’s influence can also be found in other parts of Europe. In France, it helped to make the Percheron. In Russia, Count Alexey Orlov bought many Arabians, including Smetanka, the stallion who was a foundation sire of the Orlov trotter.

Smetanka, Orlov trotter

One of the most famous Arabian stallions in Europe was Marengo, the war horse ridden by Napoleon Bonaparte.

'Napoleon Crossing the Alps' ~ Jacques-Louis David