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History: Arabian Horses Win Friends in Canada

Reprinted from the May 1953 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Arabian Horses Win Friends in Canada
By Lenore Wilson

In 1829, the number of horses in Arabia did not exceed 50,000, according to the writings of Burckhardt, an early authority. Sir Austin H. Layard, during his second expedition to Arabia in 1853, undertaken for the Trustees of the British Museum, commented this noble race of horses was rapidly becoming extinct.

Approximately one hundred years after Burckhardt made public his calculation, W.R. Brown, in his splendid volume, The Horse of the Desert, stated, “Ultimately the fate of the Arabian will rest in a few hands the world over.” His prediction has become a reality.

This aristocrat of the horse world is being bred and kept pure in almost every country in the world. It may then come as a shock to many to learn that our own up and coming Dominion of Canada has been one of the slowest to recognize and appreciate this powerful source of improving blood.

Whatever the country to which it has been taken, whether it be extremely hot or cold, this breed has remained basically unchanged in conformation and disposition throughout the years. There has been a slight increase in size which is credited to the better feeding and general care given in countries outside Arabia.

The remarkable hardiness and ability to withstand grueling conditions may be attributed to the circumstances under which the breed existed in the original home on those great plains between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. One can think of no better way to tell of these conditions than to refer again to the observations of Sir. A.H. Layard in 1850 while he studied people and customs throughout the desert.

“Their average height is from 14 hands to 14 3/4, rarely reaching 15, I have only seen one mare that exceeded it. Notwithstanding the smallness of their stature they often possess great strength and courage. Horsemen have heard about a celebrated mare of the Manekia breed, now dead, that carried two men in chain armour beyond the reach of their pursuers. But their most remarkable and valuable quality is the power of performing long and arduous marches upon the smallest possible allowance of feed and water. It is only the mare of the wealthy Bedouin that gets even a regular feed of about twelve handfuls of barley or of rice in the husk, once in twenty-four hours. During the spring alone, when the pastures are green the horses of the Arabs are sleek and beautiful in appearance. At other times they eat nothing but the withered herbs and scanty hay gathered from the parched soil and are lean and unsightly. They are never placed under cover during the intense heat of an Arabian summer nor protected from the biting cold of the desert winds during winter. The saddle is rarely taken from their backs nor are they ever cleaned or groomed.

“Thus apparently neglected they are but skin and bone, and the townsman marvels at seeing an animal which he would scarcely take the trouble to ride home valued almost beyond price. Although docile as a lamb, and requiring no other guide than the halter, when the Arab mare hears the war-cry of the tribe, and sees the quivering spear of her rider, her eyes glitter with fire, her blood-red nostrils open wide, her neck is nobly arched and her tail and mane are raised and spread out to the wind.”

Contribution to other breeds

The survival of this breed is incredible, but the fact that it went out from this environment into the rest of the world to play a major part in the establishing and developing of most of the light breeds we know today is nothing short of phenomenal.

In Russia through Orloff; in Austria through the Lipizienne; through the Creole of South America and in France, Holland, Italy, Turkey, Poland etc., periodic infusions of Arabian blood from remote times assisted immeasurably in the improvement of native breeds. Australia’s first Arabians began to arrive in 1803 and since then they have made a strong impression on light horses there.

Although the Arabian cannot equal the Thoroughbred for speed, still it was the eastern mares purchased by King Charles II and subsequent importations prior to 1761 that laid the foundation from which the Thoroughbred was built in England and in America.

The Morgan, a distinctly American product, was principally of Dutch and Arabian blood. Most Hackneys carry the same direct line of Arabian blood as the best English Thoroughbreds through the stallion Old Shales. Likewise the American Standardbred is rich in eastern ancestors, many of whom come from the imported Thoroughbred, Messenger. Goldust, progenitor of the famous strain of trotters, was out of the Arabian mare Zilcaadi. The American Saddlebred, a comparatively recent development, was created by the combining of the Thoroughbred, Trotter and Morgan, all of which as previously pointed out, carry a goodly measure of prepotent Arabian blood.

No other breed has contributed so much. With such an unequalled record does it not seem feasible that the Arabian can do much the same type of work right here in Canada, where so often it is said — and a glance around indicates — what is needed most is a good sound all-purpose pleasure horse. Needed is one which travels along willingly at any gait, can take a ditch or brush if necessary and above all is level-headed, quick to respond, a real companion and can give the average man, woman or child an enjoyable ride. A horse to satisfy the rancher or packer should possess easy-keeping qualities, short, strong back and superior round, hard hoof. Possessing untiring endurance necessary for a smart utility driver, used on cutter or wheeled vehicle of necessity or pleasure, is an asset. These are all characteristics desired by the average Canadian horseman and it is worth remembering that the practice of using the Arabian as a sire on good type mares has proven its worth along these lines for hundreds of years.

Here it may be pointed out that a step in the right direction has recently been taken when at the Canadian Hunter and Light Horse Improvement Society of Toronto, held on September 15, 1952, a recommendation was passed that Arabian stallions be added to the list of those suitable to produce riding horses.

‘Our History’ is curated by former Canadian Cattlemen editor, Gren Winslow.

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