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Everything You Need to Know About Arabian Horses

Discover the Arabian Horse, from its origins and defining characteristics to the disciplines in which it excels.
A dapple-gray Arabian Horse gallops and frolics in a pasture
Getty Images

Arabian horses, renowned for their striking appearance and unparalleled stamina, have captivated horse enthusiasts for centuries. Originating from the Arabian Peninsula, these horses are one of the oldest and most admired breeds in the equine world. Their distinctive features—arched necks, refined heads, and high tail carriage—set them apart, while their intelligence and spirited nature make them exceptional companions for both everyday riders and competitive equestrians alike. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the history, characteristics, and versatility of Arabian horses, so you have all the essential knowledge to appreciate and possibly own one of these animals.

Arabian Horse Conformation and Breed Standards

The purebred Arabian’s most identifiable characteristics are its finely chiseled head, dished face, long arching neck, and high tail carriage. Its entire appearance exudes energy, intelligence, courage, and nobility. Every time an Arabian moves in its famous “floating trot,” he announces to the world his proud, graceful nature.

In general, Arabians have a short, straight back (usually one less vertebra than is common with other breeds), perfect balance and symmetry, a deep chest, well-sprung ribs, strong legs of thick density, and a more horizontal pelvic bone position.

Five key elements distinguish type:

  • Head: Comparatively small head, profile of head straight or preferably slightly concave below the eyes; small muzzle, large nostrils, extended when in action; large, round, expressive, dark eyes set well apart; comparatively short distance between eye and muzzle; deep jowls, wide between the branches; small ears (smaller in stallions than mares), thin and well-shaped, tips curved slightly inward.
  • Neck: Long arched neck, set on high and running well back into moderately high withers.
  • Back: Short back.
  • Croup: Croup comparatively horizontal
  • Tail: Natural high tail carriage. Viewed from rear, tail should be carried straight.

The above qualities identify type in the purebred Arabian horse. If the horse has these qualities and correct conformation, we have our ideal standard.

Arabian Horse History and Heritage

black and white illustration of an arabian horse in the desert

For thousands of years, Arabians lived among the desert tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, bred by the Bedouins as war mounts for long treks and quick forays into enemy camps. In these harsh desert conditions evolved the Arabian with its large lung capacity and incredible endurance.

The severe climate required the nomads to share food and water, and sometimes even their tents with their horses. As a result, Arabians developed a close affinity to man and a high intelligence.

Over the centuries, the Bedouin tribes zealously maintained the purity of the breed. Because of their limited resources, breeding practices were extremely selective. Such practices, which eventually helped the Arabian become a prized possession throughout the world, have led to the beautiful athletic breed we know today, which is marked by a distinctive dished profile; large, lustrous, wide-set eyes on a broad forehead; small, curved ears; and large, efficient nostrils.

Even today the purebred Arabian is virtually the same as that ridden in ancient Arabia. Arabians now display their athletic talents in a variety of disciplines from English to Western, with the Arabian positioned as the undisputed champion of endurance events.

If you’re looking for a companion who’ll be your partner in adventure or competition—and your friend for life—then an Arabian might be the horse for you.

The Arabian Horse Today

Because the Arab often engaged in a form of desert warfare known as “Ghazu,” a form of quick mounted foray upon his neighbors, his life and welfare depended on the endurance and speed of his Arabian horse. These stellar qualities of the Arabian horse were also the natural result of a good original stock, which by intensive breeding in a favorable environment had maintained its purity. His blood is commanding to a remarkable degree and invariably dominates all the breeds to which it is introduced and contributes its own superior qualities to them.

When imported to England, the Arabian became the progenitor of the Thoroughbred. In Russia, the blood of the Arabian horse contributed largely to the development of the Orloff Trotter. In France, the animal helped make the famous Percheron. And in America, again it was the Arabian horse that became the progenitor of the Morgan and through the English Thoroughbred, to make the Trotter.

As the oldest of all the light breeds and foundation stock of most, the Arabian is unique. The Arabian breed is different in that it does not exist as a result of selective breeding, as were other modern light breeds, where it was necessary to establish a registry prior to the development of the breed. Rather, it’s a breed that had been recognized for thousands of years and maintained and cherished in its purity over those years as much as is humanly possible.

The high intelligence, trainability, gentle disposition, and stamina of the Arabian enable it to excel at a wide variety of activities popular today. Arabians are excellent on the trail as well as in the show ring. Show classes in English and western pleasure, cutting and reining, even jumping and dressage provide opportunities for fun and enjoyment at both all-Arabian events and Open breed shows alike. As an endurance horse, the Arabian has no equal. The top prizes at endurance events almost always go to riders of Arabians. Arabian racing is another sport becoming more and more popular in recent years. In the past, considered the “Sport of Kings,” Arabian racing is now enjoyed by racing enthusiasts at tracks across the country. In addition, the Arabians’ Bedouin heritage is evident in their unequaled ability to bond with humans, making them the perfect horse for family members of all ages.

With today’s prices comparable with other popular breeds, excellent Arabian horses are now accessible to a broad base of horse enthusiasts. And, with more Arabian horses living in the U.S. than in all other countries combined, America has some of the best horses and breeding farms from which to choose.

The Versatile Arabian

a young woman rides her chestnut arabian horse cross-country, jumping over natural logs
The Arabian excels at many activities, including both English and Western disciplines and endurance rides. | Getty Images

The traits that were bred into the Arabian through ancient times created a versatile horse that is not only beautiful but also excels at many activities. Considered the best breed for distances, the Arabian’s superior endurance and stamina enable him to consistently win competitive trail and endurance rides.

The most popular activity with all horse owners is recreational riding—the Arabian horse is no exception. The loyal, willing nature of the Arabian breed suits itself as the perfect family horse. His affectionate personality also makes him a great horse for children.

In the show ring the Arabian is exceptional in English and western pleasure competition. The Arabian is well-known for his balance and agility. Combined with his high intelligence and skillful footwork, he is more than capable in driving and reining events. For speed, agility, and gracefulness, you’ll want an Arabian. Arabians compete in more than 400 all-Arabian shows as well as in numerous Open shows around the U.S. and Canada.

The Arabian, as the original racehorse, is becoming more popular competing at racetracks throughout the country. Arabians race distances similar to Thoroughbreds, with more than 700 all-Arabian races held throughout the U.S. annually.

The Arabian is not just a pretty horse. He is an all-around family horse, show horse, competitive sport horse and work horse.

Arabian Horse Disciplines

The Arabian Horse Association offers a wide variety of ridden and in-hand disciplines for Arabian horse owners to pursue with their horses—either recreationally or competitively. These include:

  • Breeding In-Hand
  • Carriage Driving
  • Country English Pleasure
  • Cutting
  • Distance Riding
  • Dressage
  • English Pleasure
  • English Show Hack
  • Equitation
  • Hunter Hack
  • Hunter Pleasure
  • Jumper
  • Ladies Side Saddle
  • Mounted Native Costume
  • Park Horse
  • Pleasure Driving
  • Racing
  • Ranch Riding
  • Reined Cow Horse
  • Reining
  • Showmanship
  • Sport Horse In Hand
  • Trail
  • Western Dressage
  • Western Pleasure
  • Working Cow Horse
  • Working Hunter
  • Sport Horse Under Saddle and Show Hack

Related Reading: How To Choose the Right Horseback Riding Discipline

This information originally ran on the Arabian Horse Association website.

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