Arabian Horse Profile: Breed History and Traits

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A brown Arabian Horse in the desert sand

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The Arabian horse stands as one of the oldest and most esteemed horse breeds in the world. Originating from the Arabian Peninsula, this breed has captivated horse enthusiasts for centuries with its distinctive small head shape, high tail carriage, and finely chiseled features. Revered not only for its physical attributes but also for its intelligence, loyalty, and versatility, the Arabian horse has played a pivotal role in the development of numerous other horse breeds. Whether admired in the show ring, ridden in endurance competitions, or cherished as a faithful companion, the Arabian horse continues to leave an indelible mark on the equestrian world.

Arabian Horse

  • Region of Origin: Arabian Penninsula
  • Type: Light Horse, Hot Blooded
  • Average Height Range: 14.1 to 15.1 hands
  • Average Weight Range: 800 to 1000 pounds (360 to 450 kg)

Origin of the Arabian Horse

The origin of the Arabian horse breed traces back thousands of years to the harsh deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. The Bedouin tribes, who roamed these arid landscapes, meticulously bred and nurtured these horses for their speed, endurance, and resilience, qualities that were crucial for survival in such a demanding environment. The exact timeline of the breed’s development is somewhat shrouded in mystery, but archaeological evidence suggests that horses resembling modern Arabians existed as early as 2500 B.C.

The Bedouins valued their horses, not only as essential tools for transportation and warfare, but also as cherished companions. They bred them selectively, emphasizing traits like stamina, agility, and the ability to thrive with limited resources. This rigorous selection process led to the evolution of a breed that was perfectly adapted to the extreme conditions of the desert.

Legend and folklore also play a significant role in the history of the Arabian horse. Tales speak of the Prophet Muhammad’s appreciation for the breed, adding to its revered status in the Islamic world. The spread of Islam facilitated the dissemination of the Arabian horse far beyond the Arabian Peninsula, as these prized animals were gifted to allies and traded across continents.

Over centuries, the Arabian horse’s superior qualities caught the attention of horse breeders worldwide. Its bloodlines have been infused into countless other breeds, enhancing their speed, endurance, and refinement. Leaders like George Washington sought the Arabian’s speed and stamina to improve modern breeds of horses. Today, the Arabian horse is celebrated not only for its historical significance but also for its ongoing influence on the global equine community.

Breed Registries

The Arabian Horse Association (AHA)

US Arabian Horse Registry (USAHR)

Strains and Types of Arabian Horses

Strains refer to distinct bloodlines within the Arabian horse breed, traditionally developed by Bedouin tribes. Each strain has its unique lineage and history, often linked to specific families or tribes. Each strain traces back through the maternal line.

Six Strains of Arabian Horses

  1. Kehilan (or Kuhaylan): Known for their strength and endurance, Kehilan horses are often characterized by their muscular build and deep chests. They are typically solid-colored and embody the classic Arabian conformation with a broad forehead and well-defined withers. This strain is favored for its power and stamina.
  2. Saqlawi (or Saklawi): Renowned for their refined beauty and elegance, Saqlawi horses have a more delicate and refined appearance compared to the Kehilan. They often have a longer, more arched neck and a lighter frame, making them particularly striking in appearance. Saqlawi horses are known for their graceful movement and are often used in the show ring.
  3. Muniqi: This strain is known for its speed and agility, making Muniqi horses highly valued for racing and endurance riding. They tend to have a leaner, more angular build, with longer legs and a slightly longer back. Their conformation is suited to covering long distances quickly.
  4. Hadban: Hadban horses are known for their robustness and versatility. They are often larger and more solidly built, with strong limbs and a sturdy constitution. This strain is prized for its reliability and resilience, making them excellent all-around horses for various types of work.
  5. Hamdani: Hamdani horses are recognized for their calm temperament and intelligence. They have a balanced build, combining strength with refinement. This strain is often used for both riding and light draft work due to their manageable disposition and versatile abilities.
  6. Abayyan (or Abeyan): Abayyan horses are noted for their elegant and refined appearance, similar to the Saqlawi but often with a more pronounced arch to their neck and a more compact build. They are known for their spirited nature and are often chosen for show and performance events.

Types refer to categories within the Arabian breed based on geographical regions and breeding programs that have influenced their development. Types can encompass a variety of strains and are often characterized by the goals of the breeding programs, which might focus on enhancing specific traits such as size, athleticism, or aesthetic appeal.

Six Types of Arabian Horses

  1. Polish Arabian: The Polish Arabian is renowned for its athleticism and versatility. Bred in Poland, these horses have a strong influence of Kehilan and Saqlawi bloodlines, resulting in a balanced combination of strength and beauty. Polish Arabians are often seen in various equestrian sports, including endurance and show jumping.
  2. Egyptian Arabian: Known for their pure bloodlines, Egyptian Arabians are highly prized for their classic Arabian features, including large, expressive eyes, finely chiseled heads, and graceful carriage. They are often considered some of the most beautiful examples of the breed and are sought after for breeding programs worldwide.
  3. Spanish Arabian: Developed in Spain, this type of Arabian horse is known for its robust build and powerful presence. Spanish Arabians often have a distinct elegance combined with a strong, muscular frame, making them suitable for a variety of equestrian disciplines, from dressage to endurance riding.
  4. Crabbet Arabian: Originating from the famous Crabbet Stud in England, Crabbet Arabians are known for their soundness, good temperament, and versatile abilities. They typically have a balanced conformation, combining beauty with functional performance. Crabbet Arabians have had a significant influence on many other breeds and types.
  5. Russian Arabian: Bred in Russia, this type is noted for its impressive athleticism and endurance capabilities. Russian Arabians often have a blend of Polish and Egyptian bloodlines, resulting in horses that are not only beautiful but also incredibly versatile and capable in competitive sports.
  6. Shagya Arabian: Developed in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Shagya Arabian is a unique type that blends Arabian bloodlines with those of other breeds to enhance size and performance. Known for their height, strength, and endurance, Shagya Arabians retain the elegance and spirit of traditional Arabians while being larger and more robust. This type excels in various equestrian disciplines, including endurance riding, show jumping, and dressage, and is celebrated for its versatility and reliability.

Historical Use

Historically, Arabian horses had been indispensable to the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, serving as war mounts, companions, and symbols of wealth and prestige. Their remarkable endurance and agility made them ideal for long desert journeys and swift raids, where speed and stamina were crucial for survival and success.

Arabians were also highly valued in trade and diplomacy. Prized horses were often given as gifts to royalty and nobility across the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, spreading their influence far and wide. During the Islamic conquests, the breed’s importance grew even further, as Arabian horses played a significant role in expanding territories and facilitating the spread of culture and religion. 

Modern Use and Disciplines

In modern times, Arabian horses continue to shine in a wide array of equestrian disciplines. These great horses excel in endurance riding, often dominating international competitions due to their unparalleled stamina and resilience. In the show ring, Arabians are celebrated for their beauty, grace, and expressive movement, making them frequent champions in halter and performance classes. Their intelligence and responsiveness also make them excellent in dressage, where precision and elegance are paramount. Additionally, Arabian horses are popular in recreational riding and competitive sports such as show jumping and eventing. Beyond their competitive achievements, Arabians are cherished as loyal companions and pleasure horses. They make the best trail horses and are popular in horse riding holidays. 

Physical Characteristics


The typical purebred Arabian horse conformation is characterized by several distinctive features that set the breed apart. Arabians possess a unique head shape. They have a refined, wedge-shaped head with a broad forehead, large, expressive, prominent eyes, and a concave or “dished” profile. Their nostrils are large and flaring, enhancing their ability to breathe efficiently during exertion. The neck is arched and elegant, leading to a strong, sloping shoulder and a deep chest, which contribute to their exceptional endurance. Arabians have a compact, short back with a level topline, a well-muscled croup, and a high-set tail that is often carried proudly. Their legs are straight and fine-boned yet strong, providing the agility and speed for which they are renowned. 

Height and Weight Range

Typically, the height of an Arabian will range from 14.1 to 15.1 hands, and they weigh between 800 to 1000 pounds (360 to 450 kg). 

Typical Colors and Markings

Bay, grey, chestnut, black, and roan are the typical coat colors. Arabian horses often have white markings on the face and legs. These can range from a subtle star to extravagant socks. 


Arabian horses are renowned for their spirited yet gentle temperament. They are highly intelligent, which makes them quick learners and responsive partners in various equestrian activities. Their alertness and curiosity are balanced by a friendly and affectionate nature, often forming strong bonds with their owners. Arabians are known for their high energy and enthusiasm, which, when paired with proper training and handling, make them excellent competitors in endurance and performance disciplines. Despite their spirited demeanor, they are also known for their sensitivity and willingness to please, making them versatile and enjoyable companions for riders of all experience levels.

Famous Arabian Horses

  • Marengo: Marengo was the famous war horse of Napoleon Bonaparte. This gray Arabian stallion is celebrated for his bravery and endurance, carrying Napoleon through numerous battles, including the Battle of Austerlitz. Marengo became a symbol of the Arabian breed’s stamina and loyalty.
  • Bask: Bask is one of the most influential Arabian stallions in modern times. Imported to the United States from Poland in the 1960s, he became a cornerstone of American Arabian breeding programs. Bask was a successful show horse and sire, producing numerous champions and contributing significantly to the breed’s popularity and quality in the United States.
  • Skowronek: Skowronek, a Polish Arabian stallion, is considered one of the most important foundation sires in Arabian horse history. Bred in Poland and later imported to England by Lady Wentworth of Crabbet Stud, Skowronek’s bloodlines have had a profound influence on the development of the breed, particularly in enhancing refinement and elegance.
  • Raffles: Raffles was another significant Arabian stallion, originally bred in England and later brought to the United States. Known for his exceptional beauty and strong conformation, Raffles became a key sire, with his progeny continuing to impact Arabian horse breeding programs worldwide.
  • The Black Stallion (The Black): While not a real horse, “The Black Stallion” from Walter Farley’s beloved book series has become an iconic representation of the Arabian breed. The character of The Black, a wild, spirited, and magnificent Arabian stallion, has captured the imaginations of readers for generations, highlighting the breed’s allure and mystique.
  • Cass Ole: Cass Ole was a real-life black Arabian stallion who gained fame as the star of the movie adaptation of “The Black Stallion.” His stunning appearance and remarkable performance in the film showcased the breed’s beauty and versatility, bringing the Arabian horse into the limelight.

Interesting Facts about the Arabian Horse

  • Oldest Purebred Horse: The Arabian horse is one of the oldest and purest horse breeds in the world, with origins tracing back over 4,000 years. Archaeological evidence and historical records suggest that Arabian horses were bred by Bedouin tribes as far back as 2500 B.C.
  • Desert Adaptation: Arabian horses are perfectly adapted to harsh desert climates. Their large nostrils allow for efficient air intake, and their dense, compact bodies help conserve water and energy. These features, along with their tough hooves, make them exceptional endurance horses.
  • Influence on Other Breeds: The Arabian horse has significantly influenced many modern horse breeds. Its genes are found in the Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, and Andalusian, among others. This influence has improved the speed, endurance, and refinement of these breeds.
  • Famous Owners: Many historical figures prized Arabian horses. George Washington was given a pair of Arabians by the Sultan of Morocco, and these horses played a role in the early American cavalry. Other notable owners include King Solomon, Alexander the Great, and Genghis Khan.
  • Tales of Loyalty: Arabian horses are known for their loyalty and bond with their owners. One famous story tells of a Bedouin warrior who, after a long battle, offered his favorite mare water. Despite her thirst, she refused to drink until her master had taken a sip first, showcasing the breed’s loyalty and intelligence.
  • Legend of Al Khamsa: According to Arabian legend, the Prophet Muhammad selected five mares from his herd to be the foundation of the breed, known as Al Khamsa. These mares were said to be the best and their descendants are considered the epitome of Arabian purity and excellence.
  • Endurance Champions: Arabian horses dominate endurance riding competitions worldwide. Their ability to travel long distances at a steady pace with minimal rest has earned them numerous championships in events like the Tevis Cup and the World Equestrian Games.
  • The Black Stallion: Walter Farley’s fictional book series, “The Black Stallion,” features an Arabian horse that becomes a racing legend. The story has captivated readers for generations and was later adapted into a popular movie, further cementing the Arabian horse’s place in popular culture.
  • Unique Physical Traits: Arabians have one fewer lumbar vertebra and one fewer pair of ribs than most other horse breeds. This contributes to their compact, strong back and high tail carriage, both distinctive characteristics of the breed.
  • Connection to Islam: In Islamic culture, the Arabian horse is revered. The Qur’an mentions horses in several passages, emphasizing their nobility and the divine creation of their beauty and strength. This spiritual connection has led to the breed’s esteemed status in many Islamic societies.

Common Health Problems of the Arabian Horse

While Arabian horses are known for their hardiness and endurance, they are also predisposed to certain health issues, some of which are genetic. One common condition is Cerebellar Abiotrophy (CA), a neurological disorder that affects coordination and balance. Another genetic disorder is Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), which impacts the immune system, leaving foals vulnerable to infections. Lavender Foal Syndrome (LFS) is another hereditary condition that causes neurological problems and typically results in foal death shortly after birth. Additionally, Arabian horses can be prone to guttural pouch tympany, a respiratory condition that causes the pouches in the horse’s throat to fill with air.

Like many other breeds, Arabians can also suffer from common equine ailments such as colic, laminitis, and arthritis. Regular veterinary care, genetic testing for breeding purposes, and diligent management can help mitigate these health issues, ensuring Arabian horses lead healthy, active lives.

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