The Arabian horse, also known as ‘Al Khamsa’ in Arabic, is a unique breed because it does not exist as a result of selective breeding, but as a breed that stands alone and has been cherished for its purity for thousands of years.

Bedouin Legend
It was said the Creator
Had taken a handful of South Wind
And given each newborn Arabian
The power of flight without wings

Arabians are thought to be the oldest breed in the world, dating back at least 5,000 years. The Bedouin tribes who lived in the deserts of the Middle East believed the horses were a gift from God and that they could ‘fly without wings’. They bred them for centuries and this was done carefully to create horses that could withstand extreme conditions of the Arabian Desert and tribal wars. Arabians were bred with a large lung capacity, incredible endurance and superior stamina and courage as well as speed and agility. This unique strain has had a distinctive national identity throughout recorded history and is an original that many other breeds owe their ancestry to.

However, there is controversy as to just where the Arabian originated and its history is full of romance, legend, complexity and contradictions. One thing we do know is that the original Arabian horse was somewhat smaller than today’s specimens. Otherwise the horse has essentially remained unchanged throughout the centuries.

The different strains
The Bedouins valued purity and many tribes owned only one main strain of horse. The five basic families of the Arabian include Kehilan, Seglawi, Abeyan, Hamdani and Hadban. Other, less ‘choice’ strains include Maneghi, Jilfan, Shuwayman, and Dahman. Substrains developed in each main breed which were named after a celebrated mare or Sheikh that formed a substantial branch within the main strain. Each variety developed characteristics that could be recognised and identified when bred pure.

The Kehilan strain was noted for depth of chest, masculine power and size and stood up to 15 hands. The heads were short with broad foreheads, great width in the jowls and were most commonly grey and chestnut.

The Seglawi was known for refinement and almost feminine elegance. They were likely to be fast rather than have endurance and had fine bones, longer faces and longer necks than the Kehilan. The average height is 14.2 hands and usually bay in colour.

The Abeyan strain is very similar to the Seglawi and tended to be refined. They had a longer back than a typical Arabian, but were small horses, rarely taller than 14.2 hands. They were usually grey and carried more white markings than other strains.

Hamdani horses were considered plain with athletic, almost masculine, large bones. The heads were straight in profile, lacking an extreme Jibbah (bulging forehead). It was one of the largest, standing as much as 15.2 hands and commonly grey or bay in colour.

The Hadban strain was a smaller version of the Hamdani but sharing big bones and muscular build. They also possessed an extremely gentle nature. The average height of a Hadban was 14.3 hands and the primary colour was brown or bay with few, if any, white markings.

The Arabians cross borders
In the 17th century, the Turkish rulers of the Ottoman Empire began to send gifts of Arabian horses to European heads of state. Because of the appealing nature of the Godolphin Arabian (sometimes called ‘Barb’) which was imported to England in 1730 as well as the Byerley Turk (1683) and the Darley Arabian (1703). These three ‘Eastern’ stallions formed the foundation upon which a new breed, the Thoroughbred, was to be built and now 93% of all modern Thoroughbreds can be traced to these three stallions.

For centuries, Arabians have been used to improve and refine many different breeds of horses either by direct infusion or through the blood of the Thoroughbred. In other words, the Arabian has contributed to some degree, either directly or indirectly, to the formation of virtually all the modern breeds of horses. In fact, the Arabian, as the original racehorse, is becoming more and more popular competing at racetracks throughout the United States. They race distances similar to Thoroughbreds and there are more than 700 all-Arabian races every year. As an endurance horse, the Arabian has no equal.

In 1908, the Arabian Horse Club of America was formed and the first stud book was published. Recognition of the Arabian stud book by the US Department of Agriculture established it as a national registry and the only one for the purebred Arabian breed. At that time, 71 purebred Arabians were registered in what is currently known as the Arabian Horse Association. Now there are more living Arabian horses in the US than in all the other countries in the world combined and many breeders strongly support naming Arabian horses with traditional Arabian names, which to them, is as important as maintaining breed purity.

Characteristics and health
In terms of temperament, The Arabian is one of the five ‘hot-blooded’ horses, which means they have more sensitivity and energy. This sensitivity has manifested itself in an interesting way – the severe climate required the nomads to share food and water and they sometimes even shared their tents with their horses. As a result of being such a close companion, Arabians developed a gentle, pleasant personality and a close affinity to man with a unique ability to bond with their owners. An Arabian will take care of its owner as no other horse will. It has a loyal and willing nature that is unparalleled by any other breed. Foals, for example, have no fear of man, and are usually indifferent to sudden noises. The Arabian gentleness and tractability, while originally the effect of education, is now inherited, and is observed in foals bred in a foreign environment.

Today’s Arabians will never be mistaken for another breed of horse because of their distinctive dished profile on a wide forehead and large, wide-set eyes, small muzzle, small, curved ears and large, efficient nostrils. They have a graceful, arched neck, and a broad chest with a strong short back and are fine to medium boned. Arabians have a high, proud tail carriage. These horses weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds, stand 14.1 to 15.2 hands high, and are usually grey, bay, chestnut, black or roan in colour. They are an extremely sound breed.

Arabians have several unique genetic characteristics. They have 17 ribs, unlike other breeds which usually have 18. They also have one less lumbar vertebra and one less tail bone than other equines, and their skin is always black no matter what their coat colour is.

Unfortunately they also have many disturbing genetic diseases and disorders such as Cerebellar Abiotrophy (CA) where balance and coordination are affected; Guttural Pouch Tympany (GPT), a defect that can be corrected by surgery; Juvenile Epilepsy Syndrome (JES) that is treatable by medication; Lavender Foal Syndrome (LFS)/ Coat Colour Dilution Lethal (CCDL): rare, but results in euthanasia of the foal; Occipitoatlantoaxial Malformation (OAAM), where the cervical vertebrae fuse together in the neck and skull causing injury to the spinal cord; and Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) which is the only genetic condition that can be tested for.

The traits that were bred into the Arabian since ancient times has created a versatile horse that is not only a beautiful, loyal breed, but one that excels at being an all-round family, show, competitive sport, race and work horse.

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Al Shaqab in Qatar
Al Shaqab stands as an enduring tribute to the Arabian horse and the tradition of equestrian excellence that has co-evolved with this breed in Qatar. The range of equine disciplines and programmes that Al Shaqab promotes ensures that the cultural legacy and appreciation of the Arabian breed are lovingly handed down in Qatar from generation to generation.

Al Shaqab wins big for Qatar in 2012
Al Shaqab, a member of Qatar Foundation, closed off their 2012 Show campaign with much pride and success for the year’s accomplishments. Al Shaqab horses and team collected a total of 15 titles at the local, regional and international levels. The season ended on a high note with Al Shaqab winning the award for the World’s Leading Equine Farm for the second successive year.

The 2012 year started off with great success in the Middle East/Gulf region show season, beginning with Fadi Al Shaqab (Besson Carol x Abha Myra) capturing Champion Stallion honours  at the Al Khalediah Arabian Horse Festival 2012 in January. Also, Mofida Al Shaqab, Yaquota Al Shaqab, Wadi Al Shaqab, Coco Chanel, Zafarana Al Shaqab and Deryar Al Shaqab came in the first three places in different rounds at the event.

At the Qatar International Equestrian Festival held in February, Wadi Al Shaqab gained a well deserved Gold medal in the colts’ category. Coco Chanel received the Silver medal in the mare’s category, and Fadi Al Shaqab was awarded as Champion Stallion in the same event.

At the International Straight Egyptian held at the Equestrian Club from 26 – 27 February 2012, Amwaj Al Shaqab received the award for the Champion Mare, while Yaquota Al Shaqab secured a Silver medal.

At the international level, Hariri Al Shaqab (Marwan Al Shaqab / White Silkk) emerged Champion Colt in the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show 2012 in Arizona, USA. Al Shaqab also accomplished a lot at the United States Egyptian Event in Kentucky from 4 – 9 June, as Layali Al Shaqab, daughter of Farhoud Al Shaqab won the Champion Filly title, while Hooria Al Shaqab was awarded the Champion Mare title, and Dawlah Al Shaqab won a Bronze medal. Also Ghasham Al Shaqab won the Champion Colt title and Hadban Al Shaqab was the Champion Stallion, and Al Shaqab received the award for the best Equine Farm.

Meanwhile at the Menton Arabian Horse Show in France, Venetzia received the Silver medal in the Eight Years and Above Mares category, and Sultan Al Shaqab, son of Amir Al Shaqab, was the Champion One-Year-Old Colt, and Marsal Al Shaqab received the Bronze medal for the same category.

At the United States Championship for Arabian Horses held on 16 November 2012, Hariri Al Shaqab won the Champion Colt title, while Hadban Al Shaqab was the Reserve Champion Eight Years and Above Stallion.

Locally, Al Shaqab participated in the Fifteenth World Championship for Arabian Horses which was held from 23 – 24 November 2012. The championship ended with Ghasham Al Shaqab winning the Champion Colt and Bashir Al Shaqab receiving the Bronze Medal. Mofida Al Shaqab was named Reserve Champion Filly, Valencia Al Shaqab and Najiba Al Shaqab received the second and third places respectively.

The season came to a close in Paris, France, at the World Arabian Horse Championships held at Salon du Cheval with a new achievement for Qatar Equestrian in international events, by achievement of two world championships. Wadi Al Shaqab was the World Champion Two-Year-Old Colt and Sultan Al Zobara grabbed the World Champion One-Year-Old Colt. Also, Fai Al Shaqab was the Reserve Champion Colt, in addition to Al Shaqab receiving the award for the World’s Leading Equine Farm for the second successive year, and Marwan Al Shaqab being named as the World’s Leading Sire for the sixth year in a row.

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This article has been extracted from the ‘Special Features’ section in Marhaba Information Guide Issue No 58 (M58) Winter 2013/14, pages 213 to 215. Pick up M58 from the nearest hypermarket or bookstore next you for only QR20.

Author: Sarah Mascarenhas