No other breed of horse has had such a profound impact on the word’s domesticated horses and ponies than the Arabian horse (which are often called Arabs for short). Arab blood can be found in breeds as diverse as the Percheron drafter to the Chincoteague pony. But where did this all-pervasive breed come from? What breeds, if any, went into developing the Arabian?
The Arab is a breed of incredible antiquity and so any actual breeding records are lost in the midst of time. Although there are Arabs who exist who have pedigrees stretching back for hundreds of years, they really don’t give us much of a clue as to how the breed originated.
Because the Arabian horse has been around for thousands of years, many legends have sprung up in the Middle East about its origins. The Koran has a beautiful passage where God “took a handful of South wind and from it formed a horse”. The Koran goes on to specify that horse was an Arabian and not just any common nag.
Another legend is that all Arabians descended from one stallion, Hoshaba, and one mare, Baz. The great-grandson of Noah, Bax, was said to be the one to capture a pregnant Baz in Yemen and thus tamed the wild Arabian.
The odds are nonexistent that the Arabian’s ancestors were the south wind and God’s breath. They obviously were other horses. Two very rare breeds that still exist today give us the best possible clues as to being either the progenitors of the Arab, or very similar to the horses that served as the breed’s foundation stock.
The first breed is called the Akhal-Teke, which survives today in Asia, especially in Turkmenistan, although there are breeders found in many countries. This is an incredibly tough, fast and elongated horse that generally carries its tail and head high, much like an Arab. Arabs are second only to the Akhal-Teke in long distance riding events. They generally have fiery, high-strung temperaments which some people describe as nasty.
In the 1700s, just about any horse imported to Europe from Asia was called an “Arab” or “Oriental” no matter what breed it actually was. This makes trying to trace the exports of Akhal-Tekes from Asia next to impossible.
The second breed is called the Caspian (sometimes Caspian Pony). They were officially discovered in northern Iran near the sea of which they are named after, but are depicted in artwork from all over the Middle East. Sadly, they were wiped out from Iran during the Iran and Iraq war. All surviving Caspains were from animals exported before the war.
Caspains look like very small Arabians, with small ears, a small muzzle and a floating stride. Unlike ponies, they are not built like small draft horses. They are built like horses. Not only are they thought to be instrumental in starting the Arabian breed, but the Miniature Horse breed, as well.
Unlike the Akhal-Teke, Caspians have a brilliant temperament and get along well with people. Perhaps what happened was that Caspian stallions were crossed with the taller, tough Akhal-Tekes to eventually produce the Arabian.
The Arabian was most likely a product of blending numerous breeds and types available to horse breeders in areas of Syria and Turkey. Two breeds thought to be ancestors of the Arabian are the Akhal-Teke and the Caspian. Today, there are many different varieties of Arabians, which shows their diverse genetic heritage.