Saturday, April 26, 2014


At the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where Mom works, guarding the artwork, there is a new exhibit called Roads of Arabia.  This exhibit has all sorts of interesting archeological items from Saudi Arabia.  One of the things in the show is a carving that might be a horse, but it's hard to tell absolutely for sure because the top of its head is missing.  If it's not a horse, then it might be a close cousin to the horse, such as an ass.

This object was discovered in Saudi Arabia at a place called al-Magar by a man who was having a pond dug on his farm.  It is really much bigger than it looks in the photo.  It is 34" long, 7" thick, and it weighs more than 300 pounds.  It is thought to date back to 7000 BCE, and if it really is a horse, this would mean that the domestication of horses happened even earlier than people used to think it did.

There have always been lots of theories about where and when the horse first became a domestic animal.  Some of the places it might have got started include northern Syria, southern Turkey, the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent, or southwestern Arabia.


Anyway, no matter where it started, by about 3500 years ago, the Arabian horse was helping all kinds of nations such as the Egyptians, Hurrians Kassites, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians in their warfare, communications, and alliances.

Tomb paintings from Ancient Egypt show horses
that look much like modern Egyptian Arabians.

The Islamic people believed the horse was a gift from Allah.  In the 7th Century CE, the prophet Mohammed told his followers that they should care for their horses with great kindness.  All of those who treated their horses well would be rewarded in the afterlife.  Because they lived in a harsh climate, the Bedouins shared their own food and water with their horses.  Sometimes they even shared their tents with them.  The horses became gentle and bonded closely with their people.

The Bedouin tribes were very careful to keep the breed pure, as they believed Allah intended.  Horses were used most often during war, and it was the mares that were best for raiding parties.  This was because mares did not neigh to enemy horses and spoil a sneak attack.  Also, the mares were fast and were brave in battle.  Arabian horse families were traced through the dams.  These families were often given the name of the tribe or sheik who bred them.

It's pretty easy to recognize Arabian horses because of their wedge-shaped head and high tail carriage.  Most have a concave or "dished" profile.  Other breed characteristics include an arched neck, broad forehead, large eyes, large nostrils, and small muzzles.  Some people think Arabians are not as strong as other horses because they are smaller in size, but this is not true.  The breed has good bone density, sound feet, and a back that is short and broad.  Which means that even a smaller Arabian can carry a heavy rider.

Some famous people such as Genghis Khan
and George Washington rode Arabian horses.

The coat colors registered by the Arabian Horse Association are bay, chestnut, gray, black, and roan.  All Arabians have black skin, no matter what their coat color, except under white markings.  This black skin protected them from the harsh desert sun.

Today the Arabian breed is one of the most popular in the United States.  The horses' energy, intelligence, and gentle temperament make them easy to train.  So they are used in lots of different equine sports.  In addition, Arabians have been used to help develop other breeds, such as the thoroughbred.

Here's part of an ancient bedouin legend about the origin of the Arabian horse:

And God took a handful of South wind
and from it formed a horse, saying:
"I create thee, Oh Arabian.
To thy forelock, I bind Victory in battle.
On thy back, I set a rich spoil
And a Treasure in thy loins.
I establish thee as one of the
Glories of the Earth...
I give thee flight without wings.

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