1902 Encyclopedia > Arabia > Arabia - Animals. Arabia - Horses. Arabian Horses.

(Part 14)


(14) Arabia - Animals. Arabia - Horses. Arabian Horses.

In a description of the animals of Arabia the first place is undoubtedly due to the horse, which, though the opinion is unsupported by scientific evidence, has by some been supposed to be indigenous to the peninsula. As a fact, it is here that this animals attains its highest perfection; not, indeed, that of size; for a true Nejdee of the best and purest breed seldom reaches and never perhaps exceeds fifteen hands in height; nor that of mere speed, for a trained European racer would easily distance a thoroughbred Arab on any ordinary course; but for perfection of form, symmetry of limb, cleanness of muscle, beauty of appearance-for endurance of fatigue, for docility, and for speed maintained to distance so long as to appear incredible, the Nejdee horse acknowledges no equal. The animal is too well known to require minute description on the present occasion; but it is important to have a clear idea of the principal divisions of its race and kind, which have been strangely and even injuriously confused by many writers.

Origin and Number of Horses in Arabia

Tradition assigns the origin of the present Arab stock to Yemen, but historical records, dating as far back as the 5th century, show that the best quality and the greatest number of horses were then to be found exactly in the same district where they now exist, namely, in Nejhd. Yet, even there a horse is by no means an article of everyday possession, or of ordinary and working use. War and parade are in fact almost the only occasions on which it is employed; and no genuine Arab would ever dream of mounting his horse for a mere peaceful journey, whether for a short or a long distance. Hence horses are the almost exclusive property of the chiefs, who keep them for themselves, and often for the equipment of their armed retainers, and of a few wealthy or distinguished individuals, who regard them as an investment of capital or an ornament of social rank. Thus, no motive tempts the horse-owner to encourage the production of coarse and inferior breeds; while, on the other hand, every circumstance tends to render the greatest purity of blood and perfection of wind desirable; hence it is not strange that the Nejdee horse has to all appearance undergone no degeneration, though he has also probably received no improvement within historic times. Military enterprise and the centralization of wealth and power enabled the Wahhabee chiefs of recent date to collect and rear a greater number of horses than had perhaps ever before possessed by a single Arab potentate; and the stables and pastures of the sultan of Derey’seah may well have, as has been stated, contained 10,000 horses, since those of his much-enfeebled successor at Riad are told off at nearly half that amount. But if we allow 20,000 for the total census of pure breeds in Nejd, a full allowance, and assign an equal number to the rest of the peninsula, thus making 40,000 in all, we shall still be rather in danger of an over than of an under statement.

Horse Breeds in Arabia

No distinction of breed is recognized in Nejd itself; each animal is classed according to its individual merits. Nor is a horse, nor, a fortiori, a mare, ever diposed of by sale; gift, war capture, or legacy being the only recognized methods of transfer where a genuine full-blood is concerned. Consequently, no commercial export of Nejdee horses has ever been established; and whoever professes to sell or boasts of having bought one, may be unhesitatingly set down as either deceived or deceiving. In three manners, however-two occasional merely, and one customary- has the Nejdee breed ben to a certain extent transplanted beyond the actual limits of Arabia.

The first of the occasional or chance means by which the horses of Nejd have from time to time found their way to foreign stables is the fortune of war. Thus, for instance, Ibraheem Pasha, after overrunning Arabia in 1817, carried away to Egypt with him several hundreds of the best Nejdees, both horses and mares; so that Egypt, though only for a while, became next to Arabia the most fortunate land in this possession; and even now, after the purity of the stock has long since been lost in the Nile valley, the effects of its transitory infusion may be distinctly traced. Next, Ibraheem’s vicegerent, Khoorsheed Pasha, followed his master’s example; the Ottoman Turks have been, though not often, equally lucky, and the distinctive points of Nejdee blood may now and then be observed in more than one stable at Constantinople.

Secondly, a few thorough-bred Nejdees have crossed the frontier as presents. In this manner, Teysul, the latemonarch of Nejd, sent forty head from his own stable as an honorary tribute to the reinging Ottoman sultan, Abdel Azeez; and similar offerings have been now and then made, as fear or other motives may have dictated, to different other governments, and even to distinguished individuals. But mares are never given away thus; only stallions.

Mixed Breeds of Horses in Arabia

The third and customary method is by admixture of the race. Nejdee stallions are yearly hired out by their owners, and sent into the pastures of Jebel Shomer, of Syria, and even of Mesopotamia, there to breed with the mares of those countries, belonging to the Arabs of Shomer, or to the Anezeh, or the Ru’alah tribes of Syria, and the like. These mares are themselves of Arab though not of Nejdee stock; the proportion of good blood varying in them from a half up to three-fourths nearly, but none are of absolutely pure race. It is to the offspring of such by Nejdee stallions that the divisions of breed much insisted on by several European writers, and actually recognized throughout Mesopotamia and Syria, but almost, often wholly, unknown even by name in Nejd itself, apply. These divisions are principally five,-the Koheylee (said to be the purest of all), the Toweysee, the Manekee, the Saklawee, and the Julfawee; besides which, and branching out from them, there are infinite minor subdivisions . again, these are the breeds often authenticated for purchase by written pedigrees and witness-papers of descent, as described in books; and which may occasionally be seen in Syria, but never in Arabia, or even elsewhere when the bargain is to be concluded between two Arabs themselves. The only use of such documents is for strangers. These, too, are the breeds from which European stables, even regal and imperial, have often obtained as supply of noble but never absolutely pure-blooded animals, frequently at prices proportioned to the imagined difficulties of the purchase, or the affected unwillingness of the cunning owner- (Arabs are very cunning0 – to part with his beast. The best market for these mixed breeds is at Baghdad; the second is in the neighbourhood of the town of Hanna in Syriua; inferior animal are sent to the port of Koweyt, on the Persian Gulf, whence they are shipped for India.

Training of Arab Horses

To return to the genuine Nejdee. Reared under an open shed, and early habituated to the sight of men, to the sound and glitter of weapons, and to all the accessories of human life, the colt grows up free from vice or timidity, and even acquires a degree of intelligence that surprises a stranger. Barley and dates are the chief stall provender; but the grass of the pasture-grounds, in the selection of which much care is taken, is the ordinary nourishment of an Arab horse. Of water the allowance is always kept purposely scant. A good Nejdee will canter for four-and-twenty hours in summer-time, and eight-and-forty in winter, without once requiring drink. Raw meat, dried, is occasionally given in small quantities when extra exertion is required; Lucerne grass is employed for lowering the tone. Geldings are very rare. The colour that most frequently occurs is grey; then comes chestnut; then white and sorrel; mottled grey and black are now and then to be found; dark bay never.

Colts are ridden early-too early, indeed-in their third or even second year, and are soon broken in to a steady walk, to a canter, and to the ambling pace which is a special favourtie with Arab riders; racing, an Arab amusement from time immemorial, and the game of "jerzed," a kind of tournament or mock fight with blunt palm-sticks, highly popular throughout the peninsula, complete the training both as to wind and pace. Saddles are seldom used in Nejd, and stirrups never, but both are occasionally employed in the Hejaz and Yemen. So it is also with bits, the place of which is taken in Nejd by halter-ropes, the real guidance of the animal being almost wholly effected by the pressure of the rider’s leg and knee. Shoes, too, are of rare occurrence, nor are they needed in the light and sand-mixed soil of the central provinces; on the other hand, the hoofs are often rubbed with grease, to counteract the drying effects of the heated ground. Of all niceties of grooming, docking and clipping excepted, Arabs are masters; and their natural kindness to animals, a quality which they share with most Orientals, together with the care which every reasonable man bestows on a valuable article of property, ensures to an Arab horse a good treatment at the hands of his owner. But Arab horses do not commonly enter tents, nor play with women and children, nor, a in a general way, do they share family meals, nor are they habitually kissed and cried over, as the imagination or credulity of some narrators has suggested. An Arab, flying for his life, has indeed been known to give the only morsel of dry bread about him to his horse rather than eat it himself,-an act in which self-preservation had probably as large a share as affection. Lastly, the standing prohibition of horse-selling from Nejd has really nothing more romantic in it than a narrow-minded application of the principles of protective monopoly; in other cases, reluctance to conclude a bargain simply indicates that the offer made was considered insufficient.

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