There is an unfortunate lack of camaraderie among Arabian horse owners. Odd when you realize there are relatively few of us in the United States
Although this story is all too familiar, it needn’t be. In fact, for the good of our horses it must stop. All Arabian horses are valuable and deserve to be owned and cared for by people who hold them in esteem. Each Arabian horse is different; some are destined for the show ring, some for the endurance trail, some for a backyard full of children. It is the responsibility first of breeders and beyond breeders, all people who participate in the furtherance of the breed to remedy divisiveness.
One remedy for the present divisiveness is shedding light on some of the Arabian horse “stable legends.” For example, there are people who say today’s Arabian horse is superior to Arabian horses of earlier times. If an Arab owner’s goal is to win lots of ribbons in conformation classes at today’s Regional and National Arab competitions, their idea of a superior horse is extremely specific. A horse to them is superior when it wins. Winning conformation classes, whether for horses, dogs, or cats—yes, cats are shown for their appearance—is based on two criteria: popularity and a judge’s personal opinion. Popularity doesn’t need much explanation; it stems from attitude and advertisement. Conformation judges’ ideas about which are the superior horses are based loosely on the breed standard and each judge's particular point-of-view. Many people enjoy today’s Arabian horse show world; they work hard and love their horses. It is witness to the versatility of the Arabian horse that the Arabian horse show arenas are often filled to the brim with stunning horses. For many horse breeds this single accomplishment is the one sure symbol of acheivement, but for Arabians it is only one sign of the many ways they demonstrate their superiority. Above all, the Arabian horse is versatile.
An extension of the stable legend that today’s Arabian show horses are superior is the idea that they are superior to their ancestors due to evolution, the survival-of-the-fittest. Now, evolution of any group of animals takes thousands of years and is the result of chance and environment. The several decades that Arabian horses have been subject to selective breeding in the United States isn’t a sufficient amount of time to pass for evolution to occur. Further, Arabian horses’ mate selections are entirely in the hands of humans, not chance or the environment. The authors of this legend seem to say, they and the people they agree with have made the right mate selections for their horses, and other people have made the wrong selections. Isn’t their story about American Arabians evolving just a way of saying, “I am right and you are wrong, because I say so”? A good offense sometimes trumps truth.
This leads to a third Arabian horse stable legend, the assertion that some Arabian horses being bred in the United States today, particularly those identified as preservation lines (CMK, Babson, Kellog, Maynesboro, and etc) have strayed from the authentic Arabian horse type. Correcting this story is simple. There never was one narrowly-defined authentic type of Arabian horse. Consult any one of the many books on the Arabian horse, for example, The Arabian Horse by Rosemary Archer, publisher J.A. Allen, 1992. This little book has photographs of several of the foundation horses. Look at the pictures closely and you will see a variety of types. Mesaoud (1887), a chestnut horse of the Seglawi Jedran strain from the Cairo stables of Ali Pasha Sherif. He is a horse with all of the right parts in all of the right places in perfect balance. No part of him is extreme. He is a horse whose conformation pleases the eye of any knowledgeable horseperson regardless of which breed they own and love; however, I venture to say, because he is not a specific extreme type, he could not win a Class A stallion class in America today. Look at the picture of Hadban, (1883), he may be seen by some as plain, yet he sired the famous dam Rose of Sharon. Today’s breeders look at the elegant Skowronek (1924), a Polish Arab, and see his beauty reflected in their animals. Skowronek happens to be closer in type to today’s Arabian show horses in the United States. The popularity of his type at this time does in no way diminish the authenticity of Mesaoud, or Hadban as models for the Arabian horse of today. These three foundation Arabian stallions differ greatly from one another, but all three are superior individuals whose get define what we now recognize as the Arabian horse throughout the world. Look through the horses bred by preservationists and you will find iterations of these three and many other good horses who make up the legacy of the Bedouin people.
Many people make assertions about today’s Arabian horses without knowing their history. Of course, people make claims without any historical knowledge about many, many things. Some people say we did not land on the moon! In the future we hope to remedy some ahistorical Arabian horse stable legends with information about preservation breeders and the Arabian horse history that drives their devotion to the breed.