THERE is no other race in the world by whom good birth is valued so highly as it is by the Bedouins of Arabia. And yet these nomadic clans are, in their form of government, the most democratic of people. Every Arab finds himself the member of a tribe, but if he chooses to leave it, he can do so without let or hindrance. He may take refuge with strangers, or pitch his tent in solitude and isolation. Even when the majority determine upon war or upon some warlike expedition, the minority are not obliged, either by law or by public opinion, to join with their fellows. They stay at home, if they prefer, without discredit. Each tribe has a leader, a sheikh, elected by universal suffrage; but his authority is very limited, and his commands are enforceable only so far as they commend themselves to the popular judgment. The sheikh is an agent rather than a ruler. All matters of real importance are decided by vote. The sheikh leads the tribe to new camping-grounds, settles small disputes, transacts political business, entertains strangers, and keeps open house at all hours of the day and night. This last is perhaps his chief function. The humblest shepherd addresses the sheikh by his Christian name, and neither in dress nor in conduct does he affect any superiority. Moreover, the possession of wealth will not procure a man distinction or respect among the Bedouins any more than the possession of office ; and this is remarkable, because the Bedouins love money to the point of avarice.
But to high birth the Arab, democrat though he is, renders homage most sincere. There are, among the Bedouins, certain families of traditional good breeding. For such families a respect almost fanatical is shown ; and it is from their members that the sheikhs are usually chosen. Nor is this high value erroneously attached to noble blood. Good breeding and good birth are nearly always found together in the desert, and the sheikhs are commonly distinguished by the quiet elegance and dignity of their manners. If a sheikh be deficient in this regard, he is almost invariably a man of inferior origin, raised to command by force of his own talents and energy.
The respect which the Bedouins have for high birth, in their horses is, if possible, even greater, becoming absolutely fanatical. Lady Anne Blunt speaks of the reports which reached her party in the desert as to the extraordinarily fine pedigree of a particular horse owned by a certain old man. “‘Manéghi ibn Sbéyel ’ [the title of the horse’s family], they kept on repeating in a tone of tenderness, and as if tasting the flavor of each syllable.” The travelers made a considerable detour in order to see this famous animal. When they arrived at the tent of his owner, they found that he had gone to borrow a donkey for the purpose of moving the family furniture to a new encampment ; for “ a horse of the Manéghi’s nobility could not, of course, be used for baggage purposes.” Presently, however, the old man appeared, riding his highborn steed, which proved to be “ a meeklooking little black pony, all mane and tail.”
Mr. Wilfrid Blunt expresses the opinion that the Arabian horse is degenerating through excessive inbreeding, and because animals of the best families, though individually inferior, are preferred to superior individuals, but members of families belonging to an inferior rank. However this may be, it is certain that the extraordinary excellence of the Arabian horse in his present form could never have been developed or maintained, had it not been for the almost reverential care which the Bedouins bestow upon equine descent.1
The Arabs have no written pedigrees : it is all an affair of memory and of notoriety in the tribe. Certain alleged pedigrees of Arabian horses, couched in romantic language, and represented as carried in a small bag hung by a cord around the animal’s neck, have been published ; but these are forgeries, gotten up probably by horse-dealers, Egyptian, Syrian, or Persian. The breeding of every horse is a matter of common knowledge, and it would be impossible for his owner to fabricate a pedigree so as to deceive the natives, even if he were so inclined. The Bedouins, it seems necessary to admit, are in general great liars; and they will lie (to a stranger) about the age, the qualities, or the ownership of a horse, but they will not lie about his pedigree, even when they can do so with impunity. To be truthful on this subject is almost a matter of religion, certainly a point of honor, in the desert.
How far back do these pedigrees run, and what was the origin of the Arabian horse ? These questions it is impossible to answer definitely. The Bedouins themselves believe that Allah created the equine genus on their soil. “ The root or spring of the horse is,” they say, “ in the land of the Arab.” This pious belief is shared by a few generous souls in England and America, a small but devoted band, who gallantly defend the cause of the Arabian horse against his only rival, the modern English thoroughbred. Chief among these faithful was the late Major R. D. Upton, who visited the desert himself, and who has recorded his experiences and his views.2 Major Upton concluded that the horse was found in Arabia “ not later than about one hundred years after the deluge, . . . if indeed he did not find his way there immediately after the exodus from the ark, which is by no means improbable,” and this probability the author then proceeds seriously to consider. According to Major Upton and a few kindred spirits, all other breeds are mongrels, and the only way to obtain horseflesh in its best and purest form is to go back to the fountain head, to the horse of the desert.
Naturalists, I believe, have not yet determined where the genus originated ; but they gather that three allied animals, the tapir, the rhinoceros, and the horse, have all descended from a common ancestor of the eocene period. Of these three, the tapir and the rhinoceros, certainly, are found in many parts of the world. The immediate precursor of the horse was the small animal called equida, which was exceedingly common both in America and in Europe. Fossil skeletons have also been found in almost every part of America varying but slightly from the skeleton of the present horse, although externally the animals which they represent may have differed from him as widely as does the zebra. It is possible, therefore, that, contrary to the usual opinion, horses existed on this continent in a wild state before the coming of the Spaniards. These facts tend to show, although of course they fail to prove, that the primitive horse was widely distributed, not confined even to the salubrious region of Arabia. But there is one argument in favor of the Arabian being the primitive horse which I have chanced upon, and which I here present to those enthusiasts who will appreciate it. There is a conjecture of Darwin’s that the dark stripe running along the spine of some horses, and occasionally extending to the shoulders and legs, may indicate a “ descent of all the existing races from a single dun - colored, more or less striped primitive stock, to which our horses occasionally revert.” In the Cleveland bay family, this dark stripe, or “ list,” is valued as a mark of pure blood ; it is found also in the Exmoor breed of ponies and in some other strains.
Now, Major Upton reports an observation made by him upon horses in the desert as follows : “ A line somewhat darker than the general color of the animal is to be seen in colt foals, running in continuation of the mane along the spine, and to be traced for some way even among the long hair of the tail. I never saw it in a filly. ... It can be traced in old horses and in those of a very dark color. ... It appears as the first or primitive color of the animal, which tones away by almost imperceptible degrees from the back to the belly ; it may be seen in lines on the males of other wild animals. At certain seasons, and as the horse ages, and dependent also in some degree on his condition, the dark color spreads over the shoulders and upper parts of the body, . . . as if shaded with black.”
To be sure, Major Upton states that this phenomenon is “ totally different from the markings of the zebra, quagga, or any of the hybrids ; ” but nevertheless it seems to be essentially the same. Zebras and quaggas are of the equine family; and this peculiar marking of the Arabian horse would, on Darwin’s hypothesis, indicate that if not himself the primitive horse, he at least stands nearer to that animal than any other existing equus.
However, this discussion has no practical value, nor is it essential even for the Arabo-maniacs to prove their case historically. This fact is sufficient and cannot be controverted, namely, that the Arabian horse is the only one now extant of a fixed type. His antiquity is such that, in comparison with him, all other breeds are mongrels of yesterday. It is conjectured that he dates back to the time of Ishmael; and it is reasonably certain that the present breed existed in the days of Mahomet.
This is antiquity enough. The English thoroughbred is a modern product derived from native English stock, from Arab and Barb importations, possibly from some mixture also of European horses ; and the first volume of the studbook, in which every thoroughbred horse is registered, was not issued until the year 1808. According to the standard of the desert, therefore, the English horse is a parvenu ; and although he is bigger, stronger, and faster than the Arab, he is less sound, beautiful, intelligent, and gentle. Moreover, as must be the case with a new breed, the English thoroughbred varies greatly in size, in shape, and in all other characteristics ; whereas the Arabian, though each family has its peculiarities, is much more nearly of one type, and almost of one size. A pure Arabian ranges from 14 to 15 hands, being commonly about 14.2. Very rarely one stands as low as 13.3, or as high as 15.1. An English officer, speaking of Arabian horses as racers, observes, “ They can all gallop about equally fast.”
In estimating the Arabian horse, or in comparing him with his English contemporary, it must be borne in mind that an Arabian of absolutely pure breed is an animal which few European eyes have ever looked upon. Of all the Oriental horses imported to England in the eighteenth century, and upon which, in great part, the English thoroughbred is founded, only one. the famous Darley Arabian, imported by Mr. Darley in the latter part of Queen Anne’s reign, is known to have been of pure lineage. It is probable that no Arabian stallion that was asil, that is thoroughbred, has yet reached our shores ;3 and perhaps the only Eastern mare of that degree ever in the United States is Naomi, a late importation from England.
There are no wild horses in Arabia, although there is a widespread belief to the contrary. This animal, as an old writer explains, “ can live only of man’s hand in the droughty khála.” The purebred Arabian horses are the possession, almost exclusively, of a single great Bedouin clan known as the Anazeh, and of this clan a tribe called the Gomussa have the best. Even among the Bedouins, apart from the Gomussa, there are not many animals of the highest stamp. “I doubt,” says Mr. Blunt, ” if there are two hundred really first-class mares in the whole of northern Arabia. By this I of course do not mean first-class in point of blood, for animals of the purest strains are still fairly numerous, but firstclass in quality and appearance as well as blood.”
Across central Arabia extends a vast territory called the Nejd, composed of sandy deserts and rich pastures. This whole region is a plateau, and the atmosphere is dry and bracing. It is under such conditions that horses thrive, and here was the original home of the Arabian horse. In Flanders, where the air is humid, and the pastures are moist and rank, horses grow large, but they have flat feet, inferior sinews, lymphatic temperaments, and soft hearts. Flemish nags have been imported largely to England for many hundred years, being cheap, big, and showy; but they have always been noted for their lack of endurance. Some years ago, the Jobmasters of London recruited their immense stables of carriage horses from Flanders, where handsome pairs could be obtained at a low price ; but the experiment failed. The Flemish coachhers were found so deficient in toughness and grit that it was cheaper to employ English-bred horses at double the price. Even among thoroughbreds unsoundness is frequent, in the British Isles, due in great part to the moist climate. The English horse, when transplanted to India and Australia, becomes much improved in respect to the soundness of his feet and legs, and this improvement is doubtless the effect of a drier climate.
The Anazeh spend their winters in the Nejd, migrating in spring as far as the Euphrates, and it is among the wandering tribes of this clan that the Arabian steed in his purity must be studied. The Anazeh, and the Bedouins in general, keep their mares, but sell many of their horses; and it is from the horses thus sold, crossed with inferior mares, that the animal known in Europe and in India as an Arab is bred. The Bedouins call these half - breds “the sons of horses,” and they look upon them, as well as all other breeds but their own, with the greatest contempt, stigmatizing them as kadishes, or mongrels. The desert is almost surrounded by horsegrowing countries, and it is touched here and there by great horse-markets. On the west and northwest is Syria, where many of these bastard Arabs, the “ sons of horses,” are raised. The chief horse-market of Syria is Damascus, on the shore of the desert. On the opposite, the eastern shore, in almost a straight line from Damascus, is Bagdad, the capital of Turkish Arabia, another great horse-market; and south of Bagdad, between the Euphrates and the Tigris, there is a wide stretch of country where many of these animals are bred, chiefly for sale in India.
The Arabian horses, so called, that are found in Turkey, especially in Constantinople, in Egypt, and in India, are not the true coursers of the desert, but their “ sons.” They are commonly gray, and hence the popular idea that gray is the normal color of the Arabian horse. As a matter of fact, the Bedouins prefer bay with black points (not objecting to three white feet), and this is the most frequent color among the Anazeh mares ; next comes chestnut, then gray. Black is a rare and inferior color. White horses are much esteemed, but seldom occur. Roans, piebalds, duns, and yellows are never found among pure-bred Arabs. The two Arabian stallions sent to General Grant as a present from the Sultan of Turkey, in 1876, were both grays, and though they were supposed to be pure bred, they are probably kadishes, — “sons of horses,” not horses themselves. Neither money nor high office can command the flower of the desert. Even Abbas Pasha had only a few really thoroughbred mares, and yet he spent five million dollars in gathering his famous stud at Cairo.
This man appears to have had a glorious passion for horseflesh. On one occasion he dispatched a special mission to Medina for the sole purpose of fetching a rare work on farriery. At another time he sent a bullock-cart from Egypt all the way to Nejd to bring home a famous mare, old and unable to travel on foot, which he had purchased from the Anazeh. A Bedouin, who had been sent to Cairo by one of the chiefs of Nejd, was shown over the viceroy’s stables, by order of that official. On being asked his opinion of the blood, he replied frankly that the stables did not contain a single thoroughbred. He added an apology on the part of his chief for the animals which he had just brought to the viceroy from Arabia, declaring that neither Sultan nor sheikh could procure colts of the best strain.
Bagdad is on the very edge of the desert, and the Pasha of that place has unlimited resources, but Mr. Blunt says : “ Although his excellency’s horses were, as a lot, good of their kind, they were very different from real Arabs ; and on comparing them with those of the Anazeh their inferiority was conspicuous, and their history could easily be understood. They were very nearly all gray.”
In the centre of Arabia, in the district of Nejd, and on the edge of the desert, is the city of Hail, where for many years has existed the famous stud of the Emir of Haïl. Emissaries of this dignitary are constantly on the lookout for mares, wherever they can find them, and not infrequently gházus, or marauding expeditions, have been sent out by the Emir against this or that tribe, for the express purpose of capturing some particular mare whose fame had spread over the desert. It was of the animals in this stud that Mr. W. G. Palgrave’s oft-quoted description was written. Out of his two interesting volumes 4 this passage alone has survived : —
“ Remarkably full in the haunches, with a shoulder of a slope so elegant as to make one, in the words of an Arab poet, ‘ go raving mad about it; ’ a little, a very little saddle-backed, just the curve which indicates springiness without any weakness; a head broad above, and tapering down to a nose fine enough to verify the phrase of ' drinking from a pint pot; ’ . . . a most intelligent and yet a singularly gentle look; full eye ; sharp, thorn like little ear; legs, fore and hind, that seemed as if made of hammered iron, so clean and yet so well twisted with sinew; a neat, round hoof, just the requisite for hard ground ; the tail set on, or rather thrown out, in a perfect arch ; coat smooth, shining, and light; the mane long, but not overgrown nor heavy; and an air and step that seemed to say, ‘ Look at me ; am I not pretty ? ’ — their appearance justified all reputation, all value, all poetry. The prevailing color was chestnut or gray. A light bay, an iron-color, white or black, were less common. . . . But if asked what are, after all, the specially distinctive points of the Nejdee horse, I should reply, the slope of the shoulder, the extreme cleanness of the shank, and the full rounded haunch, though every other part, too, has a perfection and a harmony unwitnessed (at least by my eyes) anywhere else.”
And yet Mr. Blunt says of this same stud : “ Of all the mares in the prince’s stable, I do not think more than three or four could show with advantage among the Gomussa.” He admits, however, that their heads were handsomer than those of the Anazeh mares. The latter are built more nearly on a racehorse model, having greater length of body and of limb. The Nejd horses are perhaps prettier, though not so bloodlike. Unlike the Anazeh mares, they stand higher at the withers than at the rump; and they are distinguished by their splendid carriage of head and tail. “ Every horse at Hail,” writes Mr. Blunt, “ had its tail set on in the same fashion; in repose something like the tail of a rocking-horse, and yet not, as has been described [by Mr. Palgrave] ‘ thrown out in a perfect arch.’ In motion, the tail was held high in the air, and looked as if it could not under any circumstance be carried low.”
It has been suggested that this phenomenon is partly, at least, the effect of art; that before the foal is an hour old its tail is bent back over a stick, the twist producing a permanent result. But this is probably a slander.
There is one family of American trotters, that of the Mambrino Patchens, which alone among American-bred nags is distinguished for the beautiful carriage of the tail, and jealous persons have made the same insinuation in reference to these horses that was directed against the stud of the Emir of Hail.
All Arabian horses carry their tails well, and next to the head and its setting on, the tail is the feature which the Arab looks to in judging a horse. “ I have seen mares gallop with their tails out straight as colts, and fit, as the Arabs say, to hang your cloak on,” Major Upton remarks. A family of horses renowned in the desert is descended from a mare of which the following tradition exists. Her owner was once flying from the enemy, and, being hard pressed, he cast off his cloak in order to relieve the mare of that unnecessary weight. But when, having distanced his pursuers, he halted, what was his surprise to find that his cloak had lodged on the mare’s outstretched tail and still hung there ! From this incident, the heroine of the tale has figured ever since in the unwritten pedigrees of the desert as “ the Arab of the Cloak.”
Occasionally, though not often, one sees an American-bred horse, especially if it be a colt, galloping in the pasture with its tail carried so high that the hair divides and falls forward like a streamer. This is a very common sight in the desert. “ I have seen a mare, an Abayan Sherakh,” writes Major Upton, “ galloping loose, with both head and tail high to an extent such as I could hardly have believed, had I not seen it. Her tail was not only high, but seemed to be right over her back, and, besides streaming out behind like a flag, covered her loins and quarters. It was a splendid sight to one who can appreciate a horse.” A single horseman mounted on a mare that carried her tail in this superb manner, and galloping in the distance, away from the spectator, has often been mistaken in the desert for three horsemen riding abreast.
What does an Arabian horse look like, — a mare of the desert, of noble birth, belonging, we will say, to the tribe Gomussa, of the clan Anazeh, and valued for her high descent, from Nejd to the Euphrates, from Damascus to Bagdad ? Let us imagine her coming forward at a walk. She advances with a long, swinging stride, the hind feet considerably overstepping the print left by the fore feet, — overstepping from twelve to eighteen inches ; sometimes, if careful observers may be trusted, even as much as two or three feet. Above all, she swings her head from side to side and looks about with curiosity as she goes. This mark of alertness and vivacity is among the Bedouins a sine qua non of good breeding. In truth, a wellbred horse, the world over, exhibits similar indications of a lively spirit and an inquiring mind. There is no pleasure in the use of a horse who fails to prick his ears, and to keep them in motion; and it would be a short but not seriously inadequate description of a good roadster to say that you can drive him fifty or sixty miles in a day without taking the prick out of his ears. The head of our Gomussa mare is the first and chief part of her to be examined.
Whyte-Melville wrote : —
An eye like a woman’s, bright, gentle, and brown,
With loins and a back that would carry a house,
And quarters to lift him smack over a town.”
This comparison of the head of a horse to that of the snake has often been criticised, and yet I think an Arab would perceive the force of the simile. The head of an Arabian horse, when he is excited, writes one, “ seems to be made up of forehead, eyes, and nostrils,” and this suggests the raised head of a hissing snake.
What gives the head of the Arabian steed this peculiar appearance is chiefly the prominence of the forehead, which is greater in the mares than in the horses. A small head the Arabians particularly dislike, as indicating a small brain, but the size should be in the upper regions of the skull. From the top of the head to a point between the eyes will often measure as much as from the last-mentioned point to the upper edge of the nostril. Moreover, the forehead, between and below the eyes, should be slightly convex or bulging.5 The space around the eyes should be free of hair, so as to show the black skin underneath, which at this part is particularly black and lustrous. The name for the original breed of Arab horses, now divided into five families, is Keheilan, from kohl, antimony, the Arabian horse having by nature that dark circle about the eye which the women of Arabia are wont to obtain by the use of antimony. Sometimes the whole face and even the ears are entirely free of hair. The cheek-bone should be deep and lean, and the jaw-bone clearly marked. There is great width of jaw and depth of jowl. In fine, the head of the Arabian horse is large where the brain is, and large in the breathing apparatus, but small in all the unessential parts. The face narrows suddenly below the cheek-bone, and runs down almost to a point. “ A nose that would go in a pint pot ” is an old description of the Arabian cast of countenance. But the profile of the Arabian horse terminates, not “ with the nostril, as in the English race horse, but with the tip of the lip.” “ The nostrils,” Mr. Blunt states, “ when in repose, should lie flat with the face, appearing in it little more than a slit, and pinched and puckered up, as also should the mouth, which should have the under lip longer than the upper, ‘ like the camel’s,’ the Bedouins say.” 6
But blown abroad by the pride within.”
The ears, especially in the mare, should be long, but fine and delicately cut, like the ears of a gazelle. This agrees with our Western notion on the subject, for small “mouse-ears,” as they call them, are not liked by our horsemen.
As to the carriage of the ears, Major Upton well describes it as follows : “ The ears, to be perfect, should be so placed that they point inwards, so that the tips may almost touch. The outline of the inner side of the ear should be much curved, and, as it were, notched about halfway down.”
Next to the head and ears, the Arabs value the manner in which the head is set on the neck. This point, or rather form of juncture, they call the mitheh. It especially refers to the shape of the windpipe, and to the manner in which the throat enters or runs in between the jaws, where it should have a slight and graceful curve. “This,” Major Upton adds, “ permits of a graceful and easy carriage of the head, and . . . gives great freedom to the air-passages. The Keheilan is essentially a deep-breathed and a good and long-winded horse.”
The peculiar rounded prominence of the forehead, already described, the Arabs call the jibbah ; and the jibbah, the mitheh, the ears, and the tail are the points as to which the Arabs are most particular. These points indicate breeding, and breeding is all that the Arabs care for in a horse.
For the rest, the Arabian horse, in his highest form, exhibits great length. He stands over much ground, as the phrase is, although his back is short. There is a common notion that the Arabian at rest keeps his legs well under him; that he belongs to that type of which it is said “all four feet would go in a bushel basket; ” but this is erroneous. Often, on the other hand, the Arabian stands with his fore legs bent backward from the knee, which is thought to be a good formation or habit. In the length of his body, in the length of his hind legs, which is extreme, and in the fact that he stands higher behind than in front, there is a resemblance between the Arabian horse, at least the Anazeh horse, and the typical American trotter. Maud S., for example, has these peculiarities. Sunol has them in still greater degree. The Anazeh mares, moreover, are very long from hip to hock, and this again is the almost invariable formation of the trotting horse. The body of the Arabian is elegantly shaped. His ribs are more deeply arched than is usually the case with our horses, and consequently he swells out behind the shoulders in a graceful curve, whereas both the running horse and the trotter are very apt to be what is called slab-sided.
Another peculiarity of the Arabian is the great length of his pastern joints, to which are chiefly due the remarkable springiness and elasticity of his gait. “ All shining, beautiful, and gentle of herself, she seemed a darling life upon that savage soil, not worthy of her gracious pasterns.” Nor, despite its length, does the pastern joint ever break down with the Arabian horse, as happens so frequently with the English racer. Grogginess and knuckling over are unknown in the desert.
As to the legs of the Arabian, they are as hard as flint; spavin, curb, and ringbone are very infrequent. In speaking of a certain Anazeh mare, a bay with black points, Major Upton declares that her legs appeared to have been cut out of black marble, and then highly polished. The knees and hocks of the Arabian are large, as they are in all good horses. “A Bedawee, whose mare had a foal running by her side, being pursued, feared that his steed would not do her best, out of consideration for the foal; therefore he struck at the foal with his lance, and it fell back disabled. But when the Arab stopped his mare, the foal shortly made its appearance; and although it had been wounded in the hocks, it had made such good play that it was called the father, or possessor, of good hocks. It is a strain most highly esteemed.”
Another family is descended from “ the Mare of the Old Woman,” whose story is as follows. A Bedawee had been pursued for some days through a long and devious course. On the way his mare gave birth to a foal, but her master soon mounted again and continued his flight, leaving the little creature to its fate. However, when he stopped at night to rest, the infant appeared, having followed all the way, notwithstanding its extreme youth, and thereupon he gave it to an old woman, who brought it up by hand ; and this foal, “ the Mare of the Old Woman,” became the mother of a noted family.
As to the manner in which the Arabs treat their horses, it is pleasant to be assured that neither romance nor tradition has exaggerated its kindness and familiarity. “ Their great merit as horsebreakers is unwearied patience. Loss of temper with a beast is not in their nature, and I have never seen them strike or ill use their mares in any way.” If Providence provided central Arabia as a region peculiarly fit for breeding sound horses, it would seem also that the ancient Arabian race was specially designed to have the nurture and training of these high-bred animals. It is clear that rough treatment would soon convert them into demons. Mr. William Day, the noted English trainer, conjectures that the ill temper and ferocity which characterize some strains of the English thoroughbred are owing to the Arab blood in their ancestry. Hence he infers that Arabian horses are bad-tempered. His conjecture is very likely correct, but his inference is a vicious one. It is not improbable that a generation or two of the old-fashioned English groom, with his rough “Come up, horse! ” and dig in the ribs or kick in the belly, added to the use of whip and spurs and severe bits, would sour the temper and awake the resentment of so highly bred and finely organized an animal as one of Arabian descent. But in the desert viciousness in the horse is absolutely unknown. The Arab rides without saddle or stirrups, on a small pad fastened in place by a surcingle. As for bridle and bit, he has none. The horse is guided by a halter, the rope of which the rider holds in his hand, and he is controlled by the voice. “ I have never seen either violent plunging, rearing, or indeed any serious attempt made to throw the rider. Whether a Bedouin would be able to sit a barebacked unbroken four-year-old colt as the Gauchos of South America do is exceedingly doubtful.” The Arabian mare has no more fear of her master than a dog would have with us, and she is on terms of almost canine intimacy with the whole family. An old traveler in the desert describes an incident on a wet evening, at the sheikh’s tent: —
“ Evening clouds gathered. . . . The mare returned of herself through the falling weather, and came and stood at our coffee fire, in half-human wise, to dry her soaked skin and warm herself as one among us. She approached the sitters about the hearth, and, putting down her soft nose, kissed each member of the group, till the sheikh was fain to rise and scold his mare away.”
“ Ali’s tent,” writes Mr. Blunt, “was partly occupied by a filly and a bay foal, the latter not a week old, and very engaging. It was tied up, as the custom is, by a rope round the neck, while its mother was away grazing, and neighed continually. It was very tame, however, and let me stroke it, and sniffed at my pockets as if it knew that there might be some sugar there.”
No wonder, then, that the Arabian foals are described as being gentle and familiar. They do not run away when they are approached at pasture; they are not to be intimidated by the flourishing of sticks or by the waving of garments. If they happen to be lying down when one comes near them, they continue in that position, instead of scrambling to their feet in alarm ; and they have an engaging habit of using their masters as rubbing-posts. This is true, in general, of our trotting-bred American foals. The fact is that any colt, whatever its origin, if treated with uniform kindness, will become, at the age of six or eight months, as tame and fearless as the pels of the desert.
The manner of rearing the Arabian colt is as follows. It is weaned at the very tender age of one month, instead of being allowed to run with its mother for four, five, or six months, according to our custom. So soon as it is weaned the dam goes out to pasture, but the foal remains close by the tent, being tied by a cord around the neck, or around the hind leg above the hock. It is fed at first on camel’s milk. The children play with it, and when it is a year old they mount it occasionally, and thus it gradually becomes accustomed to carry weight. Before it attains the age of two years it has been ridden by a halfgrown boy, and a year later it is put through some long and severe gallops. The Bedouins maintain (very unreasonably, as Western experience shows) that unless a horse has done hard work before he is three years old he will never be fit to do it afterward. Accordingly, when the colt is about two and a half years old, besides being taught to gallop in the figure of an 8, and to change his leg, so as to become supple, he is ridden by his master on a journey. The consequence of this heroic treatment is that splints are not uncommon in Arabian horses, and sometimes their shank bones become bent permanently. Occasionally, also, the colt gets a pair of broken knees by being ridden over rough ground at too early an age. But, strange to say, the Arabians make no account of such a blemish. Their horses, when full grown, never fall, despite their careless way of walking. “ The Arabian horse is too sure of his footing to be careful, except on rough ground, and there he never makes a false step.”
I own a Morgan mare which has precisely the same peculiarity. On ordinary roads she will not take the pains to avoid an obstacle, such as a stone, and will frequently trip over it, knowing full well that she can always save herself with the other leg. But I have driven this same mare down a mountain side, where the only road was the dry bed of a rocky stream, and there she picked her way in perfect safety, without taking a false step.
The smallness of the Arabian horse is due partly, at least, to scantiness of food. ’’ Horses, mares, and colts, all alike are starved during a great part of the year, no corn being ever given, and only camel’s milk when other food fails. They are often without water for several days together, and in the most piercing nights of winter they stand uncovered, and with no more shelter than can be got on the lee side of the tents. Their coats become long and shaggy, and they are left uncombed and unbrushed till the new coat comes in spring. At these times they are ragged-looking scarecrows, half starved, and as rough as ponies. In the summer, however, their coats are as fine as satin, and they show all the appearance of breeding one has a right to expect of their blood.”
The cow-pony of our Western and Southwestern States is akin to the Arabian, being descended from the Barbs (in part Arabian) that the Spaniards brought over when they conquered South America; and the cow-pony and the Arabian horse fare very much the same in winter, and undergo a similar change in spring. “ The cow-pony,” writes Colonel T. A. Dodge in a private letter, “in many places, in the winter, looks like a bear. His hide becomes fur, and his legs are as big as barrels. But when he scours out in the spring, he is as fine as any thoroughbred. He comes of the same stock which produced the English thoroughbred, and he has had the very best of training in running away from wolves and in hunting his fodder. In other words, with him the species is a survival of the fittest. . . . Barring his attenuated form, which comes from his annual starving, he is one of the most astonishing creatures ever made.”
The last touch of romance is added to the Bedouin when we learn that he is not in any sense a horse-dealer. The town Arab is often a dealer in horses, but the Arab of the desert treasures the glorious animal for his own sake, and not as a merchantable commodity. If he has a mare to sell, there she is, — you may take her or leave her; but the owner will make no attempt to exaggerate her virtues or to apologize for her defects. “ He knows little of showing olf a horse, or even of making him stand to advantage; but, however anxious he may be to sell him, brings him just as he is, dirty and ragged, tired, and perhaps brokenkneed. He has a supreme contempt himself for everything except blood in his beast, and he expects everybody else to have the same.” The Arabian horse is frequently blemished by wounds from the lance and other injuries, and especially from firing with the hot iron. This is the sovereign remedy among the Arabs for man and beast, and upon both animals it is practiced to a cruel and ridiculous degree. Mr. Palgrave mentions one case where a deep circular wound had been burned upon the skull of an insane man, the injury being sufficiently great to have caused the madness which it was intended to cure.
Often, indeed, it requires the eye of a skilled horseman to detect the merit and high breeding of a mare fresh from the desert, in her winter coat and winter condition. An old traveler relates how such a mare, sent by a Nejdi prince to an Egyptian Pasha, was criticised by those who saw her. “ Merry were these men of settled countries, used to stout hackneys. ‘ The carrion ! ’ cried one, for indeed she was lean and uncurried. ‘ The Pasha would not accept her,’ said another. But a Syrian who stood by quietly remarked, ‘ A month at Shem, and she will seem better than now; ’ and some Bedouins who were present declared her worth to be thirty camels.”
It is true, as this traveler sagely declared, that men of “ settled countries, used to stout hackneys,” often prefer an inferior horse to the pure-bred Arabian. The Barb, for example, has a bigger crest, and is more of the prancing order.
I have touched already upon the views of the Arabo-maniacs. With them the problem of horse-breeding is a very simple one, the solution being to discard all other breeds as mongrels, and to go back to “the primitive horse,” the horse of the desert. On the other hand, most practical men engaged in the business deride this notion. “ I cannot help thinking,” writes one such, “ that of all insane ideas the maddest is that which some enthusiasts have of permanently improving English race horses by an admixture of Arab blood, as if the difference between the various breeds of horses were not the result of climate, selection, stable management, work, and training.” It is, I believe, a fact — so malleable is horseflesh — that a thoroughbred foal born in India, of parents imported from England, bears unmistakable evidence of his birthplace ; and in the second or third generation the colonized thoroughbred loses all resemblance to the native English stock. No doubt, as the writer just cited maintains, the race horse of today cannot be improved by an infusion of Arab blood. He is bigger, faster, than the Arab, and could beat him over any distance short of one hundred miles. It is probably the same in regard to trotting horses ; and yet, as I have mentioned, the Arabian formation, especially as it is found in the Anazeh family, resembles closely that of a typical trotter. Moreover, the Arabian trotting gait seems to be much the same as that of our own horses. Thus Major Upton writes : “ When trotting, the hind legs of the Arabian appear to be, and often may be, too long, and there is too much reach for a pleasant trotting pace [not for speed] ; yet with good riding some will trot grandly.” This is precisely what might be said of an American trotter if used as a saddle horse. However, the Arabian horses are deficient in trotting action forward ; and it is very doubtful if any gain in trotting speed could be made at this late day by an Arabian cross.
But if the object were, not to obtain a race horse, either at the running or trotting gait, but to produce a family of fine saddle or driving horses, especially the former, for general use, then indeed it might be well to breed from Arabian stock. Success would be certain. The only question would be whether you could reach your end more quickly by this means, or by breeding from the best of our own horses ; and this is a problem which nothing short of experiment can solve. It must be remembered that no serious attempt on a large scale has ever been made in this country to raise horses with a view to beauty, intelligence, courage, and soundness ; and these are the respects in which the Arabians excel. Moreover, the perfectly natural way in which they take to jumping, an exercise of which they have not the slightest experience in the desert, shows that the Arabian horses are entirely harmonious in all their parts, and therefore adaptable to any use that may be required of them. Lady Anne Blunt relates: “The mare I rode on the journey carried me over the raised water-courses by the Euphrates in the cleverest way in the world ; off and on, without the least hanging or hesitation, and always with a foot ready to bring down in case of need.” One of the mares brought home by Mr. Blunt was let loose in his park on the night of her arrival, and forthwith she jumped the fence, five feet and six inches high. The lower rails were pulled down, and she was walked back under the top one, a thick oaken bar, several inches higher than her withers.
One experiment with regard to Arabian horses, now making in this country, deserves mention. Mr. Randolph Huntington is a veteran horseman, whose devotion to the Henry Clay family of trotters (descended from the Barb, Grand Bashaw) and to the Arabian horse may be described without exaggeration as heroic. For many years the Clay family were the victims of prejudice, the result partly of ignorance, partly of designed misrepresentation ; and Mr. Huntington, like the horses that he loved, was overwhelmed with ridicule and abuse. Of late, however, the value of the Clay family has asserted itself so clearly that it cannot be denied by the most envious person. Mr. Huntington has succeeded in establishing a stock company, with headquarters on Long Island, for the purpose of breeding a family of ClayArabian horses. It is this company which now owns the Anazeh mare Naomi, imported to England by Major Upton, and from England exported to this country. What may be the capacity of these Clay-Arabians, as they are called, I do not know, but some of them are animals of extreme beauty and finish, as symmetrical as their Oriental ancestors, and much larger.
H. C. Merwin.
- Mr. Wilfrid Blunt and his wife, Lady Anne Blunt, made two journeys to the desert, and their observations are recorded in two interesting books, written chiefly by Lady Anne. These are. The Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates and Our Pilgrimage to Nejd. They lived among the Bedouins for some time, and what they report about the Arabian horse, his qualities, his descent, and the families in which he is grouped, agrees in all substantial respects with the account given by Major Upton. ↩
- 7 In Newmarket and Arabia, a small book published in 1873 ; Gleanings from the Desert, a later work, only a part of which is devoted to horseflesh ; and a paper concerning Arabian Horses in Fraser’s Magazine for September, 1876. ↩
- Except perhaps Kismet, a stallion recently imported, who died soon after landing. ↩
- Central and Eastern Arabia. ↩
- This feature, which distinguishes, by the way, the Touchstone family of English thoroughbreds, is not to be confounded with that of a convex or “ Roman ” nose. The latter points to a low descent, and is associated with obstinacy. ↩
- “ The nostril, which is peculiarly long, not round, runs upward toward the face, and is also set up outward from the nose, like the mouth of a pouch or sack which has been tied. This is a very beautiful feature, and can hardly be appreciated except by sight. When it expands it opens both upwards and outwards, and in profile is seen to extend beyond the outline of the nose.” (Major Upton.) ↩