Standard Conformation and Type (1918)

Compiled by W. R. Brown
Published in The Arabian Stud Book [vol. 2], 1918

For the information of the public and the guidance of breeders, the following standard of conformation and type has been adopted by the Arabian Horse Club of America for the typical Arabian horse, being the concensus of opinion gathered from many travellers and investigators such as Palgrave, Niebuhr, Burckhart, Lawrence. Guarmani. Gen. Daumas, Major Tweedie, Col. Hamilton Smith, Major Upton, Sir Wilfred [sic] and Lady Anne Blunt, Ridgeway, Borden, Osborn and others. While no individual will, in probability, meet all the standards herein enumerated, the composite is made from the best instances observed.


The Arabian is a distinct subspecies, having characteristics differentiating it from other breeds and must not be judged by European standards. These differences appear in the skeleton, conformation and intelligence and stamp him wherever found. To be exact he is a highly specialized desert product and close descendant from the primitive bay stock of Africa. History records him as the immediate progenitor of many of the European breeds of today, through the admixture of his hot Southern blood with the cold Northern blood of other species, indigenous in the country to which he has been brought.


His skeleton, in comparison with other breeds, possesses a relative shortness of skull, a slenderness of lower jaw, larger size of brain case, less vertebrae in the back and tail, more horizontal position of the pelvic bone etc. The usual callosities of the hind legs are very small or absent, and are of small size on the fore legs. The ergots on the fetlocks are small and often indistinguishable.


The upper half of the head is larger in proportion to the whole size of the horse than seen elsewhere, especially in depth across the jowls. It has a triangular shape diminishing rapidly to a small and fine muzzle, giving the appearance more nearly that of the gazelle or deer. The muzzle is small, and may be enclosed in the palm of the hand. The lips thin and fine. The nostrils long, thin, delicately curled, running upward and projecting outward. When the animal is excited or in action the nostrils are capable of great dilation and, seen in profile, project beyond the outline of the muzzle, giving a bold, square, sharp and vigorous expression. The face slightly dished below the eyes. The cheek bones sharply cut. The eyes set far apart somewhat on the side of the head, are large, lustrous, kind and full of fire when aroused. The eyes are set more nearly in the middle of the head, with plenty of brain capacity above them. The distance from the top of the head to the top of the eyes is often within one inch of the distance from the lower eyelid to the top of the nostril. Added brain capacity is frequently given by a slight protrusion over the forehead and extending to just below the eyes, called the “Jibbah” by the Arabs and greatly prized. A ratio of two and one half to one between the circumference of the head around the jowls and the circumference directly above the nostrils is not uncommon. The cheek bones spread wide apart at the throat, often between five and six inches, enabling the muzzle to be drawn in without compressing the windpipe and the animal to breathe without distress when running.

The ears smaller in stallions and of good size in mares, pointed, set evenly together in an upright position and of great flexibility. In general, the head should be lean and full of fine drawing, showing intelligence, energy and unconquerable courage, combined with nobility and sagacity.


The neck long, arched, light, set on high and run well back into the withers. The throat particularly large and well developed, loose and pliant when at rest, and much detached from the rest of the head. The head set onto the neck at a slightly more oblique angle than in other breeds. The direct way in which the neck leaves the head for a slight distance before curving, is called the “Mitbah” by the Arabs and is greatly prized.


Measured at the withers from 14 to 15 hands, with occasional individuals exceeding this height. The croup slightly higher than the withers.


The withers high, set well back and heavily muscled on both sides beyond the usual European standard. Shoulders long, deep, broad at the base and powerful, but light at the points. The arm long, oblique and muscular. The forearm broad at the elbow, long and muscular. Knees large, square and deep. The cannon bone short, flat and clean, of not too great size but showing exceptionally strong heavy tendons. The fetlock joint exceptionally large and bold. The pasterns long, sloping, very elastic and strong. The hoof hard, large, round, wide and low at the heel. Legs should be set well together in front, straight and toe squarely ahead.


Looking from the front or rear, the ribs will be seen to bow out and protrude beyond the quarters. The ribs run to a great depth beneath the chest and give room for great heart and lung capacity. The ribs hold their size and are close coupled to the point of the hip bone. The back unusually short due to the absence of two of the usual vertebrae and the oblique angle of the shoulder. The body long below with a low belly, capable of holding feed. The transverse measurement of the thorax equal to, or a little greater than, vertical measurement.


The croup slightly higher than the withers; the loins broad; the haunch longer in proportion and quite horizontal; the tail set on high, arched and carried gaily in the air at the first motion of the animal. The quarters long, well-muscled and somewhat narrow with a fine line denoting speed. The hams well filled out. The hocks clean, well let down, of almost abnormal size and strength, giving great leverage to the tendons at the gaskins. The shank bone flat, clean and short, with large tendons. The pasterns long, sloping and muscular. The fetlock joint of exceptional size. The hoof hard, large, round, wide and low at the heel. The hind legs placed squarely under the hind quarters and parallel to the body.


Mane and tail long and very fine in texture. Coat thick, close, fine, soft and silky.


In Arabia, 35% are bays; 30% greys; 15% chestnuts of various shades and 20% browns of various shades and rarely a black. Stars, strips or blaze faces; snipe noses, and a white foot or more or white stockings are common markings. Solid white, while much prized, is comparatively rare. Duns, piebalds, yellows and roans are not seen; parti-colored horses are always crossbreds.


The Arabian should present the appearance of short coupling and great weight carrying capacity for his height, hold his head and tail high with alert bearing and arched neck, and show action with stability.


From 800 to 1,000 pounds, according to size.


His natural gait is the gallop, agreeable on account of the general length and springy character of the hind parts and long pasterns. Also a fast walk, the hind foot often overstepping the fore foot from one to three feet. While not his natural gait, he can develop a good trot with cultivation. Being trained to cover long distances, his natural action is long and low, sufficient to maintain a good footing and stride without undue pulling of the knees and hocks. He is a bold jumper and, in running, can outdistance anything of his size. Due to the length, strength and angular flexibility of the fore shoulder he can handle his fore feet with great dexterity and in playfulness strike at a bird or butterfly in mid-air or, while extended in the gallop divert his foot from an obstacle.


Lungs and chest finely developed. Broken wind and roaring is almost never known, due to the size and position of the windpipe. The stomach is of smaller size and the feed required to keep him in good condition is much less than in other breeds. For centuries he has become accustomed to subsist in a barren country and will require about one half the feed of the European horse for the weight carried.


The Arabian horse comes down to us from great antiquity from geographic origins about which there is dispute, but his presence in Arabia for twenty or more centuries has been well authenticated, during which time he has remained a product of that land practically unchanged. He reaches his best development in the natural pasture land of the interior deserts, particularly in the Provinces of Nejd and Mesopotamia, among the Bedouin tribes of the Anazeh, Shammar, Sebaa and Roala. From this favoring environment, he has been carried by war and conquest to practically every portion of the world, as the plastic foundation upon which the nations have developed their breeds. Statistics of the derivation of practically all breeds will clearly show this and is considered a highly prized heritage. He endures both extreme heat and cold with exceptional hardihood and becomes readily acclimated to every climate.


In history, the Arabian has figured as the horse of beauty, intelligence, courage, endurance and romance. Bred and reared in close contact with man from the earliest records and existing in mutual inter-dependence, he developed the keen brain of the primitive animal by such close human association,—as in the case of the dog,—and his intelligence has been celebrated in a thousand anecdotes. He is gentle, affectionate and familiar to the point of being troublesome. Colts have no fear of man and are indifferent to sounds or noises. The Arabian gentleness and tractability, while originally the effect of education, is now inherited and is observed in colts bred in foreign environment.

The Arabian is also celebrated for his soundness of limb, courage, endurance and ability to withstand hardships. It is reason sufficient to show that the life and welfare of his Arab owner, who constantly engaged in the “Ghazu”, a form of quick, mounted foray upon his neighbors, was often dependent upon these qualities in his horse. It is also the natural result of a good original stock, maintained in its purity by intensive breeding, in a favorable environment. As a racer he has shown no mean ability in India. Imported to England he became the progenitor of the English Thoroughbred and pure blooded Arabians have always remained registerable in Weatherby’s. In Russia his blood contributed largely to make the Orloff trotter; in France to make the Percheron; in America to make the Morgan and, through the English Thoroughbred, to make the Hackney, the Trotter and the American or Kentucky saddle horse. He has won practically all the long distance and endurance racing of the world. His blood has been and is being used by European army officers continually in various crosses to breed the best cavalry mounts. In him are all of the qualities of the desirable horse and, while excellence in individual accomplishments, such as running, trotting or saddle action, may enable certain breeds to excel the parent stock in their specialty, no other blood has the power of transmitting so many or all of these qualities to its offspring, and to create individuals possessing what is known as general utility. His blood is prepotent and plastic to a remarkable degree, dominating all the breeds to which it is introduced, and contributes to them, beauty, courage, speed, endurance and tractability.