From: CHAPTER X The Court of Ri’ad — Journey to Hofhoof

Voices of the Past:

Arabia in The 19th Century — Excerpted from:

THE BOOK OF THE HORSE Edited by Samuel Sidney, London 1875 Buying Arabian Horses from the KHAMSAT Volume 10 Number 1 March 1993


“All the horses offered to us for sale by the Bedouins were stallions. I do not at this moment remember having seen a gelding in their possession; and although they frequently rode mares into our camp, they never offered any to us.

(MAMELUK’S CHARGER 19th century engraving by J. Greenway)


            …”The huffiness exhibited by Bedouins in their horse-dealing transactions, in a great measure the outburst of an insolent, overbearing nature, is seldom able to stand its ground permanently against the greater strength of their passion for money. Of a hundred bedouins that ride off in a fury as resolved never to set eyes on you again, ninety-nine will come back again. Perhaps the hundredth will not. A Bedouin brought a horse of extraordinary size for an Arab into the camp. I did not much admire the animal, but a sum equal to LB100 was offered for him. the owner, a breechless savage, in a sort of dirty night-shirt, rode away in wrath, and we never saw him again.

            “The sum total of horses bought by us in the desert was one hundred. Of these seventy-two were Anazeh, from the Qulad Ali and the Rowallas; the remainder from the tribes of Serhan and Beni Sakhr, and from men of doubtful tribe. The following statements refer to the Anazeh alone. The highest price paid was LB71, 17s. This was given for each of two horses bought by private hand, of which one was the finest that I saw in the desert. Putting these aside, the highest price was a little more than LB50, and the average price about LB34. The average height was 14 hands 1-1/2 inches, and the commonest age four and five years; but this would be an over-estimate both of the height and age of the mass of Anazeh horses offered for sale, as we selected the biggest and the oldest. Many of the horses brought were two and three years old, and might have been brought at much lower prices. Of the different breeds, the Kahailan seemed to be the most numerous, the Soklawye the most esteemed.

            “The Anazeh inflict a temporary disfigurement upon their young horses by cropping the hair of the tail quite short, after the cadgerly fashion creeping in amongst English hunters, but leave the tails of the full-grown animals to attain their natural length. They denied being in the habit of making, as they are commonly believed to do, fire-marks on their horses for purposes of distinction; and denied also all knowledge of grounds for a report which I have seen brought forward very lately, viz., that English horses had been used to improve the breed. The foals, the said, though dropped most frequently in spring, were yet produced all the year round, in consequence of which the age of their horses dated from the actual day of birth, and not from any particular season of the year.

            “With the exception of one Anazeh vicious at his pickets, I remember no instance of an Arab horse showing vice towards mankind.

            “We had an Italian horse-dealer with us, a great black-bearded man, one Angelo Peterlini. He was a good and useful man in his way; well acquainted with the dodges and mysteries of Bedouin horse-dealing; cunning in guessing the price that an Arab would take for his horse, and careful to offer him only the half, that he might work up the other half in process of bargaining; sharp-sighted in detecting the two or three “unlucky” hairs which in the Bedouin estimation might lower the value of a horse, and as pernicious in making them tell upon the price as if he believed in them; in fact, altogether well acquainted with the Bedouins, and monstrously polite to them before their faces, but with, at heart, a horror of them unspeakable (by anybody of less gifts of eloquence than himself), and with the intensest aversion to anything of the nature of what he called a ‘baruffa’ with them. Dogs, thieves, hogs, canaille, people of the devil — I wish I could convey the magnificent and sonorous emphasis with which he rolled out these and other epithets upon them behind their backs, or the ingenuity with which he framed speeches setting forth their precise relationship with the fiend, and the exact nature of a most curious connection with the hogs which he attributed to them.

            “I must add a postscript. Do not let any man, because I have rated the average price of an Anazeh horse at LB34, suppose that LB34 is to buy him a striking specimen of the race; or, because I have described the Anazeh horses as fine, imagine that the very fine ones are anything but the exception to the rule. With the Arab horse, as with everything else in the world, the average is grievously removed from the ideal, and all that you want above it you must pay for. Finally, let any one who may be tempted to seek for an Arab horse in his native deserts remember that though we, buying horses by the hundred, could attract numbers of sellers to our camp, it does not follow that he, in search of a solitary animal, could do anything of the kind, or, indeed, that he could draw together a sufficient number to offer him a reasonable choice; and above all, if he wish to avoid tribulation, let him receive as great truths all Angelo Peterlini’s remarks upon the Bedouins, and shape his course so as — if he will take any advice — to keep perfectly clear of them.”

            Having given an extract which conveys so unfavourable an idea of the moral qualities of the Bedouin, of whom we have been accustomed to read such picturesque and romantic accounts, it is right to add that the British cavalry officer’s admiration for the Anazeh as a horseman is unbounded; and I give his description here, although the subject does not properly come within the contents of this chapter.

            “His horsemanship, when he chooses to display it, is very striking and curious. He puts his horse to the gallop; leaning very much forward, and clinging with his naked legs and heels round the flanks, he comes past you at speed; his brown shanks bare up to the thigh, his stick brandished in his hand, and his ragged robes flying behind; then, checking the pace, he turns right and left at a canter, pulls up, increases or diminishes his speed, and, with his bitless halter, exhibits, if not the power of flinging his horse dead upon his haunches, possessed by the Turks and other bit-using Orientals, at all events, much more control over the animal than an English dragoon attains to with his heavy bit. On theses occasions, it appears to me that the halter served to check, and the stick to guide; but I have seen the same feats performed when the horseman was carrying the lance, and, consequently, was without his stick. Our purchases in the desert amounted to one hundred horses; amongst all I saw tried, I never saw one attempt to pull, or show the least want of docility.”


            “Most horsemen will admit that this is an extraordinary performance, and that none will allow it more readily than those who are acquainted with the Arab horse as he appears in our hands in India, where-so far as I may trust my own experience-he is hot, and inclined to pull. Why should he display this failing with us, and not with his original masters? My own impression is that the secret lies in the different temper of the English and the Bedouin horseman. The Bedouin (and every other race of Orientals that I am acquainted with seems to possess somewhat of the same quality) exhibits a patience towards his horse as remarkable as the impatience and roughness of the Englishman. I am not inclined to put it to his credit in a moral point of view; I do not believe that it results from affection for the animal, or from self-restraint; he is simply without the feeling of irritability which prompts the English horseman to acts of brutality. In his mental organization some screw is tight which in the English mind is loose; he is sane on a point where the Englishman is slightly cracked; and he rides on serene and contented where the latter would go into a paroxysm of swearing and spurring. I have seen an Arab stallion broken loose at a moment when our camp was thronged with horses brought for sale, turn the whole concern topsy-turvy, and reduce it to one tumult of pawing and snorting and belligerent screeching; and I never yet saw the captor, when he finally got hold of the halter, show the least trace of anger, or do otherwise than lead the animal back to his pickets with perfect calmness. Contrast this with the ‘job’ in the mouth, and the kick in the ribs, and the curse that the English groom would bestow under similar circumstances; and you have, in a great measure, the secret of the good temper of the Arab horse in Arab hands.”

[ED NOTE: It is interesting to note in this excerpt the lack of trust and also contempt for the Bedouin on the part of these particular European horse purchasers. This, however, was not the case for Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt, Homer Davenport and his party, and Carl Raswan among others. Each of these people by establishing respect and trust with the Bedouin resulted in a number of important foundation horses we are now the beneficiaries of in Al Khamsa.]