The Arab: the Horse of the Future (Part III)

This entry is part [part not set] of 3 in the series The Arab: the Horse of the Future

Articles of History:

FROM THE PAST: Excerpted from


by Hon. Sir James Penn Boucaut The Khamsat Vol 10 Num 4 Nov 93

Edward III. was a great warrior.

Captain Thomas Brown, 1830, says in his book that the Turkomans trace all their best horses to Arabian sires. They believe that the race degenerates unless ‘refreshed,’ and they are therefore most anxious to obtain fine Arabian horses. They live upon plunder, and march from 70 to 105 miles a day for twelve to fifteen days together without a halt. They have been known to go 900 miles in eleven successive days. Yet a sprinter would run away from them for a sprint — but for a sprint only. Where would be the sprinter at the end of the fifteen days of 100 miles a day?

The use of the Arab by the Turkoman is further alluded to by Mr. Henry Norman, M.P., in his book on ‘All the Russias,’ fifty years after Captain Brown wrote. He says that the Cossacks on the Armenian frontier are supplied with rifles by the Government; their wiry little horses are their own. Russia has imposed peace on the Turkoman, so, in spite of Imperial commissions and the importation of Arab stallions, the fleet and tireless Turkoman horse, with his flashing eye and scarlet nostril, is extinct for ever. Alas that it should be so! All honour to Mr. Wilfrid Blunt for his keeping the pure breed alive!

Captain Brown says that the horses of Turkey are principally descended from those of Arabia, Persia, and Barbary, have great fire and spirit, are extremely active, and he cites Mr. Evelyn as describing one sent to England as a perfect beauty, spirited, proud, nimble, turning with swiftness, in a small compass, and then quotes great authority as saying that nothing can surpass the Arab’s gentleness, and that his obedience to his master and groom are very great.

Captain Brown also says that in the Mysore country the Princes and people of rank have a superior breed sprung from Arabian blood, and that the Mahratta country has also long been celebrated for its horses, which have much of the Arabian blood in them.

He refers to the East India Company as keeping very fine stallions, generally of the English blood. He says that the produce of these are good parade horses, with more show than the Arabians, but they were unable to stand the same fatigue, nor had they the same mettle. This is corroborated by the Australasian, March 2, 1904, fifty-four years afterwards, which states that at the great Durbar at Delhi there was a ten days’ polo meeting, that the English ponies first gave in, the Australian lasted a day or two longer, but the only ones who stayed throughout the match were the Arabs! Yet they have neither staying power, courage, nor docility! O tempora, O mores.!

And Captain Brown sums up by saying that of late too little attention has been paid to the introduction of foreign Arab or Eastern stallions, asks where can we find such horses at the present day, either as racers or stallions, as Eclipse, Childers, King Herod, Matchem, and others; and attributes the present failure to the departure of our present racers from the foreign blood — in other words, that since racing men have abandoned the use of the Arab their horse is failing.            

Sir Samuel Baker, in his ‘Tributaries of the Nile‘ writes;

‘Never was there a more perfect picture of a wild Arab horseman than Jali on his mare. Hardly was he in the saddle than away flew the mare, whilst her rider, in delight, threw himself almost under her belly while at full speed, picking up stones from the ground. Never were there more complete centaurs than these Hamran Arabs: horse and man appeared to be one animal, of the most elastic nature, that could twist and turn with the suppleness of a snake.’

Further, in speaking of a particular horse Aggahr, in hunting a lion, who flew along as easily as a cat, he says that Aggahr’s gallop was perfection, and his long easy stride as easy to himself as to his rider; there was no necessity to guide him, he followed an animal like a greyhound, and sailed between the stems of the trees, carefully avoiding the trunks, so as to give room for the rider.

And once a Hamran,’ so Sir Samuel relates, ‘who was hunted by a rhinoceros who unexpectedly charged, clasped his horse round the neck, and, ducking his head, blindly trusting to Providence and his good horse, over big rocks, fallen trees, thick thorns, and grass 10 feet high, with the infuriated animal in full chase only a few feet behind him, the horse doubling like a hare.’

that is nearly as bold and as manly and as dangerous a sport as to run 800 yards on a smooth level sward for a ladies’ purse, with silks and satins fluttering along the lawn!

Sir Samuel also describes a lion-hunt, where his horse Tetel stared fixedly at the lion and snorted; but Sir Samuel patted and coaxed him, when within about 6 yards from the lion, the horse facing the lion with astounding courage, both keeping their eyes fixed on each other, the one beaming with rage, the other with cool determination. Sir Samuel then dropped the reins on his horse’s neck — a signal which Tetel perfectly understood — and he stood as firm as a rock, for he knew his rider was about to fire. Tetel never flinched, Sir Samuel fired, and the lion dropped dead. But what is that compared to the noble achievement of a jockey in winning a town plate?

Yet one more incident from Sir Samuel’s book: ‘Roder Sheriff, on a bay mare, facing an old bull elephant waiting a good chance to charge, slowly and coolly advanced till within about 8 yards of the elephant’s head, who never moved; the mare snorted, gazing intently at the elephant, watching for his attack. Sir Samuel for an instant saw the white of the elephant’s eye, and called out, “Look out, Roder — he’s coming.!” as, with a shrill scream, the elephant dashed upon the mare and her rider like an avalanche.’ Roder sheriff had never won a Derby, so, of course, you suppose the benighted man was killed! Not so, however. In Sir Samuel’s words, ‘Round went the mare as on a pivot, and away over rocks and stones, flying like a gazelle.‘ For a moment Sir Samuel thought that all must be lost; but he describes how Roder watched the elephant over his shoulder, and lured him on till the horsemen behind came up and hamstrung him. Yet of such mares we are gravely told that they have neither speed, stamina, nor docility!              
Caulincourt, Duke of Vicenza, when ambassador to Russia in 1807, saw a review of the Horse Guards raised by Paul I., the finest corps of horse in Russia, and reported that their Arabian horses ‘were of immense value.’

In the ‘Souvenirs of Military Life in Algeria,’ by the Comte De Castellane, he says of a hawking-party that ‘the Arab horsemen were mounted on the fleet mares held in unbounded estimation.’ Of one mare he says: ‘Her action was so light that she might, according to the Arab phrase, have galloped on a women’s bosom.’ Of course, a jockey or a racing trainer would sneer at this, naturally: he is so wise in horses — ‘one of the knowing ones.’ Yet I think that the opinion of a French officer, often dependent on his horse for his life, engaged in war, with as brave warriors as there are in the world facing him, might be fairly considered to be rather more valuable than that of men engaged only in sprinting races, as to which horse is the better for the ordinary purposes of humanity.

Mr. George Flemming, in ‘Travels in Mantchu Tartary,’ says that the Russian courier used to ride one pony 500 miles to Pekin in twelve days, rest a day, and return in fifteen, on the most unfavourable sort of forage. He relates that their own rides had been long and without intermission, and their ponies looked none the worse, though they were eight or ten hours in the saddle daily, doing forty or forty-five miles a day, and travelling nigh 700 miles of rough country, nothing less than that average on miserable fare — bran and chopped straw.

Whether Tartar or Turkoman or Mantchu, all those ponies have been indebted to the Arab cross.

Mr. John Hill, in the Live Stock Journal Almanack, 1903, writes that he was much impressed by the foals and young stock of, amongst others, the Arab Mootrub, and, again, that it is surer by far to breed up from the beautiful little Exmoor mare with th eMootrub cross on top. Further, that two very beautiful younsters were shown from Exmoor dams and an Arab sire. He speaks of a beautiful little pony as a typical Arab in miniature, a clear proof of the Eastern ancestry of the Welsh mountain pony. In ‘The Breeders’ Directory’ and in the advertisements of the same book are several announcements as to Arab sires.

Mr. Winwood Reade says that Cyrene, in Northern Africa, was ‘famous for its Barbs, which won more than one prize in the chariot-races of the Grecian games. ‘ Further on he says that the Berbers of the Carthaginian army were a splendid Cossack cavalry.

I give in Appendix II. the testimony of several large horse-breeders in the interior of Australia to the excellence, docility, and endurance of Arab stock got by pure stallions.

Sir Edward Creasy, in his ‘History of the Ottoman Turks,’ relates that when Mahomet II, heard in 1451 of the death of his father, Amurath II, ‘he instantly sprang on an Arab horse and galloped off towards the shore of the Hellespont.’ and he says that the Sultan Amerath, when making in 1638 a triumphal entry into Constantinople,’ rode a Nogai charger, and was followed by seven led Arab horses with jewelled caparisons.’ Nogai is between the Caspian and the Black Sea, in the country of the Kirghiz, whose horses were partly Arab.

The first of these extracts from Sir Edward shows the reliance placed by the successsful Sultan on the Arab horse at a great crisis, for often, if not mostly, many of the candidates were massacred straight away by some rival claimant. The second extract proves the admiration shown for him, and the honour always done him by a great conquering race, who conquered by the endurance, the speed, and the docility of their horses.

General Sir Thomas Edward Gordon, Military Attache at Teheran, says that the Persian horses are small, but very wiry an enduring, capable of very long journeys. On one occasion, owing to some great man having got the post-horses ahead of him, he was driven to continue the use of those he had been using for ninety-six miles right away, with only three hours’ rest at one place and one hour’s rest at another.

He was shown the Royal Stud racehorses, Arabs from Arabia, and riding horses, deer-like Arabs of the best blood.

According to Madame Waddington, wife of the French Ambassador, the Russian Emperor Alexander III, always rode his little gray Cossack horse. He rode it at his coronation, and some days afterwards at a review.

Lieutenant-Colonel Prejevalsky, a Russian, says the Mongol riders go at full speed across the desert like the wind, and their horses possess wonderful powers of endurance on very indifferent feed; they will live where other horses would perish. The great traveller, Captain Wood (J.N.), says the same.

Colonel Ramsay says that the Parsees give immense prices for high-caste Arabs, and that Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy has superb English carriage horses, but they cannot stand work in the Bombay climate. That is what Mr. Carwardine, a well known Australian stock-owner, tells me of the Kimberley climate in North-Western Australia — that only Arabs can stand work there. Colonel Ramsay also describes the funeral of a grandee of Spain at Valencia, where ‘there were some splendid turn-outs — Arabs of the purest breed.’ And he speaks of his own regiment, the 14th Light Dragoons, as ‘splendidly mounted on Gulf Arabs.’

Colonel Durand describes a horse he had in India as perfectly untiring, having sinews of steel, a bold, intelligent eye, and feet of flint – he never rode his equal on a hillside — and he goes into ecstasies over his other wonderful qualities, with his ‘easy wolf’s canter, eating up mile after mile without a check, a present fit for a king.’ He says that none but the Arab could show such a combination of courage, fire, endurance, and general temper. His bold heart was the only one he trusted in implicity.

Mrs. Frances Macnab, in her ‘Travels in Morocco,’ writes that she could not say that she ever met with a horse in Morocco which had any faults or ill-temper to be compared with other horses, and they would walk all day without food. In her own horses there was not a scrap of vice in his whole nature.

Mrs. G.R.Durand, wife of the British Minister to the Shah of Persia, in her book writes that the Bakhtiari horses are often beyond price, of pure Arab race, as hardy as beautiful; quite extraordinary in the way they carry their riders over rocks and stones — they scarcely ever make a mistake, and their legs seem to be as hard as steel. A little black mare ‘carried her rider as if she had wings.’ Mrs. Durand herself had a little gray Arab, who used to come into her dining room and stroll round the table, pushing his head over their shoulders and whinnying gently for bits of bread. At a Simla dinner-party he came round the table just like a big dog.

Mr. J.H.Sanders shows that tradition had always affirmed that the Percheron, the most active and beautiful of all heavy breeds, is indebted to the Arab for his good qualities, and that recent research in France proves it. What the Darley Arabian was to the thoroughbred, that, says Mr. Sanders, was the gray Arabian Gallipoli to the Percheron. The American Percheron Stud-Book attributes the starting-point of the breeed to the overthrow of the Arabs by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in the year 732, which left the fine Arab and Barb steeds of the defeated Arabs in the hands of the victors. It also show that the infusion of Arab blood was strengthened by the finest of Arabian stallions brought back by the Crusaders, and was kept up at irregular intervals by many Franch nobles down to 1820. the form and other distinctive marks of the Arab, says Mr. Sanders, were thus stamped upon the Percheron.

The Arab breed, he says, was also the foundation of the celebrated breed of Orloff trotters established by Count Orloff, who imported a gray stallion named Smetauxa, from Arabia, to whom a Danish mare was bred, from the progeny of which cross the breed was founded.

And the now equally celebrated breed of American Morgan trotters is also mostly indebted to the Arab blood for its excellence, through Grand Bashaw, a Barb imported into America from Tripoli. In fact, says Mr. J. H. Sanders, this Oriental blood, wherever introduced, in all nations and all climates, has been a powerful factor in effecting improvement in the equine race. Yet, says Mr. Day, for practical purposes this same noble creature is as extinct as the dodo. O tempora, O mores!

Marco Polo noticed the superb qualities of the Arab in A.D. 1260. He says that excellent horses were bred in Yemen and taken to India, and numbers of Arab chargers were despatched from Aden to India, and ‘fine horses of great price‘ were sent to India from Persia. Colonel Yule has a footnote that these latter horses were probably the same class of ‘Gulf Arabs’ that are now sent, which, as the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica‘ says, are not equal to the pure Arabian.

Old Marco also speaks of the great excellence of the horses of Turcomania and Badakshan, remarkable for their speed, which go at a great pace even down steep descents, where other horses neither would nor could do the like, which subsist entirely on the grass, and are very docile. And he describes how the Turkomans pretend to run away in battle, turn in the saddle and shoot, the horses doubling hither and thither, just like a dog, in a way that is quite astonishing.

He also mentions several instances of the marvellous endurance of these Eastern horses. One accomplished 900 miles in eleven days, and another went from Teheran to Tabriz, returned, and went again to Tabriz, within twelve days, including two days’ rest, a total of 1.100 miles. And he tells us that the Tartars, from converse with the Assyrians, Persians, and Chaldeans, acquired their manners and adopted their religion. He should have included the Arabs, for the religion was certainly theirs; and he might also have added that the Tartars acquired many of the Arab horses. In truth, I rather think that it was the Arabs, and not the Assyrians, Persians, or Chaldeans, that Marco ought to have referred to.

And Laurence Oliphant says that these Turcoman and Badakshan people attained to some degree of civilization by reason of their commercial relations with the Arabs, and that his experience proved that their ponies possessed great pluck and powers of endurance.

Long before Marco Polo’s time far Easstern Asia was on the watch for Arab horses. Knei Shan (probably Khojend towards Merv) was ‘celebrated for its horses of divine race.’

China went to war with the Great Wan in 104-103, and again in 109-98 B.C., for the possession of this country and its horses, which were undoubtedly Eastern horses — most probably Persian Gulf Arabs.

In ‘The History of Russia‘ (Bohn’s Library) the success of the Tartars is attributed partly to their ‘being masters of the provinces which produced the finest horses.’

Mr. Shaw, in his ‘Visits to High Tartary,’ frequently refers to the handsome horses. He describes a sport where a dead goat is thrown on the ground, and the horsemen try to pick it up without leaving the saddle; when one succeeds he is chased by the others, doubling and turning, their hands seldom on the reins, banks and ditches jumped while they are half out of the saddle, galloping with one another, trusting entirely to their steeds when tugging with both hands at the goat. But, says he, ‘the Toorkee horses seldom make a mistake.’

The Rev. Dr. Henry Lansdell(1893) writes of his travels in Central Asia, that, fearing his horse would slip, he dismounted, but found that was for the worse, since the horse proved the surer footed, and he had to remount and trust to the animal.

Sir Henry Layard describes clouds of Bakhtizari and Arab horsemen in mimic fight, pursuing each other, bringing up their horses on their haunches at full speed, firing guns as they turned in their saddles, and performing various feats.

Sir Henry was once chased, and his horses were weary, having been nearly twenty-four hours without rest; but, says he, ‘they were sturdy beasts, and eluded their pursuers – it was wonderful!” The horses were able to bear great fatigue, and required little nourishment. Could Carbine have saved him?

He describes Mehemet Taki Khan’s magnificent and beautiful Arab mare of pure blood, and the exercises of his horses of the finest Arab breeds — galloping to and fro, wheeling in narrowing circles, while their riders, discharged their guns from behind, picked up objects at full speed, or clung at full length to one side of their horse, in order not to offer a mark to the enemy, and so on. How would these exercises suit your thoroughbreds, or your cavalry horses which ran into the streets at Winchester, and into the sea at Southampton?

Mr. Selah Merrill, of the American Exploration Society, writing of his journeys in Syria and Palestine, says that on one occasion he was ten hours and forty minutes in the saddle, and that on another occasion he was seventeen hours in the saddle one day, and fifteen hours the next; that the horses had a remarkable faculty of finding the way, and that, when riding in a difficult place, if you trusted entirely to your horse, you were almost certain to pass it in safety.

The Rev. Hugh Price Hughes, describing his journey to Jordan and the Dead Sea, writes (1901) that his chief dragoman was ‘magnificently mounted,’ as also were the four Arabs who were his escort. They put their splendid Arab horses through pretty and skilful performances.

A recent special correspondent writes in the Land of Arabia– Ararat, that the region was celebrated for its breed of horses, high-spirited, well bred, and noted for great endurance.

Disraeli writes in one of his letters:’Hunted the other day, and was the best man in the field, riding an Arabian mare.’ They rode much more cruelly in those days.

The Hon. Sir James Penn Boucaut, 1905.

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