The Arabian Horse
22 April 2016
What better time to find out all about Arabian horses than in the midst of the 2016 Australian National Arabian Championships?
This year the four-day event was held at the Sydney International Equestrian centre and attracted 300 competitors from right across Australia. It’s a rather high profile event too, featuring Dr Harry Cooper as an event ambassador (he owns Arabian derivatives) and a performance of the National Anthem by the original Man from Snowy River, Tom Burlinson, while riding an Arabian stallion.
Cavalletti spoke with Chair of the Judges Committee for the Arabian Horse Society of Australia (AHSA), Karen Fletcher-Grieve, while she was on a quick break from ring marshalling. The purchase of a partbred gelding in 1980 established Karen’s love of the breed and since then, the majority of the horses she has owned, bred and shown have had at least some Arabian blood.
As a way of demonstrating how prevalent the breed is, Karen points out that most children’s ponies have Arabian breeding somewhere down the line. According to the AHSA, as one of the oldest breeds of horse in existence, the Arabian has contributed to the development or refinement of virtually all the modern breeds of light horse.
“Most kid’s ponies have some Arabian blood, you just might not know it,” Karen says. “And if you see how safe these ponies are that are carting around our kids, you can start to understand that it’s really a mistaken belief that Arabs are all firey and hot.”
Owners of the breed are also keen to shut down the myth of the “flighty and hard to handle Arabian”. Julie Johnson, who has owned Arabs for over thirty years, says that they are a “versatile breed and a joy to be around. Some are harder to get along with than others – same as in any breed.” Owner Katie Brooks adds that, “Arabians are the sweetest and easiest to handle horses around. Mine are my best friends”.
Jeanette Brockley, who started riding Arabians for endurance, believes it’s a big misconception that Arabians are “crazy”. She says that “they are the most hard working, great work ethic breed, and very intelligent and big hearted. They will give their all for you – love them!”
Of course, a bit of flair and a look-at-me presence is really the hallmark of the breed. Legend says the Arabian horse was a gift from Allah (God) and throughout the ages, Arabian horses have been greedily obtained as prized spoils from war or offered as treasured gifts for royalty. The Arabian’s dished face, expressive eyes and proud tail carriage attract many admirers.
It’s one of the reasons that many spectators from outside of the Arabian world come to watch the National Championships. And the Arabian costume classes are as showy as they come, with imaginative robes and tassels billowing around as the horse and rider gallop into the ring.
Over the course of the Championships, onlookers also witness the diversity of the Arabian with sidesaddle, harness, western pleasure and working stockhorse events all as much a part of the proceedings as the halter and ridden breed classes.
Before rushing off to marshal competitors, Karen explains that in addition to purebred Arabians, there were eight other registration categories for Arabian horses. These include Half Arabians, Partbred Arabians, Anglo Arabians, Arabian Warmbloods, Arabian Ponies, Artabian Riding Ponies, Arabian Stockhorses and Quarabs. This accounts for the large diversity of the breed. There are 137,500 horses registered with the AHSA, as well as a membership over 4000 strong.
Karen states that there has recently been an influx of Arabians and derivatives winning amidst open company in showhorse classes. However, she insists that it is the endurance field where Arabians are unmatched. This is even referred to in the AHSA Arabian breed standard which notes, “The Arabian, with its outstanding soundness of wind, limb and constitution is renowned for an endurance capacity far above the average.”
You can follow the ancestors of today’s Arabian horse back to warhorses – and with a history tracing back 5000 years – it is fascinating to see how the breed was refined for warfare, status and trade. All purebred Arabians are distantly related to their desert predecessors, with extraordinary stamina being a hallmark of the breed. Wide nostrils, deep heart girth and dense bone ensure the Arabians horses of today still have a competitive edge in distance competition.
Arabians are also known to be extremely intelligent. As owner Lisa Phillips points out, this can be challenging for some riders and trainers. “Their owners need to be smarter than them,” she says. “You need to be a good leader to get the best out of this breed!”
Fellow rider, Lisa Stagg agrees. “Arabians are versatile, you can do anything with them: eventing, endurance, showing, ponyclub, campdrafting etc. They are very smart sensitive horses and with the correct handling, will do more than you ask to please”.
Hollie McCubbin, who has previously owned an Arabian, adds that they are, “definitely too smart for some people to handle.”
But perhaps it is Deb Hage, owner of five Arabians, who has the most unique advice for any prospective owner coveting this majestic breed. “They are loving and love human company. They do not suffer fools lightly and will not tolerate abuse. They love life and that can be misconstrued as being hard to handle and not for beginners. My kids have always handled my Arabians from birth. Once you’ve owned an Arabian every other breed is like a second hand car. Nothing compares really.”
For more information on Arabian horses in Australia you can visit the AHSA website.