The origin and early history of the Arabian horse is shrouded in a maze of myths and legends - some as charming as fairy tales. Many who have written about the Arabian Horse breed have espoused one or the other of these wonderful stories as fact, and have thereby perhaps led attention away from what is currently thought to be the accurate history of this breed of horses.
The many qualities of Arabian horses have generated legends and stories to explain what makes such a fine breed of horse. The facts of history, and the real worth of the breed as we know it today, are sufficient to secure for the Arabian Horse the recognition it deserves.
There was a tradition in the homeland of the original Arabian horses, that the line of the Arabian breed traces to just five mares. These five mares were owned by a descendant of ancient royalty, and lived about 3,000 years ago. These five mares fell to a prince as a dowry upon his father's death. He was at first disappointed about his inheritance, but soon after came to understand how great was his fortune. In time these mares foaled, and his herd increased rapidly, and developed into what some consider the most wonderful breed of horses.
Another legend has it that a beloved leader acquired the best Arabian mares that could be secured in the land. These were enclosed in a corral within sight of feed and water. When the corral gates were opened the mares made a wild rush for water and feed. Just at that moment a war alarm was sounded. But five of the mares, hungry and famished for water, halted, turned to their master, and were ready to carry him to battle. These mares are supposed to be the ancestors of the present Arabian horse.
A third story relates that some early Arabian horse breeders
trace the ancestry of this line to a certain prince who was pursued by enemies. While taking a rest by the wayside his mare gave birth to a colt. Being hard pressed he left the colt to its fate and continued his flight. The prince reached camp safely and after several hours the colt came running in to the camp. And it was this mare and colt that were the foundation animals of the Arabian horse breed.
Historical research has brought to light some facts which entirely discredit all the legends. They do not show the use of the horse, so early as usually stated. Many writers on the Arabian horse give its existence from as early as 1635 BCE We cannot find any reference to the horse outside, of Egypt until Solomon's reign of 1075 to 975 BCE, and even at that time all of the horses were brought in from Egypt.
It is written that in early Biblical times the ass was used as a beast of burden almost exclusively, and even at later dates the wild ass is accredited with greater speed than the horse.
A nomadic tribe ventured away from the main group during their periodic migration, traveled to the north, to the plateau southeast of the Caspian Sea, where they settled and founded Media. Just when they came to that land is not definitely known but it was previous to 625 BCE. These Medians soon became known for their beautiful horses, that were "as swift as the wind."
Horse racing was, one of their pastimes and it attracted many people from other lands. Previous to this time the Olympian games at Athens had not included chariot racing, but about 620 BCE the chariot race for the first time played part in those games, but with horses brought from "other lands."
Where the Medes secured their horses is not known. They may have brought them from their original northern home, but there are strong reasons for supposing that these horses were the native wild horse of Media and Mesopotamia and that that is where they there captured and domesticated. When Nabopolassar revolted in 625 BCE, and made alliance with the Median king, the fusion of the armies brought the Median horse to the south.
Later, Nebuchadnezzar extended his territory, built Babylon, and began the siege of Tyre, he brought the Median horse with his army into Syria. At this time horses were almost unknown in Phoenicia.
The Phoenicians were the greatest merchants of that time; their ships and caravans were known everywhere, yet all their land traffic was with camels. We find these merchants trading with the Arabians, securing from them gold, spices and oils, but in no instance do we find records where they traded for horses.
When the Medes were finally conquered by the Persians in 568 BCE and were later again taken from the Persians by the Greeks under Alexander in 334 BCE, the rapid spread of the horse began, and we have every reason to believe that Alexander introduced the Arabian horse into the lands he conquered.
Herodotus, the first accurate historian the world had, stated that so late as 450 BCE Arabia could not contribute any horses for Xerxes' armies but did provide many camels. If the Arabians had had horses at that time Xerxes would certainly have procured them and the historian would have noted the fact.
Some writers attribute the hardiness of the Arabian horses to the adverse conditions under which they were reared for several thousand years. This may have played a role, but for many years it was assumed that high excellence in horses could not be produced under unfavorable conditions In fact it was thought that equine breeds would deteriorate rather than improve.
The Arabian horse has played no small part in the development of all of our breeds of horses. The blood lines of many of our best horses trace back to the Arabian breed.
The race horse, trotter, saddler, coach and draft horse, many have some of the Arabian horse genes in them. It has been said that Arabian horse traits, dating from so long ago cannot be influencing present day horses. Some think that for speed the American horse is a far superior animal. But it doesn't matter how long it's been since the Arabian horse bloodline was joined. It was the foundation stock in the development of the horse and it gave us the animals that we now have.