Arabian Horse Characteristics

Arabian Horse Characteristics and Features

by | May 30, 2023 | Blog

Every horse lover in the world has heard of the Arabian horse breed and for very good reason. Bedouins in the Middle East have been selectively breeding these fabulous horses for centuries. There are petroglyphs from as early as perhaps 4000 BC on the Arabian Peninsula that depict horses with traits still seen in Arabian horses today. While their beauty has always been prized, their courage as war horses, their hardiness, and willingness to live close to humans were most important in their desert homelands.

Prized by the Bedouins

They were hardy and easy going sometimes living on a meager diet supplemented by camel milk and dates along with their owners. The Bedouins also prized them for some dubious traits, especially sought after were mares that never made a sound as they raided a neighboring tribes’ flocks of sheep and goats. The bridle of the best mare would have pride of place in the center of their tent. One Islamic saying goes,

“Allah took a handful of southerly wind,
blew His breath over it,
and created the horse.
Thou shall fly without wings,
and conquer without any sword, O, Horse!”

Bedouin culture had predominantly oral traditions, so Arabian horse lineage was passed through generations without being written down, long before any stud books were kept. You can find some Arabian costume inspiration for you and your horse in books. Within the Bedouin, there are five ‘Al Khamsa’ matriarchal lines, each with slightly different predominant features
Kuhaylan – muscular, chunky, and taller with a deep chest in grey and chestnut colors
Hamadani – taller, good bone with a strong body, perhaps less showy but very tough
Hadban – a smaller version of the Hamadani in a chunky body in bay colors
Seglawi – medium size fine bone structure and a longer head and neck. Predominantly bay color
Obeyah – medium size, fine boned with a high tail carriage, usually grey

Arabian Horse Colors

Pure Arabian horses are of limited solid colors. There is no real distinction between a white Arabian horse and a grey Arabian horse as the latter will gradually turn from grey to white with each successive year. Grey Arabians are born dark and each time they shed their winter coat, their new summer one will be lighter. However, the skin under white hair is black. Some grey Arabians get a chestnut fleck in their coat which is rather unattractively called “flea bitten”. Perhaps it might be nicer to think of them as freckles.

Chestnut and bay as shown in Beyer Models are also accepted colors for the breed while black Arabians are less common. In the desert, it was a less sought after color but black Arabians are more popular with modern breeders.

Characteristically Beautiful

Arabian horses have some particular physical characteristics, some of which have been passed to other breeds. They are not large, usually between 14.2 hh to 15.2 hands – strong enough to carry an adult but not so large as to require too much food or energy.

Arabian horses have refined heads, usually with a concave ‘dish’ between their eyes and nostrils. Some breeders have selectively bred to accentuate this feature, possibly to the detriment of nasal passages that are usually wide open for optimum air intake. They have wide jowls emphasizing their slender muzzle and large nostrils. Their ears a small and neat and breeders prefer that mares have larger ears while stallions smaller.

Arabian horses’ necks are set high on the shoulder allowing them a naturally high head carriage. Their shoulders are surprisingly wide with low withers as many a saddle fitter has discovered. Special saddles are sometimes made for their shape. They also have short strong backs. Shorter than most horses, in fact, with 5 lumbar vertebrae instead of the usual 6, 17 ribs instead of 18. Their tails are usually set high on their croup giving them a high tail carriage. It can seem like they are carrying a flag for a tail when they are prancing and showing off.

They may be small as horse breeds go, but they are physically tough with dense bones, smooth hooves, strong tendons, and muscles. Their long pasterns give them a naturally elastic movement and some seem to float over the ground with a long period of suspension between strides. They have natural speed but not so much as Thoroughbreds or Quarter horses. However, their stamina is extraordinary and they have long been favored mounts for Endurance Race competitions. Their rapid heart recovery rates ensure they are regular winners at all levels of competition including races up to 160Km.

The Arabian Influence

Over recent centuries the breed has been taken across the world, first as a war horse across North Africa and also north through Turkey. The Arabian influence can be seen in other breeds throughout the world today including the Thoroughbred, Lipizzaner, Andalusian, Akhal-Teké, Celle Francais, Welsh Mountain Pony, plus others.

They are considered one of the two “hot blood” breeds in the world, along with Thoroughbreds. The Thoroughbred breed can be traced back to four Arabian stallions that were crossed with English racing mares in the 1800s. Hot blood has nothing to do with actual blood temperature, which is about 37 C/ 100 F for all horses. It is rather more a subjective judgment on a horse’s ability to react swiftly and move at speed as opposed to warm and cold bloods.

In recent history, some people took an interest in the breed itself and various strains have been established in different parts of the world.
Polish Arabians arrived after Turkish forces in the 1500s.
Russian Arabians were first introduced by Count Orlav of Orlav Trotter fame
Shagya Arabians associated with the Austro Hungarian empire
Crabbet Arabians established by Lady Anne Blunt in 1878 with her breeding program at Crabbet Park, England with selective animals from the Middle East.
Egyptian Arabians established by various Egyptian monarchies maintaining some dedication to Bedouin standards.


In the current equestrian world, you will find Arabian horses everywhere. They are shown for their exquisite beauty, ridden in competitions for dressage and jumping, used for stock work, racing, and pleasure riding. Their courage, soundness, and intelligence ensure the breed continues to be well sought after.

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Equiniction Team

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