The Majestic Arabian: celebrated in poetry, immortalised in myth

Recognized as one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world, the origin of the Arabian horse is wrapped in mystery and legend. The first of the myths traces the origin of Arabian horses to an event involving angels and heavenly powers. It describes an incident when Ishmael, son of Abraham, was awoken from sleep to witness strong winds swirling menacingly towards him as thunder echoed through the land and lightning tore the night sky into two. Frightened, Ishmael looked on and saw Angel Gabriel descend from heaven. The angel commanded the winds to cease, quieted the thunder and stilled the lightning, and as they did, from the swirling mist of wind and dust emerged beautiful, prancing forms that seemed to swallow the ground in leaps and bounds.
Seeing the speed and agility of the creatures Ishmael called them ‘Drinkers of the Wind’. These were said to be the first Arabian horses. An equally interesting story is drawn from traditional Bedouin legend which believes that Allah (PBUH) created these regal animals from elements drawn from the four winds: taking spirit from the north, strength from the south, speed from the east and intelligence from the west. While doing so, he said: “I create thee, oh Arabian. To thy forelock, I bind victory in battle. On thy back, I set a rich spoil and a treasure in thy loins. I establish thee as one of the glories of the earth… I give thee flight without wings.” Even the word for “horse” in Arabic means to “walk with pride” indicating that a noble bearing has always been an important element of the Arabian horses’ personality.
Another legend traces the origin of Arabian horses to a time when the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was travelling across the desert with Bedouins.
In a bid to test their loyalty, he let 100 thirsty horses loose at an oasis. As the thirsty horses galloped towards the cool, inviting waters, he sounded the war horn — used before the start of warfare. Only five mares heeded their master’s call and returned. These five became his favourites. “You are creatures of the great Allah,” he said, “and you will forever be special.” Known as Al Khamsa, they became the founders of the five main strains of the Arabian horse. This story describes the very essence of Arabian horses — a deep sense of loyalty, one that puts their master’s needs before their own.
Then of course, there is the story that dates back to the time of King Solomon. While one version recounts how the Queen of Sheba gave King Safanad an Arabian mare another says that King Solomon gave his own stallion, Zaad Ar-Rakib, to the Banu Azd people when they came to pay tribute.
At the 2009 WAHO Conference in Oman, Hamad Salim Rashid al Belushi, a guest speaker, had shared that “….the stallion ‘Zaad Ar-Rakib’, whose name literally translates as ‘the rider’s supply’ was the first horse known in the Arab world and to which all Arabian horses are attributed. He was the best of his type. He was owned by the Azd, an Omani tribe, and was gifted to them — according to the best narrations — by Prophet Sulaiman bin Dawood (Solomon son of David).”
Oman has an interesting collection of carvings and inscriptions that have been discovered in Musandam which according to archaeologists,’ date back to around 3000 B.C. Some copper horse-head figurines found in Salalah date back to an even earlier period. These reflect Oman’s deep history with horses since ancient times.
Originally bred in the Middle East, the unequalled beauty, regal bearing and unmatched agility of Arabian horses has attracted and held the attention of generations of horsemen throughout history. While this is an important element in contributing to the longevity of the breed, the fact that the Arabian is a living link to historic traditions of the region has ensured that it continues to be carefully preserved as the world’s oldest equine breed.

Mary Oommen