The Arabian Horse Breed: Why The Hate?

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Plain and simple, the sport horse world holds an unacceptable intolerance of Arabian horses. Hunter, Jumper, Dressage, and Event riders are so…dare I say…racist when it comes to this breed. Although Arab horses may not be the “model” for any of these disciplines, it doesn’t mean that Arabians can’t hack it, can’t be competitive, or only signify rider inadequateness.

Horse people seem to have a love or hate for the Arabian horse. A few people that fall in the middle, but for the most part, you either own an Arabian, or you hate Arabians. Personally, I have heard and seen valid arguments both ways. On the love side, Arabian Breed Shows certainly do bring out the crazies [cough: Swayze], but haters: Arabs can make great sport horse mounts.

For the most part, you either own an Arabian, or you hate Arabians.

That said, the Arabian horse definitely isn’t a first choice for any of the sport horse disciplines. The Arabian is small. With an average height between 14.2 and 15.1 hands, their size is considered undesirable in the Hunter, Jumper, Dressage, and Event horse world. Especially in the Hunter ring, Arabians do not have the competition “look”. At a big Hunter show, it would be an AMAZING feat for an Arabian to win any class, even if that Arabian had a PERFECT round. Hunter judges, most particularly, hate Arabian horses (but remember, Hunters Are Not a Sport).

Talking about the Arabian horse and their size does bring up an important point about today’s sport horses: bigger is better almost everywhere. So is thought…

However, when considering a rider’s ability, a 17+ hand Warmblood isn’t easy for a 5’3”, beginner or intermediate rider to pilot. Concerning collection alone, many riders within this experience bracket do not have the ability, experience, and muscle to handle the task of guiding a big, fast moving horse around a ring. Jumping a course of any size takes a lot more work, adjustment, maneuvering, and steading of a big Warmblood than a smaller horse (like an Arab). At any barn, anywhere in America, too many junior and amateur riders mount horses that are just too big and too powerful for their abilities. In this instance, an Arab would be a good choice for a rider to get the hang of collection, adjusting, and lateral movements.

Additionally, there are many misconceptions of the Arabian horse. Many people think because Arabs are light boned and small they cannot “hold up” to the rigors of jumping. Do not be fooled: Arabians are very tough and generally very sound. Just like every other horse breed, conformation signifies soundness problems way in advance. Moreover, conformation “defects” of a particular horse are simply a product of poor breeding, not, in the Arabian’s case, a poor breed.

Arabs, too, even the small ones, CAN jump big. No matter what you point them at, there is no doubt Arab horses would try. But without an average or long stride length, most Arab horses are going to lack enough scope to jump around a big course.

Fashion has a lot to do with the Arabian and it’s unpopularity within the sport horse world.

Another Arab misconception is their temperament is said to always lean towards spastic or hot. Certainly, Arab horses can be “spastic”, “spooky”, and “hot-blooded”, but I’ve met an equal amount of Arabians that were also quiet, calm, and very “dead broke”. As far as a comparison, the Arabian temperament is very similar to the Thoroughbred temperament. Arabians do seem to be more sensitive to their surroundings, and that also means their experiences. Unlike most “dumb-bloods”, Arabs generally can hold grudges against (bad) people and experiences (like cats).

If we generalize the good and bad points of Arabians, I would break it down like this.

Arabian Horse Strong Points:

  1. Great Feet
  2. Incredible Endurance
  3. Incredible Stamina
  4. Longevity
  5. Above Average Soundness
  6. Easy Keepers

Arabian Horse Weak Points:

  1. The Look of the Arabian has to be Appreciated

Now, if I specify good and bad Arabian traits concerning the sport horse world, my list would look more like this.

Sport Horse Arabian Horse Strong Points:

  1. They can be very good movers
  2. Great Feet
  3. Incredible Endurance
  4. Incredible Stamina
  5. Longevity
  6. Above Average Soundness
  7. Easy Keepers
  8. Size Can Be Beneficial for a Smaller Rider
  9. Temperament can be Great for a Beginner
  10. Price

Sport Horse Arabian Horse Weak Points:

  1. Size which can be Bad for a Long Legged Rider
  2. Temperament can be too much for a Beginner Rider
  3. Often Not Enough Scope to Handle the Bigger Courses
  4. The Arabian Look doesn’t Work in the Show Ring
  5. People Will Treat you Differently

Arab Sport Horse Opinion From Citizen HorseSo, to sum it up, fashion has a lot to do with the Arabian horse and it’s unpopularity within the sport horse world. There are some legitimate reasons to NOT ride an Arab, but there are also legitimate reasons TO ride an Arab.

Personally, I wouldn’t buy an Arabian horse. I like a big horse, I’ve got long legs, I am looking to hit big jumps, and I, honestly, don’t appreciate the Arabian look. But, there are some very, very, very great Anglo-Arabians (Arabian, Thoroughbred crosses) used in Warmblood bloodlines and winning high level Jumping, Dressage, and Eventing shows.

I used to own one.

And though I wouldn’t buy an Arab now, if someone does like Arabs, I would never look down on them. Unless someone wanted to jump 4’+, win in the Hunter ring, or their riding personality didn’t fit an Arab, I would never talk them out of buying an Arabian Horse.

Different strokes, really. None better, just better fitting.

And knowing that Arabs can be a great fit for sport horse riders, why not fully accept the Arab into the sport horse world? If a rider is enjoying the horse, and the horse is enjoying it’s job, we needn’t hold prejudice against the Arabian horse breed in sport horse riding or competition.

Sadly though, I’d surmise part of the “stigma” surrounding Arabians in a traditional Hunter/Jumper/Dressage/Eventing sense has to do with their overzealous legions I mentioned earlier. It’s a sad truth, but hard core Arab fanatics give the breed a really bad name outside of their fanatical world.

Although the Arabian will never be my choice for a horse, I thoroughly understand that some people are drawn to this breed, and for others, the Arab is a practical choice. Arab horses do have there good and bad qualities, and though they may not be the IDEAL sport horse, there are Arabians out there that can do the job, and do it well.

No matter what, if you see someone with an Arab, don’t scoff, and you don’t have to like the breed, just respect that someone else does. Though on average, sport horse competition Arab horses may not stack up on paper, there are, frankly, quite a few Arabs out there who can jump, pass, gallop, and leap their way past the fancy Warmbloods.