Desert Horse of the Bedouin
The Bedouin treasured their horses for their hardiness, thriftiness, swiftness, endurance, companionship, and beauty. These unique horses of the Bedouin were honed in the crucible of the desert; only the strongest and most reliable survived. The breed developed characteristics that particularly suited them for the desert environment where water and food were scarce. They had to endure the long migrations, yet be ready for wars and raiding that often took them great distances.
One hallmark of Bedouin breeding was their insistence that only pure, asil, horses would be bred onward. The Bedouin understood that limiting breeding to known stock yielded the best horses, and there were strong taboos against crossing asil with outside horses.
Foundation of Other Light Breeds
Europeans sought these desert horses to improve local breeds, at least from the time of the Crusades onward. The attributes of the Desert Arabian were incorporated into virtually all light breeds of horse. Each breed was based on a different ideal, but none replicated the original Desert Arabian. Kings and Princes sought them to improve royal studs. After generations of crossing Arabian stallions on local mares, Westerners developed the modern Arabian breed.
Early Conservation Breeding
A few breeders, however, recognized the importance of retaining some of the pure genetic stock as originally developed by the Bedouin. The Pashas and, later, Kings of Egypt collected and bred horses of exclusively Bedouin origin from the early 1800s until the mid-1900s. Lady Anne and Wilfrid Blunt in England established studs based only on desert stock and supplied horses to virtually every continent except Antarctica. Other studs in Europe did the same, only to see their programs ravaged and lost to war.
Through efforts of the Blunts, Carl Raswan, Mrs. John and Miss Jane Ott, and others, the remaining stock in the West that could reliably be traced only to Bedouin origin were perpetuated. Small groups of breeder in the US and Europe advocated breeding that adhered to ancient Bedouin practices.
A Challenge for the 21st Century
Today, fewer than 10 percent of registered Arabian horses worldwide can claim exclusive descent from the original horses of the Bedouin (read about the endangered status). They represent a unique genetic resource, much like “heirloom” plants and rare livestock breeds. Ask anyone who owns a Desert Arabian horse and they will tell you, “there is a difference.” Conserving and perpetuating this genetic resource for the future is the core mission of the Institute for the Desert Arabian Horse.