“The horse is God’s gift to mankind.” —Old Bedouin saying
Saudis’ love for Arabian horses runs deep. “Arabs bred these horses, so we think of them as our heritage,” says Muteb Altukhays, owner of the Prestige Arabian Training Center in Riyadh. Like many Saudis, Altukhays was charmed by Arabian horses from a young age. But he did not start showing them until he left Saudi. “I got my master’s degree in linguistics in the U.S., and while I was there, I worked at a training center as an assistant,” Altukhays says. That’s when he got the idea to open a training facility in his native country. “I was like, ‘We have world-class horses in Saudi. Let’s start training them there.’” Together with his wife, whom he met in the U.S., Altukhays founded one of the first Saudi training facilities that specializes in halter, a pageantlike event. Watch the video below to see Arabian horses in action and learn more about the fascinating world of halter from Altukhays — then read on to discover what makes the animals so special to Saudis.
Most experts agree that Arabian horses originated in or near the Arabian Peninsula. While camels, another animal that looms large in Saudis’ hearts, provided meat, milk, leather and transportation for desert dwellers, Arabian horses were much faster and more maneuverable, so they were used in battle, to haul loads and for travel. The modern breed’s hardiness is largely a product of its evolution in the desert. (Arabians can survive on nontypical feeds, such as dates and camel’s milk.)
Eventually, due to war, trade and breeding, Arabian horses spread throughout Europe and beyond. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte are among the many historical figures who rode Arabian horses. Foreigners quickly learned that when Arabian horses were bred with local horses, the offspring were enhanced: They were faster, required less feed, lived longer and had much more stamina. As a result, Arabian blood is a strong genetic contributor to many breeds of horses around the world today. “They started in the Arabian Peninsula and are everywhere now,” Altukhays says. “But their ancestors can all be traced back to the desert.”
Although Arabian horses can be seen in the art of ancient Egypt dating back more than 3,500 years, it was the nomadic people of the Arabian Desert, the Bedouins, who created and refined the pure breed that exists today. Because they lived together in the desert for so long, the camaraderie between human and horse in Saudi is profound. In fact, Arabian horse owners were known to share their tents with their steeds, as if they were members of the family. The Prophet Muhammad himself urged his followers to treat their Arabian horses with respect and kindness.
Arabians are smaller than many riding horses, standing between 143 and 155 centimeters on average, and have a very singular silhouette, marked by a long, arched neck and high tail carriage. They are fine-to-medium-boned and weigh 360 to 450 kilograms. Because Arabian horses possess endurance, athleticism and grace and are so comfortable around humans, they excel in almost every horse sport. They are the horses of choice for long-distance competitions, dressage events (loosely akin to obedience training) and halter. “We’ve been to halter shows in Saudi and around the world with our horses. We’ve bred some champions and also some of the royal family’s horses, but Arabians are really for everyone,” Altukhays says. “They’re beautiful and fascinating horses, and that’s why people are drawn to them. When you’re around them, they take you to a different world.”
When Arabian horses are happy, they carry their tails high like a flag.