In Praise of Arabian Horses
I happen to love Arabian horses, but I think anyone who feels that any one breed of horse is the best is making a big mistake. Arabian fans can claim that they are outstanding for endurance racing and since they win all the top places in that sport it would be hard to contradict them, but they are not the best at jumping, dressage or pulling a plow though they can do all those things. A 1,300 lb. Quarter Horse is going to be more effective in stopping a large steer running flat out at the end of a lasso dallied around a saddle horn than a 1,000 lb. Arabian can be. It is also true that the characteristics of horses of the same breed can vary tremendously from individual to individual. Over the last 75 years of riding I have found several equine partners which have given me up to 20 years of heart warming performance and some of those have been of mixed breeds.
We have about a hundred purebred Arabians on our ranch and about another hundred of other breeds; Quarter Horses, Mustangs, Appaloosas, Morgans, Percherons and crosses. We raise mainly Arabians and usually have five or six foals a year. For the last 20 years Linda Tellington-Jones has been coming to our ranch for a week long clinic teaching people how to start young horses with her TTeam methods. We usually wait to back them until they are four years old and then ride them lightly the first year. Arabians have denser bones than most breeds and it takes them longer to set up firmly. When we do not overtax them at an early age we can often keep using them into their 30s. Linda finds the Arabians are especially responsive to her patient technique of teaching without fear or force: rather by persuading the horse to do what you want it to do.
Certainly intelligence in horses is hard to measure, but I am convinced that Arabians tend to be more sensitive, spirited and affectionate than most breeds and to bond more closely with people. Some I have been privileged to know have been as friendly as Labradors and seemed to take great pleasure in human company. Perhaps this trait was brought out in them over millennia of being at close quarters with their riders; sometimes in the same tent with them. When Linda comes to do her clinics, she will take a week of careful preparation before backing the horse for the first time. Usually the horse is ready for the rider then and accepts someone on its back placidly. No doubt the horse could have been overwhelmed in less than an hour by a tough bronco buster, but you wouldn’t be likely to build the same trust and solid rapport based on mutual respect afterward. As we run a working dude ranch with cattle spread out over 60 square miles of mountainous country in the summer season, it is vital to have mounts which perform well herding cattle. Arabians are outstanding at this work and most of them learn to absolutely love herding cows. They take the same kind of pleasure and pride in doing this work that a sheep dog takes in herding sheep. Some have to be restrained a bit at times as they get too enthusiastic and will make a great leap forward to nip a recalcitrant cow. Many Arabians have tremendous agility in the mountains and can climb in places almost like a mountain goat. A long day in the saddle working cows in the mountains is an exhausting task and the vaunted endurance of Arabians really comes into play here. Most of them will be with you heart and soul right to the end of a very long day.
Arabians are not as likely as a placid old Quarter Horse to be suitable mounts for novice riders until they are older, but younger ones can be highly rewarding for intermediates. They are usually very aware of what goes on around them and remain on the qui vive; reacting with lightning speed so riders must stay alert too, keep their feet firmly in the stirrups and be well balanced at all times. Often they spot wild game or stray cows before the rider and are constantly interested in what is going on around them. On an Arabian you aren’t just sitting in a chair and you really have to ride. Arabians and Arabian crosses make fine mounts for equestrian vacations in many places in the world, not only working dude ranches.