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‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’
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Arabian Ownership and Training




Arabians love people, and are extremely personable. Many Arabians would prefer spending time around people than other horses. I believe this is due to their extreme intelligence and inquisitive nature. It is known that the Arabian has been in existence since the time of Muhammad. But it may have been bred by the Bedouin of Arabia for 2,500 years prior to that although there are no written records, making it one of the oldest breed of horse still being bred today. . It was imperative that Arabians had a close relationship with humans for their survival. With the Bedouin tribes, Arabians were expected to sleep in the tents with their owners to protect them from the harsh desert elements, and from thievery. It was necessary for them to be gentle and quiet enough to come into the tents, but also ready for battle at any given moment. The trust and loyalty required between humans and Arabians was one of the initial “breed standards” and I believe is a quality that still holds true today.  Arabians are highly intelligent and sensitive. These qualities can actually be misunderstood and can appear to be faults of the breed. Because of their heightened intelligence, they will not accept being dominated, blatant force or submit to demands. This is actually what makes working with Arabians so rewarding. Contrary to some beliefs, Arabians are extremely willing and eager to please. When you develop a mutual respect with an Arabian, they will be your best friend and you will find a partner that will give you 100%. 


Description
The Arabian has a very unique appearance. It is generally small in stature with an average height of 57 inches or 14.3 hands. Although many fall within the height range of a pony, they are always considered horses.  The most distinctive features are the outline and the shape of the head. The unique outline is created by a skeletal formation that differs from
other horses. The Arabian has 17 ribs, 5 lumbar bones, and 16 tail vertebrae where other breeds generally have 18 ribs, 6 lumbar bones, and 18 tail vertebrae. This difference accounts for the shape of the Arab's back and the high carriage of the tail.  Arabians are generally fine boned and have a small, refined head. The famous dished face is created by the indentation that begins below the eyes and down to the muzzle. They also tend to have an arch at the point where the head meets the neck, and the greater the arch, the greater the range of motion of the head. Arabians can be grey, chestnut, bay, and black (see color descriptions).  Arabian lines that were bred separately from the purebred Arabian have created distinctive breeds, namely the Polish Arabian, Egyptian Arabian, and Shagya Arabian. These breeds tend to be larger than the pure Arabian and have thicker bones.


Horse Training and Activities
Arabians mature more slowly than other horse breeds, and are not fully mature until five years of age. This means that owners of young Arabians must be extra careful not to strain their horse's legs, tendons, and joints before they have fully developed. Intense riding and jumping are definitely not a good idea until an Arabian is five years old.  Arabians are great pleasure horses as they are generally willing to please, but they can be very energetic and spirited as well, so they may not be the best horses for children and beginners. They do very well in the show ring in pleasure, dressage, and trail classes due to their gracefulness and agility. They are also great reining horses. They can be used for jumping although they are not top competitors.  The discipline they excel in is endurance riding because they have the energy and the willing personality to travel over great distances with a rider. Endurance rides can be single or multi-day events where horses race along a trail through all kinds of terrain for 30 to 100 miles a day!


Care and Feeding
Arabians tend to do better if they are kept in larger paddocks and not confined to small stalls
because their intelligence causes them to be easily bored. They may be more prone to developing nervous habits or "stable vices" when confined than other horses. Keeping them in a paddock with other horses is ideal. You can also try to keep them occupied with objects they can play with, such as horse balls and traffic cones


Common Health Problems
Arabians are known for being a sound breed due to their strong legs and dense bones, and they tend to have a low occurrence of lameness problems.  However all pony breeds, Arabians, Quarter horses, and American Saddlebreds seem to have a higher incidence of laminitis.


Training
They may have their own desirable and undesirable behaviour patterns, but understanding them and learning how to communicate with them  and good horsemanship will help you connect.  Just recently, one of my horsey-friends approached me in the typical style and asked me something to the effect of “How do you deal with the Arabian personality, they are so different from other breeds?”…and indeed, they are.  Arabians are certainly in a class of their own when it comes to handling and training:



I have owned, trained and ridden Arabians for over 30 years; they are by far the most intelligent, sensitive and courageous creatures I have owned and worked with! See Photo at top of page of Blaze I owned for 19 years!  So it is always disconcerting when I hear someone say that they don’t like “Arabians”, in general, because they are spooky, hot, too hard to handle, etc., because some of the best trained family horses that I know are Arabians and I’ve seen more tiny kids and amateur riders being packed around on them than I can count. 

re bred Arabian horses are very sensitive they retain much of their Bedouin breeding instincts, which required them to be hard working, as well as alert and adaptable to a nomadic lifestyle. This makes for a wonderful partner, but can also pose certain challenges.  So, here are a few things that I have learned throughout the years that might help the Arabian’s reputation, as well as those who may be kindred spirits with one.


Understanding them is paramount
The more one understands animals; the more one loves Arabians.  Again, the Arabians are thinkers; they can reason their way in and out of most situations. I have seen five horses of various breeds and one Arabian running through a pasture, and as they come up to a puddle, some horses will splash right through and look surprised that they got wet, others will jump at the very last second, and the Arabian is most likely to be the one to go around, and this isn’t saying that they don’t like water or jumping, but they make decisions with a reasoning process…they will take the safest, easiest and most comfortable path beyond an obstacle on their own.

So, with this in mind, we as riders must learn to make our horses believe that what we want them to do is the easiest, safest and most comfortable way from point A to point B. For example, it does little good to be heavy handed or rough if your Arabian doesn’t want to keep his headset; sure, it is possible to jerk the reins or go to the spur or crop, and have your horse make a decision out of fear, but then the problem is just going to keep coming back. It makes much more sense to get into his head and figure out a way to make your horse believe that what you want him to do is what he wants to do…this requires light hands, patience and commitment, but in the end, the reward is enormous, because the Arabian will retain information so long as you present it in a way that he can understand.


Clear Communication is key
There is a reason that the Arabian has long been called “The Thinking Man’s Horse”; they require a owner, trainer or rider to have a certain mindset straight out of the gate, and they can size up a handler’s ability and mood quicker than any horse that I have worked with.  



If You Need a Trainer, Find One For your Arabian
I mean no disrespect to all-breed trainers and in fact, some of the best trainers that I have known specialized outside of the Arabian breed, but this was after I had been with breed specific or specialized trainers for years. I always suggest that in looking for a trainer for a novice rider who has an Arabian horse, that they find someone who has a lot of practical experience with the breed. By going this route, you will find that your trainer is used to dealing with the very same things you deal with on a daily basis.


For instance, I watched a trainer at my barn working with a girl and her Arabian horse; the trainer was young and talented, but she was used to working with Quarter Horses. The client’s horse shied at something next to the fence and the trainer went on to spend the next 30 minutes focused on that particular spot near the fence, and the more forceful she became in attempting to get the horse to remain calm and go passed that point without so much as a sideways glance, the more tense the horse became. In this situation, I (or someone who has dealt with the breed for years) would have realized that there are only two possible ways to handle the situation, you can pick a fight or you can just keep moving forward and redirect the horse’s attention to a different exercise. This is true with all breeds, but is much more important with the sensitive Arabian.


Don’t Lose the War Just to Win a Battle
Finally, this is probably the most common advice that I give to people who ask how best to deal with their Arabian horses. The plain and honest truth is that you should not start an argument with an Arabian, you better be willing to give him some slack and redirect him to something he enjoys.  In my very early days of working with Arabian, I can’t tell you how many days I found one little thing to focus on while riding and suddenly what was supposed to be a 45 minute to 1 hour workout turned into a 3 hour battle, and let me tell you that I was never the winner in those situations. The more tense or less focused that I became, the more that my horse fought against me. When he would finally quiet, come into my hands and do what I asked, it wasn’t good enough for me, he had to do it perfectly five more times before I was satisfied and that just didn’t work.  
Less is more with the Arabian; whether you are working on the ground or in the saddle they will bore quickly if we repeat the same exercise or manoeuvre.  If they do 3 good ones move on to a different one otherwise they can shut down and become very annoyed because you are not challenging their mind.


So, if you are dealing with an exercise or a maneuver and your horse is fighting you a little bit, do everything that you can to calm yourself, clear your mind, and “ask” without “telling”, and as soon as your horse comes over to your side even an inch, thank him and move on to something else. Focus on the good things, and always end a workout on a good note, because the Arabian will remember the last thing that you told him during your previous workout as soon as you swing your leg over the saddle the next time that you plan to ride.


In the end, many of these things can be applied to all breeds, but the Arabian horse is quite special and requires a certain amount of thoughtfulness by his trainer and/or rider. He will listen, reason, calculate and make decisions in his head quicker than most horses, and you want those decisions to be the ones that you are looking for. So, the next time that you are out with your Arabian, or you see an Arabian, take a moment to praise his incredible mind and heart instead of assigning stereotypes based upon his breeding.