Like so many of us, I got my early impressions of the Arabian from reading all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, so that I erroneously pictured them as 17 hand giants. Then, in about 1954, when I joined a local 4-H Club, our club leader, Harold Manners, raised Arabs in Shelburne Falls, MA, and I got to see the real thing. What I remember most vividly from those visits was a blind broodmare, who would locate her foal because Harold had a bell hanging around its neck that the dam could hear.
Through my early Western, and Morgan, and 100 mile trail ride years, I never remember riding an Arabian, although I admired them from afar, and it wasn`t until sometime in the 1970s that I rode various Arabs in eventing clinics. I wouldn`t say that Arabians are very common in eventing, partly because they are too smart and “self preservationist” to blindly leap into the unknown! Someone described her first ride on an Arab, down a straight dirt road, as “pole bending without the poles”, as the little monster shied from right to left at every imagined danger. Steve Rojek, an internationally famous endurance rider, and long time Arab rider, breeder, and trainer, describes the Arabian as, “The only breed which, when you sit in the middle, both ends go up!”
In 1997, Lana Wright invited me to ride Zion, a 14.1 hand grey Arabian in the Carolina 100 mile endurance race. Not having a clue what I was in for, I blythlysaid, “Sure, why not?” At midnight, in cold, pouring rain, every known, (and a few unknown) body part screaming in agony, I finished my first one day 100 mile race. So, naturally, I wanted to buy an Arabian and do more endurance racing, sane, rational thinking never having been one of my strengths.
I`ve owned four Arabs, and ridden many more since then, and for sheer toughness and true grit and efficiency of travel, nothing I`ve ridden has come close. I`ve ridden Arabians in 2,300 miles of endurance racing, finished seven one day 100 mile races, and at age 63, I fulfilled one of those “bucket list” dreams, by finishing the Tevis Cup in 2004, on Rett Butler, an Arabian great grandson of Bask, that I bought from Tammy Robinson, in Saugus, California.
The Arabian breed, like the Morgan, the American Saddlebred, and a few others, has been basically split between “show” usage and sport usage, and those two worlds don`t have much in common with one another. The “park” riders want high knee action, use heavy shoes, long shank bits, and create “animation” by frightening the horses with whips and other devices. I`m not a fan of that world. The Arabians I admire are the ones who will give you their heart and soul, mile after mile, in the cold Carolina rain, or on high canyon walls under a blazing California moon.
Arabian blood from centuries ago runs in the veins of most modern horses. What greater gift could we want?