Study of Arab and Thoroughbred heads
by Susan Crawford
This study was produced during the three years when the artist lived in Oman, and it highlights the relationship between these two exceptionally successful breeds of horse.
The Arab is much older, bred in the Arabian peninsula over a period that has been estimated may be as long as 4,500 years. Regarded by devoted fans as the most beautiful of horses, the Arab has been bred just as much for stamina, spirit, speed and strength as it has for its looks. It is temperamentally good natured and willing, but it was also the war horse of the desert, the breed that carried the cavalry of Saladin against the Crusaders. Even today the ideal height of an Arab is around 15 hands, but despite their comparatively small size and deceptively delicate appearance, Arabs are famous for carrying heavyweights over long distances. This surprising capability has something to do with a significant difference in their physical conformation. All Arabs have a short back, a deep chest, and a denser bone structure than most other breeds, but some also have only 5 lumbar verterbrae rather than 6, and 17 pairs of ribs rather than 18.
Not surprisingly, their qualities have attracted horse breeders wherever Arab horses have travelled around the world, and particularly those areas influenced most by the spread of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries. There is a strong strain of Arab blood in virtually every breed of riding horse in the world today - including the Thoroughbred.
Every registered Thoroughbred in the world today can trace its ancestry back to two Arab stallions and a Barb - the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk. The Arab sires can claim a much greater genetic input to the modern Thoroughbred than the Barbary horse, and in any case the Barb is almost certainly a North African descendent of mostly Arab blood. The Arab sires were put to a wide variety of mares, some English or Irish riding horses,and some Arab, Turkoman or Barb mares. It isn't absolutely clear, but it is thought that all Thoroughbreds can trace their ancestry to less than 74 foundation mares.
The result of this careful breeding policy was a fantastically successful breed with a unique combination of speed and endurance, flexibility, athleticism and downright beauty. Thoroughbreds are capable of producing unbeatable bursts of speed over 5 furlong sprint distances carrying seven stone (perhaps beatable by Quarterhorses bred from Thoroughbred stock) and also jumping 30 fences over a distance of four and a half miles carrying 12 stone in the Grand National. Thoroughbreds make top class eventers, showjumpers, show horses and polo ponies, and just as good hunters and hacks. Every breed has its loyal supporters, of course, but those who fall for a Thoroughbred will cheerfully walk barefoot backwards through hell to prove that this is without doubt the most versatile, exceptional and beautiful of horses.
You can see more of Susan Crawford's paintings and sketches on her website at www.slcrawford.com