For the longest of time, horses have been the companions of man through days of war and peace. The first known record of horses was the Arabian horse in the vast Arabian deserts, which the Bedouin had prized above all else. Arabian horses then and now are known for their endurance, and could travel long distances at a constant pace- which was important back then, because these horses were used as war horses and for raiding enemy camps. In fact, these fleet-footed creatures were so prized that they were often allowed to sleep in the same tent as families to avoid theft. Due to such an extensive history co-existing with humankind, modern Arabian horses are naturally predisposed to humans and are known for their friendly nature. Nowadays, Arabian horses are bred primarily for endurance racing and leisure riding. These horses are easy to spot, as they have very distinguishing features, such as short cannons, sound feet, and a high tail carriage. Naturally, there have been many famous Arabian horses in history – many of which are directly linked to modern society and the shaping of the world today.
Among the more famous horses are Godolphin Arabian (c. 1724–1753), Darley Arabian (c. 1700-1730) and the Byerley Turk (1680- c. 1706), or perhaps better known as the three leading founding sires for modern-day. Thoroughbred horses (which are known for their speed in horse races and are a mix of Arabian). All three of these horses do not have a name of their own but are named after one of their owners. Marengo is also a famous horse in its time as a war horse.
The ownership of Godolphin Arabian, for instance, changed hands several times before he was finally sold to the second Earl of Godolphin, which has since been immortalized as his namesake. He began his career as a stud after a mare had rejected her original intended mate, and was mated to him instead. Godolphin Arabian’s first offspring, Lath, went on to win the Queen’s Plate nine out of nine times at the Newcastle races, which astounded everyone, not least the second Earl of Godolphin himself, as Arabian horses at the time were considered inferior to European horses. Godolphin Arabian went on to sire about eighty foals, including the famous Man O’ War and Seabiscuit, and lived on as the prized mare of the second Earl of Godolphin.
Darley Arabian, on the other hand, was said to have been an excellent colt owned by the Fedan Bedouins in the Syrian deserts and attracted the attention of Thomas Darley, an English merchant, who happened to pass through. A price for the colt was agreed upon, and the Englishman paid up, only to realize later that the salesman had cheated him out of the mare. The Englishman, having had friends and connections of all sorts, arranged for the colt to be smuggled out of the country, and then had it gifted to his brother. Darley Arabian was believed to be a pure-blood Arabian of the Manak strain, which was known to be one of the speedier strains of Arabian horses. Darley Arabian then went on to achieve a successful career as a stud. One of his most successful pairings was to Betty Leeds, resulting in colts Flying Childers and Bartlet’s Childers, and by further extension, Eclipse.
The last of the three founding sires of thoroughbred horses is Byerley Turk. Despite its name, Byerley is widely believed to be an Arabian horse instead of a Turkoman horse. The origins of this horse are something of a mystery as nobody quite knows where it came. Either way, he began to be Captain Robert Byerley’s warhorse and is said to have helped the Captain escape enemy capture due to its superior speed. Among his more well-known offspring are Black Hearty, a famous horse of Sir George Fletcher, and Grasshopper, who won the Town plate at Nottingham. Byerley Turk’s blood is best continued by his great-grandson, Herod, which was the leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland from 1777 to 1784.
Another famous Arabian horse would be Marengo (c. 1793-1831), the prized war horse of Napoleon I of France. Named after the Battle of Marengo, he had successfully carried Napoleon through various battles successfully, such as the Battle of Austerlitz and the Battle of Wagram, although he was wounded eight times in all these fights. However, as one of the fifty-two horses in Napoleon’s stud, he escaped when the Russians had raided the stable in 1812. Afterwards, Marengo managed to survive the retreat from Moscow, but was captured in the Battle of Waterloo by William Henry Francis Petre, 11th Baron Petre, and sent to England. There, he was sold to Lieutenant-Colonel Angerstein, where he stayed in a stud, but did not sire any well-known offspring, which is why his bloodline died out when he passed away at the ripe old age of thirty-eight. After his passing, Marengo’s skeleton would go through a painstaking restoration process and preserve. The skeleton and two of his hooves are now situated at the National Army Museum situated in London and are available for viewing to the public. One of his other hooves has been turned into a snuff box and can be found at Buckingham Palace, whereas his other hoof was recently discovered in a kitchen drawer of a cottage belonging to the descendants of Marengo’s last owner. The image of Marengo and Napoleon is also eternally captured in a famous portrait by Jacques-Louis David, called Napoleon Crossing The Alps.
All in all, it is hard to imagine a modern civilization without the help of horses. They have helped us travel across long distances, bore humankind on its back through wars, was a source of income for stable and stud owners, was a symbol for royalty and a person of high status and currently provides horseback riding as a form of enjoyment and a competitive sport. There are many other famous Arabian horses than the few examples shown above, but these few are among the more famed horses.
Learn more about Arabian horses in this video: