I don’t intend to start a debate or to compare the strengths and weaknesses of one breed of horse to another. I am sure that anyone knowledgeable of the various breeds of horses will agree that a great many breeds carry at least some Arabian blood, most notably the Quarter horse and Thoroughbred. Arabian horses are known for their intelligence, gentle disposition and remarkable endurance. It is quite possible, that the Arabian is the oldest known breed, dating back perhaps as far as 4,500 years. It is very likely that it was an Arabian that Ishmael rode.
The Arabian is a desert horse selectively bred, by nature, to thrive in the harsh desert climate of the Middle East. Regardless of the color of the Arabian’s hair, the skin is black, which protects the horse from the damaging effects of the desert sun and helps to keep the body temperature cooler. Most Arabians are white or bay in color, though the white is technically classified as a gray. A black Arabian is less common, a multicolored pure Arabian is extremely rare and the ‘bloody-shouldered’ coloring is the most rare of all. A ‘bloody-shouldered’ Arabian is white in color with blood-colored markings across the shoulder and down toward the foreleg. The coloring might be called a roan color, but actually appears to be the color of dried blood.
The Bedouin tribes of Arabia have always cherished their horses and regard the Arabian as being almost divine, a unique creation of Allah. As such, there are many legends surrounding the creation and attributes of this remarkable animal. According to Arabian legend Allah created the horse from the four winds. From the North wind he took spirit, from the South strength, from the East speed and from the West intelligence and bestowed upon this new creature, victory in battle and flight without wings.
For the warring Bedouins, the horse was indeed a worthy ally in battle, not just as a means of pursuit or escape but as a partner and companion as well. The legendary loyalty of the breed to its master, its bravery in battle, its remarkable speed and endurance are unparalleled. These characteristics and the horse’s bond and devotion to the Bedouin warrior, no doubt gave birth to the legend of the ‘bloody-shouldered’ Arabian.
I had not heard of this legend and was intrigued with the story as told to me by Australia’s internationally known horsewoman, Carol Heuchan. The story is centuries old, passed by word of mouth from generation to generation. The nomadic, Bedouin warriors prized their horses, especially the mares, above all other possessions even their wives and children. Their horses often shared the tents of their masters. Among the Bedouin, it was the mares that were used in battle. Because the mares have a more calm nature, they were less likely to alert the enemy to their presence.
Here is the legend of the bloody-shouldered Arabian:
Many, many years ago a young Bedouin warrior possessed an Arabian mare of remarkable courage and intelligence. She had carried her master into many battles and had fought to victory with him. Their bond was so great that it was not even necessary that he command her, so aware was she of his needs that she would respond without her masters direction. The mare was truly a prize and the young warrior searched among all the neighboring Bedouin tribes for a suitable stallion for her offspring. After a long and extensive search a suitable stud was found and the mare carried a foal.
While the mare was with foal, the young warrior was engaged in a fierce battle and was severely wounded. The mare, knowing her master was injured carried him away from the battle but was pursued by the enemy. Being heavy with the foal, she struggled to balance her wounded master, who clung helplessly to her back, while outdistancing her pursuers. As the enemy lagged behind she drove onward across the desert toward the tents of her master.
After several days without rest, feed or water, the mare arrived at her master’s tent. His family rushed forward to retrieve the wounded warrior who laid slumped forward across her shoulders. They untangled the mares twisted mane from her master’s fingers and gently pulled him from her back, but he was already dead. The mare collapsed in the sand and it was then that the family noticed the dark stain across her shoulder where her master’s blood had poured.
The family praised the mare’s courage and strength and thanked her for bringing their loved one home. They buried the young warrior and cared for the mare in the days remaining before she was to foal.
They gave her the best of care and fed her the finest grain they had. They washed her and brushed her and watched over her day and night.
When her foal was delivered it was a fine, strong colt and bore a mark on its shoulder the color of blood, the same mark that had been on the mares shoulder where her masters blood had run.
The family believed that the mark was a sign from Allah that bestowed a special blessing upon the tribe and was a mark of courage and greatness for that particular line of Arabian horse.
According to Carol, on extremely rare occasions a foal will be born that carries that same mark across their shoulders. At this time, there are known to be only four ‘bloody-shouldered’ Arabians.
Today, the Arabian horse is the top ranked horse for endurance events. Some call them beautiful others think they are not. The Arabian certainly has a unique look and is easily recognizable by its distinctive head and arched neck. I believe they are noble animals, worthy of the praise they are given by their human partners. As for the legend, from one who loves a good story, if it isn’t true, it should be.
Tim Nolting is a freelance writer, cowboy poet and entertainer. For bookings, contact firstname.lastname@example.org