Bedouin society did not change in hundreds of years, but has disappeared from Arabia many decades ago. The life of the nomads is only alive in rudimentary form today, nevertheless it still influences the societies of the Arab countries to a very great extant. The Bedouin heritage, today a major factor in world politics (although not apparent to many), encompasses the Bedouin horse. It has made a triumphant advance around the world during the last century and has found new homes on all continents. But it has become a refugee , although a glorious one (Paraskevas), even in its former home countries. At the same time, the love for this horse has established friendships reaching across political and religious frontiers. And while the Arabian horse has performed a transition from war horse to show horse (Brown Edwards), it has retained one of its main attributes: it remained a family horse, a horse that loves man.
We cannot turn back the time and make good the loss of knowledge and genetic resources that came along with the decline of horse breeding in Arabia with the end of Bedouin society. The breeders of today face many unsolved questions and new challenges that will be discussed in this book. The Bedouin horse is in a sense a “living fossil” of a past time, outliving its origin, but in the threat of changing significantly. We have the obligation to preserve it, a task, not to be regarded an easy one.
Understanding of the Arabian horse begins with understanding of the Bedouin world, the cradle of the Arabian horse. This is more or less a Semitic background. It is most interesting to note that the isolation within the desert landscape was the main factor to preserve the Semitic phonetic (Khella), as well as the nomad society. It seems obvious, that also the Bedouin horse has been preserved in accordance. Therefore this book is meant to be a journey back in time and place. The story of the Bedouin horse shall be told, but also the story of its breeders, the Bedouin tribes, as we cannot separate one from the other. For our voyage we will rely on rufaqa (sing. rafiq) companions in the desert travel to guide us, i.e. citations from the works of travelers of those past times and historic and scientific research material. By this it is hoped to facilitate the understanding of the fascinating heritage of the Arabian horse, so that the reader may be able to see this breed with new eyes.
“By God!” said he, “the plain is covered with places wherein I rested.”
He had struck the note. I looked out beyond him into the night and saw the desert with his eyes, no longer empty but set thicker with human associations than any city. Every line of it took on significance, every stone was like the ghost of a hearth in which the warmth of Arab life was hardly cold, though the fire might have been extinguished this hundred years. It was a city of shadowy outlines visible one under the other, fleeting and changing, combining into new shapes elements that are as old as Time, the new indistinguishable from the old and the old from the new.
There is no name for it. The Arabs do not speak of desert or wilderness, but a land of which they know every feature, a mother country whose smallest product has a use sufficient for their needs. They know. Or at least they knew in the days when their thoughts shaped themselves in deathless verse, how to rejoice in the great spaces and how to honour the rush of the storm. In many a couplet they extolled the beauty of the watered spots; they sang of the fly that hummed there, as a man made glad with wine croons melodies for his sole ears to hear, and of the pools of rain that shone like silver pieces, or gleamed dark as the warrior´s mail when the wind ruffled them. They had watched, as they crossed the barren watercourses, the laggard wonders of the night, when the stars seemed chained to the sky as though the dawn would never come. Amr ul Kais had seen the Pleiades caught like jewels in the net of a girdle, and with the wolf that howled in the dark he had claimed fellowship: “Thou and I are of one kindred, and, lo, the furrow that thou ploughest and that I plough shall yield one harvest.” But by night or by day there was no overmastering terror, no meaningless fear and no enemy that could not be vanquished. They did not cry for help, those poets of the Ignorance, either to man or God; but when danger fell upon them they remembered the maker of their sword, the lineage of their horse and the prowess of their tribe, and their own right hand was enough to carry them through. And then they glorified as men should glory whose blood flows hot in their veins, and gave no thanks were none were due.
This is the temper of verse as splendid of its kind as any that has fallen from the lips of men. Every string of Arab experience is touched in turn, and the deepest cords of feeling are resonant. …Born and bred on the soil of the desert, the singers of the age of Ignorance have left behind them a record of their race that richer and wiser nations will find hard to equal.
Gertrude Bell in “The Desert and the Sown” 1907