What is a Purebred Arabian?

Some purity fanatics claim that the majority of Arabian horses are impure, that they are Partbreds, mongrels, etc. It all boils down that although we are using the same words, i.e. “Purebred Arabian”, we have different underlying definitions in mind. So let’s have a look at the question “what is a purebred Arabian”?

In all this discussion about the “purebred Arabian”, it appears to me, that we are stuck in a Tower of Babylon, with people talking in different languages. If we want to discuss a matter, we have to find a common language. As matters get more complicated we even need to know the connotation of the words, i.e. their different meaning due to the different cultural background of the person using it. In our case, when discussing the “purebred Arabian horse”, the common language is the definition of the terms “breed” and “purebred”, into which we have to look first.

The Western Approach

Our Western concept of “breeds” is quite a recent one and only about 200 years old. In the old days, horse breeds were defined and named by geography, i.e. where they came from, for example the Icelandic Pony, the Frisian, the Arabian horse. Today, horse breeds are defined by their respective breeder’s society (registry). The registry keeps the genealogical records (pedigrees, studbooks) and establishes rules, e.g. for the eligibility to the studbook, for competitions, etc. When a horse is descended from parents that belong to this registry, it is considered to be purebred. The most famous registry is the GSB (General Stud Book), established for the English Thoroughbred. I think it is commonly accepted, that the English Thoroughbred is a “pure breed”. Yet, at the beginning there were some “native English mares”, and some Barb, Turcoman and Arabian stallions. And out of a blend of different breeds emerged a “pure breed”. It is important to understand that “purebred” or “pure breed” is an administrative definition, not a genetic one! And a breed name is just a definition, an agreement among breeders.
So let’s have a look at WAHO (World Arabian Horse Organisation), the umbrella organisation of “Arabian horse registries” worldwide, and its definition of a “purebred Arabian horse”. It says: “A Purebred Arabian horse is one which appears in any purebred Arabian Stud Book or Register listed by WAHO as acceptable.” This list includes today some 63 registries (studbooks) and about 20 more countries that are registering under the supervision of one of these 63. This definition defines that any horse that has been registered in a WAHO-accepted studbook, is by definition a purebred Arabian horse, and therefore the WAHO-definition fits exactly into the purebred-definition as described before. This “circular” definition is accepted by all the 80+ breed registries, and as such by all breeders that breed purebred Arabians as defined by WAHO, which I imagine is around 95 % (or more) of all Arabian horse breeders worldwide.
Many other ideas are present among Arabian horse enthusiasts, for example the notion of “purity of blood” and “tracing in every line to the deserts of Arabia”. I therefore would like to look at this issue by differentiating several different concepts:
a) the “purebred” and “pure breed concept” in modern animal breeding,
b) the “purity of blood concept based on tradition, culture and religion” as transmitted in the Bedouin narrative,
c) the “purity of genes” based on modern genetics.


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