Athletic, powerful, fast and magnificent, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Anglo-Arabian. One of the oldest developed breeds in the world, it has its origins in 18th Century France where the foundation studbook featured the Thoroughbred (hence the Anglo) Arabian cross. More recently, reports that the true breed is dying out with no original lineage left has had French enthusiasts scrambling to re-establish the purity of the breed they claim as their own.
Essentially a high level sport horse, the Anglo–Arabian has found its way into endurance, racing, jumping, dressage, carriage driving and cross country. Typically around 15-16hh, it’s a good all-rounder, and thus as equally coveted among enthusiasts for three-day eventing as it is for endurance and the show ring.
What is an Anglo-Arabian? The Anglo-Arabian is considered by many to be a superior athlete, exhibiting the endurance and stamina of the Arabian combined with the larger frame and speed of the Thoroughbred.
As an all-rounder, it’s particularly suited to jumping and endurance but is equally impressive in the show ring and dressage arena. Throughout its history, the breed has also been successful in speed events and has been used in the military.
But it’s not athletic prowess alone that makes for a great athlete, even among horses! Temperament contributes to trainability and as you might have heard, the Anglo-Arabian does not always exhibit the Arabian’s milder manners, making it potentially unsuitable for beginner riders. But while not as calm as the cool Arabian, neither is it as hot headed as the Thoroughbred. It is said to be a spirited, smart and sometimes stubborn horse, but also a very willing performer.
Breed standards: While the studbook breed was being refined in France more than a hundred years ago, breeders experimented to find the best cross and discovered that the offspring from an English Thoroughbred mare to a pureblood Arabian was of a better type than produced by a Thoroughbred stallion to an Arabian mare.
They also determined that the offspring from a 50/50 Anglo-Arabian mating was less favourable than that of a good Anglo-Arabian mare put to a pure Arabian stallion. French studbook records indicate that the best results occurred when purebred Arabian stallions were put over an English Thoroughbred, with the progeny bred then back to a purebred Arabian to yield 75 per cent Arabian genetics and a top quality horse. This led to their accepted breed standard: to be registered as Anglo-Arabian, the horse must have 25 to 75 per cent Arabian genetics.
Anglo-Arabian Characteristics: In appearance, the Anglo is an elegant, balanced saddle horse with highly veined skin and fine hair. Any height or colour is acceptable. In profile, the small, fine head may vary from straight to slightly concave, but should not be overly dished. The neck is long and elegant, with a clearly defined poll, matching arch of throat, and a well–defined wither. Their sturdy, compact body is deep–chested, with a short to medium back strongly coupled to long hindquarters and usually a rounded croup. With good bone structure and strong hooves, they hold condition easily. Overall, the body appearance is a series of curves with no sharp angles.
The Anglo-Arabian’s gait is smooth, with rhythmical, flowing paces. These eye-catching horses are often shown in hand, with manes and forelocks plaited. Although English style show halter or bridles are usually used, Arabian show halters are acceptable.
Anglo-Arabian health and care: Not surprisingly, the Anglo-Arabian is a relatively easy horse to keep in good health, making it a good choice for amateur and professional rider alike. It can be a little hotter than an Arab but it is generally hardy and doesn’t have the health issues common in the more delicate Thoroughbred.
However, Arabians can suffer from a number of genetic defects, some of which may prove fatal, posing a risk for the unsuspecting Anglo-Arabian breeder or buyer. To ensure the progeny is healthy, breeders and buyers of Anglos under the age of five should check the Arabian parents’ genetic profile for these diseases:
- Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disorder
- Cerebellar Abiotrophy
- Lavender Foal Syndrome
- Occipital Atlanto-Axial Malformation
A reputable breeder will be able to confirm the Arabian parent is free from these genetic defects, but it’s always good to check the horse’s profile with the registering body.
Apart from those issues, the positives for the breed are many.
Anglo-Arabians in the spotlight: For more than 70 years Anglo-Arabians have been coveted for their eventing talent, especially in the US and Europe, but they’ve also earned accolades in many other disciplines worldwide. They were first recognised as great athletes, as well as being among the most beautiful of horses, during the 1936 Olympics. Two of the three French silver medal-winning dressage team’s horses were Anglo-Arabians, with Rumania and Portugal collecting showjumping medals, also with Anglos on the team.
And if you were in any doubt at all over the Anglo-Arabian’s prowess, read on:
Aiglonne: In the 1948 London Olympic Games, Captain Bernard Chevalier took out gold for individual eventing on the French bred Anglo-Arabian stallion Aiglonne.
Askar: In the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Anglo-Arabian stallion Askar won gold in the speed and endurance events. He died at the age of 17 but not before siring some top performing Anglo-Arabian progeny.
Tamarillo: UK Anglo-Arabian Tamarillo was one of the world’s most successful eventing horses. His breeding gave him a ‘light and extravagant movement in dressage’ yet he also had speed, endurance and agility in cross-country and in the showjumping ring.
Tamarillo began his illustrious career in 1995 as a three-year-old, when he won Champion Part Bred Arabian at his first national show. By 2002 he had placed second at the Badminton Horse Trials and had gone on to represent the UK at the World Eventing Championships in Jerez.
This was followed in 2004 by a win at Badminton and inclusion on the British Olympic team bound for Athens. In 2005, he came second at Badminton and at Blenheim, before winning the individual silver medal at the European Championships, as well as gold for the British team.
Vassily de Lassos: An Australian equestrian hero, Andrew Hoy finished 4th in the Individual Eventing at the 2018 Wembley Equestrian Games on Vassily de Lassos, his much loved French bred Anglo-Arabian gelding. More recently, the duo helped the Australian equestrian team to qualify for the 2020 Olympics (now postponed to 2021).
Hill Dream: Another super-athlete is Anglo-Arabian Hill Dream, who, as a 15-year-old won two gold medals at the 2010 FEI Junior European Eventing Championships in Bad Segeberg, Germany
Athena: Anglo-Arabians have also made their mark in the US. Californian rider Rita Mason bought Anglo-Arabian filly Athena as a yearling in 1998, thinking the horse might be a good endurance prospect. She never thought for a moment that the little grey filly would one day become a Grand Prix dressage horse.
As a three–year-old, Athena was too young for endurance events, so Rita, a dressage novice, began training them both for the dressage ring. They steadily worked their way up the levels, eventually winning the Fourth Level National Championship in 2004.
Origins of a breed: Where did Anglo-Arabians acquire that winning streak? It’s apparently in the genes! Although there is little to document this, it’s believed that as early as the 1750s, Anglo-Arabians were being bred in Normandy as strong and agile war horses.
It wasn’t until the early 19th Century that a breeding program began in earnest. The breed studbook was officially established in 1833, under the auspices of the French National Stud Service. The breed grew in popularity, and by the end of the 19th Century, the visually appealing and athletic Anglos had found their niche in a variety of disciplines.
Since then, Anglo-Arabians have been used to improve many other breeds, including the German Warmblood.
The Anglo-Arabian in Australia: Arabian horses were introduced into Australia in the earliest days of European settlement. When the Arabian Horse Society of Australasia was established in 1957, its newly formed Studbook catered for purebred, part–bred and Anglo–Arabians. Under the rules of the now Arabian Horse Society of Australia (AHSA), an Anglo-Arabian horse is one derived exclusively from horses of Arabian and Stud Book Thoroughbred breeding, with a minimum 12.5 per cent Arabian blood.
The horse can have two registered Anglo-Arabian parents, or one registered Anglo and one registered purebred Arabian, or be the result of a mating between a registered Thoroughbred and a registered Arabian. It’s these standards that help keep the bloodlines of the breed pure, thus maintaining the qualities of the Anglo-Arabian horse.
According to the AHSA, there are currently just over 4,500 registered Anglo-Arabian mares, with about 3,900 stallions and geldings. One of the most notable breeders is Future Farms in Victoria, a stud specialising in Arabians and Anglo Arabians. Also of note is Warrawee Stud in Lancefield Victoria. Although no longer focussing on the Anglo, in the past the stud produced many show winning Anglo–Arabians horses.
Visit the Arabian Horse Society Australia at www.ahsa.asn.au for more information on the Anglo-Arabian and other Arabian derivative horses.