Barb horse

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Berber warriors show.JPG
Berber warriors mounted on Barbs
Country of originNorth Africa

The Barb or Berber horse (Berber: ⴰⵢⵢⵉⵙ ⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖ; Arabic: حصان بربري‎) is a northern African breed with great hardiness and stamina. The Barb generally possesses a fiery temperament and an atypical sport-horse conformation, but nevertheless has influenced modern breeds.


The Barb is a light riding horse noted for its stamina. It has a powerful front end, high withers, short back, a sloping croup, and carries its tail low. It is hardy with clean legs and sound hooves. It does not have particularly good gaits, but gallops like a sprinter. It was used as breeding stock to develop racing breeds such as the Thoroughbred, American Quarter Horse, and Standardbred.[1]

The predominant color is gray, but bay, black, chestnut, and brown horses are also found. The Barb stands 1.47–1.57 metres (14.2–15.2 hands) at the withers.[2]

Breed history[edit]

The earliest mention of the Barb is found in Strabo's Geography according to whom the Moors and other Berber tribes rode horse "which are small, but spirited and tractable",[3] the Moors were reputed horsemen in Roman times, and Isidore of Seville (orig. XII 1,55) called ''mauro'' the horse from ''Mauretania'', as the horse ''Asturicus'' from ''Asturia'' was called ''asturco''. There is controversy over whether the Barb and Arabian horses share a common ancestor, or if the Arabian was a predecessor of the Barb. Today the several varieties of Barb include the Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian.

When imported to Europe, the Barbs were sometimes mistaken for Arabians, although they have distinctly different physical characteristics. The Europeans saw that their size was similar and their handlers were Berber Muslims who spoke Arabic. An example of such confusion is that the Godolphin Arabian, one of the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred, was an Arabian stallion but, due to his Moroccan origins, was referred to as the "Godolphin Barb."[4]

The Barb is now bred primarily in Morocco, Algeria, Spain and southern France. Due to difficult economic times in North Africa, the number of purebred Barbs is decreasing. The World Organization of the Barb Horse, founded in Algeria in 1987, was formed to promote and preserve the breed.

West African Barb[edit]

The West African Barb developed from the Barb and is found in West Africa. It is small, most representatives are gray, and the breed is used for both riding and draft work.[5]

Influence on other breeds[edit]

A chestnut Barb horse standing on a sandy lot
Conformation of the Barb

The Barb may have had more influence on the racing breeds throughout the world than any other horse except the Arabian.[6] Berber invaders from North Africa took their horses, the forerunners of today's Barbs, to Europe from the early eighth century onwards. Once established with settlers on the Iberian peninsula, the Barb horse was bred with Spanish stock under 300 years of Umayyad patronage to develop the Andalusian (and the Lusitano).[6] The Andalusian was highly prized and it was used for major development stock in horse breeding all over the world.[7]

Historical references to "Barbary" horses include Roan Barbary, owned by King Richard II of England in the 14th century. The Barb horses were valued by other Europeans, including the Italians, whose noble families established large racing stables.[6] During the 16th century, Henry VIII purchased a number of Barbary horses from Federico Gonzaga of Mantua, importing seven mares and a stallion.[6] He continued to buy other Barbs and Andalusians. After the Royal Stables were sold off under Cromwell, private owners in England continued to value the Barbs and used them to develop the Thoroughbred.[6] The influence of the Barb is also evident in the Argentinian Criollo, the Paso Fino, and many other Western Hemisphere breeds, including the American Quarter Horse, the Mustang and the Appaloosa.

Despite its importance as a progenitor of other breeds, the Barb has less renowned than the Arab, possibly because it was considered a less attractive-looking breed. In other important qualities, the Barb has the same stamina and endurance, the same ability to thrive on meager rations, and the same sure-footedness and speed over short distances. The Barb also was valued for its "strong, short-coupled body, perfect for collection— the posture that makes weight-bearing easiest for the horse—its eagerness to learn and its gentle nature."[6] Because of these characteristics, beginning in the 16th century, the horses were also trained for dressage, in Paris and other European capitals. Sixteenth-century and later portraits of royalty on horses frequently portrayed the latter in dressage positions.[6]

Abaco Barb[edit]

Capella the Abaco Barb Breyer Horse

The Abaco Barb, or Abaco Spanish Colonial Horse, was a strain of Colonial Spanish Horse found on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. The Abaco Barb was said to be descended from horses that were shipwrecked on the island during the Spanish colonization of the Americas and the Caribbean. The population of wild Abaco Barbs that ran free on Great Abaco once numbered over 200 horses. The breed was found in colors that were different from those of the European/African Barb, including pinto (including the relatively uncommon splashed white), roan, chestnut, black and other colors. They ranged between 1.32 to 1.47 m (13.0 to 14.2 h).

Beginning in the 1960s, several events led to a decline of the breed, including the paving of new roads through or near their territory, which caused more conflict with humans; dogs brought in to chase boars going after horses instead, resulting in hunters shooting horses, and wild dogs killing foals.[8]

Some Abaconians intervened and brought the three surviving horses to a farm near Treasure Cay. The herd increased temporarily to 35. After 1992, however, over half the horses died and no foals were born in 1998. (There was one spontaneous abortion and one fetus aborted for unknown reasons.) By early 2010, the herd had diminished to six. As of August 2013, only one horse remained: one mare inside the preserve. That mare died in July 2015, but tissue has been preserved for a cloning project. [9]

An Abaco Barb stallion, Capella, was the model for a 2005 Breyer horse sculpture honoring the breed, as part of a broad-based publicity campaign to build support for preservation.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reddick, Kate, Horses. New York: Ridge Press, 1976, p. 60.
  2. ^ Edwards, Elwyn Hartley (1994). The Encyclopedia of the Horse, London: Dorling Kindersley ISBN 0-7513-0115-9 p.67
  3. ^ "Perseus Under Philologic: Str. 17.3". Retrieved 2019-01-28.
  4. ^ Wentworth, Judith Anne Dorothea Blunt-Lytton. The Authentic Arabian Horse, 3rd ed. George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1979.
  5. ^ "Breeds of Livestock - West African Barb Horse — Breeds of Livestock, Department of Animal Science". Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Jane Waldron Grutz, "The Barb" Archived 2007-06-06 at the Wayback Machine, Saudi Aramco World, January–February 2007, Retrieved 23 February 2011
  7. ^ Nissen, p. 41.
  8. ^ a b "Preserving the Abaco Barb horse", Retrieved February 23, 2011.
  9. ^ "The Current Status of the Abaco Spanish Colonial Horse", ArkWild. Retrieved September 9, 2016.

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