I am finally going to write about a horse movie! One of my favorites is Hidalgo which was inspired by Frank Hopkins and his tale about participating in the “Ocean of Fire” race across Arabia in 1891 with his Mustang Paint named Hidalgo against the native desert Bedouins and their purebred Arabian horses. Hopkins’ story has come under scrutiny as there is very little evidence to support his claims. According to his accounts, he raced his Mustang Paint against a hundred Arabian horses across 3,000 miles of desert along the Persian Gulf and the borders of modern day Iraq and Syria. He won the race on the 68th day, 33 hours ahead of his nearest competitor. I’ll let everyone come to their own conclusions on whether Hopkins’ credibility has been tarnished by cynical naysayers or he was just full of horse s**t.
No offense towards Mustangs, but the real stars of this movie were the desert Arabians. If you were going to choose a breed to ride across a massive desert, you would be wise to choose a horse that has been shaped by this harsh and very unforgiving environment. The Arabian horse was (and still is) a jewel born from the deserts in the Middle East. Islamic stories claim Allah created the horse from the four winds as he embodies the spirit from the North, strength from the South, speed from the East, and intelligence from the West. Anyone who has been around Arabians for any amount of time can affirm these attributes.
The desert environment has created very unique characteristics in the Arabian breed. All purebred Arabs have dark skin to avoid sunburn, and they have large nostrils and lungs to breath in more oxygen to support their unique cardiovascular system that allows them to sweat and cool off quickly. They also have a more compact and thin structure which allows to them to stay more sound by not putting as much strain and stretch on their tendons.
They also have one less vertebrae in their backs to help them carry heavier loads. Though they maybe a smaller horse breed, standing usually between 14.2 and 15.1 hands, they require less food and water which is essential to them surviving in an arid environment. Many stories prove how well designed these horses are for going the distance in a short amount of time. For example, in Cairo, an Arabian once traveled 90 miles in a record 7 hours and 52 minutes. So going back to Hopkins’ story, I really have a hard time believing that his Mustang would have beaten his nearest Arabian competitor by 33 hours. Very likely, his horse would have been dead from exhaustion long before he would have reached the finish line if he pushed him that hard. A Mustang can very likely outrun an Arabian in a short sprint, but when it comes to desert endurance racing, there’s no debate on who would come out the champion.
Horse endurance racing is still a very active sport all around the globe, but being inspired by this movie, let’s focus on long distance desert racing that is still active in the Persian Gulf. In Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, an annual 125-mile race has occurred every year since 1998 in the Seyh al-Salam desert. Racing around a 19-mile course, think of this as a NASCAR race, but with horses. There are “pit stops” where the horses are hydrated and rested for a time by their support team with extensive veterinary inspections, there are strategies on pace and placement towards the beginning and middle of the race, and then the real push comes towards the end. Only a third of the participants will finish. The horses need to carry at least 150 pounds, so really anyone - man, woman, short, tall - can participate. The race takes about 10 hours to complete at a steady canter, and surprise, surprise, all the horses are Arabians or mostly Arabian.
There are other races done in the Persian Gulf, such as in Qatar where they race 75 miles in about 8 hours. Here is a video showing a race from 2012.
The American Mustang has its own legends and place in the world, but when it comes to running vast distances across deserts, the Arabian reigns.
I am Amy. I love movies, TV, and horses. I grew up with horses and taught kids how to ride during my summer breaks from school. Now I am a country girl living in a city hoping to someday move back into a rural area and own a horse again.