Horse breeds are like wine: the pure vintage of a single kind of grape, beautifully grown and tended, is a thing of beauty. But some very fine wines are blends, and to ignore them would be to diminish the richness of the feast. By analogy, crossing horse bloodlines has brought many unexpected delights. Genetically, this is in the very nature of hybridization, which makes possible at a cellular and molecular level some interactions between genes that would not otherwise have arisen. The release of superior qualities by crossing horses of different subspecies, that originated in far-sundered parts of the world, is a phenomenon called by biologists “hybrid vigor” and by breeders a “good nick.”
As horse breeding evolved in different areas of the Old World, mankind was also perfecting another complex technology – shipbuilding and navigation. When people realized that horses could be loaded aboard boats, the possibilities for trade and conquest expanded mightily. For where roads were nonexistent or mountain ranges blocked the way, warriors could arrive with their mounts by boat like Agamemnon’s soldiers in The Iliad.
Already some 3,100 years ago, from home ports at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, mariners set out to explore unknown lands to the west. Loading their horses into open-hulled boats little larger than canoes, they set out for the “pillars of Hercules” – the Straits of Gibraltar that mark the boundary between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Making perhaps 50 miles a day, these seamen-trader-warriors crept westward along the coastline of North Africa, sailing or plying their oars by day, and hauling the boats up onto the beach at night. Thus by slow increments they at least reached Gibraltar and, still clinging to the shoreline, worked their way northward up the Atlantic coast of Iberia to the Galician headlands. From there they set off on daring over-water journeys to reach the peninsulas and islands which stood, for them, at the ends of the Earth: Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, and Ireland.
To all these places they brought stallions of Afro-Turkic extraction (Fig. 6). These horses were not Arabians, for the Arabian, although it too derives from the Afro-Turkic subspecies, is exclusively the product of Bedouin taste and cultural values which came into being only after their conversion to Islam in the 7th century of the current era. The mariners who first established forts and trading colonies in Iberia, the British Isles, western France and Ireland lived before the time of Solomon, more than 1,700 years before Mohammed or the creation of the Arabian breed.