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Big Book of Breeds
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[ INDEX ] Equine Type: Horse Breed: Barb   [ PREV ] [ NEXT ]
The Barb (also known as 'North-African Barb' and 'Berber Horse') is an Oriental hotblood breed, that is known for its exceptional endurance. It should not be confused with the Abaco-Barb, Barb-Arab, and Spanish-Barb, which are different breeds. In addition, while the Barb is termed as an 'oriental hotblood', it originated in the 'south' (Africa) and not in the 'east' (Asia). It is one of the few horse breeds that weren't influenced by Arabian blood.

Many millennia ago, the coastline and lands of northwest Africa, a region called Maghreb, were the complete opposite of the blazing and desolate seas of sand that we know today. Back at the time, northwest Africa was a lush welcoming region with forests, rivers, and, most importantly, plenty of pastures and lakes, thus comprising a heaven for horses. It was in this place that the ancestors of the Barb appeared at some point.

It is unknown whether these ancient horses originated at this place, or were brought there by humans, nor whether they descended from the prehistoric horses in Asia (from which the Arabian subsequently developed), or were developed from a different prehistoric ancestor.

What is known is that the greatest factor that played a role in the development of the Barb was the climate and environment. Over the course of several millennia, the pasturelands of northwest Africa gradually transformed into a huge barren desert, known today as the 'Sahara Desert'. Horses had to become frugal and to adapt to this new environment, which lacked water and vegetation. Out of these horses, the Barb was born.

A horse of great endurance and speed, and sufficient strength and agility, the Barb was a superior horse for crossing the desert. The Barb was first introduced to Europe during the first decade of the 8th century, when Muslims from northwest Africa, aided by the Berber tribes who were riding Barb horses, invaded Spain. The Muslims proceeded to take over the Iberian Peninsula, and ruled the region until the 15th century.

During the Muslim reign, many Barb horses were brought to Europe, and this new breed attracted the attention of Iberian horse breeders. Being originated at the Barbary Coast, this new horse became known as 'Barb.'

Barb horses were crossed with Andalusian horses, and out of these crosses emerged the Spanish Barb. Barb blood was also used to refine and improve the Andalusian breed itself (see 'Andalusian'), which in itself proceeded to serve as an ancestor for additional Iberian breeds. This is how the blood of the Barb ended up influencing all of the breeds developed in the Iberian Peninsula, to a certain degree.

By the end of the 15th century, the Muslims fell from power and retreated from the Iberian Peninsula. The end of their reign marked a new chapter in the story of the Barb breed, which was about to become one of the most influential breeds in the entire world, being rivaled only by the Arabian (see 'Arabian').

This chapter starts with the discovery of South America, which led the Spanish monarchy to send conquistadors to explore and conquer the new land. The conquistadors brought with them horses of various Spanish origins, including Barbs and Spanish-Barbs. These horses served the breeding stock from which various South-American and, later on, North-American breeds were developed. Today, most (if not all) American breeds have some degree of Barb blood in them.

Back in Europe, in 17th or 18th century England, a Barb stallion called Curwen's Bay was crossed with native British mares, as part of the development of the world-famous Thoroughbred. This made the Barb one of the three founding breeds behind this all-time legendary racing breed (the two other breeds were the Turkmen and the Arabian, see 'Thoroughbred' for more info).

With the constant development of new and improved breeds, the popularity of the Barb in Europe and the Americas declined. It remained popular in the Maghreb region, however, and several subtypes of this breed were created, some of which still exist today. The most famous of them is the Moroccan type, and after him the Algerian type.

Nevertheless, as the centuries progressed, the numbers of Barb horses gradually declined in Africa, largely because Barbs were crossbred with Arabians to form the more-athletic Barb-Arab (see 'Barb-Arab'). Today it exists in small numbers in the southern regions of the Maghreb, but exists nonetheless.

Barb horses are primarily used for recreational riding and for fantasias: events where a group of warriors in traditional clothing riding horses, mostly Barbs or Barb-Arabs, equipped with decorated tack, and charge with their horses in a straight line, at the end of which they shoot the air.


The conformation of Barb horses is characterized by a long head with a wide forehead that tapers into a small muzzle with large nostrils, the profile is either straight or convex, the jaws are large, but the head itself is slender. The ears can have a slight curve inwards. The neck is arched and muscular, and is connected to prominent withers. The back is short, the croup is sloping, and the tail is extremely low-set. The legs are long, and the hooves are small yet strong. The mane and tail are often silky, but can sometimes be slightly wavy.

Coats & Height:

Colors: usually grey or bay in color, but black, brown, and chestnut exist as well.
Additionals: flaxen, sooty. Coat is always solid.
Height: 13.1hh to 15.2hh

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