In northern Africa in the direction of the west, the domestic horse is loosing the pure type of the Arabian horse and even the eastern type. This is mostly noticeable in the Barb (Berber) horse whose region begins in Libya, Tripoli, Tunis and reaches as far as Algeria and Morocco, and spreads over the entire Sahara region.
The Barb is somewhat taller build than the desert Arabian, on longer legs and measures on the average 150 cm (close to 15 hands) in the withers. The head of the Barb is less refined, seldom straight, mostly bulged either in the forehead only, or in the entire head profile (Roman nose/head). The eyes are smaller, not round but more egg shaped and the nostrils are not round shaped and wide like in the Arabian. The face structure is longer and the jaws are not as wide as by the Arabian horse. The Barb’s neck is longer, lower set and often bent backwards (U-neck/Elk neck). The back is longer, with sloping hindquarters and lower set tail. It is quite obvious, considering the characteristics in the shape of the head that the Barb’s blood is mixed with the western horse.
It can be assumed, that during the Vandal’s lordship over North Africa in the 5th and 6th century A.D., the Roman nosed type of the western horse came to these regions and mixed with the domestic horse of the Tarpan type who was bred domestically from the times of antiquity. The later arriving Moors, after expelling the Vandals, came in contact with this horse and found him to be strong and of excellent endurance. They decided not to exclude this horse, but by breeding him to the Arabian horses and constant exposure to the desert climate they have actually refined him into what we know today as the Barb horse.
In gallop, the Barb can evenly compete in speed and distance with the Arabian horse in the Sahara desert terrain. The African Bedouins knew well, the quality of their desert horses and protected them from mixing with the Arabian and the English Thoroughbred. Only on the coastlines of North Africa, the Barb was crossbred with the Arabian to be more refined.
Barb stallions in festive attire on the way to Tripoli (1926)
Typical bulged forehead and dished nose of the Arabian type Barb
Generally there are recognized several forms of the Barb horse. The original and most purebred Barbs could be found in central parts of the desert in Tripoli, Tunis and Algeria. The “Roman nose” type Barbs could still be found in Tripoli, while on the coastlines was found mostly the Arabian type. In the mountain parts of Algeria and Morocco is bred a smaller type of Barb named “Spahis”, whose most treasured qualities are his endurance over longer distances and his “sure foot” on a rocky terrains. The barb was a military horse of known endurance and that is why the military offices in those countries supported his breed. However, after WW II many of these horses were sold out and thereafter the status of the purebred Barb significantly declined and it would be rare to see them at any military friendly colleges; today we mainly speak of a North African horse.