Legend of the Blood Stained Shoulder

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The Bloody Shouldered Arabian. The Bloody Shouldered Arabian.

The ‘bloody shoulder’ marking has been prized by Arabian horsemen throughout the Middle East for hundreds of years!

Traditionally an Arabian characteristic, the bloody shoulder has been recorded on at least two thoroughbred horses, although this is less of a mystery considering one of the 20 Arabians credited with major influence in the establishment of the English thoroughbred was known as Lord Oxford’s Bloody Shouldered Arabian, imported into England in 1717.

One of the first Australian bloody shoulders was the multi Royal show champion, Arabian stallion, Greylight, who stood at Fenwick Stud, Victoria, who was imported to Australia in utero around 1961. It’s interesting to note that not one of his progeny inherited the legendary markings, further proof of their rarity. Greylight had markings on both sides of his body…a bloody shoulder on his off side, and similar markings on his near-side flank.

Arabian stallion, Greylight (Pat Slater photo). Arabian stallion, Greylight (Pat Slater photo).

For those not familiar with the legend, it goes something like this (although there are are a few variations):

A powerful Sheik over a warlike tribe went riding along in the desert on his favourite horse, a milk-white mare of breathtaking beauty. To be the favourite of such a man, she was wonderful indeed and apart from her beauty, must hav proved herself in battle as a worthy mount for her warrior master.

The Sheik and his mare travelled far into the desert and there, by bad luck, encountered a small party led by a rival chieftain. A battle to the death was inevitable and the scorched silence was broken by the clashing of two razor-sharp blades as the fierce opponents wheeler their horses and struck. On and on the battle raged, for they were evenly matched…fearless fighters and superb horsemen both. Each blade found several marks and each man was wounded. Finally the Sheik on the milk-white mare drove through his opponent’s guard and his sword struck his adversary’s throat.

Silently, his followers wrapped their master’s body in his cloak, draped it across his stallion’s ornate saddle and rode away, leaving the victor swaying on the mare, bleeding from two terrible wounds. His left chest and shoulder were sliced to the bone and there was another cruel gash on the right side of his back, just above the waist. From both wounds welled dark red blood which flowed down the mare’s silky shoulder and flank and dripped on to the sand.

The Sheik felt darkness rushing in and he reeled in the saddle. The little mare began to walk home, slowly and carefully. For a day and a night she continued, picking her way delicately so as not to disturb the precarious balance of her beloved master who slumped in the saddle, his life blood oozing down and away, soaking into the desert sand.

The mare brought him back to camp but his wounds has been mortal and when his followers liften him down, he was dead.

That night, in the quiet desert a little way from the grieving camp, the mare foaled and next morning, the tribe were awestruck to find she has given birth to a colt with chestnut markings that exactly matched the way his dam’s shoulder had been stained by her dying master’s blood.

Legend has it that the dead Sheik arranged with the gods that his mare’s dedication would be commended so that forever after, any descendant of hers who was possessed of outstanding courage or ability would bear the blood stains as a mark of honour.

Legend has it that the dead Sheik arranged with the gods that his mare’s dedication would be commended so that forever after, any descendant of hers who was possessed of outstanding courage or ability would bear the blood stains as a mark of honour.

The markings are deep chestnut while the horse is usually grey (white). Are horses with bloody shoulders related in some way? The more probable cause is the chestnut areas are concentrated aggregations of pigment as part of the normal flea-bitten coat pattern.

Most horses with bloody shoulder markings seem to have some Arabian blood. The horses are born solid colours, and turn grey with the markings appearing around three ore more years of age. As the horse’s coat gets whiter and more flea-bitten, the chestnut markings seem to darken and increase. While the majority of bloody markings seem to appear on the shoulder, they can be on any other area of the body, even the head, and vary in size from small random patches, to large areas of chestnut.

Another well known Australian horse with bloody shoulder markings was show hack, Pink Floyd during the 1970’s. His dam was grey and sire a palomino, although it’s not known if either had any Arabian blood. Floyd was born chestnut, turned rose grey and his markings didn’t start appearing until he was around six years old but when they did show up, they were quite spectacular. He also had an uncanny marking that exactly resembled an arm and handprint on his off side, as though a rider had been draped across his back, similar to the legend although was probably just coincidence.

Unfortunately there’s no good colour photos of Floyd in his later years, he was put down at 13 years of age due to arthritis and melanoma.

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