The ‘bloody shoulder’ marking has long been prized among those who love the Arabian horse. Steeped in legend, the marking is said to be a sign of honor and sacrifice, though the story through which it first arose varies slightly with each retelling.
Top Horse’s account reads: “A powerful Sheik over a warlike tribe went riding along in the desert on his favorite horse, a milk-white mare of breathtaking beauty. To be the favorite of such a man, she was wonderful indeed and apart from her beauty, must have 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 wheeled (I’m guessing this is supposed to be “wheeled”.) 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 lifted 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 honor.”
All gray horses are born solid colors, as they become progressively whiter with age, chestnut flea bites and the bloody shoulder markings appear as they mature. While the majority of blood marks seem to appear on the shoulder they can also be found on the flank, neck, body and even the head, and vary in size from small random patches, to large splashes.
One example of a bloody shoulder marking in today’s Arabian horse can be seen on the much loved stallion, WH Justice (Magnum Psyche x Vona Sher-Renea), bred by Wendell Hansen. His blood mark covers much of his neck, and part of his face. (Pictured right. Photo by April Visel.)
Jackpot Holly (pictured above), bred by Nellie and Roy Jackson in 1974, was a mare that also sported a unique blood marking, this time across her shoulder, neck and jaw. Holly was the inspiration for the Breyer model ‘Freedom, the Legend of the bloody shoulder Arabian,’ after artist Kathleen Moody was intrigued by her markings and approached Breyer with the idea of a bloody shoulder model.
The legend of the blood mark lives on, brought forward from the desert to the Arabian horse of today.
Who is your favorite horse with a blood mark? Leave your answer and a picture in the comments. We’d love to see them.