ROSH PINAH, Israel — Triple Crown neighed agreement with his handler, his proud sorrel head and tail held high.
"This horse came from the Middle East and has returned to the Middle East," said Gideon Raski, passing his hand over Triple Crown's huge but graceful body.
"He is the true Arab horse. He'll go anywhere."
Raski, 54, is a burly, mustached horseman who has spent his life traversing with Bedouins the green hills of northern Israel and the bare sand dunes of the Negev.
Before Israel became a state, he rode as a shomer, an armed guard, protecting burgeoning Jewish settlements against Arab gangs. He is a fourth-generation inhabitant of Rosh Pinah, a pioneer settlement north of the Sea of Galilee.
"I grew up with horses," he said. "There is nothing like an Arab horse."
Bones and paintings found at Megido in northern Israel indicate that King Solomon's 20,000 horsemen rode Arab--often called Arabian--horses. So did Napoleon's horsemen, Raski said.
"A rodeo horse simply does not compare. The trend in the United States today is to use Arab horses to work cattle."
Five years ago, Raski, a cattle breeder in his own right, turned his passion for horses into a successful business, bringing pedigreed Arab horses back to their roots before re-exporting them to the United States.
"We track them down," said Richard Wolfe, a British cowboy turned Israeli and co-owner of Raski's Shatir Stud.
"Often, they are horses in Britain which have been in the family for generations. We look back at their parents and their grandparents before including them in our stud."
Stud books worldwide were closed to Mideast desert horses early this century because of uncertainty about the purity of their blood lines.
"The problem was that a lot of blood was being mixed," Wolfe said. As a result, Arab horse-breeding was concentrated in Britain and the United States.
"But something happens when we bring them back from Britain. They come here and blossom," Wolfe said, pointing to Triple Crown's hoofs and shiny coat.
Together, he and Raski used Triple Crown to show what makes a noble Arab horse different--"a wide space between the eyes (to) broaden the horse's vision," a "dished" muzzle and clearly defined cheekbones for easier breathing, a strong long neck to maintain balance.
"Each element of beauty has a practical purpose," Raski said.
"The deep shoulder at a right angle frees the movement of the legs and lengthens the stride," Wolfe said. A well-set tail--"an Arab horse carries its tail like a proud flag."
Above all, the Arab horse has a short back with two fewer vertebrae than other horses.
"A shorter back is a stronger back," Wolfe said.
Shatir Stud, named after Raski's first stallion, numbers 40 Arab horses, all from the Crabbit line. Taken to Britain at the beginning of the century by Wilfred Blunt, the Crabbit line "has proven to be the true Arab horse," Wolfe said.
At prices ranging from $30,000 to $200,000, Shatir Stud focuses on export.
"This is a new philosophy in Israeli economic thinking," said Avital Kitalan, an associate of Raski's.
"We no longer have to shnur (beg) for money," she said, referring to Israel's frequent requests for financial contributions from foreign Jewish communities. "Until now, Jews gave money without getting anything in return. Now, they can contribute hard currency dollars by buying a horse."
Renewed breeding of Arab horses in the Mideast could also serve as a bridge between Israelis and Arabs, Raski said. He recalled meeting in Britain last year with Princess Alia, a daughter of Jordan's King Hussein.
"She said she'd like to see cooperation in breeding in the Middle East," he said. "She even knew where Rosh Pinah is. We've invited her to visit our stud."
Wolfe said Jordan and Iraq were among the Arab countries that have begun importing Arab horses for breeding.
"This could be one more facet of the peace process," he said.