Genetic study of Arabian horses challenges some common beliefs

Arabian horse by Samantha Brooks, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of animal sciences.

by Cornell University | June 2020

A study involving Arabian horses from 12 countries found that some populations maintained a larger degree of genetic diversity and that the breed did not contribute genetically to the modern-day Thoroughbred, contrary to popular thought.

An international team of scientists was led by the University of Florida’s Samantha Brooks, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of animal sciences; Cornell University’s Doug Antczak, the Dorothy Havemeyer McConville Professor of Equine Medicine at the Baker Institute for Animal Health; and Andy Clark, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor in Cornell’s department of molecular biology and genetics.

“The Arabian horse has a special mystique due to the long recorded history of the breed. Arabian horse breeders, in particular, know their horse’s bloodlines many generations back.” — Samantha Brooks

The group collected and examined DNA samples from 378 Arabian horses from Qatar, Iran, UAE, Poland, USA, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark and Canada. The research, published June 16 in the journal Scientific Reports, was conducted over an 8-year period, beginning in 2014 before Brooks made the move from Cornell to UF. The process was a lot of effort, she said, in part due to traveling to collect the Arabians’ blood and hair samples, as well as natural delays in working with international colleagues to collect and ship other samples.

The samples were anonymized for data analysis purposes, except to note the horse’s location and categorizing them as endurance competition, flat course racing or show horses. The data set was also expanded using information from past studies on other breeds, which included Thoroughbreds, Persian Arabian, Turkemen and Straight Egyptians.

“The Arabian horse has a special mystique due to the long recorded history of the breed,” Brooks said. “Arabian horse breeders, in particular, know their horse’s bloodlines many generations back. What we found was that in the area where this breed originates—likely the near East region, but we don’t know exactly—there’s a healthy level of diversity. This is particularly evident in populations from Bahrain and Syria, which suggests these are some pretty old populations.”


The horse is prized for characteristics like heat tolerance and endurance, as well as its unique appearance, with a dish-shaped facial profile, wide-set eyes, an arched neck and a high tail carriage. It has been exported from its ancestral homeland for centuries, with some modern lineages drawn strictly from these smaller genetic pools, giving the breed a reputation for inbred disorders. While this was true for some groups they tested, Brooks noted, they also found remarkable diversity when considering the breed as a whole.

Brooks contrasted the discovery of more diverse populations with the samples they received from racing Arabians. Another longstanding myth says that the Arabian contributed genetically to the modern Thoroughbred, but the racing Arabians’ DNA told a different story.

What we found in these samples was not that much Arabian ancestry was part of the Thoroughbred line, but the opposite: that Thoroughbred DNA exists in most of the modern racing Arabian lines.” — Samantha Brooks

“What we found in these samples was not that much Arabian ancestry was part of the Thoroughbred line, but the opposite: that Thoroughbred DNA exists in most of the modern racing Arabian lines, indicating a more recent interbreeding within this group,” Brooks said. “I can’t speculate on the how or why, but this is clearly the story the DNA is telling us.”

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FEATURED IMAGE SOURCE: Arabian horse by Samantha Brooks, UF/IFAS Assistant Professor of Animal Sciences, University of Florida.

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Texas company clones famous rodeo horse

Prometea grazing with her "dame", the first cloned horses.

By Matthew Kinchla, ABC News Channel 7 ( June 10th 2020) — AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — There is no question, the bond between human and animal is special. However, humans typically outlive their favorite pet, their best animal worker, or even their best racer. One Texas organization is making it possible through cloning, to keep that relationship going.

Viagen Pets out of Cedar Park has been cloning animals since January 2002. They’re known for cloning horses, livestock, and even pets.

“Science has come a long way since ‘Dolly the Sheep’.”


“The common bond between all of our clients that are cloning their pets, or horse even, is this unique relationship that they have had with that animal and if you have never had that relationship with a dog or a cat or a horse then you may not understand why you would do this,” Viagen Client Service Manager Melain Rodriguez said. “I know me myself, I have had lots of animals over the years and there is always that one.”

Rodriguez added from the client’s perspective, it’s very easy. All you have to do is take your dog to the vet.

How do you clone a horse? Cells are taken from the donor animal. In the case of a horse, typically from a ear or the chest and implanted in an unfertilised egg, which has had its own DNA removed. An electric pulse causes the two to fuse together and also starts cell division.


“It is a very simple biopsy procedure that any veterinarian can do and then those tissue samples will come back to our lab and we will grow and culture millions of cells from these tissues and each of these cells contains the complete DNA for that animal,” Rodriguez said.

Then they can simply freeze the cells and keep them stored for years to come.

One animal that recently was successfully cloned was a famous rodeo calf roping horse named Topper.

“Those cells were preserved years ago when that animal died and so this is an example of an animal that essentially sort of comes back in a new form,” said Rodriguez. “The same DNA from Topper is in this newborn foal. Now, he is going to have to have the same training that the original Topper did but a lot of that performance and drive is genetically linked.”

The cloning process varies upon species. The initial step of preserving the cell line costs $1,600. It costs $150 a year to store the cells, and that number is taken out of the total cost.

The cloning for a horse is $85,000. It costs $50,000 for a dog and $35,000 for a cat. Read more »

Though cloning is allowed within most horse breed registries, it’s banned for racing thoroughbreds and quarter horses. Even so, thoroughbreds and quarter horses are regularly cloned and participate in disciplines such as dressage, polo and rodeo.

The horse is the seventh species to be cloned.

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Prometea, first cloned horse. © Boehringer Friedrich Information (extracted from IPTC Photo Metadata).


The birth of the world’s first cloned horse was announced in 2003. The healthy female Haflinger foal – named Prometea – was born to her genetically identical surrogate mother on 28 May 2003 in Italy. The breakthrough followed the cloning of a mule earlier in 2003. New Scientist »

By chance, the same mare that donated the cells ended up serving as the only surrogate mother out of nine mares who went to term. In effect, the mare gave birth to her identical twin. Chicago Tribune »

Prometea is 11 years old (according to a 2014 article), Clones: Where are they now?” »


Cedar Park company ViaGen cloning favorite pets »

• How do you clone a horse?, Horse and Hound »


Previous posts on cloned horses »


Cloned Horses Have Quietly Become a Thing. Should They Be Allowed to Compete?“, ROBB REPORT, by Nina Fedrizzi, Dec. 17, 2019

Battle of the clones: when will a replica horse win Olympic gold?“, CNN, Feb. 20, 2015 »

Cloned horses can now compete in the Olympics, SLATE Magazine, by Will Oremus, Jul. 6, 2012

Resources updated Jun. 15, 2020 6:40 pm