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.”

Read more at »

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

Fund for Horses Logo

Racehorse reality: Video

Thoroughbred racehorse Nehro. By Rob Carr, Getty Images.

Before you hit the play button be warned there is a lot of swearing, particularly the F bomb.

The content is shocking, then it is not. Hearing about it is one thing. Seeing it is quite another.

In the meantime, backstretch workers have been portrayed since the coronavirus crisis as a bunch of great guys hunkering down with their families at the track, taking care of the horses until better times, trapped heroes. And who’s to say there aren’t some good among them? But we imagine the good ones don’t last long.

This video is sure to open a lot more eyes than any words of ours, or anyone else’s for that matter. Try to watch it all the way through. We know. It’s hard going.

Graphic Content

What racing is like from the horses point of view. Don’t like it, don’t watch.

Fund for Horses Logo

Featured Image

Nehro finished 2nd to Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby, 7 May 2011. Two years later, the 5-year-old horse fell ill the morning of May 4. According to the trainer, his condition “spiraled badly.” Nehro reportedly died of colic on his way to a clinic. Read more »

Related Reading

Asmussen, the torture of racehorses and agonizing death of Nehro, Tuesday’s Horse, 22 March 2014.

Asmussen hires assistant trainer Blassi back, by Joe Drape, New York Times, 20 July 2014.

Cloning horses creates mixed emotions for Thoroughbred industry and advocates

Pieraz-Cryozootech-Stallion. PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images.


Cross-posted from WKYT CBS News Lexington

Pieraz-Cryozootech-Stallion. PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images.
Horse cloning is not a revolutionary idea just coming to the forefront. A representative of cloning company Cryozootech poses with a cloned horse Pieraz-Cryozootech-Stallion, during its presentation to the press 12 May 2006, at Rambouillet. PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images.

People are paying top dollar for foals, who are not bred on the farm but instead inside of a lab.

Cloning has created some controversy, but supporters say there is nothing wrong with it.

Despite technological advancements, many in the thoroughbred industry are more concerned with upholding tradition.

“I think cloning and artificial insemination definitely would take away from the purity of the thoroughbred breed in my opinion,” says Case Clay, President of Three Chimneys Farm in Woodford County. Continue reading >>

So what do you think?

There are some who say it will add even more to the steady flow of horses we do not have enough homes and careers for, and they will go the way of too many others — painfully destroyed at a slaughterhouse.

Others argue that cloning may curb current rampant breeding practices since horses only with a proven track record of success will be reproduced which takes the guesswork and experimentation out of breeding, so many cut the numbers.

Although opinions vary concerning cloned horses, particularly when it comes to durability, it is typically accepted that cloned horses have a shorter lifespan than a naturally bred horse. Could that be a positive effect in a society where breeders and owners get rid of horses either by slaughter or dumping them on someone else to take care of when they no longer want them.

If members of the breed registry the American Quarter Horse Association, who allows artificial insemination but to date not cloning, are anything to go by, there will be more horses than ever.

What are we going to do with all of them? Slaughter always seems to be the method of choice for breeders and owners.

As a leading Kentucky Thoroughbred breeder stated to me in a recent telephone conversation concerning our stand against horse slaughter:

“You people [meaning advocates] don’t live in the real world. It is ridiculous when a horse’s meat is eaten by somebody, somewhere, we don’t take advantage of that fact and utilize this [horse slaughter] as a reasonable means of disposing of unwanted horses. It helps the horse industry and helps feed people. It may not be a great way to get rid of a horse, but it is over with fast enough. I just don’t see what’s wrong with it.”

What about the drugs horses are given that are potentially toxic to humans I asked. His response:

“So what? We’re not eating it. Anyway, you don’t think there’s not a lot of poisonous crap in the food we eat here?”

So there you have it. That is the type of thinking we are dealing with.

Columbus and horses ‘more valuable than gold itself’

Wild Horses Wyoming by Ken Driese

Wild Horses Wyoming by Ken Driese
The American Mustang: Descendants of the horses brought over during Christoper Columbus’ second voyage to America, declared to be “more valuable than gold itself.”

Here is some interesting reading about horses and their influence in colonizing America and blessing us with the horses we know and love today.

Happy Columbus Day!

The Spanish Horse Magazine

Columbus Brings Horses to America

A symbol of prestige, a fighting weapon, irreplaceable work utensil and mode of transport, the Spanish horse covered the Route of the Discovery at about the same time as Christopher Columbus marked it out. More valuable than gold itself, our horse was the object of contraband and speculation.

This is what Justo del Río wrote in his work extracted from his thesis “Beginnings of agriculture and stock farming in the New World”.

Statue of Christopher Columbus. Photo Credit: Wikimedia
Statue of Christopher Columbus. Photo Credit: Wikimedia

The first horses to arrive in America were transported by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage. Before he left on the 25th September 1493, the Catholic King wrote to his secretary, Fernando de Zafra to ask him to choose twenty fighting horses along with five “dobladuras” mares from the members of the “Santa Hermandad” which was in Granada. It was customary among the men of arms to ride a non-castrated horse, meanwhile by “dobladura” we understand a second horse in case the first one goes down.

Now, these were not the only horses which left Andalucia 1493; among the 1,500 people on board, some took their own animals. Andrés Bernáldez, who had a very close relationship with the admiral, took a total of 24 horses and 10 mares. That is to say, nine of these were brought by some of the most important figures accompanying the Discovery. Continue reading >>


Breeding of the Thoroughbred Racehorse

Union Rags. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.
Thoroughbred Racehorse Union Rags. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.

As the religion of Islam spread as far as Spain, the Arabs decided to cross some of their Arabian horses to the lesser quality Spanish horses, and they produced a fantastic light horse called the “jennet.” It was these “jennets” that Christopher Columbus packed on his ships to conquer the New World (America).

The Native Americans, or Red Indians, had never seen horses before, so they believed that Christopher Columbus and his Conquistadors were Gods.

As a result, many were converted to Christianity. Those who did not submit were easily killed by their mounted opponents. However, it was not long before Native Americans caught some of the horses, either those captured in battle or those that swam ashore from some of the ships that had been wrecked and formed wild herds. And in catching them, they tamed and trained them in a fashion very similar to the way that the Bedouins had handled these horses’ forefathers for centuries before.

From these pure horses of the desert came three special horses that have had the greatest impact on the racehorse: The Byreley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian. All three sired great horses and all modern thoroughbreds are descended from them. Continue reading >>


America’s Wild Horses

Wild Horses. Google image.
Wild Horses. Google image.

The American Mustang (Equus ferus caballus) is a descendant of escaped, stolen, or released Spanish horses first brought to the Americas by Columbus. The word Mustang comes from the Spanish-Mexican word mestengo or “strayed livestock animal”.

Native Americans, notably the Nez Perce, Shoshone, and Comanche, took readily to horses and used them primarily for transportation. As wild horse numbers diminished drastically during the 1900s, Congress passed the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, protecting the established herds of the American west.

Although an introduced species, horses existed in the Americas until about 10,000-12,000 years ago until they died off either due to the changing climate or hunting by the newly arriving humans. Regardless of their origins, they are now an icon of the American west, loved and revered by people worldwide as a symbol of what is wild and free. Continue reading >>