Virtually all the horses who grace racetracks, horse shows, riding stables, and private farms around the world today descend from two lines of “Oriental” champions, researchers reported Thursday.
The genetic study sheds light on the long-withstanding effects of intensive breeding, which dates back just 700 years. Choices made then — during the height of the Medieval period in Europe and at the birth of the Ottoman Empire — live on today in the genes of horses found across the American West, in the stables of European royalty, and on the pampas of Argentina.
A group of researchers led by Barbara Wallner of the Institute of Animal Breeding and Genetics in Vienna, Austria sampled the genes of 52 modern horses representing 21 different breeds for their study. They included the famous white dancing Lipizzaners, quarter horses, cobs, Thoroughbreds and Arabians.
The team focused on the male specific Y chromosome, which males pass down virtually unchanged from father to son. While the chromosome only carries a few essential genes, it does provide a clear road map of male heredity.
The findings were startling. Most of the horses in common use descend from just two lineages, the Arabian lineage from the Arabian Peninsula and the Turkoman lineage from the steppes of Central Asia, also widely known as “Oriental” among horse breeders, as reported in the Journal of Current Biology.
Related: Scientists Publish Cat Genome
“Apart from stallion lines in Northern European breeds, all stallion lines detected in other modern breeds derive from more recently introduced Oriental ancestors,” Wallner said.
It’s not surprising that a…