Restoring Genetic Diversity in Arabian Horses

Restoring Genetic Diversity in Arabian Horses

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The Arabian horse, with its distinctive wedge-shaped head, high arching neck, and proud bearing, has been around for thousands of years.

Famous for its unrivaled sure-footedness, speed and intelligence combined with an innate gentleness of character, the Arabian horse right now is at an important turning point in its centuries-old legacy.

As one of the oldest domesticated breeds in the world, the exact origins of the Arabian horse are uncertain, but almost all historians agree that the breed originated on the Arabian Peninsula, likely in what is modern day Saudi Arabia.

Bedouin tribes began breeding horses in the area during the 8th century BC in order to create the perfect companion for desert life – an animal that could withstand extreme temperatures, travel long distances without becoming fatigued, and still be docile enough to live in tents when sandstorms whipped up around them.

Taking care to protect ancient traditions while at the same time utilize tools offered by modern science, breeders are now turning to genetic testing to uphold traditional values and investigate new knowledge about Arabian ancestry that has the power to shape the breed’s future.

Turning Away from Paper Pedigrees

Celebrated for its unique identity and richly storied history, for an Arabian horse to be considered purebred (ASIL), its genealogy must trace back to a recognized lineage (rasan) or sub-lineage (marbat) from its homeland. This strict process sets the breed horse apart from others.

For centuries, breeders have tried to preserve their horses’ distinguished heritage to ensure the old bloodlines remain untarnished by foreign strains or hujna (impurity). Sadly, recent genetic analysis has shown that some strains of this iconic breed may have been deliberately crossbred with thoroughbreds – tarnishing a centuries-long legacy.

This is a signal that conventional methods of tracking heritage via pedigrees may not be giving breed registries an accurate picture. Luckily, modern genetic testing has stepped in to fill the gap, providing a far more accurate way to identify pure horses with desert heritage from generations past.

Breeders intent on safeguarding and conserving Arabian ancestry are now turning to whole genome testing to overcome the limitations that human record keeping presents. This powerful technology can provide an in-depth assessment of a horse’s genetic makeup that surpasses traditional DNA testing tests.

The Challenge of Conserving Genetic Diversity

Keeping Arabian horse lineages pure is crucial for breeders and plays an important role in preserving the long history of the breed, which dates back thousands of years. However, inbreeding among Arabian horse populations has reduced genetic diversity within the breed, leading to an increased risk of genetic disorders and deformities that can be detrimental to their health.

Inbred horses are more likely to suffer from poor conformation and unsoundness. Fertility in mares is often negatively impacted as well. Egyptian Arabian horses are a population prone to genetic conditions such as Cerebellar Abiotrophy (CA), Lavender Foal Syndrome (LFS), and Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) caused by generations of inbreeding reducing genetic diversity in horses used for breeding.

Genomic testing can identify recessive genetic conditions that might otherwise be silent for many generations, enabling more secure breeding practices and early detection of potential problems. For example, testing might uncover traits that predispose a horse to conditions like kissing spines, skin cancer or tying up after exercise.

Even small changes in gene expression can be detected, which can help tailor nutrition, training and breeding care while potentially solving the purity issue once and for all among breeders. 

As the Arabian horse faces new challenges, it is up to breeders to embrace new technologies and work together to safeguard the breed’s legacy for generations to come.

Compared to traditional DNA testing, whole genome testing provides a more detailed look at a horse’s pedigree since it analyzes their entire genetic makeup – and identifies not only their parents, but all their ancestors as well. Including those that are not purebred Arabians.

If all Arabian horses were sequenced before being added to the WAHO registry, the database would only contain horses with purity certifications. This technology can also help detect genetic disorders and guide breeding practices to avoid inbreeding and ensure the health and well-being of the breed.

Protecting The History and Heritage of Arabian Horses

The Victory Genomics Arabian VGnome panel test is the only whole genome test designed for Arabian horses.

In addition to determining whether your Arabian horse is of desert breeding, the panel also determines the extent of genetic diversity in its lineage and any unique traits that have been passed down from important ancestors.For further information or to test more than one horse, please click here

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