Spotted Arabs and Barbs


In a previous post, I included this Currier & Ives print when talking about how nineteenth century horsemen often associated spotting patterns – pinto or appaloosa – with oriental horses. Their role in circuses, accompanied by handlers with fanciful costumes, probably did a lot to set this idea in the minds of many. It wasn’t just the general public, though. The earliest American stud books often contain references to “spotted Arabian” ancestors. Alexander, the horse pictured in the print, was himself entered into the American Stallion Register.

ALEXANDER, spotted, black and white, 15-3/4 hands, 1200 pounds; foaled about 1822. Owned by Page’s circus, who purchased him in the West, and sold him about 1831 for $1000 to a company at Middlebury, Vt. Advertised, 1833, at Middlebury and Vergennes, Vt., by S. H. Baker for the owners. Terms, $7 to $10. In 1836 Harvey Yale of Middlebury bought one half interest in him, and had charge of him two seasons, one of which he was kept at Hancock, Vt., by Mr. Church. Mr. Yale sold him to Mr. Twilight, Vershire, Vt.

Mr. Yale, in an interview, 1885, said: ” Alexander was a large horse with spotted color, and called a Spanish horse. He weighed about 1200 pounds. His true breeding was not known. A company at Middlebury bought him of a circus company at Rutland. Hough made the trade. He was a good-looking horse, very intelligent, and a good roadster, but his stock varied, and took a long time to come to maturity. Some had light manes and tails.”

Sire of dam of Gray Eagle (Earing’s), and 2d dam of Benedict Morrill.

In that entry, he is referred to as a Spanish horse, not an Arabian or other oriental breed as his advertisement might suggest. It may be that the circus later changed his background story, or they may simply have conflated the term Barb with Arabian. Although modern horsemen think of those as being opposites, during the time Alexander was alive the terms were often used interchangeably.

It was situations like this that were behind the original prohibitions against spotting in the American Arabian registry. That organization was a relative late-comer among American stud books, so it had close to a century of misinformation about its breed to overcome. It is pretty clear that the horses the founders had in mind were the tobianos and the leopards like Alexander, and not the sabinos that really were found in the population. Unfortunately overturning the white rule took a long time, because the reaction to the misinformation created its own misunderstanding of the true nature of Arabian coloring. Instead of “Arabians are never spotted like that”, people became convinced that “Arabians are never spotted.”

But for a time, many American breeders thought horses like Alexander showed their blood-horse origins with their coloring. The colors themselves had largely fallen out of favor at that point, but their presence in the back of the pedigree did not raise eyebrows the way it certainly would today. It is not just the American Stallion Register, either. There are “spotted Arabians” listed in the backs of pedigrees in most of the American light horse stud books from that era. Undoubtedly many were pintos, but the fact that some may have been leopards like Alexander leads to an interesting question. Just how many American light breeds carry hidden patterning genes?

The two horses listed as descendants of Alexander, Gray Eagle and Benedict Morrill, also appear in the first volume of the Morgan stud book. Neither was described as spotted, but the leopard pattern gene isn’t visible without the leopard complex (Lp) gene to activate it. Alexander would have had Pattern1, since he was a leopard, and he could have passed it along to his offspring. This is also true for any of his daughters that were used, but not recorded, in the backs of pedigrees, as well as any other leopard patterned horses found during that time. It is pretty clear that almost as soon as the stud book movement got off the ground, odd colors were systematically eliminated among finely bred horses. In the case of some of the appaloosa patterns, though, the component necessary for the louder parents could have remained among those horses that did not get Leopard Complex .

Someday testing may allow breeders to check solid horses for the presence of these hidden genes. If pattern genes are found, they might just come from some of these “spotted Arabians”.

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3 Responses to Spotted Arabs and Barbs

  1. Sue Stewart December 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    An *important* correction: The American Arabian REGISTRY has *never* had a prohibition against spotting or any rule regarding “excessive white.” That rule was instituted in the International Arabian Horse Association *show rules* in the early 1950s, and applied only to “breeding stock” (i.e., colorful geldings got a free pass).

    There were several wildly colored horses that were denied registration, simply because there was no way to determine that a wildly colored foal from two “normal” parents wasn’t the result of an accidental breeding. Once equine blood typing became available, several horses (those with living parents) were reinstated via that testing.

    The non-acceptance of the circus horses like the subject of this post had nothing to do with their color and everything to do with their lack of provable pedigree.

  2. The Equine Tapestry December 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Thank you for the clarification, Sue. I should have been more careful with my wording. Yes, it was the show regulation side of things. I tend to use the term “registry” in a sloppy way to mean “the powers that be” for a breed, which is perhaps less helpful when dealing with those groups (like Arabians, and many of the Southern gaited breeds) that split their regulation between a show organization and a stud book organization.

    And I did not mean to imply horses like Alexander or other “spotted Arabians” were denied papers due to color. They couldn’t have been accepted no matter what their color or pedigree status was, since most lived long before there even was an Arabian registry. Many go back earlier than even the distant records that were being recorded by Battell and Wallace and Bruce. In my research, that’s pretty much the point where you can still see remnants of the colorful horses that existed before. The stud book movement was timed such that colorful horses were rare among the living horses that were being registered (in most breeds at least), and even the direct parents were usually pretty conservative. But one more generation back, and certainly two, and you get notations about spotted and diluted horses with a lot more frequency. If you go forward past the first few volumes (say, solidly in the 20th century) they are usually gone.

    So these horses came before, but the situation did set up a belief among the general public about what “Arabians” looked like. That was being refuted by writers even before the Arabian registry was formed, but it was still common enough to play a factor in the early white rule. It’s a shame that it stayed on the books longer than it should have, but I certainly can see why they wanted it in the first place.

  3. Jacqueline Ferrigno December 12, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    Wasn’t the term Arabian used so loosely back in the day, that anything that didn’t come from Europe was considered to be an Arabian at the time? I seem to remember this came up in the debate on what breeds molded the thoroughbred.