Archive | October, 2012

Unusual eye color

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I wanted to get pictures of one of the new horses at our barn, Dutch, to use for a post on sooty patterns. Dutch was interesting because he has the very dark forehand that some sooty buckskins get. I also thought artists that read the blog might find the abrupt transition between his body color and the black front legs interesting.

I had only seen Dutch at a distance, but I had gotten the impression he had somewhat paler-than-usual eyes. Light brown eyes are not uncommon in buckskins or palominos, so that would not have been unexpected. When I got close enough to take this picture, the reflection from his eyes looked off. (All the images in this post are larger than they appear, and since the details are small, I highly recommend clicking them to see the larger version.) Instead of looking pale brown, his eyes looked like the reflective gleam was in the wrong place. That is more noticeable in this face shot.

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Over the years I have learned that odd reflections in the eyes sometimes mean the horse has a blue segment, and sure enough, that was the case with Dutch. Although he has no white markings at all, both of his eyes have flecks of blue. The largest one is located close to the bottom of his right eye, and is what is giving the odd reflection.

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As can be seen in that photo, he has a number of blue flecks in that eye. His iris also has irregular patches of golden brown and darker brown, giving the whole eye a marbled look. Although it was more visible in brighter light, even without the light directly hitting the eye the blue areas could be seen.

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His left eye had smaller flecks of blue that were much harder to capture on film. (This is the image that would most benefit from clicking, since the flecks are so small.)

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He would be an interesting horse to test for splash white. So far a couple of individuals without white markings of any kind have tested heterozygous classic splash white (SW1). Perhaps Dutch carries SW1, too. It is also possible that there is some other yet-unknown cause for the blue sections in his eyes.

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The myth of ancient origins

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If there is one thing that is consistent among purebred animals, it must be the desire for ancient – and preferably exotic – origins. The latest and greatest may be desirable with high tech equipment, but we seem to prefer our horse and dog breeds well-aged. In the past I have enjoyed giving a presentation that pokes a little fun about breed mythologies. I am fortunate that my audiences have, so far at least, all been good sports, because this can be a rather touchy subject for a lot of people.

That is unfortunate, because many of the accepted stories about the origins of various breeds have not held up to closer scrutiny. As geneticists continue to analyze different populations, it is becoming clear that some populations are not remnants of an ancient group, but rather relatively modern attempts to recreate those animals – or in some cases, a romantic notion of what those animals might have been like. For those that do not have a strong attachment to the original stories, the truth can be far more interesting.

That is certainly true for the research being done by the Village Dog Genetic Diversity Project headed up by scientists at Cornell University. They have been collecting samples from hundreds of semi-feral dogs in remote areas in Africa. Their findings have been somewhat surprising.

African village dogs are not a mixture of modern breeds but have directly descended from an ancestral pool of indigenous dogs

Meanwhile, modern breeds that have been thought to descend from African populations, like the Pharaoh Hounds (above, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) and the Rhodesian Ridgeback, clustered with Western breeds.

These results are consistent with [previous results] showing that Salukis, Afghan hounds, and Basenjis cluster with ancient, non-European breeds, while Pharaoh hounds and Rhodesian ridgebacks do not. Although this coarse sampling (3 countries) is suitable for detecting truly indigenous versus reconstituted ancestry in putatively African breeds, analysis including village dogs from more regions will be necessary to better localize the ancestral origins of these breeds.

What is interesting is that two of the three modern breeds noted as clustering with the non-European dogs – Salukis and Basenjis – still allow crosses to newly imported stock. (More information on that is available on the new Genetic Diversity page.)

This study is reminiscent of the one done a few years ago on the origins of the Arabian Horse. The author of that study, “Speculations on the origin of the Arabian Horse breed“, found persuasive evidence that the modern Arabian was as much a Victorian construct as it was a uniquely pure, ancient breed.

These results permit formulating the hypothesis that the Arabian horse breed was created from many different breeds and populations, and the concept of breed purity, might refer, at most, to the present population with a history that does not exceed two hundred years

Obviously there are not many ideas more scandalous in equine circles than Arabians being created “from many different breeds and populations” with a history that does not exceed 200 hundred years (ie., 1809). To imagine that carefully preserved purebreds are mongrels, while feral dogs bred without any human selection in the streets of Africa are free from outside “taint” and “pure” descendants of ancient ancestors, really does turn what we think we know about our animal companions on its head.

Edited to link to the full version of the Głażewska “Arabian origins” paper.

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Join the conversation!

Just a little administrative stuff here. When I started this blog, what I had in mind was a place where people could talk about topics covered in the Equine Tapestry books. There is a lot of information in the first volume of the series, and more to come in the subsequent ones (I say this as I eye the huge stack of notes about pony breeds sitting here beside me), but even so only a fraction of the information is in the books. I though the blog could serve as a place to share that extra information, if it was wanted, but in many ways it has taken on a life of its own. I wanted a conversation, and I certain have gotten that. I just did not expect it to reflect my own rambling, subject-jumping speaking habits quite so closely!

But it is a conversation, and I encourage readers to participate. Feel free to leave a comment here on the blog itself, or send a message through email. You can find that by clicking the sabino horse image under the “Contact Me” button. Questions, observations, photos and links are always welcome. Sharing these makes for a richer experience for everyone.

I also encourage those who participate on Facebook to “Like” our page there. Because I am pretty strict about photo permissions here, and because WordPress is not set up for easy back-and-forth sharing of pictures, many readers use the Facebook page to link to interesting horses online. From time to time the subjects covered here get expanded upon over there. (I do have a personal Facebook page, but it is usually filled with terribly mundane comments about my family members rather than interesting images of horses.)  Clicking on the image below will take you to the page for Equine Tapestry.

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I also keep a set of Pinterest boards with collections of links to unusual horses, all sorted into categories and, in some cases, testing status. I need to add to them, but Pinterest is a terrible place for encouraging time-wasting, as the completely unrelated boards full of recipes I will not make, and home decorating projects I will not start, would suggest. Separating out those personal boards and putting together an exclusively horse color Pinterest account is on my list of things to do, but that is a long list! Clicking on the image below will take you to the boards.

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As a final note, I have some updates on the books themselves, but I will handle that in a separate post.

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