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Why Do Rare Breeds Matter?

Genetic diversity is VITAL

Genetic diversity is VITAL to the future of the horse industry worldwide. In 2019 the Pegasus Project released results of genetic studies that track over 5,000 years of horse management and discovered that the development of modern horse breeding practices has caused a dramatic drop in genetic diversity in the last 200 years. This coincides with major cultural and technological shifts that followed the 2nd Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution of the 17th to 19th centuries when people began to view animals as a means of profit and production instead of a vital part of everyday life. The development of closed stud farms and the heightened mentality of breeding for a purpose resulting in certain traits being selected for again and again, as is seen in the development of the modern Thoroughbred racehorse which occurred at this time
Choosing only the most popular stallion lines for breeding has massively decreased Y-chromosome diversity and increased genome-wide mutations and the accumulation of negative variants (such as HYPP and NFS) which can cause disease and major health issues. See the infographic for an illustration of just how limited and restricted modern horse breeding genetics have become. Each of those colors represents a genetic lineage and its variants, almost all of which have been lost. Image to the right from the article by Fages et al. 2019. 'Tracking Five Millennia of Horse Management with Extensive Ancient Genome Time Series', Cell 177(6), 1419-1435.

Rare breeds possess genetic traits, resistance to disease, and special adaptations NOT present in the 'popular' pool of breeding animals and can dilute mutations present in other breeds; they are therefore integral for maintaining population health and stability. This is true for all species of rare breeds, including other livestock such as pigs, cattle, and chickens.

Projects like the Livestock Conservancy in the United States and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the United Kingdom are dedicated to making sure that the important rare breeds of yesterday are not forgotten or lost for tomorrow. Pictured above is lifetime KNN approved  Knabstrupper stallion, Pyxis av Drommarna ( Pyxis is 6/16 PB blood). Due to the lack of genetic diversity, it has taken a while to preserve our purebred lines here in the USA. However, numbers are slowly improving. Pictured to the right is Kometa, a US-born Budenny mare, and her 2019 half-Akhal-Teke colt Ofir. There are only 400 Budenny mares worldwide, making for an incredibly endangered breeding core. Akhal-Tekes, while having made a good comeback, are still rare and in need of careful protection. How can you help? Learning more about rare breeds is the first step, and educating others about what you have learned is the second! Contact organizations such as the KNN (Knabstrupperforeningen for Danmark), NABHR (North American Budenny Horse Registry) or the ATAA (Akhal-Teke Association of America), especially if you are interested in acquiring breeding stock and becoming part of the solution! Dedicated breeders and fans are essential to the survival of these rare and important genetics which are integral to the health of the future horse population worldwide.

Photo of Budenny mare and colt by Cheyenne Steele Ferrier

Pegasus Project:

Knabstrupperforeningen for Danmark: 

Livestock Conservancy:

Rare Breeds Survival Trust:



Save a Breed & Breed a Champion!

Article by Karina Rapp

Golden Stallions International


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