The Origin of the Arabian Horse - a scientific Approach

There are many romantic stories about the origin of the Arabian breed that have been handed down to us through oral tradition in Arabia. Because of a more scientific approach by westerners a discussion developed in the 19th and 20th century in Europe and America: Did there exist a wild Arabian prototype domesticated in Arabia or did the horse come to the Bedouins from outside? Mutlak El Batal, the Mutair Bedouin and right hand of Lady Blunt at Sheikh Obeyd gave the Bedouin tradition to us of wild ancestors in Arabia. But most scientists have answered this question since differently: the horse came to Arabia from outside.

Nonetheless many lovers of the Arabian breed still reflect on the fact that it is unique in many aspects like its character and looks. It has been formed by the Bedouins in their land, the badiya, the steppe and desert land of Arabia. Also one theory has science given us Arabian horse enthusiasts, that of a multicentric domestication of the horse with different prototypes, one of them the Pro-Arabian. But no archeological findings on the history of horse domestication in Arabia could be found, except for the recent findings at al Maqar in Saudi Arabia, that are spectacular but not yet finally agreed with by science (see later). This concept of an own "Arabian" or oriental origin has been challenged by new results of genetic research done during the last years.  Based on the maternal DNA found in the mitochondrium of each cell many facts came to the light that force us to think over our concepts on the origin of the Arabian horse.


In the central focus of modern genetics is the information written on DNA (desoxy ribonuclear acid), the double helix based on the sequence of pairs of bases. This information or DNA code is nearly consistent except for very little variation (mutations) and handed down generation after generation. The DNA is equivalent with the chromosomes inside the nucleus of the cell. But when the gametes (egg and sperm) come together the maternal and paternal genetic information is recombined so that - genetically spoken - a totally new organism  is coming in existence. Only the Y chromosome in males stays the same. In horses only one type of Y chromosome was discovered in all breeds. So one founder stallion (or only a small number of the same origin) for all existing domesticated horses is most likely. On the other hand the maternal origin can be traced through another kind of DNA: the mtDNA (or mDNA).

The mitochondrial DNA in all cells, male and female, always comes  from the mother. This mtDNA is located in the mitochondria of the cell, i.e. outside of the nucleus within the cell body. The mitochondria are like little organs inside the cell producing energy. As the sperm is free of mitochondria, they all come from the egg or mother. Thus, by analysing mtDNA the maternal lineage of populations can be traced. This has been done for humans but also for horses. Here are some findings:

Glazewska, a biologist from Poland, compared mtDNA of Arabians to other breeds and to samples of archeological sites. She found out that the Arabian breed is heterogenous and that the diversity among particular sequences grouped into ten haplotypes is significant. A set of identical or similar sequences was found by comparing Arabian sequences to those from archeological sites and present day horses of different breeds. These results permitted her to formulate the hypothesis that the Arabian horse breed was created from many different breeds and populations. In her words: "So the concept of breed purity might refer, at most, to the present population with a history that does not exceed two hundred years". This is hard for the concept of asil breeding and therefore we should undertake a closer look on Glazewska´s work and other scientific findings. To continue click here.