Thunder Hill Equine Drum Horses

The History of How Breeds Were Created

Our modern concept of a breed is defined as a group of animals within a species having a distinctive appearance with a clearly defined set of characteristics that pass on these predictable traits to their offspring, and typically has been developed by deliberate selection. The idea of breeds is actually relatively new.

Arabian foundation stallion Skowronek 1909-1930

Historically all breeds started out as a “Landrace” population. A Landrace can be a relatively unmanaged breeding program that occurs in a specific area. A Landrace population can also be purpose bred horses in a local area, without a formal written “Stud Book”. Typically a Landrace population will experience a lesser degree of controlled breeding with the inclusion of animals with the desired characteristics as well as some without. The Arabian is considered the oldest pure type Landrace population with a phenotype going back 3000-4000 years. The Landrace breed that we are the most concerned with for the creation of the Drum Horse is the United Kingdom’s Traditional Cob (Gypsy Cob).

Domesticated animals were originally kept in herds with both male and female animals together and allowed to breed however their nature allowed. This created Landrace populations in different areas with different characteristics but no real standardization. People would find an appropriate horse with the build and size that they needed for the use that it was intended.

Einsiendein Abby around 1840

In the year 934 dean Eberhard of Strasbourg founded the Benedictine Abby at Einsiedein, Switzerland where the first breeding Stud was developed. Breeding Studs were facilities that kept stallions (generally imported) to improve local mares and often to breed cavalry horses for the local Ruler. The horses at the Einsiedein Stud were known as “cavalli della Madonna”. This Landrace population was selectively bred for 1,020 years and eventually evolved in the 1950’s into the Swiss Warmblood (Einsiedler). In the year 1655 the first written Stud Book was created, again at the Einsiedein Abby. In the beginning written Stud Books were a listing of stallions/studs with their known male lineages that were being actively used for breeding, the mare was not considered important. Later mares were included that had listed stallions as a sire. It was in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that saw the development of horse pedigrees as we know them as a result of American importers requiring detailed lineages on all horses.

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Robert Bakewell

Even with a few breeding Studs developed, it wasn’t until the British Agricultural Revolution and the breeding practices of farmer Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) of Leicestershire being adopted, that breeding for types became common. Robert Bakewell is credited as the first person to implement systematic selective breeding of livestock, and the practice of enclosing breeding groups together instead of large communal herds with uncontrolled breeding. Bakewell selected animals to “fix” and exaggerate desirable characteristics by the use of deliberate and intensive inbreeding. Robert Bakewell was primarily concerned with the development of higher meat production and earlier maturing in sheep and cattle, but was also instrumental in the early development and improvement of the Black Cart Horse/English Cart Horse which later became the Shire horse. In 1783 Bakewell formed the Dishley Society to promote his revolutionary new breeding techniques and to advance the interests of livestock breeders with a goal to ensure purity of breed. The Dishley Society is considered the forerunner to modern breed associations and registries. He is also credited with the concept of “letting”, where a prime male breeding animal is let out (rented) to other farmers for a fee to improve their herds.

Charles Darwin

During the 1800’s a boom in Naturalists attempting to understand the concepts of genetics and the inheritance of traits arose. The most famous was Charles Darwin and “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” was published in 1859. Until this time the common belief was that all living things had remained much the same over time with little changes. Darwin postulated that species survived by the process of “Natural Selection” where animals that successfully adapted to meet changing requirements in their habitat thrived, while those that did not failed to evolve and reproduce and therefore died off. Gregor Mendel, another important figure, published his revolutionary work on pea plants and the basics of inheritance in 1866, but his work was to be ignored for many years. Two years after Mendel published his studies, in 1868, Charles Darwin published “The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication” where he described his theory of “Pangenesis” which was basically a renamed theory first conceived by Hippocrates. The definition of Pangenisis is “the mechanism of heredity in which the cells throw off particles that collect in the reproductive products or in buds so that the egg or bud contains particles from all parts of the parent. The theory isn’t 100% correct but leads to the idea of both parents contributing aspects to the offspring. In this book Darwin cited Bakewell’s ideas about selective breeding and renamed it “artificial selection”.

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Gregor Mendel

In 1900 three biologists recreated Mendel’s studies and eventually credited him with priority for the findings. Mendel’s work is now considered the basic fundamental principles for the understanding of biology and genetics, and he is considered the “Father of Modern Genetics”.

Mendel’s Laws of Heredity:

1. Law of Segregation – There are dominant and recessive traits passed on randomly from parents to offspring.

2. Law of Independent Assortment – Traits are passed on independently of other traits from parent to offspring.

3. Law of Dominance – An organism with alternative forms of a trait will express the form that is dominant.

To this day Mendel's Laws are an intergral part of the basic understanding of genetics and genomics. They set the foundation for all future knowledge and understanding of these amazing fields that are still in their infancy even after 150 years.

Throughout the 1800’s there was an increase in the publication of stud books and the formation of various breed associations and societies. In the 1900’s there was an even greater number of breed registries and societies formed, with a gradual increase in mares listed as the importance of both parents was realised through understanding of Mendel’s work by the general population.

Photo of a turn of the century horse auction

The increase of published stud books in Europe can be directly correlated with the requirements of the United States of America’s (USA) import requirements. As the largest importer of horses from the mid/late 1800’s, for the development of agriculture in the new world, the USA was able to enforce requirements that European breeders adopted to enable the sale of their horses. The work by the Bureau of Animal Industry (forerunner of the Food Safety and Inspection Department of the USDA) caused the 1890 Food Inspection Act to be adopted. This Act was legislated to detect bad meat imports and diseased animals, and to improve livestock quality. The 1890 tariff imposed by the US Treasury Department requiring an import fee on animals, allowed pure bred horses with a certificate of registration and pedigree issued by the custodian of one of the approved stud books to be imported tariff free (Duty free). This created more stud books and registeries because nobody wanted to pay import fees if there was a way they didn't have to.

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Throughout the 1900’s, breeders continued to refine and set breed types as being distinct from one another. Even though our modern concept of breeds still has the belief that each breed is unique and somehow unchanging this is not completely true. Over time the preferred characteristics of a breed can change, causing the selection of different traits to create the desired animal. This can be best seen using the American Belgian and the Belgian Brabant. The American Belgian has been changed from its original Brabant appearance by selection of preferred characteristics that emphasize tall, “hitchy”, flaxen chestnuts with minimal feathering; the Brabant has remained a powerful, short legged, coarse feathered horse that is generally blue (black) roan, or bay roan. The American Belgian Registry still allows the inclusion of Brabant’s and some have been imported and used for breeding in recent years as they are still considered the same breed even though they look very different. The opposite of the Belgian/Brabant breed is the Clydesdale and Shire breed controversy. Throughout the history of these two breeds there has been much crossing to improve one breed or the other. The result is two breeds that are considered separate yet look very similar to each other.

American Belgian American Belgian Belgian Brabant Belgian Brabant Clydesdale Clydesdale Shire stallion Danny-Boy Shire stallion Danny-Boy

The last half of the 1900’s has seen exponentially increasing knowledge in the fields of biology, genetics and genomics. The horse genome was sequenced in 2007, and since then scientists have been making huge discoveries in the understanding of coat colour genetics and hereditary diseases caused by single gene defects. Geneticists have also started to unravel the complexities of inheritance of performance traits, as well as other polygenetic traits. Horse breeds will see many changes in breeding practices in the future as breeders are able to receive genetic profiles on their animals that will allow selection or avoidance of different traits.

Based on the above information, it can be seen that our modern idea about what constitutes a breed is a relatively new concept that has only arisen in the last 100 years or so. In many parts of the world it is still more common for breeds to be “Landraces” with no formal Stud Book, rather than being formally registered as a purebred horse. A breed can have one stated type, like the Friesian, or many like the Welsh Cob (A, B, C and D). A breed can look similar to other breeds, like Clydesdales and Shires or different like the Marwari. A breed can have a long history of closed breeding like the Icelandic or have an open book allowing specific crosses like the Quarter Horse. A breed can, and will change in appearance over time depending on currently desired characteristics like the American Belgian. Therefore a breed is solely what the people who are calling it a breed want it to be at a particular moment in time. As Drum Horse breeders we have a unique opportunity to knowledgeably decide what the defining characteristics of our breed will be, to a greater extent than any breed developed previously.

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