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Did the appaloosa horse originate in Asia? - Helen's journal and online home
heleninwales
heleninwales
Did the appaloosa horse originate in Asia?
A couple of posts ago I referred to a BBC 4 TV programme about a determined woman of 69 who wanted to prove her theory that the appaloosa horse didn't originate in Spain, as conventional wisdom say, but actually came across the land bridge from Asia to the North Western USA. Unfortunately, the BBC iPlayer doesn't work outside the UK, but here is the trailer on Youtube.



I also managed to find a couple of articles about the quest for Martin, the appaloosa horse seen in Kyrgyzstan.

Birmingham TV presenter reveals all about his quest for a rare horse.

How did the Appaloosa horse get to North America?

The tl;dr summary goes as follows:

Completely by chance, Scott Engstrom happened to watch a previous TV programme made by Conor Woodman in which he went around the world trying his hand at trading things. She saw him trying to sell horses in Kyrgyzstan and spotted (ha ha!) that one of them was an appaloosa. This intrigued her because it supported her theory that the appaloosa had come not from Spain but from Asia.

Scott pestered Woodman via email and eventually persuaded him to return to Kyrgyzstan and help her search for Martin, the horse he had sold. The trail soon went cold as Martin had been sold on several times, but they were then told that herds of these horses still remained in an obscure corner of Kyrgyzstan tucked away between Russia and China and only reachable via high mountain passes. After an epic ride across absolutely stunning landscapes, they did indeed find the appaloosas and took DNA samples which confirmed that the Asian horses are closely related to the ones in the USA.

I loved this quote from the History Extra page:

Conor Woodman: Now, I tell people the film is a great inspirational story. At the time, I was thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to kill an old lady making a film, this is terrible.” But she was so strong, and she was determined she wasn’t going to let the mountains beat her.

Interviewer: In the wilds, you found horses with Appaloosa-like qualities that DNA tests confirm as related to North American horses. Does this reengineer how we need to think about American history and the people who brought the horses over?

Conor Woodman: That’s a really good question now. [Horse expert and Texas-based geneticist] Dr Cothran’s best guess was that it was probably people coming over from Asia hunting or looking for furs [who brought the horses] – and they could have been pre-Columbus, or they could have been around the same time as Columbus, or they could have been slightly after Columbus, we don’t really know. The other theory is they migrated themselves by land.


As I once owned a spotted pony (see icon), I found all this very intriguing. To confirm Scott's theory beyond doubt, someone would have to find horse remains in the NW USA that pre-date Columbus, but whether that evidence will ever be found, I have no idea. Ancient bones in the UK and Europe are generally found in caves or burials. Are there any such things in that area? Could the evidence have survived?

Current Mood: thoughtful intrigued

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Comments
nutmeg3 From: nutmeg3 Date: January 24th, 2015 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is just fascinating. Thank you for posting all this. I'm going to set up a TiVo wish list for it, because I'm hopeful it will air over here at some point.

Just found the whole thing on YouTube, so I'm watching now.

Also, I was stunned to find out how few true Appies there are in the US.

Edited at 2015-01-24 07:32 pm (UTC)
hrj From: hrj Date: January 24th, 2015 07:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the jump from "there are appaloosa-type horses in Kyrgyzstan" to "appaloosas must have been brought to North America directly from Asia perhaps before Colombus" is rather drastic. There are depictions of appaloosa-style patterns in Western art on a regular basis (one website on the history of the breed suggests they appear as early as Stone Age cave paintings in France).

If I recall from my horse color genetics, several of the factors in appaloosa-style coloring are recessive, so the absence of clearly appaloosa coloring in European breeding stock introduced into North America doesn't eliminate that stock as the potential source of the modern breed.

Sorry to start ranting in your journal. It's just that I've seen this sort of sensationalist "history" before.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: January 24th, 2015 07:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am keeping a total open mind on this. Unfortunately the DNA analysis was just a fleeting coda to the programme, though from what I remember, it wasn't just that they had the genes for the appaloosa coat pattern, they were in all respects genetically very similar.

Of course those genes could have gone from Kyrgyzstan to Western Europe and hence to America. They were filming more or less on the old silk road and unusual coat patterns might well have attracted European interest and caused people to want to buy the horses as well as the silk and spices.
nutmeg3 From: nutmeg3 Date: January 24th, 2015 08:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm finding all this fascinating, so I just did some quick on-line research. The clearest article is here: http://www.appaloosajournal.com/2012/04/appaloosa-genetics-part-i/, but everything I read said there are two types of the leopard pattern gene, the dominant LP and recessive lp, and that in order to have spotting, you need at least one copy of the dominant LP. That's not to say the Spaniards couldn't have brought over some LP horses, but it does argue against 2 lp genes producing spots.

The other thing that occurs to me - and I may be way off base - is that there was a lot of traffic between Asia and Europe as humans evolved, and people brought horses with them through the Old World, not just to the New, so it seems possible to me that the LP/lp genes evolved somewhere in Eurasia and were ultimately seen in horses in both places (Europe and Asia, I mean). And there's nothing to say the gene entered the US in only one way. It could have come - or the lp version, at least, could have come - with the Spaniards, and both versions could also have come separately across the land bridge. And maybe the LP gene did come that way, and then, as horses intermixed, became present in the Spanish-bred horses carrying the lp gene, as well.

And I don't know enough about DNA - or the type of DNA they tested - to say whether that proves anything definitive or only allows for the possibility of a connection. Is horse DNA like human DNA, ie: Mitochondrial (?) DNA, from the female line, is too much the same in too many people to prove anything (which I learned from the whole thing about Patricia Cornwell "proving" that a painter called Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper), it can only raise the possibility of a connection or rule one out. But whether the same is true in horses, I don't know.

I just suspect that the answer's not cut and dried, but I think at the least the film raises an interesting possibility.
nutmeg3 From: nutmeg3 Date: January 24th, 2015 08:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just finished watching (it's on YouTube, if you're in the US and want to see it), and the DNA results, though not described in great detail, sound pretty thorough and pretty compelling.
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