This post first appeared on December 12, 2011
In a previous post, I included this Currier & Ives print when talking about how nineteenth-century horsemen often associated spotting patterns – pinto or appaloosa – with oriental horses. Their role in circuses, accompanied by handlers with fanciful costumes, probably did a lot to set this idea in the minds of many. It wasn’t just the general public, though. The earliest American stud books often contain references to “spotted Arabian” ancestors. Alexander, the horse pictured in the print, was himself entered into the American Stallion Register.
In that entry, he is referred to as a Spanish horse, not an Arabian or another oriental breed as his advertisement might suggest. It may be that the circus later changed his background story, or they may simply have conflated the term Barb with Arabian. Although modern horsemen think of those as being opposites, during the time Alexander was alive the terms were often used interchangeably.
It was situations like this that were behind the original prohibitions against spotting in the American Arabian registry. That organization was a relative late-comer among American stud books, so it had close to a century of misinformation about its breed to overcome. It is pretty clear that the horses the founders had in mind were the tobianos and the leopards like Alexander, and not the sabinos that really were found in the population. Unfortunately overturning the white rule took a long time, because the reaction to the misinformation created its own misunderstanding of the true nature of Arabian coloring. Instead of “Arabians are never spotted like that”, people became convinced that “Arabians are never spotted.”
But for a time, many American breeders thought horses like Alexander showed their blood-horse origins with their coloring. The colors themselves had largely fallen out of favor at that point, but their presence in the back of the pedigree did not raise eyebrows the way it certainly would today. It is not just the American Stallion Register, either. There are “spotted Arabians” listed in the backs of pedigrees in most of the American light horse stud books from that era. Undoubtedly many were pintos, but the fact that some may have been leopards like Alexander leads to an interesting question. Just how many American light breeds carry hidden patterning genes?
The two horses listed as descendants of Alexander, Gray Eagle and Benedict Morrill, also appear in the first volume of the Morgan stud book. Neither was described as spotted, but the leopard pattern gene isn’t visible without the leopard complex (Lp) gene to activate it. Alexander would have had Pattern1, since he was a leopard, and he could have passed it along to his offspring. This is also true for any of his daughters that were used, but not recorded, in the backs of pedigrees, as well as any other leopard patterned horses found during that time. It is pretty clear that almost as soon as the stud book movement got off the ground, odd colors were systematically eliminated among finely bred horses. In the case of some of the appaloosa patterns, though, the component necessary for the louder parents could have remained among those horses that did not get Leopard Complex .
Someday testing may allow breeders to check solid horses for the presence of these hidden genes. If pattern genes are found, they might just come from some of these “spotted Arabians”.