In-Breeding and Size

by Ben Hur
(Western Horseman Jul/Aug 1945)

Is size in the horse influenced by in-breeding? Have you had the impression that dire results would follow if horses (and other livestock) closely akin were mated? Have you believed that the offspring from closely related matings would be deformed, small, weak as well as vicious, or deficient in brain capacity? It seems that the most commonly accepted fallacy among horsemen is that the practice of consanguinity or in-breeding in horses will immediately affect size and that small inferior “runts” will result, if they are not actually so grotesquely deformed that the foal dies shortly after birth.

This misconception of the laws of nature, this widely if not universally accepted fallacy among livestock breeders and farmers in America, has persisted since colonial days, and it has resulted in practically all our breeds being imported from Europe. America has blazed the way for all the world in the sciences, in chemical, electrical and mechanical research and developments, but has strangely worshipped at the feet of breeders of livestock abroad and is to this day overawed by the magic word “imported.” Americans have persisting in importing livestock from foreign countries until imports were stopped during World War II. And strange as it may seem, extensive plans are already well under way to begin importing again just as soon as permission can be obtained by breeders of cattle, dogs, sheep and horses.

This is notably true of breeders of Jersey cattle, where certain groups are feverishly awaiting the “green light” or “go” signal to rush to the small island of Jersey (among the channel islands held by Germany during the war) where the most intensive in-breeding has been the rule, and from where they will start importing Jersey cattle again to America. Why this need for new imports from abroad, year after year? There can be but one answer and that is that American breeders have not followed the same rules in breeding and that deterioration has followed the American plan of breeding, which in the main has been a constant search for “new blood” and out-crossing, rather than following the time honored plan by which all breeds have been developed and maintained – that of line-breeding and in-breeding.

Regarding in-breeding or consanguinity. James A. Lawrence, founder and first president of The Arabian Horse Club of America and the Great Dane Club of America, wrote in 1908:

“I believe the natural laws controlling this phase of animal breeding are less understood than any other one feature that enters into the creation and regeneration of animal life. We are accustomed to seeing instances of degeneracy on account of consanguinity in the human race in America, and the conclusion, without further thought, is that in-breeding is forever prohibited by nature in all of her mammal kingdom.
“But on further reflection we are compelled to remember that the great Anazeh tribes of Bedouins of the Arabian desert have remained pure in one blood for ages. According to their own traditions and history they are the same in blood today as their progenitor, Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar. These very exclusive people maintain their own blood purity with the same care and precision with which they breed their horses, and certainly there is no question about them being an intensely in-bred race, in fact, the purest of all the human races. There is no sign of degeneracy among them in the physical sense, and they are pronounced by those in a position to know as the most highly moral race of people, in many respects, in the world.”

As proof of the value of consanguinity in the breeding of horses Mr. Lawrence wrote further:

“We know the Arabian horse is pure in one blood as we know the English Thoroughbred is not. We also know the Arabian blood is as pliable or plastic today as it was five hundred years ago, and we also know that the English Thoroughbred is not as pliable or plastic as he was one hundred years ago, to say nothing of other qualities he has lost in a degenerating tendency, which proves the value of pure and unmolested blood through consanguinity. The Arabian horse proves his purity in many ways, and in no particular is his excellenced and good breeding more evident than in his courage and perfection of disposition which the runner has lost, and courage is ever an unmistakable mark of purity of blood.”

It is a significant fact, as we have pointed out in earlier articles in this series, that the most successful breeders in America, of horses, cattle, sheep and dogs have been those who have ignored the American fear of in-breeding and have followed the custom of breeders abroad where breeds were made by the one and universal rule of in-breeding and line-breeding. It is nature’s way but as Mr. Lawrence prointed out,

“Man would bastard and lose it all by out-crossing, mongrelization. Nature breeds only purebreds in her infinite precision. Her animals are pure in the beginning and pure in the end. Through consanguinity nature maintains a vigor, uniformity, beauty and perfection forever.”

At no time in the history of this country has there been such an intense and wide-spread interest in light or hot-blooded horses as there is at the present time. From coast to coast much is being said and written, many attempts are being made to improve, solidify and make into one common mass certain types or colors of horses. This is notably true of those who are attempting to reproduce that which is representative and best in horses of Quarter Horse type, Palomino colored horses, the Pinto, or spotted or morocco, the Appaloosa, Walking Horse and the Albino. Serious attempts are being made in widely scattered sections of the country to capture and mould into the ideal of their dreams of the horse these breeders hope to produce in purity in the future. These ambitions and embryo breedmakers can take a page from the history of breedmaking in the past if they will discard their fears of degeneracy in size, type, vigor and mental capacity as well as disposition when consanguinity or in-breeding is practiced.

One common type or color cannot come from widely scattered sources. Purity must, as it always has, come from one source and from that one source or base the breeding program can be broadened within the family so that line-breeding can be followed and a line of horses result with one common ancestry that are uniform in type and reproductive breeding characteristics. Then and then only is the effort worthy of the name of a breed.

The Arabian horse again, because of its purity of breeding, furnishes us the example and pattern of what we may expect from in-breeding. The blood of the Arabian horse is the fountain from which flows all the various types and colors of light saddle type horses although all of them have more or less of the cold-blood or draft horse blood in them. To develop and improve, to capture and solidify certain types, colors or characteristics there can be no better rule to follow than that of using and moulding in as much of the Arabian blood as possible. There need be no fear of losing size if size is what is wanted. The Arabian does not lose size when in-bred, nor is vigor or vitality lost. When out-crossed the Arabian type and characteristics overshadow and predominate to a marked extent but size almost universally increases whether the cross be on a pony or larger type.

Nimr No. 252,
red chestnut Arabian stallion, 15-1 hands high. Imported from England by Randolph Huntington in 1891, Nimr was bred to his grand-dam, Naomi (15-2 hands) to produce Khaled (15-3 1/2). Picture by George Ford Morris.

Naomi No. 230,
red chestnut Arabian mare, 15-2 hands, foaled in 1877, bred by Rev. F. Vidal in England, was produced by a full brother-and-sister mating, by the desert-bred sire, Yataghan (15 hands) and the desert-bred dam Haidee (14-3 hands). Naomi, bred to her grandson Nimr, produced Khaled.

Khaled No. 5,
red chestnut Arabian stallion, foaled in 1895, bred by Randolph Huntington. Standing 15-3 1/2 hands, Khaled is an outstanding example of intense in-breeding. The picture was made for James A. Lawrence, first president of the Arabian Horse Club, by the well known artist and photographer of horses, George Ford Morris. Copyrighted in 1908, this picture and the one of Nimr is used by permission of Mr. Lawrence.

The Arabian horse, bred and raised for hundreds of years in desert country and on frugal if not actually scanty feed conditions responds immediately to good feed and care and the danger in this country is that the Arabian may grow a little bigger each generation and gradually lose its refined classic type and beauty. You need but look about you in your own family or the family of your friends to realize what better food, care and conditions have done for the human race in one or two generations in this country. It is not uncommon to see sons and daughters towering a head taller than their parents and it is commonly known that feet are universally larger in a single life-span.

Breeders of Shetland ponies and Bantam chickens find it a major breeding problem to keep the size down to the miniature type desired. The size increases with each generation, rather than diminishing, with modern feed and care and it is only by having the young come in the fall and subjecting them to scanty diet that size is held down. Growth is the one universal law of nature and increase in size under favorable sheltered conditions under the care of man seems to be a dominant factor in animals. The English Thoroughbred increased an average of one inch each 25 years, for the first 150 years from the original three Arabian sires which averaged little if any above 14 hands. The original Justin Morgan, founder of the Morgan Horse was about 14 hands. Cavalry experts have often proven that the weight carrying horse reaches his greatest efficiency when about 15 hands high. Yet new owners of Arabians are often immediately concerned about an increase in size and elated when a marked increase is shown, not knowing what the history of the breed and the weight carrying horse has amply demonstrated. Today, all too many who have only recently become interested in saddle horses set as their first goal an increase in size in breeding for Palomino color, Quarter Horse type or to improve the Pinto, Appaloosa, Walking Horse or Albino. Improvement and uniformity of type and characteristics can only come through in-breeding and line-breeding and the practice of consanguinity in horses does not decrease size.

A striking example of how size increased under the most intense in-breeding is furnished by the early Arabian stallion Khaled No. 5, bred by Randolph Huntington, world famous horse breeder of his day. Khaled was 15-3 1/2 hands high, his dam Naomi was 15-2, his sire Nimr 15 hands. Naomi’s sire and dam were the desert bred full brother and sister Yataghan and Haidee. [Yataghan and Haidee were later shown not to be brother and sister after all.] Yataghan was 15 hands, Haidee 14-3, yet the daughter raised in England increased in size to 15-2. Naomi, the result of a brother and sister mating, bred back to her grandson Nimr produced Khaled. Study the pedigree and try to recall if you have ever seen a more intense example of in-breeding. The blood of Khaled was the foundation for many early day Arabians in this country, none of which has suffered for lack of size.

Pedigree of an intensely in-bred Arabian —
Chestnut Arabian stallion; foaled 1895 — 15-3 1/2 hands
NIMR 15-1 hands Kismet, db 15 hands
Nazli 15-1 hands Maidan, db 15 hands
Naomi 15 hands Yataghan, db 15 hands
Haidee, db 14-3 hands
NAOMI 15-2 hands Yataghan, db 15 hands
Haidee, db 14-3 hands
db — Desert Bred. All the above Arabians were Red Chestnut.