Asad’s Color Genetics

As a responsible stallion owner, I feel I should offer mare owners who would like to breed to Asad as much information as possible. That includes learning about his coat color genetics. Colonial Spanish horses have been reduced to a tiny remnant, and tracking color genes is one way of maintaining both genetic diversity and historical accuracy.

Asad’s color panel showed that he carries two copies of the dominant black gene E/E and no copies of the agouti or bay gene. That means that Asad is basically a black horse that will always produce black foals. The extension gene, or red factor, determines whether a horse will have a chestnut base coat color or a black or bay base coat color. The agouti gene controls the distribution of black pigment, and determines whether a horse will have a bay or black base coat color. Asad has no chance of throwing a bay offspring.

There is no English term that gives a true sense of Asad’s coat color. The Spanish word is Grulla, literally translating as ‘crane colored’, like the bird. Like the crane, Asad’s coat offers an eye-catching range of shimmering shades of a silvery grey through dark charcoal.

I am sure that it is no coincidence that the Comanche had an elaborate and detailed vocabulary to describe coat color and marking just as the Iberian Horse breeders who brought their horses to the New World did. And when I decided to compare Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk’s vision and ceremonial Horse Dance with Revelations some time back. I assumed that integrating the ceremonials and beliefs of the Horse Tribes who fled to the New World to escape persecution by the Spanish Catholic Crown with their indigenous allies was a given.

Comparing the colors of the horses in Black Elk’s visionary Horse Dance with those in the story of Revelations offers some remarkable similarities. Some of the wording might be due to his biographer John Neidhart’s influence. But the imagery and sequence of that Horse Dance are so well integrated into Black Elk’s (1863 -1950), personal narrative that it is compelling evidence that his traditions and those of the Horse Tribes who came to the New World intermingled.

But I have to admit my perspective may be a bit skewed. My father was one of the very few Anglo men who was initiated into one of the Pueblos here in the Southwest. As an initiate, he was sworn to secrecy so I do not know all the intricacies and details of the traditions and oral histories he was entrusted with. I grew up with the little Black Horse dancing right along with the rest of the dancers when my father took me and the rest of the family to Cochiti Pueblo for their ceremonies.

And I grew up with four horses, each of a different color. My father named the red horse Alazana, meaning red in Spanish. He named the black horse Medianoche or midnight in Spanish. He named the bay horse Zane, which is a shade of bay in Spanish.

My father did not name our palomino for his color though. He could have called the horse Guerro, or blondie. He could have called him Amarillento or yellowed. He could have named him Oro for golden. Instead, our pale horse was called Joker.

Dun is a coat color dilution characterized by lightening of the coat, with the head, lower legs, mane and tail usually undiluted. Oftentimes, dun is also characterized by “primitive markings” such as a dark dorsal stripe, barring of the legs, shoulder stripes, and “cobwebbing” on the forehead.

But there are several different genes that dilute the base coat colors of red, black and bay into shades of buckskin, dun and palomino. Breeding for these colors is a challenge because the results are so unpredictable. These color genes really are the Joker in the genetic deck.

Asad does not carry cream, champagne, pearl or silver genes. He, like other horses with D/nd1 or genotype, is a dun dilute with primitive markings. He may transmit either D, the dun dilute variant, or the primitive marking nd1 to his offspring.

Asad does have a white star on his forehead and his color panel shows that he carries one copy of W20. according to UC Davis, ‘Horses with the W20 genotype display white face and leg markings and some may have a variable amount of white spotting. Unlike W5, W10 and W22, the homozygous condition W20/W20 is not lethal.’

W20 is considered one of the oldest white genetic mutations as it is found in many breeds. UC Davis also notes that, especially in combination with other white pattern alleles, W20 has been shown to increase the amount of white patterning, producing an all white or nearly all white phenotype. Asad’s pedigree shows that he is linebred to a Medicine Paint.

The entrance to the Catholic Church of Santo Domingo Pueblo had Medicine Paint horses painted on each side of the doorway during my childhood. Since many of those who came to the New World were light horse cavalry just like those Medieval Knights, I believe that the Medicine Horse of the Horse Tribes of North America is a white horse with a bonnet and shield because those who brought their equine companions of millennia to North America shared their beliefs as well as their knowledge and skill with their indigenous allies. The earliest European reference to the Medicine Paint horse I found are in the 10th century stories of the Grail Quest and the Knights of the Round Table.

Sir Gawain’s beloved mount Gringolet is described as a white horse with red ears. Gringolet is described a Grail Horse whose allegiance must be earned by those who seek the Holy Grail. Once their allegiance is earned, the Grail Horse can carry his rider through the veil between realms to the elusive Grail Castle.

Besides, there is an esoteric Joker as well as the genetic ones in the oldest version of Revelations. According to The Apocalypse Unsealed, there are actually Five Horseman of the Apocalypse,  not four.  Death does ride a  Pale Horse. But it is often overlooked that he is accompanied by the Unseen Horse. 

The literal translation for the Unseen Horse that so easily disappears from our mundane view actually means mottled or spotted. The genes that cause horses to be mottled or spotted are varied and complex. And the paint horse really does ride with death as some genes associated with white are lethal when homozygous.

The fifth Horseman of Revelations holds the Key to the Unseen Realms. The description of the Medicine Paint of the Plains Indians bears an uncanny resemblance not only to the Unseen Horse of Revelations but to the Grail Horses of that journey to enlightenment. One of the things I really appreciate about these Grail horses is their ability to function in both mundane and mystical realms.

And apparently Asad takes his responsibility for keeping me grounded in physical reality no matter how far I might roam metaphysically very seriously. I recently gave a talk on the esoteric practices associated with the breath and the horses through Matt Wood’s Institute. As I hung up the phone after Matt, Jon and I had finished laying out how our talk was going to go, Asad let loose with a trumpeting bugle call that was as loud as the sirens at the fire-station.

I levitated out of my chair and tore outside to see what was happening. I expected some sort of uproar, but I found Asad calmly eating. I can only assume that he was responding to the atmospheric energetic shift with his own call to action. His call made me think of this passage from the Book of Job:

  • “Do you give the horse his might?
  • Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
  •  Do you make him leap like the locust?
  • His majestic snorting is terrifying.
  • He paws in the valley and exults in his strength;
  • He goes out to meet the weapons.
  • He laughs at fear and is not dismayed;
  • he does not turn back from the sword.
  •  Upon him rattle the quiver,
  • the flashing spear, and the javelin.
  • With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground;
  • he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
  • When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’
  • He smells the battle from afar,
  • the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
  • Job 39-19-25

(One of the peculiar images repeated in Revelations and echoed in the Book of Job is horses described as locusts. They are caparisoned like locusts, and it is intriguing to think that the basic design of horse armor is based on the carapace of insects. The horses also swarm like locusts, and most importantly to a horse person, they leap like locusts.  People don’t often compare horses to insects, so I became curious about where this all began. Equine biomechanics are a whole other post, but the conformation of the horses of Revelations is as informative and transformative as their colors.)

Despite the golden highlights of his coat that vary from season to season, Asad does not carry any of the known appaloosa pattern genes related to such coat changes. After the Baroque era (1600-1750), paint and appaloosa horses fell out of favor in Europe, but their popularity in the New World remains strong. Even the entrance to the Catholic church at Santo Domingo Pueblo now shows a pair of blanket appaloosas even though the ancient cave painting of the Iberian Peninsula as well as Baroque era paintings tend to show leopard types.

In fact, the oldest and most plentiful images of horses we are aware of are found in the caves of the Iberian peninsula (click here). We also know that while horses make up as much as 35% of the bones in prehistoric human food refuse in other areas of Eurasia, in the Iberian region less  than one percent of all bones found in cooking refuse from the same era as the paintings (25,000 years and more) come from horses. Something about the relationship between horses and humans was clearly different, and among indigenous cultures today it is still common for those who have a particular affinity with an animal to refrain from eating it.

A timeline for the peoples of the Horse Clan and their Leaping Horses looks something like this:

  • 30,000 bc people painted horses in the caves of Iberia
  •   8,500 bc Iberian horses and people migrated to North Africa due to climate change,
  •   5,000 bc an exceptional stallion is born to the horse tribes, who then begin to ride their horses, and trade the colts.
  •      200 bc  The Numidians are the finest light horse cavalry ever seen. They ride with only a neck rope, their weapons  are a javelin, and a short sword with a small round shield for protection
  • 40-44 ad St. James, Patron Saint of Equestrians, sets the foundations for the Way of St James
  •  65-95 ad Revelations is recorded for posterity
  •  400 ad Revelations is included in the official cannon of the Catholic church, although it was and is contested material.
  •   711 ad Tariq and his Berber light cavalry conquer Spain. Crossing the distantly related Spanish and Berber horses over the next 800 years produces exceptional animals
  • 1200 ad Wolfram writes Parzival whose hero’s initiatory journey is guided by his Castillian Grail Horse
  •  1,458  ad Pope Calixtus III was troubled enough to forbid the Spanish locals their rites in caves that were painted with horses shortly before the Spanish Catholic Castillians fnally managed to throw the Islamic Moors out of Spain
  • 1,500-1810 ad Iberian horses and their peoples arrive in the Americas
  • 1,680 ad The Pueblo Indian Revolt triggers the Great Horse Dispersal and indigenous peoples spread the horses through out the Great Plains
  •  1,800 ad the Horse Tribes of the North American Plains are described as the finest light horse cavalry ever seen. Some use Spanish saddles and bridles, most  ride with no tack carrying a small round shield and hand weapons, uncannily much like the Numidians

These extra-ordinary horses are endangered, losing both numbers and invaluable genetic diversity every day. Breeders are few and far between and the population of free-roaming horses on public landswho still carry these qualities is being decimated. So here is hoping that many people respond to Asad’s call for action, by seeking out, adopting and perpetuating those few Grail Horses that may still be found in the Bureau of Land Managements adoption site as well as those horses recognized by more official registries.

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