Are Some Equine Breeds On The Edge Of Extinction?

Genetic erosion is a concerning topic for all facets of the livestock industry, including horses. Selective breeding for high-yielding food and fiber results in economic values for some livestock; in horses, selective breeding is not done for these reasons, but for competitive advantage or specifics like color, temperament or size, says Cliff Williamson of the American Horse Council.

Though the national horse population is declining, the plethora of buying options has left some breeds on the precipice of extinction. These “endangered” breeds are those with 2,000 or less registries per year. The Livestock Conservancy (TLC), with a grant from the USA Equestrian Trust, worked with Texas A&M University and Virginia Tech to bring together 50 associations and registries to create the inaugural Endangered Equine Summit.

Attendees were asked to identify what they felt were the leading causes of breed population decrease and asked to brainstorm ideas on how to stabilize the decline. The decline in specific equine breeds is not unique to the United States; the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in England monitors declining breeds and produces a “watchlist” of breeds that are threatened with extinction. The group also notes threats to breed health, which include geographic over-saturation and inbreeding.

In 2018, the TLC released a manual to be used as an educational resource for owners and veterinarians on how to collect tissue to preserve significant genetic material for conservation. It’s called the “Manual of Methods for Preservation of Valuable Equine Genetics in Live Animals and Post-Mortem” and is available here.

Biotechnology companies have made great strides in cell collection, embryo flushes, storage, implantation and cloning. Each of these may make the “resurrection” of lost breeds both possible and cost effective.

Banks for stallion seen or cell material to preserve bloodlines would greatly benefit the future of specific bloodlines. The National Animal Germplasm Program at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has recently begun taking additional material for preservation.

The genetic health of an animal is directly tied to its use and financial return; though the value of a specific group of horses to the future of the equine industry may not be known, it is important to protect them, says Williamson.

Read more here.

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