The Akhal-Teke’s coat has a distinctive metallic sheen, so the horse appears to literally shimmer in the sun. This breed also has a reputation for high intelligence, speed, and endurance. The breed remains a national emblem in Turkmenistan, whose early tribes prided themselves on their horse breeding skills.
Horses are valued to this day, but because of their central roles in the societies of earlier times, they were prized more than almost anything else.
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“By riding horses, humans were able to travel faster,” Wallner explained. “They could connect huge territories, and the domestication of the horse revolutionized warfare.”
Horse domestication goes back more than 5000 years, so the fact that most horses today descend from lineages dating to just 700 years ago shows how intense breeding from that time onward has greatly affected these majestic mammals.
A similar phenomenon has affected cats and dogs. Like horses, just a few key lineages are at the root of most breeding efforts. These animals, however, bred with local native species, creating the variety of types seen today.
Even mustangs, free-roaming horses of the American West, descended from horses brought to the Americas by the Spanish. Given the new research, it is possible that mustangs too have ancestry going back to a Middle Eastern or Central Asian lineage. Future research could help to solve that mystery, and could identify the history of other horse breeds worldwide.
Additional whole genome studies could also help to determine if the relatively small founding stock of most horses has led to problems due to low genetic diversity or inherited health issues. It may also be that some local, native horses went extinct as a result of human domestication of these mammals.
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