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How many vertebrae do Arabs have?
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Dorothy
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 Posted: Sat Sep 18th, 2010 06:54 pm
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Hello Dr Deb,

Is it true that some Arabs have one fewer vertebrae than other horses? If so, does this have implications on their ability to collect and carry themselves in a good way?

thankyou,

Dorothy

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Sep 18th, 2010 09:31 pm
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Dorothy, Arabians have one less lumbar vertebra about 30% of the time. When we say "one less", it is often not a whole vertebra less, but instead a fusion of lumbar 5 with lumbar 6, so you should really say it is "one half" of a vertebra less, i.e. it is one joint less.

This configuration can be found not only in Arabians, but in Thoroughbreds and Mustangs and many other breeds that have Middle Eastern ancestry. Note that "Middle Eastern ancestry" does NOT necessarily mean Arabian ancestry. The Arabian breed is the youngest, not the oldest, of recognized breeds that come out of the equine subspecies that, in prehistoric time, inhabited the Middle East.

What I am saying is that the tendency to fuse the last two lumbar vertebrae was a characteristic of that subspecies, and continues to be found in most breeds that derive in significant part from it, such as the Thoroughbred but also the American Mustangs, Baguales, and Criollos, whose Middle Eastern blood derives in zero part from the Arabian -- there is zero Arabian blood in these horses unless it has been crossed in recently. But many a "mustang fancier" or defender has pointed to the skeleton of one of these animals lying out upon the prairie top and photographed it and printed it to point out the fusion of the last two lumbars, and said, "see we should preserve these animals because they derive from the noble Arabian."

It would help if more people read the horse evolution papers posted at Knowledge Base, and the paper on the origin of the Mustang, Barb, and Arabian -- all of them address this general topic. Good question though, on your part, Dorothy, and I'm glad you brought it up. -- Dr. Deb

Dorothy
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 Posted: Sun Sep 19th, 2010 08:25 am
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thank you Dr Deb,

 I have a further question about Arabs, why is it that they tend to carry their tails with so much more of an arch than most other breeds?

Dorothy

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Sep 19th, 2010 11:08 am
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Dorothy, this well-advertised feature of the Arabian horse is also not unique. Any horse, if excited or frightened enough, will put its tail up.

The 'flagging tail' of the Arabian is part of their advertising mystique. All breeds that are commercially for sale in developed countries, both horses and dogs, have an advertising mystique, just as there are supposed differences between Fords and Chevys. That used to be a serious topic of debate among us when we were kids; and of course a lot of what we argued so passionately for depended upon what our dad happened to also prefer. There were 'Ford families' and 'Chevy families' and that characterized them just as much as whether they were 'Catholic families' or 'Methodist families'.

Now, this is not to say that there are no meaningful differences between Catholics and Methodists, or either between Chevys and Fords. There really is a Pope and Fords really do use a rubber O-ring in their transmission. And there probably is some truth to the jokes about the acronyms: F.O.R.D. (Flips Over, Real Dangerous), D.O.D.G.E. (Drips Oil, Drops Grease Everywhere) and C.H.E.V. (CHeap Everyday Vehicle).

So, likewise, it's undeniable that Arabians do 'flag' their tails. And they do spend more time getting, or being, excited than some other breeds -- though the difference there is more noticeable between the average Arabian and, say, a Standardbred, a Morgan, or a Clydesdale than it would be between an Arabian and an Akhal-Teke or a Caspian Pony, which are older breeds deriving from the same Middle Eastern/North African subspecies as the Arabian. So people in our countries are likely to say 'well the Arabian flags his tail very much more', because the only near thing to compare to commonly would be a TB, an Appaloosa, or a Quarter Horse. Nonetheless I have seen even a Morgan erect its tail like a poodle's (and I don't mean the animal had had caustics scrubbed up its anus, either, by cruel show people). This particular aspect begs the question also of why the Arabian gets, or maintains, a higher level of excitement, by which I mean physiological arousal: part of it is high IQ, part of it is high "curiosity quotient", and part of it is that so many of them never do become as sure of themselves and their environment as they deserve to be.

But part of it also is that the Arabian, and all related breeds including the Thoroughbred, have high energy -- they are expressive horses, quick in their reactions, and athletic. They 'warm up' in ten seconds, and they are easy to make fit. This derives from the fact that they have a higher level of resting tonus than, let us say, Standardbreds or Morgans or a real Warmblood (meaning one that is 90% or better actually Warmblood) such as a Friesian or a Cleveland Bay. When the tonus is higher, the muscles react quicker, including the muscles that lift the tail.

The last point to be made is that there are real differences in the configuration of the rear end of the Arabian. The most important of these is usually entirely missed by Arabian fanciers, although I notice in the current Wikipedia article on the Arabian breed, it has not been missed -- that is very good. The important feature is not the sometimes-lack of one lumbar vertebra or one intra-lumbar joint, but the fact that in a quality Arabian horse, the croup is more horizontal than in other breeds, and much more horizontal than the pelvis.

This architecture creates what, in 1977 when I first pointed these things out in the published literature, I termed 'the Arabian triangle'. When the skeleton is viewed from the side, the apex of the triangle is the meeting-point of the sacrum and pelvis, i.e. the sacro-iliac junction, while the base of the triangle is formed by the vertical distance separating the point of buttock (tuber coxae) and the root of the dock (where the first caudal vertebra attaches to the posterior end of the sacrum).

What this architecture does is couple an optimal pelvic angulation, i.e. about 22 degrees of downslope front to back, with a much more horizontal sacrum. Note that I do not say 'absolutely horizontal' sacrum or croup; what is true of the quality Arabian is not that the croup is dead-level, but that it is simply closer to level than in most individuals of most other breeds. It is a mistake to turn any desirable feature of conformation into an absolute!

What having a wide-based triangle does is optimize the angulation of the pelvis while increasing the leverage of the sacrum, via the lumbodorsal fascia, to coil the horse's back and lift the forehand. Both of these things conduce to speed, but also to ease of collection and hence the pleasantness and value of the ride.

So it is as a side effect of the relative levelness of the croup of the quality Arabian that we get the greater propensity to flag the tail -- in other words, given that the tail is 'set on' higher, when the animal makes any effort at all to lift it, it is that much more noticeable. The quality Mustang lifts his tail nearly as often as the Arabian, I would wager, but thanks to a much more sloping croup (the croup and the pelvis are nearly parallel in the typical Mustang), the top of the arch of the tail does not come higher than the animal's back.

I attach a photograph of the mounted skeleton of an Arabian horse. This is the same century-old photo that they're running in the Arabian article in Wikipedia, and they credit Henry Fairfield Osborn -- without, I think, realizing that in the teens of the twentieth century Dr. Osborn was the Director of the American Museum of Natural History, and the photo shows an AMNH mount that was on display way back then. Undoubtedly the skeleton was mounted by their taxidermist Chubb, whose favorite animal was horses. It is also undoubtedly the skeleton of one of several famous Arabians that were donated to the AMNH back in those days, though I cannot say which one. Whichever it is, the skeleton shows very well all the points made here, so I hope this satisfies your question. It sounds to me, Dorothy, like you're asking these questions on somebody else's behalf -- are you teaching the Pony Club these days? Cheers -- Dr. Deb

Attachment: Skeleton of Arab horse AMNH Mount ca 1915.jpg (Downloaded 227 times)

Dorothy
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 Posted: Sun Sep 19th, 2010 01:23 pm
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thank you - how interesting!

So would this also account for why, even when not excited and flagging the tail, the Arabian carries its tail in a higher arch than most others?

When I ride on the roads, I use reflective tailguards that are designed to be put on at the top of the dock, on a 'normal' horse, carrying its tail as they do in movement, the reflective part does face the rear and is a successful eyecatcher for traffic. With the Arab and the Anglo-arab, I have to put the tailguard on at least 6 - 8 inches down the tail, otherwise all I am warning are the aircraft above and not cars behind!

It always makes me smile.

I am asking the questions for myself now, however the topic did come up on a FB discussion thread, and I realised I did not know the answers, so I thought I'd come directly to the horse's mouth....

Dorothy

Last edited on Sun Sep 19th, 2010 01:42 pm by Dorothy

Jeannie
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 Posted: Sun Sep 19th, 2010 06:33 pm
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Dr Deb,
Two horses( an Arab and a Standard bred) that I have observed carrying their tails high and to the side while they were being ridden, have both been ridden broken back at the base of the neck and hollow in the back so that they appear elk necked. One was ridden in a tie down. I assume their tails are offset when they are ridden because they are crooked, and one hip is ahead of the other, so that the tail set is a result of their posture. Would that be a correct assumption?
                                         Jeannie

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 Posted: Thu Jan 5th, 2017 10:11 pm
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When I was in Morocco several years ago, touring the Sultans stables, I was told that the Berber horse when bred with at Berber only has 17 vertebrae. They have 18 if bred with other breeds. I thought this was very interesting. We were truly impressed with the majesty, and gait of these horses!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Jan 5th, 2017 11:28 pm
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Dear MS: All horses derivative of the E. caballus pumpelli subspecies have the potential for non-development of one lumbar vertebra, giving a total of five, not six: hence Barbs, Mustangs, Sorraias, Arabians, Turkmenes.

There are two common confusions: one, the myth that ALL Arabians have one less vertebra; they don't, any more than the other breeds above listed. But there is a percentage who do have one less lumbar vertebra, or one-half less (i.e. lumbars no. 5 and 6 are congenitally fused together).

The other confusion is regarding WHICH vertebra is lost: it is a lumbar, not a thoracic. So your informant at the Sultan's stables is in error -- there are zero horses, now or at any time, who have had 17 thoracics. If they are missing a vertebra, it is a lumbar, not a thoracic.

Occasionally one may find a horse that has nineteen thoracics -- generally among the draft breeds. And you can also get pathological individuals whose last thoracic, for example, thinks it's a lumbar, so that the normal articulation for the rib becomes thickened and fused to the body, somewhat like a lumbar. And, this can happen on only one side.

Normal numbers of vertebrae in all breeds:

7 cervical

18 thoracic

6 lumbar

1 sacrum, comprised of 5 vertebrae that fuse together at or before birth

from zero to 24 caudals, 12-18 being common and zero very rare.

The horse and its relatives comprising the Perissodactyl order (i.e. horses, zebras, asses, rhinoceroses, tapirs, and an array of fossil types such as brontotheres and chalicotheres) consistently have more thoracics than any other animals.

Cheers -- Dr. Deb

ruth
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 Posted: Fri Jan 6th, 2017 01:05 am
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The sorraias but not the lusitanos?

Kuhaylan Heify
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 Posted: Fri Jan 6th, 2017 09:34 pm
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The back length issue is interesting. In Europe Arabs were used to get light cavalry horses. The lights were used as scouts, for battlefield intelligence gathering, and picket and patrol duties. Their mission kept them constantly on the go and they frequently outran their supply lines. The remount stud directors tried to breed visibly short backed horses standing 14.3 to 15.3 hands tall with lean musculature. Fundamentally different from the Heavy battle cavalry horses whose backs were appreciably longer- commensurate with their much greater size. The Heavies required grain to stay fit and more attentive hoof and vet care. With the shorter backed horses came the need for more intelligent saddle fit. One of the big factors behind Napoleons defeats in Spain and Russia was the loss of soundness of his light cavalry horses.
best
Bruce Peek

Shemesh
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 Posted: Sat Feb 11th, 2017 03:03 am
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Bruce I would be really interested in finding out the sources for your conclusion that Napoleon's light horse lost soundness. Appreciate it. Rod

ruth
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 Posted: Sat Feb 11th, 2017 03:16 am
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At a visit to one of the provincial state studs in France (I can't remember where, possibly Normandy), we were shown the hoof of 'one of Napoleon's light cavalry horses' with the shoe on back to front. This was explained as a ploy by Napoleon to fool the English as to which direction his horses were going in - ho, ho, ho went the French audience. I privately remembered my old farrier in the UK who would put a shoe on back to front on a pony that had laminitis to support the heel, I think also done by other farriers in the past, and privately thought that this was probably more an indication of a soundness problem in Napoleon's cavalry horses. Sorry, just an anecdote,not really evidence.

Shemesh
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 Posted: Sat Feb 11th, 2017 07:45 am
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No problem if its a story. Was interested in case you had any details about those campaigns. Good story though!. Thanks.

Kuhaylan Heify
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 Posted: Sat Feb 11th, 2017 10:57 am
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Rod: Most all of the general historical accounts of the French invasion of Russia mention that old Nappy started out with thousands of horses and his surviving troops made it back to Germany with a few hundred fit for service. A good number of the French horse were turned into field rations after they lost soundness i.e. eaten by said troops. You see the same pattern in the American civil war at least in the early years of troops not taking care of their horses. After 1863 when the cavalry bureau was formed to heal remounts and the provost guards began confiscating horses from units that didn't take care of their horses and forcing the troopers to become ground pounders i.e. infantry, there was a sea change. The Cavalry in the Civil War has a telling photo of I think a Pennsylvania unit who during winter quarters stabled their mounts on corduroy poles laid side by side to create a raised platform keeping their horses from standing in mud getting mud fever and going unsound. By the third year of the war the Union horse had learned some hard lessons at the hands of Stuarts troopers- essentially that a lame horse meant you would fall behind on a march and quite probably end up with a slit throat- so best to take care of your mounts.
best wishes
Bruce Peek

Shemesh
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 Posted: Sat Feb 11th, 2017 01:04 pm
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Thanks Bruce. Good stuff there. From memory I think it was also one of the coldest winters for a while in Russia which wouldn't haven't helped the horses chances of survival. Good to hear that the care for horses improved in the US Civil War. Tough time for them all but animals usually get the worst of it. Thanks. Rod.


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