From being powerful war horses to pulling Egyptian chariots with stellar speed and thereby earning the nickname ‘Drinkers of the Wind’, the Arabian horse has spearheaded equine endurance and elegance, right from its estimated origins circa 500 B.C.
Arguably, the most popular horse breed in the world, the Arabian horse is used today in a variety of disciplines; western, saddle seat, dressage, to name a few.
In an interesting talk organised by the Qatar Natural History Group (QNHG) at Al Shaqab last week, Dr Mats Troedsson, Consultant Director of Al Shaqab Equine Veterinary Medical Centre, and Professor at the University of Kentucky, MHG Equine Research Centre, discussed at length the glorious history of the Arabian horse, its importance in the history of Qatar, and current strategies for horse breeding and equine welfare at Al Shaqab.
Qualified at the Royal Veterinary College, Stockholm, Dr Troedsson has a PhD in Reproductive Immunology from the University of California, Davis, and 40 years of experience in Equine Veterinary care and Academia, most recently as Director of the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Centre.
Community caught up with Dr Troedsson, one of world’s leading experts on Equine reproduction, for a chat.
Take us through some of the key points you discussed at your QNHG talk on the Arabian horse last week.
I spoke about the history of the Arabian horse and about Al Shaqab among other things. The Arabian horse is one of the oldest horse breeds, dating back 4,500 years. It originated in this part of the world and was domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula by Bedouins. The challenging desert environment resulted in a strong genetic selection. The pedigree and bloodlines were important to the Bedouins who tracked the ancestry through female lines. The early genetic selection of the Arabian horse has resulted in a strong breed with high spirit and exceptional endurance, characterised by a typical distinctive head shape, arched neck, and high tail carriage. Arabian bloodlines are found in almost every breed of riding horses. And, today, the horse is used for endurance competitions, pleasure and competitive riding, racing, and halter classes. Qatar has a rich tradition of prized Arabian horses, and the breed continues to play an important role in the daily life and identity of Qatar, which today is home to a large and diverse population of Arabian horses.
Can you tell us a little about Al Shaqab and the upcoming equine veterinary centre?
The overarching mission of Al Shaqab, a member of Qatar Foundation (QF), is to be a global leader in preserving, improving, and promoting the Arabian horse through setting the highest standards in breeding, show, equestrian arts and equine welfare, and encouraging community participation. Al Shaqab is home to a number of world-class facilities including a state-of-the-art equine veterinary centre, which is currently being developed to support Al Shaqab’s equine programmes and provide veterinary services to all horses in Qatar. The Al Shaqab Equine Veterinary Medical Centre (AS-EVMC) will house: A state-of-the-art equine hospital with specialised expertise in surgery, anaesthesiology and pain management, podiatry, medical imaging, internal medicine, and reproduction; a veterinary diagnostic laboratory, offering laboratory support in pathology, haematology, biochemistry, bacteriology, molecular biology, serology, endocrinology, and parasitology; and a clinical research laboratory with the purpose of advancing equine health and well-being through scientific discovery in equine veterinary medicine and dissemination of new advances to the scientific community, veterinary profession, owners and trainers in Qatar, the Gulf region, and around the world. The sequencing of the equine genome in 2009 has allowed scientists to better understand the relationship between domesticated horse breeds, and to identify and study inherited diseases. Modern breeding techniques, veterinary expertise, and a variety of genetic tools are available to AS-EVMC in assisting the breeding programmes at Al Shaqab in their mission to improve the Arabian horse in Qatar and around the world.
What points to the importance of the Arabian horse in the history of Qatar?
The history of Bedouins in the Arabian Peninsula and the Arabian horse are intimately intertwined. Many credit the strength of the mounted Arabian horses with the success in the historic battle of Al Wajbah (The Battle of Al Wajbah was an armed conflict that took place in March 1893 in Qatar, a province of the Ottoman Empire’s Najd sanjak at that time).
What are some of the most vital works being carried out in the area of horse breeding and equine welfare at Al Shaqab?
One key component of the equestrian centre is Al Shaqab’s Breeding and Show programme. A world-leading initiative, it has a long record of breeding and raising World Champion horses. Additionally, the development of AS-EVMC will create a world-class veterinary programme to support the health and well-being of horses at Al Shaqab, and within the wider community.
As an expert on equine genetics and reproduction, how would you briefly encapsulate the evolution over the past few decades of the Arabian horse, and also what the future holds for its rise even further?
The sequencing of the equine genome has allowed us to identify inherited diseases within the Arabian horse, as well as other horse breeds, and to design breeding programmes to avoid propagation of debilitating genetic diseases. It is anticipated that information from genomic studies will also identify beneficial traits that can guide breeding decisions in the future. Breeding technologies that allow us to preserve and transport germplasm, including sperm, eggs, and embryos, internationally have improved genetic selection and diversity, which benefit horse breeds all over the world.
Having spent more than 40 years closely with horses, what are the three fascinating insights about horses that you have learnt from your experiences?
I find the unique ability horses possess to interact and communicate on a sophisticated and individual basis with different types of people fascinating, as well as their ability to connect with different groups of people, including adults, children, autistic men and women, and physically and mentally handicapped individuals.
What would you say are the highlights of your career in equine care, genetics and reproduction?
Over my career, I have been fortunate to work with very talented people all over the world and have been involved in research that has resulted in the advancement of our understanding of complex medical and biological problems, and facilitated improvements in diagnosis and treatment of a variety of diseases.
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