The Thoroughbred horse breed was developed primarily for racing, and has a significant contribution to the qualitative improvement of many other horse breeds. Despite the importance of Thoroughbred racehorses in historical, cultural, and economical viewpoints, there was no temporal and spatial dynamics of them using the mitogenome sequences. To explore this topic, the complete mitochondrial genome sequences of 14 Thoroughbreds and two Przewalski’s horses were determined. These sequences were analyzed together along with 151 previously published horse mitochondrial genomes from a range of breeds across the globe using a Bayesian coalescent approach as well as Bayesian inference and maximum likelihood methods. The racing horses were revealed to have multiple maternal origins and to be closely related to horses from one Asian, two Middle Eastern, and five European breeds. Thoroughbred horse breed was not directly related to the Przewalski’s horse which has been regarded as the closest taxon to the all domestic horses and the only true wild horse species left in the world. Our phylogenomic analyses also supported that there was no apparent correlation between geographic origin or breed and the evolution of global horses. The most recent common ancestor of the Thoroughbreds lived approximately 8,100–111,500 years ago, which was significantly younger than the most recent common ancestor of modern horses (0.7286 My). Bayesian skyline plot revealed that the population expansion of modern horses, including Thoroughbreds, occurred approximately 5,500–11,000 years ago, which coincide with the start of domestication. This is the first phylogenomic study on the Thoroughbred racehorse in association with its spatio-temporal dynamics. The database and genetic history information of Thoroughbred mitogenomes obtained from the present study provide useful information for future horse improvement projects, as well as for the study of horse genomics, conservation, and in association with its geographical distribution.
We carried out a Bayesian coalescent approach using extended mitochondrial genome sequences from 167 horses in order to further assess the timescale of horse domestication. Here, we first calculated the time of the most recent common ancestor of Thoroughbred horses. Our analysis revealed the age of the most recent common ancestor of the racing horse to be around 8,100–111,500 years old. This estimate is much younger than that of the most recent common ancestor of the global horses, which has been estimated at 0.7286 Mys old.
On the domestication time of modern horses, there have been several publications derived from both archaeological [49–51] and molecular [11–12, 23, 48] evidences. D’Andrade  reported that the origin of domestic horses was around 4,000 years ago. Ludwig et al.  stated the domestication time to be about 5,000 years ago, while Anthony  noted that horse rearing by humans may have occurred approximately 6,000 years ago. Subsequently, on the basis of mitochondrial genome sequences, Lippold et al.  and Achilli et al.  postulated domestication time to be about 6,000–8,000 and 6,000–7,000 years ago, respectively. Warmuth  dated domestication time to 5,500 years ago based on autosomal genotype data, while Orlando et al.  claimed that Przewalski’s and domestic horse populations diverged 38,000–72,000 years ago based on analysis of genome sequences. In contrast to the previous hypothesized date of horse domestication, the results of our Bayesian skyline plot (BSP) analysis depict a rapid expansion of the horse population approximately 5,500–11,000 years ago, which coincides with the start of domestication.
It seems that we will not have an update on horse aDNA from the ISBA 8, so we will have to make do with this for the moment.
Here, we compiled an extensive continental-scale database, consisting of 3070 radiocarbon dates associated to horse paleontological and archeological finds across the whole of Eurasia, that has been analyzed in association with coarse-scale paleoclimatic reconstructions. We further collected the number of identified specimens (NISP) frequency data for horses versus other ungulates in 1120 archeological layers in Europe (…) This ma.ssive amount of data allowed us to track,with unprecedented details, how the geographic distribution of the species changed through time
Geographic range through time
For most analyses, the data have been divided into climatic periods: pre-LGM(older than 27 ka B.P.), LGM(27 to 18 ka B.P.), Late Glacial (18 to 11.7 ka B.P.), Preboreal (11.7 to 10.6 ka B.P.), Boreal (10.6 to 9.1 ka B.P.), Early Atlantic (9.1 to 7.5 ka B.P.), Late Atlantic (7.5 to 5.5 ka B.P.), and Recent (younger than 5.5 ka B.P.) (Fig. 1, A and B). The spatial and temporal distribution of horse remains compiled in our database reveals a strong imbalance in Eurasia (Fig. 1, A and B).
We found a common trend in both regions for a high number of occurrences at the end of the Pleistocene (with a decrease during the LGM, only visible in Europe), followed by a drastic reduction in the Early and Middle Holocene, and a relative increase toward more recent times. These included both the Early Atlantic in Europe, which started ~9.1 ka B.P., and the time range after 5.5 ka B.P. for Asia. The horse fossil record appears ubiquitous throughout Europe in the Late Pleistocene, while in the Early and Middle Holocene the finds are concentrated in central-western Europe and Iberia. From 7.5 ka B.P., the number of finds increases markedly, and the geographical distribution extends toward the east and southeast.
Different Asian and European niches
This analysis revealed that, in both continents, horses occupied only a portion of the climatic space available. The range covered by random locations shows that the paleoecological conditions present in Europe were only a subset of those found in Asia. However, European horses occupied a much wider climatic space than in Asia, with only limited overlap between the two ranges.
Horses conquered temperate environments from a European source
There is no evidence of climatic barriers between those two populations through time because the forecasts from Europe and Asia always overlap in central Eurasia, except 5 ka B.P. (figs. S3 and S4). An alternative explanation is the role of the Urals as a potential constraint for the dispersal of horses between Europe and north central Asia.
Climatic and habitat association patterns for horses in Europe support increasing habitat fragmentation
The decrease of horse remains in Europe is not characterized by a geographic reduction in the overall extent of the area occupied by the species but in a drop of frequencies in a geographic extent that does not vary much between the Late Glacial and the Early Atlantic (Figs. 1B and 4B). This pattern is more likely to result from habitat fragmentation than from a geographic shift in the climatic range suitable for the species, as observed for many animals during the LGM (23).
In the whole period ranging from the Preboreal (11.7 to 10.6 ka B.P.) to the Late Atlantic (7.5 to 5.5 ka B.P.), the total amount of land space most and likely suitable to horses is wider than in the Late Glacial, and only between 8 to 7 ka ago the European range appears patchy and fragmented (Fig. 4C). When comparing each of four successive time bins during the Holocene (8, 7, 6, and 5 ka B.P., respectively) (Fig. 4E), the difference in successive p-Hor values in Europe shows that the suitability for the species in Iberia, northeastern France, Italy, the Balkans, and eastern Europe steadily increased, while in Central Europe strong differences can be observed between neighboring regions.
Taken at face value, this pattern would suggest that horses were not restricted to open environments but could equally well inhabit closed, forested environments, as previously suggested (18). However, as others recently emphasized (19), the faunal associations inHolocene sites from Europe suggest a different pattern. The PCAs based on faunal assemblages (figs. S1 and S2) separate on the second principal component sites characterized by ungulates associated to forested areas (red deer, wild boar, and roe deer) and all other animals, associated to semi-open and open environments, including horses for most records.
Together, the contrast between the reconstructed microscale and macroscale vegetable coverage in Europe, the increase of horses in mainly forested macroregions, and the spatial pattern of extinction suggest that, from the beginning of the Holocene, the suitable environment became more and more patchy, with open areas increasingly fragmented by forests, where wild populations of horses could have survived in isolation until one or several waves of arrivals of domestic horses, leading to either local admixture or a full replacement of the preexisting local populations.
Our data show that, up to 5.5 ka ago, horse finds do not show association with species characteristic of forested areas such as wild boar and roe deer. We infer that the open and semi-open habitats occupied by horses on a narrow geographic scale appear less and less frequent at a macroenvironmental scale, supporting the possibility of increasing fragmentation of open habitats. This event is also likely to have led to an intensification of genetic isolation for the remaining horse populations, a pattern that still needs to be tested on genomic data.
The suitability of both Iberia and eastern Europe appears constant throughout the entire post-LGM period, in line with these regions being hotspots of genetic diversity and, possibly, the refugia sources for the recolonization of the continent (11). While the Pontic-Caspian region appears not suitable for European horses around the time when horses where first domesticated some 5.5 ka ago (6), part of this region appears suitable for the Asian horses (with the Caspian Sea as the westernmost boundary). This may suggest that horse domestication started from a population background related to an Asian ancestry and that the further spread of the domesticated horses in Europe involved either adaptation to novel niches (possibly through selective breeding) or the application of domestication techniques to local horse populations pre-adapted to these environmental conditions. Testing this scenario will require mapping the genetic structure of the Eurasian horse population within the fifth to third millennium BCE.
Cultural-anthropological research and archaeological remains (see here), genetics (see here and here), and now also thorough palaeoclimatic and archaeological models point to the North Caspian region, settled by the Khvalynsk culture, as the most likely earliest origin of horse domestication. The paper also supports the favorable conditions of western Europe up to Iberia for the introduction of a horse-riding culture.
I intended to write a post about the myth of Corded Ware horse riders, but for the moment I haven’t found the time. Not that Corded Ware pastoralists didn’t have horses, or could not ride them: they were a highly mobile culture of pastoralists stemming from eastern Poland / western Ukraine, so they must have known horses, like many other European cultures of the late 4th / early 3rd millennium influenced by expanding Yamna settlers. But it just cannot be said to have formed an essential part of their culture, as it was for Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka, and especially Yamna and later East Bell Beaker, Sintashta, etc.
A mere look at these maps suffices to assess the limited role of the horse in north-eastern Europe, the only region where groups of late Corded Ware-derived cultures survived the expansion of Yamna, and especially East Bell Beakers after ca. 2500 BC, which transformed Western, Northern, and Central Europe, and even East Europe reaching the modern Baltic countries, Belarus, and Romania. Even Trzciniec was born out of the influence from expanding Bell Beakers into earlier Corded Ware territory, although the later (Iron Age) relevance of this culture was probably quite limited.
As you can imagine, without horses and horse symbolism, horse riding, carts, and intensive cattle-breeding (associated with Yamna and the broad, east-central European grasslands typical of steppe regions), there can be no Proto-Indo-European, whose reconstructed vocabulary is particulary rich in horse-related words, and whose reconstructed culture, society, and religion cannot be understood without the domesticated horse. In forest regions to the north-east and eastern Europe, there was apparently little space for horses, but plenty of room for other ungulates and thus hunting, and indeed Uralic languages…
In the upcoming months we will see R1a-fans associating Proto-Indo-Europeans more and more with wool, and sheep, and corded ware, and forest regions, until the proposed homeland shifts to the Baltic and Finland, instead of dat boring horse-riding people of the steppes…No wait, it’s already happening.
Animal domestication gives rise to gradual changes at the genomic level through selection in populations. Selective sweeps have been traced in the genomes of many animal species, including humans, cattle, and dogs. However, little is known regarding positional candidate genes and genomic regions that exhibit signatures of selection in domestic horses. In addition, an understanding of the genetic processes underlying horse domestication, especially the origin of Chinese native populations, is still lacking. In our study, we generated whole genome sequences from 4 Chinese native horses and combined them with 48 publicly available full genome sequences, from which 15 341 213 high-quality unique single-nucleotide polymorphism variants were identified. Kazakh and Lichuan horses are 2 typical Asian native breeds that were formed in Kazakh or Northwest China and South China, respectively. We detected 1390 loss-of-function (LoF) variants in protein-coding genes, and gene ontology (GO) enrichment analysis revealed that some LoF-affected genes were overrepresented in GO terms related to the immune response. Bayesian clustering, distance analysis, and principal component analysis demonstrated that the population structure of these breeds largely reflected weak geographic patterns. Kazakh and Lichuan horses were assigned to the same lineage with other Asian native breeds, in agreement with previous studies on the genetic origin of Chinese domestic horses. We applied the composite likelihood ratio method to scan for genomic regions showing signals of recent selection in the horse genome. A total of 1052 genomic windows of 10 kB, corresponding to 933 distinct core regions, significantly exceeded neutral simulations. The GO enrichment analysis revealed that the genes under selective sweeps were overrepresented with GO terms, including “negative regulation of canonical Wnt signaling pathway,” “muscle contraction,” and “axon guidance.” Frequent exercise training in domestic horses may have resulted in changes in the expression of genes related to metabolism, muscle structure, and the nervous system.
Admixture proportions were assessed without user-defined population information to infer the presence of distinct populations among the samples (Figure 2). At K = 3 or K = 4, Franches-Montagnes and Arabian forms one unique cluster; at K = 5, Jeju pony forms one unique cluster. For other breeds, comparatively strong population structure exists among breeds, and they can be assigned to 2 (or 3) alternate clusters from K = 3 to K = 5 including group A (Duelmener, Fjord, Icelandic, Kazakh, Lichuan, and Mongolian) and group B (Hanoverian, Morgan, Quarter, Sorraia, and Standardbred). For group A, geographically this was unexpected, where Nordic breeds (Norwegian Fjord, Icelandic, and Duelmener) clustered with Asian breeds including the Mongolian.Previous results of mitochondrial DNA have revealed links between the Mongolian horse and breeds in Iceland, Scandinavia, Central Europe, and the British Isles. The Mongol horses are believed to have been originally imported from Russia subsequently became the basis for the Norwegian Fjord horse.31 At K = 6, Sorraia forms one unique cluster. The Sorraia horse has no long history as a domestic breed but is considered to be of a nearly ancestral type in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.32 However, our result did not support Sorraia as an independent ancestral type based on result from K = 2 to K = 5, and the unique cluster in K = 6 may be explained by the small population size and recently inbreeding programs. Genetic admixture of Morgan reveals that these breeds are currently or traditionally continually crossed with other breeds from K = 2 to K = 8. The Morgan horse has been a largely closed breed for 200 years or more but there has been some unreported crossbreeding in recent times.33
Bayesian clustering and PCA demonstrated the relationships among the horse breeds with weak geographic patterns. The tight grouping within most native breeds and looser grouping of individuals in admixed breeds have been reported previously in modern horses using data from a 54K SNP chip.33,34 Cluster analysis reveals that Arabian or Franches-Montagnes forms one unique cluster with relatively low K value, which is consistent with former study using 50K SNP chip 33,34 Interestingly, Standardbred forms a unique cluster with relatively high K value in this study, different from previous study.33 To date, no footprints are available to describe how the earliest domestic horses spread into China in ancient times. Our study found that Kazakh and Lichuan were assigned to the same lineage as other native Asian breeds, in agreement with previous studies on the origin of Chinese domestic horses.4,5,35,36 The strong genetic relationship between Asian native breeds and European native breeds have made it more difficult to understand the population history of the horse across Eurasia. Low levels of population differentiation observed between breeds might be explained by historical admixture. Unlike the domestic pig in China,8we suggest that in China, Northern/Southern distinct groups could not be used to genetically distinct native Chinese horse breeds. We consider that during domestication process of horse, gene flow continued among Chinese-domesticated horses.
There are large populations of indigenous horse (Equus caballus) in China and some other parts of East Asia. However, their matrilineal genetic diversity and origin remained poorly understood. Using a combination of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and hypervariable region (HVR-1) sequences, we aim to investigate the origin of matrilineal inheritance in these domestic horses.
To investigate patterns of matrilineal inheritance in domestic horses, we conducted a phylogenetic study using 31 de novo mtDNA genomes together with 317 others from the GenBank. In terms of the updated phylogeny, a total of 5,180 horse mitochondrial HVR-1 sequences were analyzed.
Eighteen haplogroups (Aw-Rw) were uncovered from the analysis of the whole mitochondrial genomes. Most of which have a divergence time before the earliest domestication of wild horses (about 5,800 years ago) and during the Upper Paleolithic (35–10 KYA). The distribution of some haplogroups shows geographic patterns. The Lw haplogroup contained a significantly higher proportion of European horses than the horses from other regions, while haplogroups Jw, Rw, and some maternal lineages of Cw, have a higher frequency in the horses from East Asia. The 5,180 sequences of horse mitochondrial HVR-1 form nine major haplogroups (A-I). We revealed a corresponding relationship between the haplotypes of HVR-1 and those of whole mitochondrial DNA sequences. The data of the HVR-1 sequences also suggests that Jw, Rw, and some haplotypes of Cw may have originated in East Asia while Lw probably formed in Europe.
Our study supports the hypothesis of the multiple origins of the maternal lineage of domestic horses and some maternal lineages of domestic horses may have originated from East Asia.
Geographic distributions of horse mtDNA haplogroups
The analysis of geographic distribution of the mitochondrial genome haplogroups showed that horse populations in Europe or East Asia included all haplogroups defined from the mtDNA genome sequences. The lineage Fw comprised entirely of Przewalskii horses. The two haplogroups Iw and Lw displayed frequency peaks in Europe (14.08% and 37.32%, respectively) and a decline to the east (9.33% and 8.00% in the West Asia, and 6.45% and 12.90% in East Asia, respectively), especially for Lw, which contained the largest number of European horses (Table 2). However, an opposite distribution pattern was observed for haplogroups Aw, Hw, Jw, and Rw, which were harbored by more horses from East Asia than those from other regions. The proportions of horses from East Asia for the four haplogroups were 38%, 88%, 62%, and 54%, respectively.
Present-day domestic horses are immensely diverse in their maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA, yet they show very little variation on their paternally inherited Y chromosome. Although it has recently been shown that Y chromosomal diversity in domestic horses was higher at least until the Iron Age, when and why this diversity disappeared remain controversial questions. We genotyped 16 recently discovered Y chromosomal single-nucleotide polymorphisms in 96 ancient Eurasian stallions spanning the early domestication stages (Copper and Bronze Age) to the Middle Ages. Using this Y chromosomal time series, which covers nearly the entire history of horse domestication, we reveal how Y chromosomal diversity changed over time. Our results also show that the lack of multiple stallion lineages in the extant domestic population is caused by neither a founder effect nor random demographic effects but instead is the result of artificial selection—initially during the Iron Age by nomadic people from the Eurasian steppes and later during the Roman period. Moreover, the modern domestic haplotype probably derived from another, already advantageous, haplotype, most likely after the beginning of the domestication. In line with recent findings indicating that the Przewalski and domestic horse lineages remained connected by gene flow after they diverged about 45,000 years ago, we present evidence for Y chromosomal introgression of Przewalski horses into the gene pool of European domestic horses at least until medieval times.
The first record of the modern domestic Y chromosome haplotype stems from two Bronze Age samples of similar age. Notably, both samples were found in two distantly located regions: present-day Slovakia (2000–1600 BCE, dated by archaeological context) and western Siberia (14C-dated: 1609–1436 cal. BCE). Although a very recent study proposes an oriental origin of this haplotype (14), we cannot determine the geographical origin of Y-HT-1 with certainty, because this haplotype has not been found thus far in predomestic or wild stallions. There are two possible scenarios: (i) Y-HT-1 emerged within the domestic population by mutation and (ii) Y-HT-1 was already present in wild horses and entered the domestic population either at the beginning of domestication (but initially restricted to Asian horses) or later by introgression (from wild Y-HT-1 carrying studs during the Iron Age). Crosses between domestic animals and their wild counterparts have been observed in several domestic species (15–18); thus, the simplest explanation would be that we missed Y-HT-1 in older samples because of limited geographical sampling. However, the estimated haplotype age is contemporary (Fig. 4) with the assumed starting point of horse domestication ~4000–3500 BCE (19), rendering it likely that Y-HT-1 originated within the domestic horse gene pool. Still, we cannot rule out definitively that it appeared before domestication.
Independent of its geographical origin, Y-HT-1 progressively replaced all other haplotypes—except for one additional lineage that is restricted to Yakutian horses (11). Considering our data, this trend in paternal diversity toward dominance of the modern lineage appears to start in the Bronze Age and becomes even more pronounced during the Iron Age. The Bronze Age was a time of large-scale human migrations across Eurasia (20–22), movements that were undoubtedly facilitated by the spread of horses as a means of transport and warfare. At that time, the western Eurasian steppes were inhabited by highly mobile cultures that largely relied on horses (20, 21, 23, 24). The genetic admixture of northern and central European humans with Caucasians/eastern Europeans did correlate with the spread of the Yamnaya culture from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (25), an area that has repeatedly been suggested as the center of horse domestication (19, 26, 27). Given the importance of domestic horses, it appears that deliberate selection/rejection of certain stallions by these people might have contributed to the loss of paternal diversity. The spread of humans out of this region might also have resulted in the spread of Y-HT-1 from Asia to Europe. This scenario also agrees with recent findings that the low male diversity of extant horses is not caused by recruiting only a limited number of stallions during early domestication (13).
The presence of the Y chromosome haplotype carried by present-day Przewalski horses (Y-HT-2) in early domestic stallions and a European wild horse (Pie05; table S2) could be the result of introgression of Przewalski stallions. Although the original distribution of the Przewalski horse is unknown, it was probably much larger than that of the relict population in Mongolia that produced modern Przewalski horses and might even have extended into Central Europe. However, it is also possible that either Przewalski horses were among the initially domesticated horses or that Y-HT-2 occurred both in Przewalski horses and in those wild horses that are the ancestors of domestic horses, based on autosomal DNA data (30). Regardless of how Y-HT-2 entered the domestic gene pool, it was eventually lost, as were all haplotypes except Y-HT-1. In our sample set, Y-HT-2 was undetectable as early as the third time bin. However, it is possible that Y-HT-2 may have been present during this time period, but with a frequency below 0.11 (with 95% probability). The inferred time trajectories for Y-HT-2 frequencies suggest that it could nevertheless have persisted at very low frequencies until the Middle Ages (Fig. 3). On the basis of these simulations, this finding could be interpreted as a relic of this haplotype’s formerly higher frequency in the domestic horse gene pool. It is also possible that the presence of this haplotype could be the result of mating a wild stallion with a domestic mare, a frequently reported breeding practice when wild horses were still widely distributed. However, a significant contribution of the Przewalski horse to the gene pool of modern domestic horses has been almost ruled out by recent genomic studies (13, 31, 32).