Blonde Pony Tails: The Human-Horse Connection
Humans have been fascinated by white horses for millennia. Geneticists
have now pinpointed the "genetic architecture" that connects blonde manes in people and equines. The study of white horses
goes all the way back to ancient Rome, where depigmented horses were identified as "candidus" (white) or "glaucus" (gray). The PLoS Genetics
journal notes that two thousand years ago, the white horse was held sacred by the Saxons. It served as an augur for the German tribes, its behavior considered a sign of divine approval or disapproval. The white horse was so revered that it featured on the flags of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. Even earlier, white horses were celebrated by the Celts in Great Britain. The White Horse of Uffington
(Oxfordshire, England) is Bronze Age hillside artefact, dating back approximately 3,000 years. The figure of a 374-foot long horse (perhaps representing the Celtic horse goddess Epona) was cut into the soil, its white coat naturally pigmented by the chalk beneath the turf.
The PLoS Genetics journal points out that most white horses carry a "graying-with-age mutation." They are born with a solid-colored coat which turns white by age of four to six. However, occasionally a pony is born with a solid white coat. Take, for example, the solid white mare named Cigale, born in 1957 out of solid brown parents from the Swiss Franches-Montagnes Horse population. Geneticists have studied all of Cigale's white-born descendants and isolated an inherited mutation in their pigment forming cells. Different horse populations, such as white Thoroughbreds, Arabians, and Camarillo White Horses, reveal independent pigmentation mutation events. In other words, the white horses in each equine family exhibit their own special brand of mutation leading to their white coats. But the common chromosomal factor appears to be what geneticists call the KIT gene, responsible not only for white horses but also for blonde people.
White horses appear in the religious literature of many lands. Here's a small sampling:
- In the New Testament's Book of Revelation, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse rides a white horse.
- In Japan, the white horse is a Shinto symbol of purity and divine authority.
- In Islam, the Prophet ascended to heaven on the back of a white horse.
- In Hinduism, the god Kalki rides a white horse while brandishing a comet-like sword.
- In Nordic lore, the god Odin rises a white horse named Sleipnir.
- In Greek mythology, the white and winged Pegasus sprang from the blood of Medusa when Perseus decapitated her.
[Read the entire article in my guest blog