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Last Updated: Friday, 20 August, 2004, 05:51 GMT 06:51 UK
How DNA saved an 'extinct' breed
By Catherine Cashmore
BBC News Online, East Midlands

Caspian horse
The horses were only rediscovered in the 1960s
A woman is spearheading a programme to resurrect a rare horse thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the 1960s.

Pat Bowles, who is president of the worldwide Caspian Horse Society, runs a stud close to the Lincolnshire border with Rutland, where she keeps 16 of these distinctive animals.

The breed is the smallest in the world, standing from just 10 hands high and is making a reappearance, thanks to DNA testing being carried out at Bytham Stud near Castle Bytham, by enthusiasts like Ms Bowles.

The Caspian Horse Society recently gathered for its first world-wide conference in Oakham, Rutland.

Louise Firouz, who rediscovered a small herd of the horses in Iran in 1965, spoke to the society along with Dr Guy Cothran, from Kentucky, USA, who is conducting the DNA tests.

There is strong evidence to claim that these small but strong animals were the original chariot horses from 3,000 years ago.

Ms Bowles told BBC News Online how she came across the small horses by chance at the East of England show in Peterborough.

Caspian credentials
Small ears
Intelligent face
Big eyes
Fine legs
Bay, Grey or Chestnut coat

"I'd been breeding national hunt thoroughbred horses when I went to the show.

"It was pouring with rain and my friends and I ended up sheltering in an exhibition tent where the Caspian Horse Society had a stand.

"I went home and sold all my thoroughbreds and bought three Caspian mares instead."

Since then Ms Bowles has become a key player in the international breeding programme, with all of her horses participating in the DNA testing scheme.

She described how they resurrected the breed.

"It was all proved by DNA.

"There was tremendous research that went into it.

I don't like piggy ponies
Pat Bowles, Caspian Horse Society

"Now, we want to have them all DNA tested so there is no question over parentage.

"It's going to be well worthwhile."

She said: "There's a certain look about a Caspian. Out of the 20 that were (originally) collected in (from across the world), five ended up being pure bred."

A Caspian, despite its small size, is not a pony but a horse and should have a head, limbs and body, all in proportion.

The overall impression should be of a well-bred, elegant horse in miniature, Ms Bowles explained.

There is strong historic evidence to suggest that these horses were the small but strong animals used as the original chariot horses, 3,000 years ago.

Evidence that the Caspian horse existed as early as 3000 BC can be found in ancient writings and artefacts.

Prince Philip is said to be a fan of the sturdy breed with two of his animals, a gift from the Shah of Iran, having a fundamental place in the breeding programme.

Caspian enthusiasts from 20 countries met for the first time at the conference and discussed ways of implementing the breeding programme further.

Ms Bowles said: "We've had a fantastic response from everybody here.

"We had two Iranian vets over here and they were impressed with what we were doing.

Planned babies

"We're hoping this conference will help to get more horses exported to the UK from Iran," Ms Bowles said.

"We're pretty tight on blood lines but we've tried not to have too much in-breeding.

The programme is led by Dr Gus Cothran, from Kentucky in the US who spoke at the conference.

He is collecting the DNA of all of the animals so they can verify breeding by a blood and hair test.

Ms Bowles described the horses as being brilliant for children.

"I don't like piggy ponies, they're too stubborn and totally unsuitable for children.

Caspian horse
The breed has been saved by an international breeding scheme

"With the right owners the potential with Caspians is tremendous and it can be just wasted if they don't have the right owners.

"They really can jump for joy," she added.

Ms Bowles now hopes to see the horses go from strength to strength.

She said: "When I started less than 20% of people had heard of Caspians, now over 90% have."


SEE ALSO:
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22 Jul 04  |  Lincolnshire
Horse owners angry at thefts
06 Oct 03  |  Lincolnshire
Shire horses take the strain
02 Apr 03  |  England


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