is defined courtesy of Messrs. Funk & Wagnalls as follows:
Line of descent
or the individuals collectively in that line; race; stock; also, a variety,
especially when artificial and but slightly differentiated.
Inborn or hereditary
disposition; natural tendency; trace; an element or admixture; as, to
have an heroic strain in one's character.
A special line of individuals
belonging to a certain race or species and maintained at a high standard
of perfection by selection; said of animals or plants.
There are further definitions
which do not relate to our animal breeding context.
standard text, "Genetics and Animal Breeding" (Johanssen and Rendel, Stockholm
1963; English translation 1968) has this to say: "Very often a breed can
be divided into different strains which from a breeding point of view are
more or less isolated from each other due to geographic conditions or when
in some respects the aim of breeding is different."
amazing amount of confusion has been generated on the Arabian scene by the
fact that Bedouin breeding has been described in terms of "family strains"
when no two speakers seem to have defined "strain" in quite the same sense.
For that matter, "Bedouin" seems to have been used in a number of senses
and it is not surprising that contradictions have arisen. "The horse breeding
tribes" are not and as far as we can tell have never been a monolithic entity
with entirely uniform horses or ideas on horse breeding. Since different
travelers spoke with different tribes, different ideas as to the importance
of the "family strain" concept and totally different ideas as to what the
"strains" were like and which were more important or desirable have come
down to us.
only real certainty out of it all seems to be the fact that the Arabian
horse was bred in the desert with attention to tail-female descent (this
is all "family strain" in the Arabian breeding sense is; it is the
eastern equivalent of the Western idea of placing emphasis in breeding on
the tail-male line).
When the Bedouin Said "Strain", What
Did the Europeans Hear?
considering what the implications of emphasis on matrilineal (just another
word of tail-female) descent might be, it could be instructive to consider
the background from which the early European travelers were coming when
they encountered the Bedouin. In some ways our experience is as foreign
to theirs as theirs was to that of the desert raiders, so we can learn by
trying to understand the differences.
The history of Europe is the story of small countries
- often of individual tribes - warring among themselves for control of circum-
scribed areas which they felt to be especially valuable. The great empires
which unified the scene were by comparison short-lived and even during their
heydays they did not unify the people in the sense of producing a homogenized
culture throughout their areas. This is the background from which the many
local varieties - isolated from inter- crossing by wars and war's aftermath,
suspicion and rivalry - developed into "nations" of humans and "breeds"
of livestock, each closed among themselves.
coming from this history were not prepared to under- stand that the Bedouin
"tribes" were nomads who wandered over vast areas in the course of a year,
their paths crossing and sometimes running together. Even when individual
tribes held themselves aloof from their neighbors they were not physically
isolated like the citizens of little European countries barricaded behind
their rivers and mountain ranges. Each tribe doubtless held that its warriors
were the fiercest, its women the loveliest, its horses the swiftest and
most enduring - they were nomadic, not inhuman - but they were saying and
believing these things in a different context from the European experience.
the Europeans heard the Bedouin describing the different lines of horses
which they maintained, it did not occur to them to ask whether they could
be, or ever were, inter-crossed. Such things were foreign to their ideas
of stock breeding which could not conceive of a single breed spread over
the Arab countries. Indeed, we are lucky that the terminology did not become
set at the earliest stage for it would have us referring to Kehilan, Seglawi,
Maneghi etc, as different breeds; even the Blunts made this error at first
though they learned better soon enough.
There may be some significance to the fact that the
American, Homer Davenport, when he journeyed with the Arabs buying horses
for his 1906 importation, did not come home with the idea of strain separation
or of "good" or "bad" strains. He recorded the strains of his horses and
the information he was given on them but when reading his accounts one does
not get the feeling he thought of this as anything but a source of knowledge
of their background. Certain strains are spoken of as being prized in certain
areas or by certain tribes but it is not with the feeling of metaphysical
superiority. Rather, these became celebrated through the fame of celebrated
individuals which happened to belong to them.
summary, the Bedouin seem to have used a word which may be translated "strain"
in the first sense of the dictionary definition at the beginning of this
article. Perhaps it would have been better in a number of ways to have called
these entities just "families" rather than "family strains" as we have come
to do. European travelers who encountered this idea interpreted it more
along the lines of definition 3 and of the animal breeding sense of Johanssen
and Rendel. By questioning the Bedouin and sometimes by their own observation
of such horses as they saw, the Europeans developed their own concept of
"strain" or even "breed" and took it home with them because the Bedouin
sense of "female family line" did not make sense to them. Only a few long-term
observers carried their ideas beyond this preliminary level.
the casual observers outnumbered the careful ones and because even the careful
ones could be misled by thinking one tribe had examples of strains that
were like those of all tribes, the descriptions of "the breeds of Arabians"
became current in Europe. In fact, what they were describing was not "the
Seglawi breed" but "the Seglawis of this tribe" and interpreting this in
light of their own experience (in which a breed name would not be used by
two different groups for their stock unless the stock were indeed the same
in type and by descent).
Implications of the Matrilineal
tail-female inheritance is foreign to our Western way of doing things but
indications are that it used to be rather general among the human family.
It is the more primitive system and is based of course upon the fact that
even members of groups which have not quite worked out yet how offspring
are fathered are pretty clear on the fact that they have mothers (the women
are anyway). At a slightly later period of cultural development, it still
remains possible to wonder about paternity while maternity, until the era
of embryo transplants, was a fixed and certain quantity defined by the legal
phrase, "born from the body of".
In our horse breeding example, it clearly must have
appeared to the hard-headed Bedouin that the thing to do was to place emphasis
on what you knew for certain. It may be going farther than the evidence
warrants to suggest that at an early point in their tradition sires were
not known or at least not recorded. Even had this been the case at some
time, of course they were too sophisticated not to have come to the realization
eventually that emphasis on sires was important in horse breeding. After
all, aside from any traditions of maintaining "the right Arabian breed,"
their success in raiding and at times their lives depended on the horses
they bred. There is surely no question of ignoring sires in historical times
- strains of both parents are almost always given on desertbreds that have
come into our knowledge through being sold to Westerners.
seems that as far back as we have any record, the Arabs used and emphasized
the mares; stallions were a noisy but necessary encumbrance and the great
majority of colts was sold. This implies that, with few stallions in each
tribe, most of the young stock of any generation would be shared out among
relatively few male parents. And it follows necessarily that much of the
visible variation among the youngsters would be attributable to their dams.
This would tend to reinforce the matrilineal emphasis.
are told in the records of the Abbas Pasha purchases that certain strains
(in particular one Seglawi family) were uniform when the mares were bred
to stallions of the same strain but varied more in shape when the sires
were of other strains. This is often quoted to show that the Bedouin crossed
strains and as often used to show that they bred them within themselves
to fix type. I think a much more interesting implication emerges if you
consider the scarcity of stallions maintained for breeding in the desert
along with this description of strain behavior when outcrossed or not. If
much of the breeding of a tribe's mares was done within the tribe, then
a small choice of sires was available. If out of this small number a Seglawi
was to be picked for the Seglawi mares, it was highly likely that all the
Seglawi mares would be bred to one and the same horse. Naturally, if the
mares were related by female line and they were bred to the same sire, the
offspring should have been uniform. Since, further ,the Seglawi stallions)
of a tribe must have come from that tribe's Seglawi mares, it suggests that
mares were bred to their own near relations in female line if they were
bred within strain within the tribe.
I sometimes get the feeling that modern Arab breeders
think of "strain" almost in the sense of definition 2 of this article, as
a mystical or metaphysical quality. I think it is important to keep in mind
that if a stain type were fixed in any given situation, it was done so by
the straightforward and comprehensible action of inbreeding and selection.
have considered mammalian sex determination any number of times. Recall
that sex is determined by chromosomal constitution. Normally XX individuals
are female and XY individuals are male (where X and Y refer to the sex determining
chromosomes). Recall too that chromosomal segregation is random. Genes from
the other chromosomes of the individual do not travel with any particular
sex chromosome. It is also completely a matter of chance whether a fertilized
egg is XX and will be a female or XY and will be a male.
1 shows the consequences of this mode of sex determination on the sex chromosome
make-up of sons and daughters of sires and dams. Only the sex chromosome
are indicated as the others all assort at random compared with this pair.
Note that the Y chromosome follows a patrilineal mode of inheritance; the
Y chromosome of any male came from his sire, his sire's sire, and right
Note that a male offspring always receives
his sire's Y chromosome and never receives the sire's X chromosome.
The female, of course, must receive one x from each parent.
This means that the Y chromosome, because it is male-determining,
always follows the "tail male" line. There is no such necessary
pattern with the X chromosome; a female must receive an X from
her own dam, but she need not receive one from her maternal
granddam. (The numerical subscripts serve to distinguish one
chromosome of the same type from another - they are not meant
to have genetic significance.)
There is no comparable matrilineal pattern.
Since each individual has at least one X chromosome, it is possible
in as few as two generations to lose both X chromosomes of the
original female founder. (NB: mitochondrial DNA is not mentioned
because this was written about 20 years ago.)
other words, any tail- male Skowronek stallion has Skowronek's
Y chromosome. A tail- female Bint Helwa mare is no more likely
to have Bint Helwa's X chromosome than she is any other chromosomes.
points here: firstly, there is little crossing over between X and Y and
thus we can speak of the Y as being handed on as a unit unlike other chromosomes;
secondly, the Y has little or no known function beyond sex determination.
Having Skowronek's Y chromosome implies only that his descendant will resemble
him in being male, not necessarily in any other traits.
can be said for maternal inheritance in the sense that the egg is a much
larger cell than the sperm and thus contributes much more mass to the earliest
developmental stages. This becomes a case of splitting hairs in defining
"inheritance" for it is just as true to say that the maternal parent has
more environmental influence on the off- spring than the sire. This begins
from the moment of fertilization and continues at least until weaning. It
might be best to formulate this as "the dam being the single most important
influence in the offspring's environment up to the time of weaning" rather
than trying to define "maternal inheritance". Chromosomally of course the
two parents make exactly equal contributions to the offspring's genotype.
"Family Strains" in Modern Breeding
modern Arabian has a strain except for a few whose strains were lost because
early-day records were not kept as we might have liked before the founding
of the various Studbooks. Of course those, the knowledge of whose strains
is lost, still have them; we just don't know what they are beyond the generic
"Kehilan Ajuz" or "Old Thoroughbred". It is interesting to speculate about
the significance of strain names today, especially when there are relatively
few sources of a particular strain name (as the Kehilan Dajani which seems
to trace back in all cases to just two 19th century foundation mares, Dajania
in England and Mlecha in Poland). As we understand the family strain system,
this must mean that a Kehilan Dajani of one country is related to an individual
of the same strain in another country. The question of course is, "How closely
related?" and the answer is, "Probably not very."
in a more specialized sense is practiced by those who attempt, by working
within a limited group, to reconstitute separate strains by close breeding
among the descendants of each foundation mare, or small group of mares of
the same strain. This certainly is "strain breeding" according to the sense
of Johanssen and Rendel - "the aim of breeding is different," in this case
in meaning to separate the stains - and it also agrees with all senses of
the dictionary definition 1. We would like to hope that definition 3 would
also be applicable here but of course the key is that the "high standard"
is "maintained.... by selection," and that differs with the individual breeders
Whether or to what extent modern "strain bred" Arabians
resemble the original Bedouin versions of their named strains is a trickier
question. We have seen that it is at least open to discussion whether the
strains ever were uniform and bred to a certain general type in the desert.
It is certainly difficult to accept that all the characteristics of the
members of a given strain, as they existed 200 years ago in the desert,
can be recaptured by inbreeding one family deriving the strain name from
one or two mares and containing contributions from many other strains along
the way. To risk being repetitious, this absolutely is "breeding a strain"
or "strain breeding." The questions are whether the Bedouin practiced "strain
breeding" in this sense - and if they did how closely modern horses bred
within a named strain resemble their desert progenitors.
What Strain Breeding Means to Me
for it, every time, in the 3rd dictionary sense. If you aren't trying to
develop "a special line of individuals .... maintained at a high standard
of perfection by selection" then I don't want you breeding Arabian horses.
If thinking in terms of strains helps you to reach this goal, then go to
it. On the other hand, of course, if confusion over "family strains" gets
in the way of emphasis on the "selection" aspect, then give up family strains
by all means.
The Bedouin seem to have done just fine without them
until at least the 14th century when the Arab type was already numbering
its age in the thousands of years.