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The Arabian Horse: A symbol of beauty, strength, and endurance By

by Dr. Sadim Jawhar, joint funding program manager at QNRF

Just like a desert rose has beautified the harsh sandy Arabian deserts for thousands of years, stands a beautiful, dazzling, and noble creature symbolizing endurance, power, and pride – the Arabian horse. Distinguished by a refined head, glistening, eyes, long slender neck, and a marked high tail, an Arabian horse captures the essence of elegance, pride, and vitality and is an integral part of the Middle East’s cultural and historical heritage.

While there are several theories about the origins of the Arabian horse, archeological findings suggest that it was domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula around 5,000 years ago. Considering the harsh environmental conditions, horses needed to rely on Bedouins for survival and developed a strong sense of intelligence and loyalty. To acclimate to the desert conditions, Arabian horses adapted to survive on scarce food resources and developed anatomical traits including a large lung capacity and incredible endurance to survive.

Besides its beauty, the Arabian horse is also revered as the backbone of infantry in many wars over the course of history and a higher quality of horses with increased speed, endurance, strength, and intelligence often decided the victor. Owing to their importance, horses with weaker traits were eliminated from the breeding pool, and the animals that remained were enhanced by centuries of human breeding and warfare.

For centuries, oral practice was used to track the ancestor of each horse and the term Asil was used to identify horses with a pure bloodline. Fast forward to today, the bond between man and horse has only grown stronger, and modern scientific methods are being used to further improve traits of the prized Arabian horse. Advances in genome sequencing technologies in the past decade have not only revolutionized human medicine but have also led to unprecedented developments in equine genomics. In 2019, the world celebrated the tenth anniversary of the unique and impressive achievement of sequencing the first horse reference genome.

These advances in equine genome technologies have been utilized by researchers to breed healthier horses that exhibit peak athletic performance. Moreover, it has also enabled the equine industry to remove undesirable traits and some genetic disorders while improving the overall standard of equine disease screening, diagnosis, treatment, and therapy.

The Arabian horse represents an ancient cornerstone in the cultural heritage of Qatar and has an important status contemporarily. There are approximately 16,000 horses in Qatar used for the purposes of breeding and show, equestrian, and endurance racing. Qatar has for long supported and promoted equine performance and developed world-class facilities. This is highly evident through Qatar’s roster of famed festivals, tournaments, and championships, and the state-of-the-art centers that have been established in the country to improve equine breeding, sports, research, and health.

On the other side of the Arab world, Morocco has also been an active player in the international equine scene as well. For generations, people in the region have celebrated Tbourida– a vibrant celebration of traditional horsemanship to symbolize the strong relationship between the horse and the people. The high interest in horses is exemplified by a national strategy for the equine sector that has driven positive advances across the equine industry in Morocco. There are around 160,000 horses in Morocco, of which about 90 percent are Arab-Barb horses resulting from cross-breeding of the first North African horse, the Barb, with horses of the Arabian breed, and the cross-breeding of the progeny.

On the research front, The National Center for Scientific and Technical Research-Morocco (CNRST) is an important player in Morocco, which has a special focus on genomic research on horses. Considering the important role CNRST is playing, Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) – the region’s leading research-funding entity – has teamed up with it to launch a special initiative based on the vision to translate the results of horse ‘omic’ research into medical and economic benefits for the equine sector in both countries.

Titled the Equine Research Call, it aims to enhance and improve equine research and strengthen the equine industry in Qatar and Morocco by combining their research activities, resources, and practical skills. The research areas of the call focus on the study of biochemical and cellular pathways that underpin performance, immunology, reproduction, and infectious disease response in horses along with exploring the integration of genetic information with traditional breeding approaches.

We are accepting applications for the inaugural cycle of the Equine Research Call. If you think you have what it takes, apply now and contribute to a field of knowledge spanning across generations and over thousands of years. Click here to learn more and apply to the Equine Research Call.

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