It’s hard to imagine one of our pampered barn horses, in their thick waterproof blankets and hoods, standing outside in subzero temperatures. And it would probably be hard for them to imagine too! After all, our Throughbreds, Quarter Horses, Saddlebreds, and definitely Arabians, were not developed for cold climates.
But some horses were. The Icelandic Horse is one of them. This breed was brought to Iceland by the Vikings around 874-930 A.D. They are one of the oldest horses in the world and one of the most pure – they are the only breed of horse in Iceland.
The breed has two special gaits, in addition to the walk-trot-canter. Some of them possess the
tolt – a four beat gait similar to a walk but much faster, it can be as fast as a gallop! And the flying pace – a bi-lateral gait where the horse moves the fore and hind legs on one side at the same time. This gait has been clocked at speeds up to 45mph! ( Icelandhorse.org)
The breed gets a very thick coat of fur in the winter to withstand Iceland’s frigid temperatures.
Helgi Skúlason posted a lovely video of Icelandic ponies in Iceland on his facebook page:
Ég veit enga skepnu fallegri en íslenska hestinn í vetrarbúningi. Geislandi af krafti, þoli og seiglu hefur hann lifað með okkur og aðlagast náttúrunni frá landnámi. Það er bara fátt meira íslenskt en hann. Setti nokkrar myndir undir fagra tóna og eins og alltaf er öllum velkomið að deila og HD gefur meiri myndgæði 🙂
Helgi Skúlason on Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Another breed that withstands cold winters is one you may have never heard of: the Yakutian horse (also called the Yakut horse). They are a rare horse native to Siberia. These horses are unlike any other equine in the world – they withstand -70 degree temperatures, without freezing to death.
“A YAKUTIAN HORSE (9762345674)” BY MAARTEN TAKENS FROM GERMANY – A YAKUTIAN HORSE. LICENSED UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0 VIA COMMONS
A new study compared the genomes of nine living and two ancient Yakut horses from Siberia with a large genome panel of 27 domesticated horses and found that today’s Yakut horse is
not related to the now-extinct horses that used to be in the region. It means these horses have adapted to the extreme cold of that region in just 800 years (the Yakuts migrated there in the 13-15 th centuries) – a relatively short time, evolutionary speaking.
“This is truly amazing as it implies that all traits now seen in Yakutian horses are the product of very fast adaptive processes, taking place in about 800 years,” says Dr. Ludovic Orlando, one of the researchers. “This represents about a hundred generations for horses. That shows how fast evolution can go when selective pressures for survival are as strong as in the extreme environment of Yakutia.
THE YAKUT HORSE
In their research, they found that the Yakut horse’s adaption to their environment took place through a “massive reprogramming of gene expression.”
What they found were changes in genes that affect hair development, which might be responsible for the horse’s thick winter coats, and the shivering response to cold.
“We also found genes that were reported to have undergone selection in other Arctic populations, such as indigenous Siberian humans, and even the woolly mammoth,” said Dr. Orlando. “It provides a compelling example of evolutionary convergence, where unrelated groups exposed to similar environments end up independently developing similar adaptations.”
THE YAKUT HORSE
“Such genes showing convergent signals of adaptation include in humans
PRKG1, which is involved in the shivering response to cold, and BARX2 in the woolly mammoth which is involved in hair development.
This video is a trailer for a documentary on the Yakut horse. It gives you a glimpse of these rare, beautiful equines in deep winter.