Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bend Or, Birdcatcher, Tetrarch: Guinness' Weird Color Genetics

Can you find the spots?
Photo by Alli's talented husband (StitzPics)
Thoroughbred breeding is fascinating to me, especially as it makes tracking weird color mutations easy through generations. Take Guinness for example...
Pig's Breeding, expand for detail, click for interactive.
Note:total earnings are not correct here, as his winnings abroad and in US are not combined.
If you look close, you may notice that Pig's great-grandsire on both sides was Never Bend (aside, I love Pig's breeding), whose lineage goes back to The Tetrarch. At this point, you may be asking yourself. Who is The Tetrarch? Why do I care? Valid questions...
TheTetrarch1913.jpg
I think you can see why you care...
The Tetrarch was a sprinter bred in 1911. He was out of a Bend Or mare, and by Roi Herode, a turf horse. Renowned as much for his blazing speed as for his outlandish coloring, The Tetrarch was extremely popular as a racehorse. After an undefeated year in 1913, "The Spotted Wonder" was retired in his second year of racing due to injury. Time in the breeding shed was also short lived for The Tetrarch, as both he and mare owners seemed equally uninterested. He sired only 130 foals.

Despite his short career, The Tetrarch's ability to pass on his brilliant speed led him to be named "Leading Sire" in the UK. His daughter, Mumatz Mahal, is known as one of the most influential broodmares in the breed. It is through her we get Never Bend, and further down the line my lovely Logic Lane.

Besides ridiculous speed, The Tetrarch was known for passing down his strange coloring. His coat displays a combination of Bend Or spots (named for his sire) and Chubari spots. He may also have exhibited Birdcatcher spots, as his lineage also traces back to that horse. The Tetrarch's gray coat lent him even more of a wild look, adding to his popularity.

While it's rare to find a horse with the outrageous spotting of The Tetrarch today, these types of spots are not uncommon in the thoroughbred breed. They are especially common in chestnuts and grays. As the thoroughbred has been used in the breeding programs of many other breeds, the spots are not just found in the thoroughbred. Arabians, warmbloods, and quarter horses also commonly display the markings.

I'm going to go into more detail about these spotting varieties, as well as show examples of how they present on Pig.

Birdcatcher Spots
What they are: Small white spots, usually not bigger than an inch.
Normal presentation: Randomly spread, and may appear or disappear as the horse ages. Not related to skin damage-- not scaring. May be clustered densely, or present as single spots. Skin under spots is black, unlike other white markings.
The spot on his shoulder is the brightest and longest-lasting spot.
Photo by PICSOFYOU.COM
How they present on Guinness: Pig has three fairly stable Birdcatcher spots.

  1. The brightest is on his right shoulder. Though very small, the white hairs of this spot are dense, making the marking pop out in photos. This spot wasn't always as bright as it is today, it has grown brighter as Pig has aged.
  2. The next most stable spot is on Pig's right buttock, near the tail. This spot is almost an inch in diameter, but very faint. The white hairs are quite spread out. This spot hasn't changed in appearance much over the years.
  3. The third spot is on Pig's barrel, near the whorled hair around the stifle. It is also about an inch in diameter. This spot's brightness varies on the time of year. During the winter it is most prominent, but Pig's summer coat sheds out quite a bit in this area making the spot difficult to see.
Haunch spot visible on upper part of buttock, very near the tail (hint, follow the line of my dressage whip). This one goes fainter in the summer. His shoulder spot is also visible. Spots more easily seen in below photos are invisible due to summer coat bleaching out/his movement.
Shoulder spot, whorl spot, and haunch spot visible, though whorl spot is faint. Photo from late summer of 2010.
Same spots, from late spring 2011. Note much more prominent whorl spot.
Besides the stable spots, Pig has other Birdcatcher spots that appear quite randomly. This past fall he spotted fairly intensely around his flank. Interestingly, the spotting was on both sides, though less intensely on the right.
The big but faint spot on the upper-right of the whorled hair. Smaller, very impermanent, spots are spread throughout the area.
These spots only lasted for around two weeks before they disappeared with the full winter coat. While these were new this year, in other years I have seen single small temporary spots appear on Pig's shoulders and haunches. There does not seem to be a predictive cause for the increase in spotting.
These spots are very rare for him. They only appear for a week or two.
Tetrarch/Chubari Spots
What they are: These are large, typically egg-shaped, white spots.
Normal presentation: Chubari/ Tetrarch spots occur on gray horses, for the most part. As the gray coat fades, the spots become less visible. The skin under these spots stays black, as with Birdcatcher spots, not white as with regular white markings. They often are presented spread widely across a horse's body.
How they present on Guinness: They do not present on Guinness, as he is not gray.

Bend Or Spots
What they are: Bend Or spots are dark (sometimes called "sooty") spots, typically seen in chestnuts. These are named after the chestnut stallion Bend Or, who exhibited such markings.
Normal presentation: These spots typically appear after the horse is a few years old, rather than at birth. They may range from slightly darker than the coat color to nearly black. The size varies dramatically, though most often a few inches in diameter.
Bend Or spot on the right butt cheek, just by the tail.
Photo by Alli's talented husband (StitzPics)
How they present on Guinness: If you had asked me last year if Pig had Bend Or spots, I'd have said no. But this spring, something crazy happened. First, a fairly large one (3" long) popped out on his right buttock, just near his tail. At first, I thought he had a big poop stain. After three days of baths didn't budge the thing, the fact that the mark could be a Bend Or spot started to occur to me. That's when I started looking more closely at the rest of him.

I found another, slightly smaller, spot was also visible about 6 inches down and a few inches to the right of the first big spot. Then I discovered a mess of tiny black spots in the whorl of his right flank. These tiny spots vanished after about a month, but the other smaller spot is still faintly visible. The larger spot is going strong, seeming to get brighter as summer sets in. I'm interested to see how these progress.
Tiny Bend Or spots, and also the larger Birdcatcher spot. This is the same area as pictured in the Birdcatcher spot section, but in spring rather than fall.
Mottled Skin
Pig's weirdest "marking" is his mottled skin. As far as I can tell in my research, mottled skin is not something known of in the lines of The Tetrarch family. It is also not common enough in thoroughbreds to be mentioned. There are only a few instances where mottled skin is known to appear.

  1. Appaloosas: The most common example of mottled skin. 
  2. Grays: Often seen around the muzzles and eyes. Seems to be more common in Iberian breeds. May be related to the gray gene.
  3. Champagne mutations: Common in apricot colors, especially. It is not known why.

This mottling occurs all over his body, but is easiest to photograph on his chest.
Pig's mottled skin is not limited to the delicate skin around his muzzle and eyes, though it does appear there. Instead it is widely spread across his whole body. Difficult to see most of the time, it is easiest to view when he is wet after being fully body clipped. This mottling has been constant since I have owned him.

I have no idea why he exhibits this weird skin pattern. He absolutely is not champagne, and the gene does not run in either side of his family. He does have a tiny amount of gray genes that run through his mare line, so I wonder if it could come from that. Though the gray gene is dominant, so he definitely doesn't have it. It may be that this mottling is more common than I realize, but Pig's thin coat makes it easier to see. If you have any ideas about this, please reach out!
The best time to see his mottled skin is when he is wet from a post-clipping bath.
Equine color genetics fascinate me, and these weird mutations especially! Does your horse exhibit any of these classic spotting mutations? Can you track it through the breeding? Please share!

38 comments:

  1. I'm going to have to have a closer look at my nags. It'll be hard to tell with Nancy as she is dark brown but I have noticed random black spots on miss Kika who is a funny chestnut colour. Shall have a nosy through her lines but her dam side is kind of incomplete. Sport horses are harder than tbs to find info on :-(

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    1. I hate it when lines are hard to follow! It's fun to be able to look so far back in a TB pedigree that you start to see names that are more descriptions than actual names, like "Bay Bolton Mare" and "Sister To Old Country Wench" (mares from the sire line of Eclipse, if you're interested).

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    2. Always interested in hilariously named TBs ☺☺☺

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  2. Irish had bird catcher spots appear one year. I didn't know what they were at first and freaked out a bit. They disappeared over the winter and haven't appeared since. He's a half /three quarter TB out of A Fine Romance but I'm not sure of the lineage.

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    1. I can see how that might freak you out. I've seen them pop up in places that would make you think they were indicating bad saddle fit, which has caused some people consternation!

      Fun fact! A Fine Romance goes back to Nasrullah, a great grandson of The Tetrarch, on both the sire and dam lines.

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  3. I kinda adore Isabel's bird catcher spots tho they never stick around for more than a couple months. Oh and I have a weird soft spot for those sooty darker spots. And dorsal stripes. Lol

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    1. Ooooohh dorsal stripes are so fun! And leg stripes!!

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  4. My bay welsh cob mare has one oval bend or spot about 1/2 by one inch. Visible each summer on her rump

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    1. I bet it's harder to spot on a bay!!

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  5. I have met a lot of chestnuts with mottled skin. Only noticeable when they are wet. My haffy has white spots and sooty spots. He is a weirdo :)

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    1. Interesting! I wonder why the chestnuts are strange! I know haflingers don't have the champagne gene, just whatever causes flaxen manes and tails. So it can't be that!

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    2. Yeah though my haffies have never been registered so they could be secret crosses. They both look like 100% haffy but who knows! :) Either way it is fun to speculate-- color genetics is fun!

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  6. I found a ridiculous line of Bend Or spots on Penn. It's the only thing I can describe them as- he has a bunch of spots that are arranged vertically about a foot in length from shoulder to forearm on his right side. Like you, I scrubbed them to death and they were still there. I hope they go away- it looks like someone dribbled oil down his side! I don't know enough about TB lines to take a stab at where in his pedigree they come from. I know his sabino/rabicano coloring comes from Alla Czar!

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    1. I looooove rabicanos! Such a weird pattern. :)

      Penn's Tetrarch connections are quite a bit further out than Pig's, but (like many) he goes back to the Tetrarch several times. His sire, Compliance Copy is a Northern Dancer grandson. Through the dam line, Northern Dancer goes back a couple of times to The Tetrarch through Almahmoud. Then Compliance Copy goes back again on the dam line through both sides of Special Strike's pedigree. That line is really sprinkled around pretty liberally in the background.

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    2. Aha! There's the link. I didn't know which famous children I should be looking for. Thanks!

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  7. Cuna had a Bend Or spot. I never knew what it was called and it stayed very consistent.

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    1. Cool! I wish I knew what caused them to fade or stay.

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  8. My guy has several Birdcatcher spots, several that are super bright and obvious, and yet in 5 generations I can't find any Birdcatcher in his pedigree. He does have Never Bend, who I assume is a Bend Or baby, but he doesn't have any of the dark spots. Genes are weird in the way they manifest!

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    1. Birdcatcher is a really old name (1833-1860, I think), so you have to look back pretty far. If your horse goes back to The Tetrarch, it's guaranteed that he goes back to Birdcatcher. The line goes: The Tetrarch, by Roi Herode, by Le Samaritain, out of Clementina, by Doncaster, by Stockwell, by The Baron, by Birdcatcher.

      It's highly possible Birdcatcher shows up in more places, but he's so far back that it's hard to find!

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  9. I don't actually think they are large enough to be considered Birdcatcher spots. He definitely has Bend Or (as I feel a lot of Chestnut TBs do), and the white spots are interesting for sure.

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    1. Birdcatcher spots are small, even down to ticking being considered a mark. I've seen some TBs with tiny tick marks all over them, which is really cool! The marks are so small you can't really see them from more than 10 feet away, but they are distinct marks unlike roan ticking. Super cool.

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  10. Omg he is weird! Elvis had a lot of birdcatcher spots, but I can't figure out what Roman has. I'll need to take a picture and show you sometime!

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  11. How strange! Ries has some Bend Or Spots as well as Monty! I'll have to get a closer look

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  12. Cool!

    My old mare Ellie was an anglo-arab. On her thoroughbred side she traced back to The Tetrarch as well, also through Mumtaz Mahal, Mumtaz Begum and Nasrullah same as Guinness, but through Indian Hemp instead of Never Bend (in another part of her tree she also traced back to The Tetrarch as well, but through Mumtaz Mahal > Mah Mahal > Mahmoud > The Axe > Hatchet Man > Hatchure). Ellie was bay and didn't have any mottled skin or Bend Or spots that I ever saw. She did however have a white spot on her withers for all of the 14 years I had her. I had always assumed it must have been from a saddle sore before I bought her, but it could have been a birdcatcher spot!

    My current mare is a frame overo. That is interesting as well, because she is grade, but frame overo only occurs in some breeds so it gives some clues to her lineage (tobiano seems to be much more widespread).

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    1. SO COOL about Ellie! And really fascinating about the frame overo. I had no idea that overo was confined to breeds like that. I don't know a lot about paint patterns, so that's all really new and fascinating to me!

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  13. This is so cool! My students horse is chestnut and has some weird markings like this- she's half TB so now I'm wondering about her lines.

    I totally had a moment looking at the pictures though because my phone screen is dirty and I was about to say "damn he has a really bright one on his butt!" But then I scrolled down and was like "oh, nvm" lol!

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    1. Haha! I had a few moments looking through old photos where I thought I saw a different one, then realized it was just a scabbed over cut.

      Damn horse, always with the cutting himself!

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  14. Moe has a big Bend Or spot on his left haunch that only appeared a few years ago when he was in his late teens; it isn't present at all in photos from when he was younger! The hair on the Bend Or spot is coarser, too, and seems to always looks fluffier than the surrounding hair.

    Gina is more interesting. When I bought her, I noticed that she had lots and lots of tiny white hairs on her barrel and flanks once she'd shed out to her summer coat. Her damsire, Time To Explode, was a big chestnut thing with a splotch of white on his belly. I've often wondered if Gina would produce a colorful foal if bred to a colorful stallion.

    There was a farm here in northeastern Oklahoma that specialized in sporthorses, and they stood a Puchilingui son (Puchi's Rambo) who seemed to stamp most of his offspring with color, regardless of what the mare looked like! He died in 2004, or else I would have totally bred Gina to him just to see what would come out! (If you're interested, you can see a gallery of their homebreds here: http://www.crosscreeksporthorses.com/gallery.html)

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    1. So weird about the hair quality on Moe's spot! I know TBs can carry genes for sabiano type markings, so I wouldn't be totally surprised to find out Gina does carry them. Those brightly colored ones are so neat!

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  15. Hampton goes back to Never Bend, too!!! Dawwww.

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  16. The horse I leased for a year, Quincy, had birdcatcher spots up the WAZOO. He kept gaining and gaining them until he looked almost like a snowflake appy, and then this year they have started slowly disappearing. He's... nine now? Those spots helped me make friends at a few horse shows. :D

    Murray is unspectacular in this regard, and especially in his complete and utter inability to dapple. Devastating.

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    1. Lol. Pig only dapples when conditions are EXACTLY right regarding his shedding/coat growing. It's happened maybe 3 times since I owned him. There's still time for Murray.

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  17. Pig is a super weird colored dude! very cool.

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  18. I also find color genetics really fascinating. Nilla has a lot of interesting coloring including a shoulder cross, zebra striping, and a bend-or spot.

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  19. Leo has the mottled skin, mostly on his chest but also on his face - at least from what I have seen so far! He's a saddlebred and I know nothing about them, so not sure how much color genetic info I could find out, but it would be interesting to look in to!

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