Preserving Rare Breeds

Walers have perhaps the broadest gene pool in the equine world and they are now a rare breed. DNA testing and gene collection is critical to the preservation of the breed.

Already lost to us is the DNA of many of our foundation generation Walers as DNA testing was not readily available or affordable at the time these horses were captured and bought into domestic situations. Let’s not lose our remaining Walers to this record.

Parentage Testing

Already the Waler studbooks are likely compromised as parentage testing has not always been, or even currently is, a requirement prior to registering sire, dam or progeny. This means there may have been accidental, or worst case, deliberate, line or in-breeding as likely relationships have not been considered when pairing up breeding stock.

Our Walers cannot take their unique broad gene pool forward if we do not manage this, and it takes just a few generations to destroy what it has taken decades to create. Many other breeds have learned this the hard way and it is now too late. Going backwards in time to recreate a Waler is simply not possible.

Keeping Walers in domestic situations is damage enough to the hardiness and original characteristics of the breed, as they are not subjected to the tough conditions that has made them such an all round sensible and robust horse. We can’t really control that except by maintaining wild populations, which seems unlikely as they are regarded as a feral pest and subject to control. But we can control our breeding programmes, so please, do the parentage testing!

Breed Ancestry Testing

The more horse samples submitted for Breed Ancestry Testing the more we will know about the old breeds that make up our existing Walers, or potentially where remnant populations may still be roaming. We plan to map this data so would encourage you to send your test results to us, we will hold it anonymous to the horse if you request that but would include it in our overall breed ancestry distribution picture so we can see any areas of interest coming to the fore.

We aspire to build up a public record of likely Walers as revealed by research and ideally backed up by DNA results, hence we have an ‘Unmatched’ section in our database. This means otherwise good old bloodline horses won’t be lost to the record, despite not coming from a station recognised already as a source of Waler stock. We have allocated regions to our existing stations so we can report on all the horses, including ‘Unmatched’, and hope over time to see trends in this reporting which may allow us to recognise other stations or areas as credible sources of old bloodline horses.

Without the addition of other horses into our Waler population we absolutely risk over time losing them, despite all best intentions and efforts, as happens with all living things once the gene diversity dwindles. Certainly, we will lose the Waler breed as we knew it when horses were all we had, a breed developed to suit unique Australian conditions, horses which were exported all around the world as they were the best horses in the world at that time. What an important legacy to protect!

Posted by Angela Tiede

Educator and Waler advocate and owner since 2006.