Marathon runners with hearts of gold

KARLSTAD, Minn. -- Leaning on the fence rail, you look him over and just scratch your head. It's like seeing one of those little Arabians, all decked out in his Sunday best.

KARLSTAD, Minn. -- Leaning on the fence rail, you look him over and just scratch your head. It's like seeing one of those little Arabians, all decked out in his Sunday best.

"Well, someone must have crossed one of those hotbloods with some kind of a pinto," you tell yourself. "Or maybe a paint?"

His head comes up and his ears lock on to you. He's no paint. He's too sleek and almost pony-size. He ambles over to you, but doesn't sniff your hand for treats. He's just saying hello. You study the dished face and large nostrils set in a small muzzle. He's got to be Arabian, but you've never seen any Arabian that looks like this.

What you're seeing is a new breed. He's a registered pintabian, one of only 1,000 of his kind, created primarily in Minnesota and North Dakota. They are nearly purebred Arabian, except for the tiny bit of genetic background that gives him his coloring, and they are gaining notoriety around the world, thanks in large part to Cal and Rozanne Rector of Karlstad, Minn.

Breed within a breed


The first pinto-Arabian crosses were made back in the 1950s, when it was a popular mix for breeders who wanted the charismatic color patterns of the pinto as well as the refined structure and renowned stamina of the Arabian. It was just a cross really, but the first step along the path to ideal conformation.

"There's many of the breeders right here in North Dakota where a lot of the original stock came from," Rozanne Rector says.

These spotted horses, while sharing in the long-distance abilities of a pure Arabian, would not qualify today as pintabian. They were simply pinto-Arabian crosses.

A pintabian horse must be at least 99 percent, but not 100 percent Arabian. That leftover 1 percent is required solely for the purpose of introducing or maintaining the Tobiano coloring genes.

Tobiano is one of the types of spotting patterns found on paints and pintos. Considered by many to be the most attractive of the color schemes, it is denoted by four white legs, a dark head and at least some white area crossing the horse's midline between the ears and tail.

To create a pintabian from scratch is a long-term but simple process. First, a purebred Arabian is crossed with a half-Arabian, half-pinto horse. Their offspring is then 75 percent Arabian, with genetics for spotting. When that foal matures, it is bred back to another purebred Arabian. This third-generation then is 87.5 percent Arabian. Getting to the 99 percent minimum takes seven generations of breeding back to purebred Arabians.

Arabian traits

The resulting horses carry all of the athleticism of the Arabian breed, which is known for its long-distance stamina. They are not the sprinters that thoroughbreds or quarter horses are, but they and purebred Arabians will outdistance anything on four legs. This is a consequence of how they are built.


"If you have a friend that runs 26-mile marathons, they're usually pretty slim, but their muscles are real defined, too," Rector says.

The quarter horse is built like a weightlifter, she says, so they're much more muscular in the forearm and their hind quarters are bigger. Animals with the big muscles are good for short distances, explaining the reason quarter horses can run the quarter-mile faster than any other breed.

"But no other breed can beat Arabians or pintabians when it comes to endurance," she says. "When it comes to 25-mile or 50-mile rides, they are like the marathon runner."

Though very few pintabians have yet made it to the endurance circuits, there is a pintabian competing and doing well in endurance events in South Africa, according to Rector. Right now, though, the focus of pintabian breeders is to grow the breed.

"You don't see many pintabians on the endurance circuits right now, because people are using them to raise babies," Rector says. "It's hard to raise a foal and compete because those competitions are all day long and the baby needs to eat."

Some people are buying geldings for show or competition, and Rector knows of pintabians that are working cattle in Minnesota. But as more pintabians come along, she expects the endurance circuits to be their claim to fame.

"I can see it coming already," she says.

Purebred Arabians also are considered one of the higher-strung breeds, prone to being obstinate and moody. But they also have a warm side that can lead to a strong bond between horse and rider. Rector points out that the breed's history is one of close relationships with people.


"Arabian horses are hotblooded horses, but they actually lived in the tents with the Arab people, so they're very loving, very affectionate, and if they know what you want, they will bend over backwards for you.

"But you can't beat something into them," she adds. "You have to be a real horseman to deal with them."

Pintabian breeders have focused on breeding the bloodlines of the better-behaved horses, she says.

"If you have a horse that will come up to you easy and friendly and like people, you have a whole lot easier time selling him, a whole lot easier time breaking him," she says. "You have to like an Arabian to like a pintabian, but I would say, in general, pintabians are probably the most loving breed you can actually find."


The Pintabian Horse Registry Inc. was formed in 1992 and is the sole registry worldwide for pintabians. The first horse to be registered was named American Sunspot. He also was the foundation stud on the Rector farm.

"My husband and I actually defined the breed and formed the registry," she says.

It's one thing to breed horses for a registry, but quite another to create the registry itself.


"There's no books telling you how to do that, so it's been real interesting," she says. "It's been a learning experience."

The Rectors started out by researching every other breed registry in Minnesota.

"We found out how they do it, and then we went from there," she says.

They also are among a handful of foundation breeders of pintabian horses, meaning that some of their horses were among the first true pintabians, and it is their offspring that are now populating the breed.

There are 210 foundation horses, located all over the U.S. and Canada, in the foundation studbook.

"There are pintabians in many other countries, too, and they're getting them from the U.S.," she says.

The hunt for homozygous

In terms of pintabian breeding, there are two types; homozygous and heterozygous. Most pintabians are heterozygous, meaning the cross between it and any Arabian would produce, or "throw," spotted offspring about 50 percent of the time.


The homozygous pintabian throws spotted offspring every time, regardless of whether the mare is spotted or solid. This is a prized animal to anyone working to build a new breed, but not at all easy to come by.

"To raise a homozygous pintabian, you cross a spotted pintabian with a spotted pintabian, and one out of four, statistically, should be homozygous," she says.

The stallion and mare have to be true pintabians -- 99 percent Arabian with the Tobiano markings -- and not related to each other. The 1-in-4 statistic is misleading though.

"A lot of people think, 'Well, I got three solids in a row, now, so the fourth one has to be" spotted, she says. "Well, it's a one in four chance, each time."

Just like the 50-50 chance of a new foal being male or female, she says.

"We've got 13 foals on the ground this year and, statistically, we should have half girls and half boys," she says. "We've got 11 girls and two boys, so you just never know."

In fact, it took Sunspot Pintabians 10 crosses over six years to finally produce that first homozygous pintabian. Even after the foal is dropped, they didn't know if the foal was homozygous for years.

At the time they were trying for a homozygous, the only way to find out if they had one was to raise him and then breed him to several solid mares. If every foal is spotted, the sire is homozygous. There is sometimes a clue to a horse being homozygous.


"They sometimes have what's called 'inkspots,'" she says. "They're like little polka dots. That's usually a telltale sign that they're homozygous."

These days, all they need do is send a hair sample from their foal's mane off for DNA testing, and Rector will know for certain within weeks after foaling, whether a baby is homozygous or not.

"We were the first farm to develop a homozygous pintabian," she says. "He was born in 1998, and he's a son of American Sunspot."

His name is Faithful Sunspot.

There are now roughly 12 homozygous pintabians in the world, she says, noting more than a couple now are outside the United States, including two in Great Britain, one in South Africa and one in Belgium.

For now, the Rectors will continue breeding their pintabians. And each spring, they will be out in the birthing stalls, imprinting the newborns with the idea that people are worth knowing.

"You have to be with them the first 24 hours, and at birth is the best," she says. "In fact, we pull them right on our lap and we talk to them. The first time they hear your voice, they knicker to you."

These little ones will one day join the other stallions and mares as progenitors of the new pintabian breed.

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